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The Israel Hater’s Handbook, Continued... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

The Israel Hater’s Handbook, Continued...

Correction: This blog post contained an error in a quote from novelist Yoram Kaniuk, which was wrongly attributed to a Palestinian. The quote, which should have read, "Our entire existence in this Arab region was justified and is still justified, by our suffering; by Jewish violinists in the camps," was rendered as, “Our enemy’s existence in this Arab region was justified and is still justified by our suffering by Jewish violinists in the camps.” Also, regarding the incident in which an Israeli municipality shut down a Haifa café, Blumenthal wrote that the municipality "officially sanctioned the mob campaign," not “a mob campaign,” as was reported here. We apologize for the errors.

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My new Think Again column is called “Heads, the Tea Party Wins; Tails, the Tea Party Wins.”

Here, unfortunately (and foolishly in my view) behind a paywall for now, is my Nation column, The “I Hate Israel Handbook.” A few words of explanation and clarification if I may:

When I was asked to do my column about Max Blumenthal’s book, Goliath, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I like to be a team player. But on the other, whenever I criticize BDS types, I apparently invite an avalanche of personal invective from its fans. (This happens when I criticize neocons on Israel as well, but to be honest, the BDS types appear to have more time on their hands for this kind of thing.) Second, I’ve known the author’s parents since he was a little boy, and whatever the quality of the book, I expected that my honest views of it might threaten three decades of friendly relations.

What tipped my decision was when I was informed that The Nation magazine would be publishing an excerpt. I don’t feel personally implicated by what Nation Books publishes—it does not reflect on me in the eyes of anyone I know—but the magazine is different. I’ve been writing here for more than thirty years and regularly as a columnist for nearly twenty. Hence I feel a deep sense of both loyalty and personal and professional identification. I don’t want people to have the impression that the reflexive anti-Zionism of some of its contributors is its only voice on the issue— one that is as important to me as any.

The complication arose when I finally received the book. I expected to disagree with its analysis. I did not expect it to be remotely as awful as it is. Had the magazine not published its excerpt, it would have been easy to ignore. It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed) without a single word change once it’s translated into Arabic. (Though to be fair, Blumenthal should probably add some anti-female, anti-gay arguments for that.) Goliath is a propaganda tract, not an argument as it does not even consider alternative explanations for the anti-Israel conclusions it reaches on every page. Its implicit equation of Israel with Nazis is also particularly distasteful to any fair-minded individual. And its larding of virtually every sentence with pointless adjectives designed to demonstrate the author’s distaste for his subject is as amateurish as it is ineffective. As I said, arguments this simplistic and one-sided do the Palestinians no good. There will be no Palestinian state unless Israel agrees to it. And if these are the views of the people with whom Israelis of good will are expected to agree, well, you can hardly blame them for not trusting them.

Here are a few points about the book I did not have a chance to make in column:

1) Here, I kid you not, is the definition Blumenthal quotes of the substance of Israel's "fascism":

What it really is, is a feeling that you have sitting on a bus being afraid to speak Arabic with your Palestinian friends. It’s a feeling when you are sitting there having dinner—what you feel when you’re alive here. It’s the essence of what this society is. And the closer we get to the brink—and everyone is feeling that we’re getting to the breaking point—the worse it gets.

Yep, that’s “fascism” alright. You can look it up.

2) Here is his argument in favor of the Arabs' right to discriminate against Jewish Israelis: When a Haifa café is told by the municipality that it has no right to discriminate against Israeli soldiers in uniform by refusing to serve them, Blumenthal tells us it was “officially sanction[ing] a mob campaign” against it.

3) Blumenthal describes Yoram Kniuk’s book about a Jewish violinist who forced to play for a concentration camp commander and then quotes a Palestinian saying “Our enemy’s existence in this Arab region was justified and is still justified by our suffering by Jewish violinists in the camps.” Nowhere does he mention that Kniuk was a novelist. He wrote, um, fiction.

4) He nastily and condescendingly mocks Time editor Rick Stengel for "marketing" Bibi Netanyahu as a "potential peacemaker." Isn't Netanyahu obviously a "potential peacemaker"? Isn't every war-maker a potential peacemaker? Wasn't Begin before he ended Israel’s occupation of Sinai and signed a peace agreement with Egypt? Wasn't Sharon before he ended Israel’s occupation of Lebanon? Wasn't Nixon before he went to China? Blumenthal is also apparently capable of reading Stengel’s mind, even when he’s not present: ("Rick Stengel arrived at his doorstep eager to relay a heavy dose of Bibi-think to the American public.")

