Web Letters | The Nation


The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook

Dear Mr. Alterman: I generally appreciate your columns. But I will echo the complaints of the “most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists,” as you call us. I haven’t read Blumenthal’s book (although I have read his articles) yet, but your article and responses contain enough stand-alone inaccuracies to be addressed without even defending Blumenthal’s book.

1. The textbooks. This is a favorite and tired trope. It has also been disproven in multiple studies, by researchers who actually bothered to translate those textbooks. See Electronic Intifada’s recap. Given that Israel controls basically everything that makes it into the Occupied Territories, including textbooks, it would really be quite difficult to include anti-Israeli propaganda in said texts. But then there’s also the issue that when an occupying army has destroyed your home, arrested your brother and killed your neighbor, you don’t really need a book to incite animosity, do you?

2. You spoke at an ADC conference and are a two-stater. “I have black friends!” The ADC is hardly a radical organization, although it is an Arab one. As for being a two-stater, oy vey. Go visit the West Bank and tell me where, in the 200+ separated enclaves (by the Wall, by checkpoints, by Jews-only bypass roads) you see a Palestinian state potentially existing. Please see B’Tselem’s (an Israeli human rights organization) maps and documentation of freedom of movement and resource allocation in the OPT. Presumably this is also to prevent the universally recognized right to return (in order to maintain Jewish demographic majority, which I would think would strike any American as very suspect, like Texans wanting to keep a white majority).

3. Blumenthal’s book is highlighted on a neo-Nazi website. Just because some wackos agree with some legitimate ideas doesn’t make those ideas wacko. Ron Paul occasionally has the same ideas as me (and I bet as you too); that does not make me a crazy libertarian.

4. Responding to metaphors as though they were supposed to be exact parallels so as to avoid the illustrated point. A pro-con take on birtherism is not meant to be taken literally. A far more accurate comparison would be a pro-con take on apartheid South Africa, which would have no place in a publication such as The Nation. In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, and the recognition by leaders like Mandela and Archbishop Tutu that the Israeli system is apartheid, it might be time to wake up to the reality, although it is a painful reality for American Jews (I didn’t love going through that process initially either, but lots of Palestinians and allies held my hand).

You occupy an increasingly tenuous position, that of the “liberal Zionist.” It’s a tough fence to sit on, especially given that one’s balance is compromised by the blinders that one must wear to do so. Should you choose to come down from there, please check out an organization to which I belong for more resources, Jewish Voice for Peace. I think you’ll find that us radical extremists are actually pretty well-educated and reasonable, although we do hold the radical position of human rights for all. I think you’ll also find that we are not motivated by hatred of Israel (or of Israelis), although as American Jews we do feel a special responsibility for the actions of the state.

Should you choose to continue to write off the many progressives who would like to correct your misconceptions, well then, my letter just serves to add more weight to that pile.

Abby Okrent

Sacramento, CA

Dec 10 2013 - 1:27pm

Reclaim School Reform

After more than twenty years of privatization and high-stakes standardized tests, there is no evidence that the so-called “reform” agenda has benefitted students—and plenty of evidence of damage to public schools, students, communities and educators. But there is so much money to be made by privatizing schools, operating for-profit charters and selling tests and test-prep materials, we know the billionaires will keep on peddling the same nostrums.

The so-called reformers claim to be civil rights activists. But they are conspicuously absent in the struggles for voting rights, for LGBT youth and for immigrants, because as soon as they admit that conditions outside of the classroom affect students’ success in school, their whole attempt to blame teachers and other school workers is exposed as a gigantic fraud.

Unions remain today, as they have been for over fifty years, the strongest force for justice and the greatest advocate for educational quality.

School reform cannot be done to educators or for educators, only by educators and with educators. Anything less will result in the same old same old.

George Sheridan

Garden Valley, CA

Dec 9 2013 - 7:33pm

Without Respite

In her article about Primo Levi, which is at least in part a review of Berel Lang’s new biography, Vivian Gornick cites Lang’s explanation that the widely held belief that Levi committed suicide is no more than “an inference,” as there were no witnesses—nor any other actual evidence. And yet she begins her essay by asserting his suicide as a fact, and later describes him as having “leaped” to his death. Although her theory of the causes of his death are certainly interesting, it is no less speculative and thus presumptuous than the certainties of those for whom accepting Levi’s suicide would entail the negation of his life’s work and its supposed message of hope. Instead, let us consider the possibility that his writings are profound enough to withstand any particular interpretation of his life’s abrupt end, and indeed that the exquisite humanity evinced by his character and work should allow him the dignity of having had thoughts and motivations that we will never understand, or even know.

H. Gold


Dec 9 2013 - 2:59pm

The Gray Zone

To refute every bit of nonsense in Isaac Chotiner’s piece on John Gray’s Silence of the Animals would require far more time than I am willing to expend, so let me limit myself to the following absurdity:

I suppose the definition of science, which certainly some people do put “faith” in, is debatable, but when an apple falls from a tree, gravity ensures that it hits the ground regardless of whether there is a human who sees it do so. Human beings did not, then, invent gravity, or physics, or biology.

