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Why is a ‘Nation’ writer labeling Jerry Haber and Abdeen Jabara Palestinian ‘cheerleaders’?

on 26 Comments
Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Evidently embarrassed by its decision to run Eric Alterman’s attack on Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath, The Nation now runs six letters criticizing Alterman, then a response to them from the columnist.

A couple of letters express anger that The Nation is providing a home for Eric Alterman’s staunch Zionism. And this is appropriate: The left is reaching a crossroads on this issue; it is becoming more and more difficult to say, I’m a progressive and a Zionist. As Keith Schuerholz writes:

Isn’t it time the left rejected this kind of overt racism and petty, chauvinistic nationalism? How could The Nation betray its legacy by pandering to those who defend an apartheid regime?

Abdeen Jabara makes a similar point:

I am troubled by The Nation’s need to present “two sides of the story.” Having Alterman do his hatchet job in the same issue as Blumenthal’s article is a case in point.

There is no equivalency between whatever Palestinians have done or are doing and what Israel and Zionism have done to the Palestinians. And no section of the media, particularly the progressive one, should try to make it so. Let Alterman’s piece be published, but either not in The Nation—or with The Nation’s disclaimer.

Alterman leaps on that point: “[T]here would not be a ‘disclaimer’ attached to my column; I wrote it at the express request of my editors.” So Alterman reminds us that The Nation leadership is divided over this issue. How long can the left continue to straddle? How does The Nation reconcile progressivism with Alterman’s support for such actions as Israel shooting up an aid boat in international waters, killing 9? Scott Roth is a partner at The Nation. He now likens Alterman to the back end of an equine. I think The Nation needs to figure out its line on this question, and tell Alterman to save his Zionism for The New Republic.

Alterman’s last put-down of his critics is: “I have often heard it remarked that the Palestinian people have been profoundly ill served by their leaders. Unfortunately, much the same can be said about their cheerleaders as well.” So this is how he characterizes Charles Manekhin (Jerry Haber of Magnes Zionist) and Abdeen Jabara (former head of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee)? Haber has lived in Jerusalem for many years. Both he and Jabara have only been cheerleaders for human rights in my experience.

Finally, Alterman takes a stab at Blumenthal because his book was “recently endorsed on the website of neo-Nazi David Duke.” This is the second time he’s said so in The Nation. He seems to want Blumenthal to commit hara-kari. Well, then Alterman would have to go first. When he went after Sheldon Adelson in The Nation (“Sheldon Adelson and the End of American Anti-Semitism: How can it be that the ‘richest Jew in the world’ can buy the foreign policy of a major party’s presidential contender and ‘the Jews’ have somehow escaped the blame?”), David Duke quoted the piece extensively and praised the heck out of Alterman.

H/t Jew4Palestine.
PS Blumenthal agrees with me about Jabara:


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26 Responses

  1. Ira Glunts
    Ira Glunts
    November 30, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Thanks Phil for keeping us updated on this.

    I was struck by the intellectual dishonesty of Alterman’s curt dismissal of the letter written by Ralph M. Coury. Alterman not only ignores Coury’s very valid criticism, but additionally insults the Nation editor who chose to publish the letter.

    As the humorous graphic that is the first comment after the letters indicates, this debate has shown Alterman’s review and subsequent writings on Blumenthal to be a complete “train wreck.”

    I think Alterman is helping Blumenthal’s book sales as one the the letters implies.

    I also believe that Goliath will sell better than people think and will have a long shelf life. This is because despite all the superfluous talk about balance, tone, context, nuance, and Max’s radical politics, the sometimes forgotten fact is just how good a work of journalism Goliath is.

    I think Goliath will be part of the I/P canon well into the future because of its wide scope, its honest reporting, Max’s courage, and its originality. My bet is that Goliath is on the bookshelves of Rudoren and Friedman, maybe even Kershner, although they would not admit to it.

    • Krauss
      December 1, 2013, 1:57 am

      Another thing we should note: every single letter that the Nation’s editorial board decided to show to Alterman – and their readers – was negative to him.
      I’m guessing most of the replies the editorial board did get overall was negative, but I’m sure there had to be at least some positive letters, by sheer statistical fact.

      They could’ve picked at least a few positive for appearances, but no, not even that.
      A sign for where the editorial board’s heart of the publication lies on this issue.

      • Ira Glunts
        Ira Glunts
        December 1, 2013, 11:52 am

        Good point.

  2. pabelmont
    November 30, 2013, 9:04 pm

    Alterman, to my mind, in effect, said this: ‘Anyone who stands up for Palestinian national, human, civil, or property rights (that is, is in Alterman’s view a cheer-leader) ill-serves the Palestinian people.’

    Well and those same people certainly ill-serve Israel (in Alterman’s view, I dare say, I dare say).