Believe me, I could go on...

Alter-reviews:
1) The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club
2) The 51st New York Film Festival and the 21st Hamptons International Film Festival
3) Old/New Releases from “Real Gone” music...

Last weekend I finally got the chance to see the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. I was really excited. It was their first tour of the US since 2003, when I didn’t get to see them. Recall that the Buena Vista Social Club album introduced these musicians to the world in 1997, it won a Grammy, inspired a great documentary, and showed the world a vibrant Cuban music scene that had remain hidden under Castro’s iron curtain and the US’s foolish embargo of the island.

Now the thirteen member Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club is carrying on the legacy of founding-generation with vocalist Omara Portuondo, trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal, laúd player Barbarito Torres, guitarist-vocalist Eliades Ochoa, and trombonist- vocalist Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos, joined by new members, including vocalists Carlos Calunga and pianist Rolando Luna. I don’t speak Spanish, so I didn’t understand much of what was said or sung. But boy did these guys swing. I did miss Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba who were so great in that documentary, but the music was cool and warm and the same time. The “House of Swing” swung for hours (with no intermission.)

The New York Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival always take place around the same time. Sometimes they show the same movies. But also different ones. I find it hard to enjoy more than one movie in a day, so I often end up seeing only parts of lots of movies, walking out after about twenty minutes and giving the next one a try. Among my favorites of the past week were:

* Inside Llewyn Davis (NYFF) This Coen brothers feature about the pre-Dylan Greenwich Village folkie scene is great in every way except its story stinks. It is beautifully filmed, acted and the music is surprisingly well done. Terrific cast and the dialogue is excellent, too. It’s just... who cares? Great soundtrack, though. Pick it up.

* Only Lovers Left Alive (NYFF), a really hip and spooky vampire movie directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton with Mia Wasikowska as the crazy, destructive and self-destructive little vampire sister and John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe, who apparently wrote “Hamlet.”

* Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle) (NYFF and HIFF) This film, which has already caused an international sensation, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as “Adele,” who begins the film as a high school junior who falls in love with Emma (Léa Seydoux), a blue-haired college student. They soon ignite a complicated and passionate love affair with the most explicit, erotic and realistic sex scenes I can ever remember seeing in a movie. It’s three hours long but it more than pays off. I’m hoping Kechiche makes good on his implicit promise to follow Adele for the rest of her life, like Truffaut. BITWC won the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year.

* Her (NYFF and HIFF)Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her is set in Los Angeles in the near future, and follows Theodore who falls in love with his IT system, who names herself “Samantha,” who is voiced by the incredibly sexily-voiced Scarlett Johansson. It might be deep, it might be frivolous. I’m not sure. But it is entertaining.

* The Past (Le Passe) (HIFF) A new drama from Asghar Farhadi, the writer/director of the brilliant A Separation, the 2011 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (beating out the almost-but-not-quite-as-good Israeli film, Footnote). This movie takes place in France, among Iranians, is a great deal more complicated plotwise than A Separation, but holds together just as well. Terrific performances from Bérénice Bejo, playing the wife and also Pauline Burlet, who plays her beautiful daughter. Farhadi is one of the world’s greatest film-makers; interesting that Iran’s two world-class auteurs have felt compelled to make movies abroad, this one in France, and Abbas Kiarostami’s latest, in Japan.

* Philomena (HIFF) on the audience award in the Hamptons. It’s one of those cute Irish movies that win awards, about a woman, who, in 1950s Ireland, is shamed into giving up her child for adoption as an unmarried mother. Stephen Frears films the story adapted from the book by Martin Sixsmith. It stars Dame Judi Dench as Philomena and Steve Coogan, who co-wrote it as Sixsmith. Everything about it is lovely.

Also, at the Hamptons, I really enjoyed the ESPN documentary about Jimmy Connors and the 1991 US Open at Forest Hills. What a great story— well told and all the better for not having a story-book ending. It’s part of the 30/30 series to which I guess I should pay more attention.

I only recently discovered “Real Gone” records, and believe me, their re-releases are just that. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the reggae Dead collection Fire on the Mountain, and the Jefferson Starship live album, and now they are educating me about the late Patti Page who passed away on New Year's Day of this year. Did you know that she was apparently the best-selling female artist of the '50s? I sure didn’t. After that, she joined Columbia during the '60s and Real Gone has released a 2-CD set, The Complete Columbia Singles 1962-1970, which includes all 50 single sides, and From Nashville to L.A.—Lost Columbia Masters 1963-1969, which has 24 previously unreleased country style tracks. Both are annotated by long-time Page friend and fan Alan Eichler, and include plenty of photos supplied by the Page estate, with remastering by Vic Anesini at Sony's own Battery Studios.

