Hit & Run

Eric Alterman responds to Cathy Young

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Eric Alterman has sent a response to Cathy Young's latest column to both Reason and The Boston Globe. His message, and a reply from Cathy Young, follow:

To the editor:

It is quite painful for a proud, practicing pro-Zionist Jew who was Bar Mitvah, educated in Israel, lights candles on Shabbat, attend shul regularly, contributes to the Forward, and educates his own child into the religious tradition, to be accused publicly of anti-Semitism. It has happened to me on occasion in extremely obscure, right-wing websites, but only twice in the mainstream media. Both times it has been done by Cathy Young on the editorial page of The Boston Globe. The last time I was denied the courtesy of a response. I hope that will not be the case today.

As most people are aware, the accusation of anti-Semitism, like that of anti-Americanism, can be employed by people to stifle debate and stigmatize points of view with which they disagree. In this case Cathy Young seeks to silence anyone who recognizes the reality of Jewish responsibility for Palestinian suffering. This is unfortunate, for many reasons—one cannot hope for peace in the Middle East without a mutual recognition of the pain the conflict has caused—but more to the point, phony accusations of anti-Semitism have the effect of weakening societal strictures against the real thing. By employing this slander against me, now twice, Cathy Young is actually aiding and abetting the anti-Semites by robbing the term of any coherent meaning.

Here, for the record, is the entire text of the blog text that has led Young to call me these horrid names:

"I'm a Jew, but I don't expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people's suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs. Would Andrew [Sullivan] want to go to a service in honor of the suffering of gay bashing bigots? (Wait, don't answer that. Would a gay person who didn't regularly offer his political support to gay bashing bigots want to go?) Anyway, I'm sure what I'm saying will be twisted beyond recognition, and so I suppose that makes it stupid to do, but I'm sorry. The Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world—in the form of the United Nations—reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists. They call this the "Nakba" or the "Catastrophe." To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic—which is why, I guess, I'm not surprised Andrew's doing it. Also via Little Roy, here's another conservative Jew joining David Horowitz in endorsing Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism and even William Donohue's disgusting anal-sex-obsessed anti-Jewish attack, which was broadcast on MSNBC and implicitly endorsed by Pat Buchanan."

You can see from the above that while the item does recognize the political folly of demanding that Arabs who have suffered their own catastrophe at the hands of Jews be demanded to pay fealty to Jews without any recognition of their own suffering, the item also contains an attack on the genuine anti-Semitism of both The Passion of the Christ and the Catholic League's William Donohue blaming America's moral ills on "Hollywood's secular Jews," who, he informed MSNBC's Buchanan, "like anal sex." Nowhere do I, as Young accuses, hold "Jews responsible for 'much' of the suffering of Muslims everywhere," as I was clearly talking about Palestine, and nor, for the same reasons can I be accused of arguing that "every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy." As for her accusation that I actually blaming "long-dead Holocaust victims," well, it boggles the mind that your editors would allow this hateful poison into your newspaper, whatever Young's motives may be for spreading it.

That a newspaper with the reputation of The Boston Globe would allow itself to be used for Young's vicious vendetta against me, now twice, is both shameful and shocking. I would appreciate a retraction and apology.

Sincerely,

Eric Alterman
New York, New York

Cathy Young replies:

Where to begin? Maybe with the fact that prior to my last column, I had never accused Alterman of anti-Semitic rhetoric. The only other time I mentioned his views on Israel on the editorial page of The Boston Globe was after Alterman wrote a column about pro-Israeli bias in the American press and listed me among ''commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification'' (even though, at the time, I had never written anything about Israel). My column and a subsequent exchange with Alterman can be found here. At no point did I make any charge of anti-Semitism.

As for my last column: I think it is entirely possible to argue that Israel bears the primary responsibility for the enduring Middle East conflict, and consequently for the suffering of the Palestinians, without being anti-Semitic. But, of course, that was not what Alterman wrote, and that was not the issue in this debate. After all, the ceremony that the British Muslim Council boycotted was not meant to honor (say) the memory of fallen Israeli soldiers, or even of the Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism; it was commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. It is those victims whom Alterman says Muslims have the moral right to view the way gays would view dead "gay-bashing bigots" (how else does one interpret his analogy?)—simply because those victims were Jews, just like the Israelis and their supporters.

For the record, I also believe that one can sympathize with suffering of the Palestinians without comparing it to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. Alterman, as his post makes clear, acts as an apologist for the mentality that views the creation of Israel as a catastrophe for the Arabs equivalent to the Jewish catastrophe of the Holocaust.

Alterman goes on to point out that in the same blog item in which he (rather nastily) ridiculed Andrew Sullivan for criticizing the British Muslim Council's boycott, he also attacked "the genuine anti-Semitism of both The Passion of the Christ and the Catholic League's William Donohue blaming America's moral ills on "Hollywood's secular Jews" (a fact I noted in my column as well). Apparently, Alterman is now the self-appointed judge of what is and isn't "genuine" anti-Semitism. Conservative Christian bigotry exemplified by The Passion and Donohue's rant makes the cut; Arab/Muslim hostility to Jews as a group because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank does not. This despite the fact that the latter kind of anti-Jewish animus is far more likely, in our day and age, to turn into literal Jew-bashing. (In July 2003, Alterman wrote that assaults on Jews by Muslim immigrants in Europe had to be understood in the context of Muslim anger at Israeli policies, and that the best way to deal with this problem was to change those policies.)

Rather oddly, Alterman quotes from his blog post only to turn around and deny his own words. He writes, "Nowhere do I, as Young accuses, hold 'Jews responsible for 'much' of the suffering of Muslims everywhere,' as I was clearly talking about Palestine, and nor, for the same reasons can I be accused of arguing that 'every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy.'" Yet this is what Alterman said in his initial post: "I don't expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people's suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel an its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs." He referred to "Arabs," not just Palestinians; presumably, the British Muslim Council does not represent solely Palestinians, or even solely Arabs.

Finally, I will readily concede that Alterman's Jewish credentials are far more impressive than mine. But then, I'm sure Rabbi Daniel Lapin's Jewish credentials are even more impressive— which didn't stop Alterman from accusing him (rightly, in my view) of abetting anti-Semitism.

Cathy Young