Guardian

‘Comment is Free’ correspondent Glenn Greenwald vs. American tolerance


Glenn Greenwald is now a correspondent for ‘Comment is Free‘, but his blog at Salon.com was on my radar since 2007, and  I continue to be struck by his ability to maintain such a seemingly large influence in the progressive world while engaging in bigoted commentary about Jewish supporters of Israel.

His demonization of the pro-Israel lobby, for instance, would make Pat Buchanan blush.  He once complained in a post that “so absolute [is] the Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy…that the US Government has made it illegal to broadcast [Al Manar] Hezbollah television stations.” [emphasis added]

Greenwald is also quite fond of the “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” variety-trope, and has defended Hamas against ‘charges’ they are a terrorist organization, referred to passengers on board the IHH affiliated Mavi Marmara as heroic and even suggested a moral equivalence between the U.S. and Nazi Germany, in the context of the former’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the latter’s invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938.

In April of 2010, before I joined CiF Watch, Greenwald responded to my criticism which, at the time, consisted of a substantive critique of his arguments in a section of a larger Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report on antisemitism in progressive blogs, and in a post for the blog ‘Z Word’.

Shortly after my Z-Word post, titled ‘Glenn Greenwald keeps an ugly calumny alive’, concerning his frequent charge of ‘dual loyalty’ against American Jews, he attacked me in a blog post at Salon – in which he referred to me as “someone named Adam Levick” – titled ‘U.S.-Israel rift undermining some long-standing taboos.’

An increasingly popular meme among many progressives centers around the claim that American Jews who support Israel ‘smear’ anyone who criticizes Israel with the charge of antisemitism, and Greenwald has honed this straw man to an art.  In the column criticizing me Greenwald characterized certain ‘truths’ about Israel and her supporters as “taboo” – and I continue to marvel at how Greenwald, and like-minded commentators, are always able to say such things that you evidently just can’t say.

In reality, they’d be hard pressed to find many supporters of the Jewish state who accuse folks of antisemitism merely for opposing Israel’s policies. Further, the quotes I often cite when imputing antisemitism to Greenwald are quite unambiguous in their meaning, and it’s difficult to understand how those claiming a progressive political allegiance could deny the historical Judeophobic narratives they evoke.  

For instance, in a post titled Enforced Orthodoxies on Iran, on Feb. 2, 2007, Greenwald, writing about the Iranian nuclear threat, wrote the following:

“Large and extremely influential Jewish donor groups which are agitating for a U.S. war against Iran, and that is the case because those groups are devoted to promoting Israel’s interests and they perceive it to be in Israel’s interests for the U.S. to militarily confront Iran.” 

It does seem rather remarkable that progressives, of all people, would defend such a passage – one which seamless joins both the ‘dual loyalty’ trope with rhetoric warning darkly of excessive Jewish power.

Further, in his post criticizing me, Greenwald wrote:

“…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 proceeded to acknowledge the following:

“There’s nothing wrong per se with harboring cultural affections for other countries — many individuals in the culturally diverse U.S. do.”

However, he then went 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, my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen haven’t been downgraded due to my Israeli citizenship.

As Greenwald himself once wrote, in response to what he termed “right wing attacks” on him about his personal life, including the fact that he lives  in Brazil for a substantial amount of time each year:

“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, including voting rights”

Second, he’s just being dishonest when he suggests that American Jews, more broadly, deny their passion for Israel. The point they typically make is that such loyalties are not relevant to the foreign policy debates about Israel and the Middle East. And, if it’s so “innocuous”, 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 wrote:

“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 political sobriety when he accuses the Jewish columnist of possessing “psychopathic indifference” to the suffering of innocents, and being motivated by “shadowy, unstated political goals“. 

The larger point Greenwald and like-minded commentators often make is that, unlike American Jewish supporters of Israel, their political opinions are uncompromised by such ethnic or religious loyalties. They can be trusted to engage in cool, detached analyses of the issues of the day, taking into account nothing more than what’s in the best interests of the nation, standing above “ethnic” Americans so burdened by tribal attachments.