In a similar vein, there’s a new Real Gone country album by Perry Como produced by Chet Atkins in 1975. It’s called Just Out of Reach—Rarities from Nashville, produced by Chet Atkins, and has 23-tracks plus six unreleased outtakes from the album sessions for Just Out of Reach and Como's 1973 album And I Love You So, five non-LP singles new to CD, and Spanish language versions of Perry's hit recordings of ''And I Love You So'' and ''I Want To Give.

In an entirely different vein, Real Gone has also released Dick's Picks Vol. 21—Richmond, Virginia 11/1/85. I think they are doing all of Dick’s Picks, though I’m not sure. Anyway, this is the only show you with an official release from the 1985 tour, of which I saw many shows, but remember none. Highlights include ''Stagger Lee,'' ''Comes a Time'' and Dylan's ''She Belongs to Me'' and Bobby’s Wrave-up on ''Gloria.'' Other rarities include ''Lost Sailor'' and ''Saint of Circumstance'. The third cd adds nearly 40 minutes of bonus material from a September 2, 1980 show at the Community War Memorial in Rochester, NY, which I also attended with an excellent ''Iko Iko''/''Morning Dew''/''Sugar Magnolia.'' Brent-period Dead is not the best Dead, but it ain’t bad.

Now here’s Reed:

How the Media Keeps Enabling Government-by-Crisis
by Reed Richardson

Our democracy is adrift and broken. Constantly careening from one traumatic episode to another, our nation’s government is locked in kind of a perpetual fugue state. No sooner does it scramble to avoid one self-inflicted catastrophe before another appears on the horizon. Each short-term, ad-hocn solution only feeds a longer-term, systemic problem. What passes for success in this new normal is a shockingly uncritical mindset, one that is either unable or unwilling to learn from each painful lesson. Huzzah, the latest crisis is over…so how long till the next one?

The architects of this government-by-crisis are by no means a mystery. Yesterday, after our country’s latest temporary reprieve from implacable dysfunction and economic calamity, longtime congressional scholar Norm Ornstein once again identified the stark, anti-government nihilism blossoming within the modern Republican Party:

“[It] represents a phenomenon that is not new but is really awful: the radicalization of so many lawmakers who don’t want limited, but good, government but instead want to blow the whole thing up. They may know not what they do, but sadly, they have the weapons to do it.”

The stable functioning of our democracy faces no less than an existential threat from this saboteur caucus, in other words. Yet a steady diet of the news out of Washington the past few weeks would have uncovered very little in the way of Ornstein’s frank, ominous analysis in the coverage of the shutdown and debt ceiling crises. That’s no accident. Though political journalism is now more nimble than ever mechanically, analytically, it is has ossified, and is now increasingly ill-equipped to honestly assess the anti-political winds blowing through the GOP. This failure goes beyond mere false equivalence, however.

One of the media’s more pernicious conventions is to compartmentalize process and policy. But not routinely drawing a bright line between the actions of lawmakers inside Washington and the consequences to the rest of us outside of it only serves to further disconnect the public from its government. To see how this bifurcation of coverage played out in the latest crisis, merely take a look at the three, above-the-fold articles on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times.

The Times’ “day-one story”—to use a journalism term—delves deep into the mechanics of how Wednesday’s vote unsnarled the twin, Republican-manufactured emergencies. But it notably neglects explaining the stakes involved—why restarting the government and raising the debt ceiling mattered. So, this straight news story includes only one mention of the real-world costs of the shutdown. Even worse, this one passage’s blithely dismissive language about furloughed government employees—“the legislative deal meant an abrupt end to their forced vacation”—suggests Wednesday’s resolution put an end to an unexpected holiday.

By contrast, the Times’ second news story did examine, in detail, the significant economic impact that shutting down the government and flirting with default had on the country. And yet, this time, a whole lot of context about how we got here was missing. Only a throwaway line about “the intransigence of House Republicans” offered any clue as to who was behind the U.S. flushing away $12 to $24 billion, 0.5% of fourth-quarter growth, and 900,000 jobs. 