    So I guess they should remain silent.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein is famous for writing (I think at the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) “Wovon Mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss mann schweigen” // Whereof one cannot speak, thereof he must be silent.

    But Max Blumenthal was able to speak. Goliath is a magnificent speech.

    Alterman would wish to say that one cannot speak about Palestinian rights (or Israeli oppression of Palestinians). I think, rather, that he cannot (reasonably) speak about the impropriety of speaking Goliath’s truths to power and wear the mantel of any but a totalitarian.

    • RoHa
      December 1, 2013, 2:26 am

      OT, but Wittgenstein was, of course, referring to the limits of language and logic.

    • Tuyzentfloot
      December 1, 2013, 4:43 am

      Ludwig Wittgenstein is famous for writing (I think at the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) “Wovon Mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss mann schweigen” // Whereof one cannot speak, thereof he must be silent.

      Young Ludwig was good at saying things that looked impressive at first sight.

      • RoHa
        December 1, 2013, 5:49 am

        Allegedly, he asked Russell whether he was an idiot, “Because”, he said, “if I am a complete idiot, I shall be a pilot; if not I shall be a philosopher”. I admire Russell, but my own view is that Russell’s answer led to a loss for aviation.

      • Tuyzentfloot
        December 1, 2013, 9:13 am

        He did ask Russell that. The question didn’t do justice to the philosophical masterpiece ‘Le Petit Prince’. Now, bashing Wittgenstein is not too bright either. I was clever enough to limit myself to ‘young Ludwig’.

      • RoHa
        December 1, 2013, 11:47 pm

        Regardless of his reputation, I’m not a fan of any of the Wittgensteins, even though I have almost certainly been influenced by him via my Oxford trained professors.

  3. American
    November 30, 2013, 10:27 pm

    This gets more hysterical — Alterman trying to weasel wordie his way out of what he said about his being willing for America to take attacks for supporting Israel.

    “.” Here, Blumenthal pretends to be shocked by my allegedly “extraordinary declaration that Americans must be willing to endure more 9/11-style terror attacks ‘if that’s the price we have to pay’ to maintain the US-Israeli special relationship.”

    That would be extraordinary if I had said it, but I did not. Check the link that Blumenthal, himself, provides and you’ll find an article by the fanatical anti-Zionist and Blumenthal booster, Philip Weiss, in which he reports on 2011 panel discussion in which I participated at the 92nd Street Y. (My words are often big news for Weiss’s website, though its accuracy can be iffy at best.) The article contains both a video of the panel as well as an apparent partial transcript. (I cannot vouch for the latter’s accuracy.) The issue in question was the extremely sensitive one of dual loyalty of some American Jews to both Israel and the United States. In it, I admit to my own conflicted feelings and explain that while I, personally, as a pro-Zionist American Jew, would be willing under certain circumstances to accept such attacks as the price of American support for Israel—indeed, this is yet another argument for Israel to compromise with the Palestinians and allow a peaceful Palestinian state to be built alongside Israel in order to reduce or perhaps even eliminate this threat—””

    I fail to see the difference between what he says he didnt say and what he just said.
    And adding that being willing for American to take hits for Israel is ‘an argument for Israel to compromise”?…….rotflmao!

    Alterman goes on….
    “”I hardly think it appropriate to pretend that there is no price for America’s support for Israel. Nor do I think that the interests of America and Israel are identical, as so many neoconservatives and members of the “pro-Israel community” so frequently insist. In other words, in the quote in question, I was quite clearly speaking for myself personally as a Jew who cares deeply about Israel before a Jewish audience attending a conversation about Israel at a Jewish institution. I was not even attempting to speak for “Americans” as Blumenthal pretends, because more than 99 percent of them are not, like yours truly, Jews who happen to care deeply about the fate of Israel.”

    Gee, we must admire Alterman’s honesty in admitting that although he doesnt believe US and Israel interest are identical like most I-Firsters do…..he is STILL willing for Americans to take the hits for Israel anyway.

    Alterman sounds a little desperate to me. Maybe he is afraid his I-First is starting to have a bit of a smell.
    Good going Max, one down.

  4. Edward Q
    Edward Q
    November 30, 2013, 10:45 pm

    What I wonder is how these attacks compare with Alterman’s other expositions. Are his arguments normally this weak? What value have his past essays possessed? Is he always this bad?

  5. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    December 1, 2013, 1:00 am

    It looks to me that The Nation is divided, with a majority supporting Blumenthal: The Nation ran a very long excerpt from Goliath, much longer than a typical article in The Nation. A minority supports Alterman, hence the hostile review, entitled “The Israel-Hater’s Handbook”, which is of course a minor variation on the standard trick of accusing Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism.

