Fight or flight? CiF Watch, David Yehuda Stern & Ben White

David Yehuda Stern

I have no doubt that David Yehuda Stern is a decent, honorable, committed activist and proponent of social justice.  

Nor, based on his resume and a quick search of his writing, is there any question that he’s passionate about both his Jewish identity and Israel.

However, though I’ve only just come across Stern’s blog (Cartoon Kippah: The voice of animated British Jewry), there’s something in the title of his latest post alone which gets to the heart of the skewed political reasoning which informs the views of many well-intended leftist Jews regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Here’s the title of Stern’s latest blog entry.

Words that destroy, words that build: CiF Watch and Ben White

Stern opens his post thusly:

For those of you not familiar, CIF Watch is an online blog, “Combating the assault on Israel’s legitimacy in the UK Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ blog.”

On an altogether different mission is writer and activist Ben White, who has dedicated his professional life to advancing the rights of Palestinians.

Both CIF Watch and Ben White have admirable goals but it is their aggressive, often intimidating rhetoric, that disengages the majority of the public from their important messages leaving all but the bitter taste of hate in the mouths of many who come into contact with their work.

So, immediately, there’s a suggestion that  CiF Watch and Ben White are both pursuing admirable goals but are compromised by hyperbolic rhetoric.

Perhaps Stern can be forgiven for such a comparison, as he’s evidently not aware of White’s record

So, here’s a snapshot.

White is the author of the book “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”, an obsessive anti-Zionist and supporter of the one-state solution. He also routinely accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, and has even used language suggesting parallels between Nazi Germany and Zionism.

White also recommended an essay by a prominent Holocaust denier.

Further, in an article entitled Is It ‘Possible’ to Understand the Rise in ‘Anti-Semitism’?, for the radical anti-Zionist site CounterPunch, White stated, “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”.

He then linked the rise of antisemitism with “the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media”.

Stern, in his blog post, writes:

Ben White’s attitude to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict may be the mirror opposite to that of CiF Watch but his tone is practically identical. Like CiF Watch his tweets present only one side of a very complicated situation, resulting in the dehumanization of Israeli citizens and Israel’s supporters.

He then concludes:

Legitimate frustration seems to fuel both CiF Watch and Ben White’s aggressive tones and they certainly have the freedom to tweet as they see fit. But will their current approach best serve their causes? I think not.

And, herein lies the heart of the matter.

While Stern admirably condemns White’s dehumanizing vitriol towards Israelis, he suggests that employing passionate, uncompromising rhetoric to combat such moral assaults on Jews is out-of-bounds.

As an Israeli citizen, I’d really like to know how I’m supposed to civilly respond to those, like White, who don’t think my nation deserves the right to exist under any circumstances – within any borders.

And, similarly, I’m at a lost to understand how to calmly, respectfully exchange views with those who find antisemtism an understandable reaction to Israeli behavior.

The degree to which CiF Watch aggressively refutes anti-Zionist and antisemitic commentary – both by posts on our blog, and within the necessarily less expansive rhetorical parameters of social media such as Twitter – is informed by a quite sober understanding of Jewish history, and an intimate familiarity with the limits of reasonableness and the assumption of good intentions.

This blog certainly believes in what’s known as “Big Tent Zionism”, and we’ll certainly continue to civilly debate those who don’t necessarily share our views on how best to defend against the assaults on Israel’s legitimacy – and, similarly, how most effectively to fight antisemitism – but, of course, the key word in the phrase “Big Tent Zionism” is, “Zionism”.

I won’t engage in a calm tête-à-tête with those who defend, rationalize or excuse antisemitism, nor those who find my nation’s existence morally abhorrent, not worth fighting for, or in any way expendable.

In psychology there’s a phrase called “fight or flight response”, which refers to the human capacity, or lack thereof, to accurately identify threats and respond accordingly.

There is a time for compromise and a time to fight.

Jewish history – indeed world history – is replete with the injurious effects of the failure of just, sensitive souls to discern the former from the latter.

Jews – especially Israeli Jews – simply do not have the luxury of making such mistakes again.

19 replies »

  1. I heard that Ben White is vanity-publishing a new pamphlet next year – this time about Arabs in Israel. Amazed he has time what with his non-stop Twitter-stalking.

  2. Maybe he gets confused between the articles at CiFWatch and the comments below the line, which are sometimes quite aggressive or inflammatory. Many blogs are quite reasonable, although critical in tone, and yet have a bad reputation for “promoting hatred” because of a few loose cannons in the comments section. Or maybe it’s a case of shooting the messenger,ie you are blamed for making people angry when actually people are naturally going to get angry as a response to injustice, racism and misrepresentation.

