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Friday, April 16, 2010

Glenn Greenwald vs. "someone named Adam Levick"

Glenn Greenwald finally responded to my criticism. After revealing his shameful history of engaging in ad-hominem attacks on Jewish Americans, and at times advancing explicitly anti-Semitic tropes on his blogs (Dual Loyalty and Jewish Power), he attacked me by name in a recent blog post. Ok, he just says, "someone named Adam Levick", but, hey, I'll take what I can get!

I've been following his blog on Salon.com for several years and was inspired to write about him due to what I still see as his uncanny ability to maintain such a large influence in the progressive world, while at the same time managing to keep his hateful commentary about Jewish supporters of Israel beneath the media's radar.

My commentary on Greenwald consisted of prominently mentioning him in my Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) piece on anti-Semitism in progressive American blogs, and in a guest blog post on Z Word, the blog of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), here.

An increasingly popular meme among many progressives is that American Jews who support Israel smear anyone who criticisizes Israel with the charge of anti-Semitism, and Greenwald and his supporters (some of which commented on the Z Word site following my post) have honed this to an art. Greenwald, in the column criticizing me, as well as in other posts on the same topic, used the title term "taboo" to describe the critiques he claims you "just can't say" about Israel and her supporters - and, I continue to marvel at how Greenwald always is able to say such things (to the over one million unique monthly visitors to his blog) that, according to him, you just can't say.

In reality, they would be hard pressed to find many supporters of the Jewish state who accuse folks of anti-Semitism merely for opposing Israel's policies. Further, I was careful to use exact quotes in the proper context when quoting Greenwald, and really don't see how anyone who takes opposition to racism seriously could defend, taking just one of many passages from his blog, the following:

"Large and extremely influential Jewish donor groups are the ones agitating for a U.S. war against Iran, and that is the case because those groups are devoted to promoting Israel’s interests."
While I don't wish to rehash the arguments I made in my essays, it does seem rather remarkable that progressives, of all people, would defend such an ugly passage - one which seamless joins both the "dual loyalty" trope with rhetoric warning darkly of excessive "Jewish power," and one which is nearly indistinguishable from paleo-conservative suspicions regarding the national loyalty Jewish Americans enunciated by figures such as Pat Buchanan. (Indeed, as I've noted, remarkably, Greenwald has penned essay's for Buchanan's magazine, The American Conservative)

In his March 15th post criticizing me, Greenwald, apparently part of the Alanis Morissette clique of folks who comically misunderstand the meaning of the word "Irony", says:

"with extreme, unintended irony -- Adam Levick lists this as his biography on his Twitter account: I'm an American who just made Aliyah (moved to Israel), and love America and my new country.'"

But he then proceeds to acknowledge that:

"There's nothing wrong per se with harboring cultural affections for other countries -- many individuals in the culturally diverse U.S. do."

Gee, thanks Glenn!

But, he then goes on to add:

"but, stridently denying what is so obviously true, and smearing those who point it out, does more than anything else to make something innocuous seem nefarious."

First, just like the millions of other Americans who hold a passport to another country allied with the U.S. - Canada, Britain, France, Germany, etc - my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen haven't been downgraded due to my Israeli citizenship.

As Greenwald himself once said,
"Spending substantial time in another country does not make one an "expatriate." And even those American citizens who do give up American residence and live abroad retain full rights of citizenship."

Second, he's just being dishonest when he says that American Jews, more broadly, deny their passion for Israel. The point we typically make is that such loyalties are not relevant to the foreign policy debates about Israel and the Middle East. And, if its so "innocuous", as he says, why does he speak about such attachments using such extreme vitriol? His rhetoric "revealing" American Jews' love for Israel is often advanced using dark, conspiratorial narratives, such as, when commenting about Conservative Jewish commentator Charles Krauthammer, he says:

"It is difficult to find someone with a more psychopathic indifference to the slaughter of innocent people in pursuit of shadowy, unstated political goals than Charles Krauthammer."
So, it seems that he's aghast when critics of Israel are "smeared" by their opponents, but he's a paragon of good taste and moderation when he accuses the Jewish columnist of possessing "psychopathic indifference" to the suffering of innocents, and being motivated by "shadowy" political goals." Boy, I wonder, what shadowy political goals he possibly could be talking about?

