Saturday, January 17, 2009

Speak of ...

... I was going to say "the devil," but then, I wouldn't want the person in question to claim I had called him the devil.

The person in question is Eric Alterman, with whom I had an infamous spat nearly four years ago after I zinged him in my Boston Globe column for suggesting that it's outrageous to expect Muslims and Arabs to pay tribute to the memory of Holocaust victims when so much of their suffering is caused by Jews. The occasion was the British Muslim Council's decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because equal time was not given to Palestinian victims of Israeli "genocide." Alterman and I had a caustic exchange on the Reason blog, Hit & Run, and Alterman also encouraged readers of his blog not only to pepper me with angry emails (about half of the ones I got were supportive), but also to call my then-editor at the Globe, Nick King. At some point, he also made the bizarre suggestion that I attacked him out of a personal vendetta because he had once defended my ex-boyfriend against unfair attacks (huh?); see more about it from John Tabin, who once greeted me at a party as "Eric Alterman's Zionist white whale." As I recall, Alterman continued to take gratuitous swipes at me and/or Nick King on his MSNBC blog for at least six months after this incident; here's a particularly bizarre one.

Well, just the other day, I was recounting this saga to some people at dinner at the NAS conference and joked about how I felt neglected after the Alterman mentions finally stopped. And, lo and behold... here is Eric Alterman in the newest issue of The Nation, describing his suffering at the hands of the "Middle East Thought Police." Sayeth Alterman:

For my own trouble, for instance, Andrew Sullivan has compared me to the authors of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, while Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young has accused me of blaming Hitler's victims for Palestinian misery.

Well, actually, no. I accused Alterman of suggesting that Muslims have a moral right to blame Hitler's victims for Palestinian misery. Read the exchange, and tell me if I'm wrong.

I will say that, while the Alterman blogpost on the subject was quite deserving of opprobrium, my column did contain something that I, in retrospect, regret: implying that Alterman might be properly called a self-hating Jew. I don't think it's appropriate to psychoanalyze people I don't know on the basis of their political writings. However, I do think that Alterman is effectively an enabler of anti-Semitism -- not because he is critical of Israeli policies, of course, but because he has repeatedly suggested that one can't really blame Arabs and Muslims for harboring hostility toward Jews in general because of Israeli policies -- Jews anywhere, whether or not they have any connection to Israel.

I do, by the way, think that the charge of anti-Semitism is sometimes bandied around too freely by some supporters of Israel. (See this post from 2007, and links inside.) But that's a topic for another day. I do think that what Alterman condones is anti-Semitism.

Finally: I feel somewhat guilty about making a facetious post on a topic related to the tragic events in Gaza right now. Regardless of one's opinions of the Mideast conflict in general, and Israeli action in this particular instance, any sentient person must grieve for the human suffering we are witnessing. I assure my readers that my levity is directed entirely at Alterman and his grandstanding, and is in no way meant to make light of the situation.


Anonymous said...

I think I was one of the dumb minions who sent you a nasty email about your calling him a self-hating Jew. Sorry about that. I find that "self-hating Jew", is usually used just to silence Jews who we disagree with. (Similar but much worse to the way people are now labeled trolls or worse "concern trolls".) So I am glad to see this post this morning.

And then I started reading your columns, and realized I really enjoyed your perspectives and agreed with you much of the time.

Anonymous said...

In other words, this is a slow news day, it's that time of the month, and you really had nothing else to say. We understand.

We all have our reasons to dislike Eric. Your reasons may inspire some and bore most, but no one will blame you.

SmartyJones said...

Thankfully I've seen less and heard much less of Eric Alterman in recent days. Hopefully the good times will continue.

The vileness coming out of him is ever flowing.

Cathy Young said...

Aww, Jerry! Well, if I have Eric to thank for gaining a reader like you, it's all for the best.

I too dislike the "self-hating" trope (having had it used against myself, as a woman who is often critical of feminism).

Judd... I don't quite get the point of pointless snark. *shrug* Then again, I guess it has no point by definition. Cheers.

Fat Man: I agree that Alterman is in love with the sound of his own voice (and the sight of his own words). But "Jew-hating"? I think we need to be very careful before slapping someone with that label. I haven't seen anything in Alterman's writing that would lead me to that conclusion. Ron Radosh informs me that not long ago, Alterman published a long, and very good, report from Israel in The Nation which drew many letters lambasting him as a right-wing Zionist.

So I really have no cause to believe he hates Jews. I do think his sympathy with the Palestinian cause leads him to effectively make excuses for anti-Semitism when it's apparently motivated by anger at Israel's policies.

Fat Man said...

If you think: "I do think that what Alterman condones is Antisemitism."

Then the natural conclusion is that he is a Jew hater. Don't try to weasel out of it.

Eric Alterman is a horrible human being. Nothing I have ever heard of him saying or doing leads me think otherwise. Maybe he is kind to puppies, kittens and babies, but he has been doing that on the way down low.

If he is propagating antisemitism, I am not surprised, but I won't let him off the hook in the name of being non-judgmental.


vbspurs said...

I have to agree with Fat Man that Alterman sounds like he's a Jew hater, if he did indeed write that.

Bending over backwards to excuse people for their aggression towards Jews, by equating their current woes to theirs (as if to imply that one, if not justifies, at least explains the other) is a subset of anti-Semitism.

Any kind of prejudice always has some "explanation" behind it. Have you ever encountered anyone who is a bigot without one?

Alterman clearly has issues, and clearly doesn't respect you, Cathy. I'm sure you are not the first person to disagree with him, but the fact that you are embedded in his subconscious for needling passing commentaries, says a lot.

I wouldn't give him the time of day.

Nice post, BTW.


Cathy Young said...

Condoning hatred of a group isn't the same thing as hating that group yourself.

Well put, Rev.

I think people will sometimes bend over backwards to accommodate what they believe are legitimate grievances, to the point of effectively excusing hate. Some critics of feminism and defenders of the rights of divorced fathers, for instance, have a tendency (IMO) to condone misogynistic comments from men claiming to have been screwed over in a divorce. I don't think all bloggers who do that are woman-haters.

Again, I simply don't think a very serious charge like being a Jew-hater can be leveled on this kind of evidence. That doesn't mean I think highly of Alterman, of course; indeed, I certainly think his behavior in the polemic with me has been petty, ugly, and ... well, rather unbalanced.

I appreciate the fact that others may have a different opinion, but I what I don't appreciate is being told -- on my own site -- that I'm trying to "weasel out" of something. Let's have a little respect around here, ok?

And Victoria, great to see you back.

Jacky Goldberg said...

I am sure that the only reason Alterman knows he is alive is that he can hear that sound which he considers to be the most beautiful in the world -- his own voice...I also wanted to be a psychic who's got lots of powers to control ghost, devils and souls...but thanks to god who made me a used cars dealer.

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