Spencer Ackerman is upset that sometimes adults have to speak like adults, and that countries having explicit ethnic or religious characters sometimes makes conversations complicated, and that democracy means having to wade through righteous arguments that sort of look like ugly arguments if you squint hard and read uncharitably and (especially) if you have clear and obvious political motivations for dismissing those arguments. Oh, and Hitler Hitler Hitler.
Whenever I compare these situations to their analogs in discussions of race, or in discussion of other countries like China, the response is always the same: Israel is different. Israel cannot be discussed the way other subjects are discussed. Of course, voiced in a different context, that sort of talk is taken as self-evidently anti-Semitic. You see, it is not merely wrong but anti-Semitic to judge Israel differently than you judge any other nation-- except when it is not merely wrong but anti-Semitic to judge Israel in the same way that you judge any other nation. When it is necessary and convenient, defenders of Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people insist that any discussion of Israel that does not treat it like any other country is offensive. When it is necessary and convenient, failing to note how Israel is not like any other country is offensive. Leap from foot to foot as is necessary to win.
Glenn Greenwald is getting the usual treatment, in large part because he pointed out that taking a loyalty oath to another country might potentially be evidence that one has loyalties to another country. (Imagine that! Swearing loyalty to Israel might give someone the impression you're loyal to Israel!) Is it possible that Israel could have gotten involved in an armed conflict against the United States, during Jeff Goldberg's tenure in the Israeli army? Remember, it is not merely wrong but anti-Semitic to suggest that the relationship between Israel and America is unusually close or complicated. Suggestions that Israel functions militarily as an extension of American armed forces, after all, are routinely dismissed as anti-Semitic. It's therefore possible that armed hostilities could have broken out. So what would have happened, had Israel gotten involved in an armed conflict with America? I don't presume to know the answer to the question. What Ackerman and others are insisting is that any suggestion that Goldberg might have held to his loyalty oath and backed Israel is self-evidently anti-Semitic. Am I guilty of anti-Semitism for even thinking of the possibility? Are thought experiments, predicated on the simply observations that separate countries can go to war, potentially anti-Semitic? Are there any Israeli Americans who might consider their dedication to Israel more important than their dedication to America? Is asking that question anti-Semitic? If an Iranian-American joins the Iranian military, and war breaks out, would asking the same questions be indicative of anti-Persian racism? I no longer know how to even broach the question.
One could go on. As Philip Weiss points out, Ackerman attacks Max Blumenthal for referring to Goldberg as a former Israeli prison guard, which seems like an odd thing to complain about, considering that Goldberg is a former Israeli prison guard and that he was referred to as such on the jacket of his own book. Or we could talk about the fact that Goldberg uses Jewishness as license to psychoanalyze anyone and everyone. He engages in an absurd laundry list of claims about Glenn Greenwald. How does Goldberg know all of this about Glenn Greenwald? The only evidence for all of his claims is that Greenwald is (presumably) Jewish. If you've read Goldberg for as long as I have, you'd know this is his specialty. Once he knows a writer is Jewish, he feels that he has total authority to discuss that writer's character, beliefs, and psychology. That this is the elementary logic of bigotry-- the notion that one can know all of this intimate knowledge about someone thanks to his or her ethnic character-- seems not to bother Goldberg in the least. Perhaps I'll publish a piece psychoanalyzing Goldberg, each observation derived solely from his status as a Jew, and see how long I remain in polite society.
All of this happens for a purpose: to make it clear to anyone who might have a moral conviction about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians scared to talk about it. I know many people who have political stances on everything, and voice them without regard or fear, on questions of race, abortion, poverty, Afghanistan, gay rights, health care.... But about Israel, they won't speak. It has simply been drummed into their heads, by people like Spencer Ackerman, that this is no-go territory for them. They are mostly gentiles, as I am, and they know that speaking on this issue could easily result in accusations of anti-Semitism. So they shut up. And here comes Spencer Ackerman, and his red-baiting essay, and the predictable Hitler graphic. And so the task of pressuring "a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran" just becomes harder.
If you'd like to consider how a man's obsession with the meta and his social positioning overwhelms his moral and philosophical understanding, just peep the sub-head to this piece.
Note to some of my fellow progressives: If we can’t argue about Israel without using anti-Semitic tropes, then the debate is lost before it even begins
I have to tell you, I just have no idea what that means. Just no idea at all. I can't fathom what that sentiment could entail. Who is the "we" who could possibly win or lose? This is not a debate to be lost by unaffected American writers. It is a matter of vital life and death, for one of the most powerless, beleaguered, and oppressed people on earth. No matter who wins or loses these arguments, the situation in Palestine endures. Ackerman's piece is one written by someone who has become completely unmoored from the actual, physical, material reality that he is purportedly writing about. I assure you: Ackerman, in the context of the conflict, has already won. The losers are the people who live in cities subject to 24 hour curfew, whose communities are illegally encroached on by settlers, whose homes are bulldozed without due process or review, who are intermittently subject to the horrible bloodletting of another Israeli incursion, as they have been for over 40 years. There's none of them in Ackerman's piece. None of them at all.
That it is self-evident that essays like Ackerman's make it materially harder to secure justice for the Palestinians will make no difference to him. He is proudly basking in the approval of people like Jeff Goldberg and Eli Lake, men who have never met an assault on Muslims and Arabs they didn't approve of. For a creature of Washington, as Ackerman is, justice and morality are minor concerns compared to the preeminent priority of securing the blessing of Very Serious People everywhere. Doubt me? Wait and watch, as the usual suspects in Washington flock to his aid. Spencer Ackerman cares more about their approval than he does about the security of the Palestinian people. And now you know his character.