Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

The New McCarthyism by Larry Cohler-Esses is the same old story The Nation is so quick to print. First there is pressure from a conservative or an ideological enemy against a viewpoint that The Nation agrees with, whether it be a critic of President Bush or the Iraq war or Israel being questioned by the "right-wing." Then, after a few months The Nation comes as the knight in shining armor to bail out this critic who "only speaks the truth and is being subjected to McCarthyism." This same cycle--questioning a scholar or public intellectual, ad hominem attacks on those questioning the scholar and then The Nation's revealing their version of the truth--is getting quite old (see Norman Finkelstein, Joseph Mossad and now Dr. Abu El-Haj). Any critic of President Bush or Israel is a friend of The Nation. I remember when I was younger and The Nation presented ideas, not ideology and evidence to support that ideology. I hope some day it can return to that form.

Dustin Adam Stein

Brooklyn, NY

Nov 5 2007 - 1:13pm

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As another writer for The Nation--Scott Sherman in "The Mideast Comes to Columbia"--revealed, writing at greater length on Joseph Massad, the charges had far more weight than Cohler-Esses writes. Massad also has written a notoriously homophobic article, "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World" (critiqued here), expanded recently into a book.

To find out about a book by a pro-Palestinian leftist on gays and lesbians in Arab states, contesting the "postmodernist" anti-homosexual demogogy of Massad, see this blog post by gay socialist Doug Ireland. And here's another note versus Massad, by a gay neocon.

Michael Pugliese

Denver, CO

Nov 3 2007 - 5:28pm

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Paula Stern has published a detailed rebuttal to similar charges made by Cohler-Esses in Jewish Week.

While specific points raised by opponents of El-Haj may be inaccurate, it seems that she is on record as defending the idea that facts and empirical research are unimportant, and that she makes broad and unjustifiable statements about the status of Jerusalem and lack of Jewish national presence in the land in ancient times. Separate issues are whether or not professors are guaranteed the right to teach falsehoods, and whether outsiders should have any say in deciding tenure applications. If a teacher of chemistry announced that they do not believe empirical data are important, would that be a relevant consideration in deciding whether or not to grant them tenure?

An equal and opposite "McCarthyism" is waged by those who exclude academics with pro-Israel views, and even advocate wholesale boycotts of Israeli academics just because they are Israeli. Cohler-Esses doesn't seem to have any objection to that.

Ami Isseroff

Rehovot, Israel

Oct 29 2007 - 12:14pm

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The problem with Larry Cohler-Esses's article is that he does not give a source for the quotes he cites as being examples of the right-wing propaganda campaign against Nadia Abu El-Haj. They are not from Paula Stern's petition. Are all pro-Israel Jews to be responsible for each and every charge a right-wing organization takes against a left-winger? Or has it become routine these days to take every criticism of a left-wing scholar as an attack on academic freedom? One thing is clear from anyone who has observed Nadia Abu El-Haj speak, as I have: she is not afraid to use her academic credentials to make partisan political arguments. She should, thus, expect herself to be challenged once in a while.

Michael Brenner

Woodmere, NY

Oct 28 2007 - 6:41pm

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I have posted a rebuttal to Larry Cohler-Esses on my blog.

Sammy Benoit

New YorK, NY

Oct 28 2007 - 5:57pm

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I'm pleased that Larry Cohler-Esses and The Nation have taken up a subject I began reporting about in my blog some time ago (and thanks for that acknowledgment here).

Another important aspect of this movement that Larry calls the "New McCarthyism" is its misguided attempt to protect Israel at all costs from serious criticism. Pipes, Horowitz et al. have a hysterical fear that Israel is in dire jeopardy and that they are all that stands between it and ruin.

So in the name of saving Israel they take upon themselves the foulest, nastiest smear attacks on otherwise decent people like Abu El Haj, Almontaser, Archbishop Tutu and so many others.

I for one see Israel as strong enough to withstand such criticism. In fact, there is nothing wrong with criticism. It can only make Israel better, if it will listen.

Richard Silverstein

Seattle, WA

Oct 27 2007 - 12:48am

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Mr. Cohler-Esses should be commended. His article represents the best of both journalistic integrity and academic bravery.

This new McCarthyism is as insidious, if not more so, than the original McCarthyism, in that it has the potential to directly affect our national security as opposed to merely domestic political discussion.

Pressure from these groups, blinded by racism and ideology, facilitated by lazy reporting, in the case of the Times, or ideological agendas, in the case of the Sun and the NY Post, has the potential to destroy the careers of some of the US's most talented young academics.

The US depends on these academics, many of whom are foreigners, for foreign policy recommendations,and as sources of current information that its own State Department cannot provide.

In the 1970s and '80s, the US government had no qualms about relying on self-proclaimed socialist scholars for insight into Latin American geopolitics. No pressure groups called into question these academics' integrity, and the US, by and large, was able to accomplish its foreign policy goals in that region during that time period.

Now that the focus has shifted to the Middle East, members of this new generation of area-studies experts are under pressure to censor their observations and opinions, thus denying our foreign policy decision makers access to important insights from those most connected with the pulse of the nations we most desperately need to understand. Many may in fact return to their own countries, or move to others, disillusioned with the ruse of academic freedom we supposedly hold dear in this country.

Jesse Mosier

Brooklyn, NY

Oct 25 2007 - 10:34pm

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