The larger point Greenwald and the likes of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer are always making is that, unlike American Jewish supporters of Israel, their political opinions are uncompromised by such ethnic or religious loyalties. They, unlike us, engage in merely cool, detached analyses of the issues of the day, taking into account nothing more than what's in the best interests of the nation. They stand above "ethnic" Americans - enabling them to stand in judgment like some Platonic philosopher king, unburdened by the irrational thoughts, and raw emotions of us mortals.

And while it might indeed be interesting to engage in a psychological analysis of political commentators to reveal who is biased and who is logical - and, thus, free from the corrosive effects of such primitive loyalties - ultimately such an argument, by its very nature, is ad hominem. That is, people can, and often do, opine on issues of the day from any number of biases. But, what ultimately matters is, not the purity of their thought but, rather, the logic and facts of their position.

If my argument in favor of continued U.S. support for Israel is flawed, then those who think so should attempt to dissect the error in my opinion, and engage in a refutation of my reasoning - letting it all play out in the marketplace of ideas. To argue that my opinion may be faulty merely because of my ethnic loyalties is inherently a personal attack rather than a refutation of my position and is, therefore, anti-intellectual. Is there really any doubt that many people hold the right position for bad reasons, and that others hold the incorrect position for admirable reasons?

Smearing Jews as impure of thought and unpatriotic due to their background is something, as I've previously pointed out, is historically associated with the xenophobia of the far right, and I continue to marvel at the ideological evolution at play which allowed such a noxious opinion to transfer to the left.

Put another way, are senior citizens who lobby on behalf of the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) required to acknowledge their "bias" for older Americans when debating social security merely because they themselves are over sixty-five?

Would gay Americans who argue in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage be accused of being biased and of only being motivated by his regard for those of his own sexual orientation, when debating the issue? Its taken for granted that they have a passionate interest in the issue but, so what? Their "bias" has nothing to do with the relative strength or weakness of their argument.

Do Cuban Americans have to "reveal" their Cuban heritage before lobbying on behalf of continued U.S. sanctions against Cuba? Further, are the arguments of such citizens inherently suspect because they clearly have an emotional attachment with their former homeland?

Or, for that matter, should Glenn Greenwald, due to the fact that he splits his time living in both the U.S. and Brazil, recuse himself from commenting on American relations with South America?

Jews who advocate for Israel of course act to a large degree out of their concern for the survival of the only Jewish state in the world, but also because they are convinced that such advocacy is in no way inconsistent with their American identity or the values and interests of the nation. This belief about the shared values of the U.S. and Israel is one which is also shared by an overwhelming majority of non-Jewish Americans.

So, if someone wants to make the case that such Israel advocacy is wrong-headed, that U.S. policies which serve to enhance Israel's security are inherently inconsistent with America's security, then fine, make the case and let the political process play out, just as it does with countless other issues facing the nation.

But, I think the onus is on those wishing to change the historic support American has given to Israel - support, after all, that is based primarily on shared democratic values and common strategic interests - to honestly demonstrate why the U.S.-Israeli alliance should be downgraded, based on facts and logic, not by such scurrilous attacks on Jewish Americans.

Glenn Greenwald, whose blog was initially called "UNCLAIMED TERRITORY," styles himself as a bold new thinker, and a brave dissident who is willing to explore "taboos" about the national loyalty of Jews and their corrosive effects on the American body politic that others dare not go. His narrative, however, full of poisonous, old, and tired tropes about collective Jewry, is as ancient as the Jewish diaspora itself. Make no mistake, Greenwald's odious territory has been claimed before.

(Update on July 11, 2010):

One of the themes found often in Greenwald's blog which I haven't adequately pursued is his at times almost comical political moral equivalencies - of the "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" variety - a dynamic which, sadly, has become dangerously fashionable among a portion of the left. This leads not only to a failure to make moral distinctions between Israel and, say Hamas, but also manifests itself in his view of the relationship between the United States and its Islamic extremist enemies.

Regarding the former, Jay Adler (Sad Red Earth blog) just posted a transcript of an interview Greenwald conducted with Hugh Hewitt, where his moral comparisons between Israel and Hamas are quite explicitly elucidated.

Regarding the latter, fellow liberal blogger Joe Klein called out Greenwald for a recent post where he shamefully suggests a moral equivalence between the U.S. and Nazi Germany, in the context of our invasion of Iraq.

Also, Benjamin Kerstein has a great take down on Greenwald, here, focusing mostly on the vitriolic and unhinged attacks on Israel by Greenwald relating to his posts regarding the Free Gaza Flotilla incident. Sneak preview: Greenwald refers to the IHH terrorists on board the ship as "Heroes".

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