    • lemming, People get angry in response to:

      – hijacking planes and flying them into buildings
      – bombing passenger planes like Pan Am 103
      – bombing buses and the underground in London
      – Pakistani terrorists murdering people in Mumbai
      – dynamiting two 1,500 year old Buddhist shrines in Bamiyan Afghanistan
      – hanging gay teen in the Islamic Republic of Iran
      – stoning women to death in Islamofascist regimes
      – brainwashing children to aspire to die as shaheeds
      – using children to clear minefields left over from an 8 year Iraq/Iran war
      – using poison gas to murder 5,000 Kurds in Halabja Iraq
      – attempting to detonate bombs hidden in sneakers or underwear while on a passenger plane

      – having to endure checkpoints at every airport in the world to filter out terrorist attacks
      – having to shell out more After-Tax money for overpriced gasoline

  3. Anyone who claims to be “the voice of British Jewry” is a deluded fool and David Yehuda Stern proves it by suggesting ‘moral equivalence’ between Ben White and CifWatch

  4. Lemmiwinks has hit the nail on the head. There is, as Adam accurately points out in the blog, nothing whatsoever wrong with strongly defending one’s own position (whatever that position may be) and launching a critical attack against those with unacceptable views, but there is a line between this and the use of personal, vindictive language which many btl contributors on this site (and of course on other sites, especially CiF) fail to perceive and regularly cross, and I have been a regular critic on this site of such lack of self-control.

    One is in a far stronger position to condemn mindless hatred if you don’t indulge in it yourself.

    • I am sure that I speak on behalf of many regular contributors here when I say that I don’t know where CiF Watch would be without GoonerEll’s heartfelt attempts (which go way far and beyond the call of duty) to correct our tendency towards backsliding, and which remind us instead to try to engage in reasoned discussion with those who disagree with us, however stupidly or rudely.

      • Snigger,

        You forgot the part about us being reasonable and cordial with those who disagree with us so much that they wish us and our children dead. I so agree that we should engage in civilized tetes-a-tetes and a drop of tea with our enemies before they force us into the sea at knifepoint.

        Can’t have the world thinking badly of us, can we?

        • Thanks for your comments, Snigger and Irit. Sorry if I came across as self-aggrandizing, I was merely trying to point out that my position is consistent on this.

          Your responses fail to see my point. I am entirely in favour of attacking bigotry and racism and pointing out factual or contextual error or misinformation (as CiFWatch does very well), but if you descend into personal abuse, you lower yourself to the level of those against whom you are arguing.

          Just as Adam points out the outrageous comments of btl contributors to CiF, so could they point to the abusive comments of some on this site to prove that they have won the substantive argument (see the post on +972’s Joseph Dana).


  5. It’s interesting that this excellent post followed one that dealt with some overlapping issues, about Joseph Dana’s outrage at his lying being fully reported. There are two broad schools of anti-Israel online posts: those that use omissions, slanted vantage points, and outright lies in the course of putatively fact-based screeds, and those that mostly or entirely ignore facts in favor of personal attacks. It can be very difficult to A) rebut a non-factual assault because it has no substance to counter and B) face direct insults and slurs without making them in turn. I think that Mr. Stern is an intelligent observer who is understandably disconcerted by the non-fact broadsides, but if he saw the vast majority of what CiF Watch does he would note that the mission of the site is countering counterfeit facts with real ones (as Mr. Dana’s Twitter feed, Swiss cheese that is now is, could testify to). Personally, I only use the words like “stupid” and “lying” here if CiF articles and their apologists sound like the former while doing the latter. And the fact that I tend to use those words quite often is very simple: they’re often perfectly apt.

  6. “…And the fact that I tend to use those words quite often is very simple: they’re often perfectly apt…”

    Quite so, Ben. Couldn’t agree more

  7. “I have no doubt that David Yehuda Stern is a decent, honorable, committed activist and proponent of social justice”

    I do.

  8. Perhaps David Yehuda Stern,would like us to turn the other cheek,and get on with it……..

    David Yehuda Stern is welcome to turn all of his four cheeks if he so wishes…………

  9. These unelected Jews and Israelis who have decided that they actually speak and represent all Jews and Israelis.Are so full of it….

    They think that smearing Israel,and appear on stages with antisemites will give them some sort of legitimacy.

    They have an excessively high regard of their own importance………