However, while people can, and often do, opine on political issues from any number of biases, is it even debatable that what ultimately matters is the logic and facts of their position?

If the arguments posed by Jews in favor of continued U.S. support for Israel are flawed then those who think so should attempt to dissect the error of the opinion, or a flaw in the reasoning. To argue that a Jew’s opinion is unworthy of consideration merely because of his or her ethnic loyalties is inherently anti-intellectual. 

Smearing Jews as impure of thought and unpatriotic due to their background is something historically associated with the xenophobia of the far right, and I continue to marvel at the ideological evolution at play which allows such a noxious opinion to be embraced by many on the left.

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?

Similarly, 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?

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 Brazil?

Jews who advocate for Israel of course act to a large degree out of 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 commentators want to make the case that such Israel advocacy is wrong-headed – that U.S. policies which serve to enhance Israel’s security are inconsistent with America’s security – then they should make the case and let the political process play out.

The onus is on those wishing to change the historic support American has given to Israel to honestly demonstrate why the U.S.-Israeli alliance should be downgraded, based on facts and logic, not by scurrilous (and often conspiratorial) attacks on the patriotism of Jewish Americans.

There was a time when such suspicions of Americans’ ethnic loyalties were intuitively attributed to the xenophobia and nativism of the paleoconservative right, and simply because more and more commentators advancing such a narrative claim a ‘liberal’ orientation doesn’t render  it any less hateful and toxic.

A. Jay Adler wrote the following in a post about the row over the term ‘Israel Firster’, used by some liberals to impugn the national loyalty of Jewish American supporters of Israel:

“These critics defend their use of the term because they believe that this time it is true. They believe that this time there really are divided loyalties, there really is a cadre of Jews exercising excessive, secretive power while aggressively attempting to suppress any exposure of it. And like all their reactionary forebears (like every GOP reactionary today who plays the card of nationalist loyalty) they forget that the belief they cling to is the belief to which purveyors of anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power always hold fast – it’s the essential marker of the tradition – that what they believe is true.

I remain baffled as to how those claiming the mantle of ‘tolerance’ can employ tropes about the injurious influence of a tiny religious minority which possess such a reactionary pedigree – evidently forgetting that some ideas have become ‘taboo’ due to their dark and odious political history. 

18 replies »

  1. It would be interesting to see mr greenwald’s views about non-Jewish supporters of Israel as well???

  2. 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 Brazil?

    Perhaps Brazil-based Ben White ought to recuse himself from commenting on British relations with said country?

    Oh hang on – he doesn’t comment on either country, of course.

    • “Perhaps Brazil-based Ben White ought to recuse himself from commenting…”
      I just wanted to try out a version of that sentence so as to forecast an ideal scenario, based on White’s combination of stupidity and bigotry.

          • Thanks goodness we have the likes of you, Daniel. Without your efforts, the firm boundaries of acceptable thought would not be imposed.

            If I chose to write exclusively about the Chinese oppression of Tibetans, would pro-China apologists be out in force telling me I was a racist China-hater?

            • I thought your thing was the Wehrmacht and Einsatz Truppen killing Jews on the eastern front. Why don’t you write about mass executions near Kiev? Or Brenners latest writings. You know , ‘human rights’.
              Go crazy!

                • They haven’t seen your bibliography and Flickr photo stream. With what you scan and read you will be the hero of any German neo nazi. In fact you set new standards which even East Germanys neo nazis have problems following. finkelstein and Pappe are standard issue in every german neo nazi club house. Trust me. Your line of argument gives every neo nazi a semi.

  3. With that stuff on his CV, no wonder Greenwald was courted to join CiF America. But try to imagine what would happen, if CiFWatch, or some other people, sent in a letter to the editor in protest of his statements and his employment at the Guardian, demanding a reversal of that decision: absolutely nothing . – As we all know, the Guardian will always stand by its (many) Israel-hating columnists and defend their ‘ journalistic honour’.