Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On My Absence


For several reasons I haven't blogged since January.  For one thing, I've always envisaged my contribution to the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues as primarily that of extended essays, rather than regular commentaries on the news of the day.  In fact, I've been working on two long articles for professional journals, which I will eventually post here.

For another, the rapid growth of first-rate blogs that do regularly comment on the contemporary issues hasn't left me with much to add; I refer, in particular, to the recent addition of Peter Beinart's Open Zion blog and that of MJ Rosenberg, along with the excellent established blogs, including (among others) Jerry Haber's Magnes Zionist, Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam, Gershom Gorenberg's South Jerusalem--and, of course (when the mood strikes him), Steve Walt's Foreign Policy blog.

As I said, it is my intention to continue to publish, on occasion, long essays that fall somewhere between professional journal articles and magazine articles designed for the informed general public.  I realize by publishing only seldomly it makes it difficult for those who may be interested in what I write.   The solution is to sign up (on the home page) to get email notifications when something appears.

Actually, I do have one brief comment to add to the many now circulating concerning the publication of Peter Beinart's book, The Crisis of Zionism, as well as the favorable commentary on it today by Paul Krugman in his blog. 

Many are commending Beinart and Krugman for their "bravery" for their forthright--yet, not strong enough--criticism of Israel.   I want to take (mild) issue with that, and especially with MJ Rosenberg, who today wrote: "If he speaks out on Israel/Palestine, the lobby will try to shut him down....After all, if they can shut Paul Krugman up, who exactly will be allowed to speak?"

A bit over the top, dear MJ?  "They?"  "shut Krugman up?"  Who will be "allowed" to speak?

The Israel lobby isn't that powerful, indeed not by a long, long shot. Indeed, by suggesting that the lobby has the power to shut up the critics, we are in danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It doesn't take much bravery to take on the lobby; rather, a fear of doing so, when the consequences are so trivial, might be labeled as timidity.

I've also been commended for my "courage" for some of the things I've written.  It's always pleasant to be complimented, of course, but the term should be reserved for the impossibly courageous journalists and dissidents who criticize the Russian, Chinese, and other brutal and truly powerful governments.

They don't have to worry about being chastized by ignoramuses; the risks they run and all too often the price they pay is many orders of magnitude greater.  Just imagine: these people live with the knowledge that their attacks on the powerful may and often do end up with the loss of their livelihood, terrible beatings, imprisonment, or their murder. 

Yet they continue: now that's bravery.  I couldn't begin to do it--but bring on the Israel lobby, any day.




breakingthesilence said...

With all due respect, I wonder if Jerome Slater understands how difficult it is for ordinary Americans to criticize Israel, especially in front of Jewish friends who are likely to be Zionists and characterize the critic as an anti-Semite, something they've been taught to do by American Jewish-Zionist culture. Does he understand how difficult it is for Jewish Americans to criticize Israel to their Zionist families, the level of anger and alienation such criticism is likely to engender? And imagine if Jerome Slater were to write a blog one day that broke the taboo against telling the real and terrible truth: that the racist state of Israel is a country built entirely on land stolen from another people in a brutal, savage ethnic cleansing that is romantically valorized as "The War of Independence." (It will take Slater another five years, I would guess, before he dares tell himself that obvious truth and probably three more before he'd be willing to say it publicly.) Krugman has suggested that criticizing Israel is dangerous and uncomfortable for him, and anyone with a sense for the zeitgeist should understand that confession perfectly.

Donald said...

Donald here. It's been so long I've forgotten how to log on.

On the courage thing--yes and no. Sure, it's nothing in comparison to someone in a country where dissidents are tortured, imprisoned or killed, but some people are bothered a great deal by unfair attacks and slander and so, yeah, it takes some degree of courage to stand up to that. About a millionth of what a Chinese dissident needs, but not zero.

Also, I liked what Krugman said in part because I think his own newspaper lacks guts on this issue. When the Park Slope co-op had their debate about whether to boycott some Israeli products, the usual list of local politicians stood up and denounced the boycott advocates in truly vile ways--Mayor Bloomberg said the advocates basically wanted all Israelis murdered. The NYT reported this, but said not one word about the language used on the op ed page. I'm sure that if the Mayor had said that any supporter of Israel was a supporter of Palestinian genocide there would have been a bit of a ruckus, and the NYT would have denounced such intemperate language on the editorial page. So there's some gutlessness at work there.

Jerome Slater said...

In addition to these comments, I received several emails, all making the point that I've underestimated the real consequences that critics of Israel can and often do face.

Many examples come to mind of well-known critics who have lost their positions or were dropped from consideration for higher ones. It doesn't much courage to take on the Lobby and the "pro-Israel" groups for me, if you are (a)a tenured professor, or (b) retired, or (c)not in the running for higher positions--in other words, people like me.

I made a silly error in overgeneralizing from my own immunity, and I stand corrected.

juan govea said...

Glald to have you back again, Jerry!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Mr Silverstein, he and his blog are not in your class and Rosenberg is also a cut below.

The others that you mention, correctly, are quite valuable and accept my thanks for including the courageous Peter Beinart, a friend to my son.

Please do continue. iI's always worthwhile to read what you have to say.


Anonymous said...

Professor Slater,
I stumbled upon this blog and am happy to see you doing well. I was a student of yours back in 1988/1989 at SUNY Buffalo. I believe it was a Cold War class.

I wanted to reach out to you for some time to acknowledge how important my experience in your class was to my career. I have been a high school history teacher for the last 12 years teaching both world and european history, including AP European. I have to say that I never really agreed with you in class. You forced us to think of the Soviets from their point of view and I just couldn't accept that as an explanation for events that I thought I could place blame on them. I was raised in a Cuban exile household and liberal opinions were not often heard at my dinner table!

Although I didn't appreciate your world view at the time, I have come to absolutely respect you and appreciate the impact you had on me as a student.

So I just wanted to say thank you. If you happen to ever lecture in the lower Hudson Valley area I would certainly enjoy hearing it.

Good luck to you sir and thank you for service to SUNY Buffalo and to your many students.

Carlos Fidalgo
Nanuet High School
Nanuet, NY

delia ruhe said...

I agree with Donald. The following appeared at CounterPunch today:

Sullying the Holocaust

[Editors' Note: This piece by Nobel Peace prize winner Mairead Maguire was submitted to the New York Times. They decline to publish it.]

As a retired academic myself, like Jerry, I do enjoy a certain amount of immunity, although I often get called an antisemite and even a nazi when I enter a comment thread. And if right-wing Zionists bothered to read the scholarship I'm publishing at the moment, I've no doubt I'd get called worse than that. But, hey, I'm a Canadian; nobody in the US pays much attention to us. And what could they do to me, really?

I'm glad you checked back in here, Jerry. I had given up hope. I look forward to your next postings.

delia ruhe

Jerome Slater said...

Mr. Fidalgo:

So nice to hear such kind words. As I'm sure you've already discovered. it means a great deal to teachers, like us, to find out--often to our surprise-that we've actually had an impact on at least some of our students.

Thanks so much.