Perhaps in the paper’s third item, its “news analysis,” readers would finally be treated to a full analysis of what Republicans got and what they wrought.? Nope. Instead, the author makes zero mention of the jobs lost, paychecks missed, and national debt increased, all so House Tea Partiers could vote against the same bill they would have voted against three weeks ago. And though the Times does an adequate job of homing in on the rank incompetence by the Congressional GOP’s leadership, it nonetheless buys into the spin that somehow things will be different in three months when the next scheduled set of deadlines arrive. How else to explain the story’s optimism for yet another gang of irrelevant, centrist Senators, who it credulously says are “looking to make an impact on the fiscal battles ahead.” Have we already forgotten that this legislative hijacking was perpetrated by Speaker John Boehner and a hard-right cabal of Tea Party House conservatives? Did we not all witness the House’s stubborn refusal to pass a clean CR and raise the debt ceiling even when most Senate Republicans came out in favor of them?

Now, this is a bit unfair to the Times. After all, its combined, front-page coverage did represent a fairly comprehensive take on causes and effects of our latest crisis. Moreover, the also paper fired off a blistering editorial yesterday that quite effectively tied the irresponsibility of Republicans in DC to the resulting pain felt by Americans nationwide. Nevertheless, when even the New York Times feels it necessary to pigeonhole its reportage in this way, it sends a signal that straight news isn’t the preferred platform for speaking truth to power. It also speaks volumes about the mindset of the broader establishment media, which rarely bothers to look beyond the Beltway in order to hold leaders in Washington accountable.

Not surprisingly, a press corps that pulls its punches in the news pages only ends up rewarding rather than punishing bad-faith actors who thrive on manipulating crisis for their own personal gain. This latest crisis was a perfect example. Thus, a demagogue like Sen. Ted Curz, who is willing to brazenly mislead his followers and engage in the world’s longest fundraising speech, was nonetheless accorded the attention he craved from the mainstream media. Thus, Republicans in Congress can attack Democrats for fomenting economic uncertainty, stifling small business growth, driving up the deficit, and refusing to negotiate, when, ironically, it was their reckless legislative fantasies that brought about these very outcomes.

Oh sure, a lot of attention was paid by pundits to the damage done in the public’s eye to the Republican Party’s brand. These analyses lack bite, though, because they rely so heavily on outsourcing outrage to the public via polling, which, by its nature, is an fickle, ephemeral construct (what’s “true” today might not be “true” tomorrow). Polling’s transitory quality has become almost addictive to the press, however, precisely because it frees it from the fear of bias accusations and relieves it of the burden of offering more historical, evidence-based assessments of political behavior. But to forego the latter in favor of the former is to denude the press of its power to affect change. 

For example, wouldn’t the public have been better served if, in September, the DC press corps had repeatedly reminded readers that shutting down the government and threatening to default on our debt payments are demonstrably bad things that hurt lots of innocent people and anyone suggesting to do so is wrong? What if it had invoked historical antecedents like the 1995–96 Gingrich-led shutdown and the 2011 GOP-forced debt-limit crisis not just to compare poll numbers. Why couldn’t the media have attempted to stave off the crisis altogether by placing the latest round of Republican brinksmanship in the context of a long-term narrative about the party’s growing radicalism. Of course, it’s doubtful anything or anyone could have convinced the House Know Nothings to abandon their pointless crusade, but, alas, we will never know. But it’s telling that, even in the aftermath, the media continues to adhere to vague platitudes about general dysfunction and studiously avoid any robust examination of the damage done to the public by the Republican Party’s ideology.

Over time, this lack of past and future perspective has fueled an abundance of instantly consumable, empty-calorie editorial content. So, rather than figure out why our government keeps suffering through one crisis after another, each showdown post-mortem is more likely to get a superficial tallying up of “Winners and Losers.” (Care to guess the 310-million people the media almost always overlooks as the ultimate “Losers” of these crises?) But these worthless lists are forgotten as soon as they’re made and propagate the worst kind of journalistic faux-accountability—have you ever heard a pundit call out a politician because he or she was a “Loser” of the last crisis? Yeah, me neither.

This is a critical point. Stripped of any reportorial continuity, each crisis simply gets treated as sui generis. Divorced from a broader narrative, ongoing dysfunction begins to seem endemic to government itself. Neither is true. Debt limit threats, government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, sequester cuts: all of these are merely different varietals of the same, poisoned austerity fruit. Likewise, these crises do not naturally spring from, but are in fact artificially inflicted upon Washington, D.C.—and by extension, the country—by a Republican Party intent on delegitimizing every aspect of our federal government.