    Not so many years ago, The Nation debated, solemnly, whether or not there really was an Israel Lobby, which (as Alexander Cockburn wrote at the time) is a bit like debating whether or not there is a Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Cockburn was one of the very few critics (at The Nation) of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Edward Said, an eloquent spokesman for the Palestinians, wrote only rarely for The Nation. In short, The Nation used to be part of the problem, running mild criticism of Israeli policy, while censoring facts “on the ground.” For example, the everyday oppression suffered by the Palestinians, detailed by Pamela Olson at Mondoweiss, used to be censored out of The Nation as thoroughly as it was censored out of The New York Times. The Nation used to be part of the problem. That has now changed, and that is the real significance of the boost they gave to Max Blumenthal’s great book.

  6. W.Jones
    December 1, 2013, 2:19 am

    “Defenders of Blumenthal are unable to defend the veracity of Blumenthal’s dreadful book”, which is “mostly technically accurate.”

    • Citizen
      December 1, 2013, 6:57 am

      Interesting choice in this context of the word “technically.”
      Why not just use the word “factually”?
      Sly, eh?

      • W.Jones
        December 1, 2013, 3:03 pm

        Yes, it is an attempt to mangle words. And some people will read it and think it succeeds.

        But it’s not really very clever, in my opinion, anymore than the Epic discussion about Apartheid / No Apartheid over on the Comment Section for Slater’s review on Goliath.

        The reason I say that is because despite bookish words like “technically”, “veracity”, and “accurate”, a contradiction remains to the extent that you are able to perceive it- even if Altermann denies it.

        What do you think?

  7. Allison Deger
    Allison Deger
    December 1, 2013, 10:20 am

    I feel like the problem should be if you* quote David Duke, not if David Duke quotes you.

    • W.Jones
      December 4, 2013, 2:09 pm

      It’s like how Osma, perhaps in one of his fake interviews, said he wanted Kerry to win the election against Bush. That means Kerry is a bad dude.

  8. Mndwss
    December 1, 2013, 10:30 am

    “Abdeen Jabara makes a similar point:

    I am troubled by The Nation’s need to present “two sides of the story.””

    Rafeef Ziadah makes a similar point:

  9. Tuyzentfloot
    December 1, 2013, 11:41 am

    It’s a perfectly normal reaction to feel that Blumenthal’s book is unfair since he’s hanging out the dirty laundry. That is a selective view. Selective views can distort reality. So the controversy moves to a higher level, one side claiming the book is not balanced, the other side claiming it brings balance to the larger picture.

  10. traintosiberia
    December 1, 2013, 12:11 pm

    “I have often heard it remarked that the Palestinian people have been profoundly ill served by their leaders ….”
    Who ill served when? Was Arafat ill serving when he declared resistance and fight without any compromise or when he entered in never -ending drama of Oslo with Israel? Did the Israeli ill serve Palestine when it fought or did it when it changed to partner in crime(peace-making) ?
    Is the PA ill serving by endless concession to Israel as revealed in Palestine Paper or is Hamas ill serving Palestine by refusing to sign on to the broader scheme of Palestine Paper ? Is Israel ill serving by not acknowledging the existence of Palestine Paper or is it ill serving by demanding a plan of action similar to Palestine Paper from the leaders of Hamas?
    Alterman is young enough .Hopefully one day he would be able to say this thing more appropriately for the country that would not be there anymore to have cheer leaders ,let alone have any leader ill serving the long distant romantic gate keepers.

  11. traintosiberia
    December 1, 2013, 12:21 pm

    David Duke offers a nice distraction and guilt by association. The presence of advertisement by FLAME on the Nation’s page offers same distraction and invites accusation of the guilt by association against those who subscribes or reads the Nation. David Duke odes not get any tax break. This flame of hate and lies does.

    • W.Jones
      December 1, 2013, 2:57 pm

      What do you mean in these two sentences:
      “The presence of advertisement by FLAME on the Nation’s page… invites accusation of the guilt by association against those who subscribes or reads the Nation.

      This flame of hate and lies does [get any tax break.]”

    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      December 2, 2013, 6:26 pm

      Right on oh train. The Nation has been eating out of the FLAME trough for decades. I sent them a letter (like on actual paper) years ago saying that accepting those ad dollars craps on the integrity of the institution. For some reason it didn’t get published. I probably wasn’t balanced.

  12. Reds
    December 1, 2013, 5:42 pm

    Hey now Alterman says he’s 100% right. So it must be true.

  13. hophmi
    December 2, 2013, 10:39 am

    “I think The Nation needs to figure out its line on this question, and tell Alterman to save his Zionism for The New Republic.”

    Yes. The left needs to go back to its Stalinist roots, and start purging any point of view that does not toe the party line.

    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      December 2, 2013, 6:30 pm

      Lame hop. If The Nation started publishing articles calling for a rebirth of slavery or denying the reality of the Nazi murder machine, and people commented that those writers would be better placed on David Dukes website, would you call that Stalinist? Get a grip.

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