Without human observers. there is no way to be certain that the apple falls. One “knows” that it falls only through faith. Further, gravity is a human concept (and not a universally accepted one*), a description of an event and a hypothetical explanation of it. Moreover, it is pure absurdity to infer from gravity that entire manufactured fields of human learning, such as biology and physics, which are created and expanded by humans alone, must also exist independently of their creators.

As to what Gray values, and what stance he thinks is wisest for humans to take at this stage in their development, Chotiner might find a clue by putting down his copy of Eliot and reaching for a volume of Keats’s letters. I am glad to see that Gray touches a nerve among humanists, and to see how their threatened emotional reactions push them to silly assertions in an attempt to sustain their unsustainable world-view.

Kevin Shelton

New York City

Dec 8 2013 - 12:20pm

Without Respite

There was not a single outrage perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis that had not been committed against countless other equally innocent human beings even in modern times. This is not to minimize the importance of the Holocaust. Rather, it is to universalize its significance. It was in many ways an emblematic event, symbolizing the terrible human price that has been paid to build the modern world. I think Jewish writers like Ms. Gornick do the subject (and themselves) when they describe it as a unique and indescribable event. Much better to describe it in graphic detail—as has been done countless times, by Levi among others—and to emphasize its universal human significance. In my judgment, anyway.

Luke Lea

Walden, TN

Dec 4 2013 - 12:01pm


Joshua Clover, WTH? Talk about wandering off a bit: “…with less purchase on the radical displacement of ethical ties by the compulsions of labor and markets.” You’re annoying! I am not going to finish reading your article.

Mrs. Clinton Esperson

Salt Lake City, UT

Dec 4 2013 - 2:26am

Without Respite

I am not a Primo Levi scholar, but based on the reports I have read, I am not convinced that his death was a suicide as opposed to an accident. (He was on an anti-depressant that can cause dizziness.)


Cleveland, OH

Dec 3 2013 - 9:55am

The Nation en Español

With the overwhelming reader backlash against Eric Alterman, he seems to have taken this on as a personal mission to enrage as many Nation readers as possible. When Alterman replies to Abdeen Jabara’s call for these type of articles to be censored, I think The Nation should go one step further. Either have Alterman admit publicly that he is your periodical’s “Zionist apologist and Israeli propagandist-in-chief” or just fire him outright. None of your readers want to read his writing, as most of us had just ignored his articles in the past anyway. It is ironic that Alterman would claim that he is the only one providing a platform for Max Blumenthal’s book, when if it had not been for his “review” of Blumenthal’s book, Alterman would still be respected by the ignorant. Alterman tries to lay the blame on his editors, and he will not even acknowledge his writing for what it is. It was clearly a review of a book that he started reading with the intention of attacking the author.

Bill Maas

Colorado Springs, CO

Dec 2 2013 - 11:21am

The Progressive Electoral Wave of 2013

You wrote that “surfing a wave of union backing, [Marty] Walsh won” the Boston mayoral election. Walsh could not have won with just union backing (especially since most Boston teachers didn’t support him during the preliminary because of his support for raising the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts). He won because three of his top preliminary challengers—one black woman, one Latino and one Cape Verdean—got on board to support him. As a progressive, white, retired history teacher, I supported Felix Arroyo in the preliminary, but held my nose and voted for Walsh in the final. I’m hopeful that he’ll rethink his stand on public education, and I wish him well.

Maureen O'Connor

Boston, MA

Nov 26 2013 - 8:25pm

Hannah and Her Admirers

I don’t think the writer of this article understood this film well. The film is as much about what is going on in the world today, suggesting the Arendt was right in seeing evil as banal. Arendt said that Eichman dissociated himself from his own humanity and that allowed him to do what he did, that he was not truly driven by hatred but by having blocked himself off from his own humanity.

The bankers, mortgage companies, investment bankers who wrecked havoc on the lives of many millions of Americans to line their pockets with great wealth, and those in the government who failed to prosecute anyone for an open fraud on the American public, also had to dissociate from their own humanity, to see the people they stole from as meaningless and even inhuman.

Arendt may have misread Eichman. Maybe Eichman did truly hate Jews. But I think she got the banality of evil right, and I think the real message of the documentary Hannah Arendt is that all kinds of banal evil have happened in this world: corporations make millions while paying fast-food workers so poorly that the taxpayers pay for their healthcare and food stamps—that is evil. Corporations make millions by inflating real estate values, selling bad loans to people who could not afford them, selling bad loan portfolios to unsuspecting investors, even betting against their own junk investments all so they could make money.

Look at any aspect of our economy: one has to dissociate from one’s own humanity to run a fracking operation, or to be the Koch brothers and fund things like wiping out union power and wiping out the middle class.

Arendt got evil exactly right. She might have gotten Eichman’s hatred of the Jews wrong and she might have been too lost in cool intellectualism to speak about the Jewish leadership in Germany as the Nazis rose in power, but her main message is that evil is really banal, and boring: it is simply when a human being dissociates from their own humanity—this dissociation allows a human to be cruelly evil to fellow humans. She got that right, it is going on in the world today… as long as some rich well connected folks are making money and greasing the right palms, banal evil happens all over the world. She got evil right. Unfortunately.

Don’t let her comments about Jews and the conflict those comments generated distract from her insight into the banality of evil. Look around the world: banal evil is all over.

Tree Fitzpatrick

Berkeley, CA

Nov 23 2013 - 10:49am