That’s why disingenuously placing the sole onus of ending this vicious cycle on President Obama amounts to media malpractice. It is a willfully naïve misunderstanding of our nation’s recent political history and the logic therein is not only contradictory, it’s counterproductive. And that’s the big lesson those in the Beltway must grasp if we’re to ever to break out of government-by-crisis in Washington: As long as the press refuses to learn from its own first draft of history, the rest of us will be doomed to repeat it.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

Eric's Mail
James Collins
Roanoke va

I have a theory all liberal journalists are a bunch of pussies who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag and wouldn't know how to act like a real man to save their feminine lives. To test that, I offer a challenge. I will fight YOU 1 on 1. If you win, I'll do anything you want within the confines of the law. As far as me winning, busting your face up and whatever comes to mind at the time is reward enough for me.

-James Collins

Kevin Rothstein
Oceanside, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Alterman:

It is with great interest that I read your latest column for The Center for American Progress regarding the Pew Research Poll of American Jews. I was one of the persons interviewed and my opinions were in the majority of those polled.

I was saddened (but not surprised) by the reaction of the major Jewish organizations to the results of the poll. I thought of the line from Casablanca when Rick is asked why in the world he came to the city and he answered: "I came for the waters". When told that Casablanca is in the middle of a desert, the character stated: "I guess I was misinformed".

We Jewish leftists (and liberal/leftists in general) like to imagine that those on the right who are actually misinformed by the media will come to see our viewpoint as being correct if only they would allow themselves to be educated as to the facts.

Unfortunately, too many of us are self-delusional in still believing that those who willfully remain in the "desert" will ever allow themselves to enter an "oasis" of facts and intellectual honesty. Some choose to remain "thirsty" regardless of the circumstances behind their ignorance.

Keep up the struggle against "thirst".

Reed's Mail
Margaret King

Westminster, CO
No reply needed here, but I just want to say THANK YOU for this article [“Saving Face: Falsely Balanced Accountability is the New False Equivalence”]. You are so right and, to an extent, I blame the President for this 'forget the past transgressions let's just look ahead' mantra (e.g. Wall Street and Bush Administration offenders). Just looking ahead sounds very noble, but it is a deceitful and cowardly way of dealing with wrong-doing, lies and duplicity, and America has not been well-served by this attitude.

Further, the MSM (including NPR) seems determined to give voice to the Tea Party/Republican point of view many times more than that of the progressives/liberals (whether Democrat or something else). This is shameful and a violation of the trust we—ordinary citizens—place in our journalists and news organizations.

I hope your point—if not your article—gains traction. I am sick to death, so to speak, of what is happening politically. And, since the MSM seems unable to rise to the task of pointing out the obvious false equivalences, I (and probably many others) must rely on the "comments" of online articles. A truly sad and deplorable state of affairs.

Thank you again for your article, and please keep up the drumbeat.

Margaret King

Gil Robinson
Well done, Reed well done! I happen to catch parts of Morning Joe and most mornings once he starts to bloviate equivalency I have to relax my jaw and switch stations…it is disappointing. Plus they all avoid the obvious third rail which is just why do they hate Obama so much and is that the reason everything the man does is resisted. Comments all over the web beat him up and I am yet to see where all this animus is justified...he has been effectively blocked in almost all of his efforts but they still blame anything broken on him. 

Recently I have been following all this jaw-jacking about how broken the ACA systems are (which is also blamed on POTUS). Well, I am a systems engineer for a large corp and I know Everyone who works on systems in the government are not necessarily Obama ditto heads. It would not take too much effort for a network engineer to bug a few strategic server links to cascade a code error systemwide. Not saying that is what is happening but one zealot tea partier/conservative in the right spot "could" cause as many glitches as needed to slow things down...not even contemplated by the media at large, but in the current, hate-filled blow-’em-up anything-harmful environment now...who says it couldn't happen?

I have to marvel at many comments and talking news heads, who always know more about what a president should do than the president. Are they really that astute or are they just showing their bias with ah-ha moments that are totally artificial. The Repubs attack, name call, obstruct and insult and yet all we hear is Obama should this Obama should that on and on and on...it is infuriating as the real issues and source of the stagnation is obvious or at least should be.   

Anyway, thank you and Eric for putting that info out there! Glad I subscribed to The Nation seems like they are truly trying to bring us all the news that is fit to print in an eyes open/no fear format!

Gil

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