Eric Alterman: Defending Himself from the Charge that He's a Self-Hating Jew
That the Boston Globe is a great newspaper can be in no doubt, as its brave (though flawed) reporting on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has recently demonstrated. But the paper's opinion columnists have proven a constant source of embarrassment in recent years, producing not merely the fantasist Patricia Smith but also two plagiarists, Mike Barnicle and Jeff Jacoby.
No less a source of shame for the paper has been its publication of a previously obscure right-wing pundit named Cathy Young. Her most recent transgression involves yours truly, but it's hardly the first time she has embarrassed her employers.
In March 2004, relying on a faulty translation, Young misquoted European Commission President Romano Prodi making the unlikely argument that"using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists," and then spun the misquote into a fatuous equation of Europe's opposition to Bush's Iraq folly with"appeasement" of terrorists. But the really odd thing about Young's mistake, as Tim Francis-Wright has pointed out, was that when she finally got around to correcting the mistake, she didn't. The Globe's correction simply restated the original false rendering of Prodi's quote.
Young's attack on me shared some of these bizarre qualities. She seized on a brief blog item I wrote on Altercation.msnbc.com, in which I noted the insensitivity of demanding that Arabs attend Holocaust remembrance ceremonies that (of course) made no mention of what many Arabs believe to be the Holocaust's connection to what they consider their own" catastrophe"--namely, the founding of the State of Israel. Young distorted my argument to accuse me of anti-Semitism and self-hatred, using an ellipsis to make it appear as if I were describing the founding of the Jewish state as a" catastrophe" rather than attributing that view to Palestinians and their Arab supporters. She went even further, insisting that by acknowledging that Palestinians and their supporters perhaps had reason to be less than thrilled with the creation of Israel, I was actually--I kid you not--blaming"long-dead Holocaust victims" and arguing that"every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy." (In fact, the item in question spoke of Arabs, not"Muslims." Neither Young nor her editor, Nick King, appears to understand the difference.)
Were it not for the fact that the approximately 474,845 people who read the daily Globe now consider me an anti-Semitic, self-hating Jew, the episode would be ridiculous. Young describes herself as a"nonobservant Jew." She sure got the nonobservant part right. A former girlfriend of Wall Street Journal right-winger John Fund--which may or may not explain everything--Young has no profile whatever in Jewish affairs, Middle East debates or discussions of anti-Semitism. Your columnist, on the other hand, is not only a pretty serious Jew--bar mitzvah, educated in Israel, lights candles on Friday night, goes to shul, sends the kid to Hebrew school, contributes to the Forward, etc.--but has been writing on Israel and anti-Semitism, speaking in synagogues, minoring in Jewish studies during doctoral work, etc., since first publishing on anti-Semitism at Yale, in, um, the Boston Globe twenty years ago, when he was the paper's stringer there. (The piece was deemed so sensitive to Jewish concerns, I received a congratulatory letter from none other than Martin Peretz, who invited me to contribute to The New Republic.)
When I attempted to redress some of Young's damage with a letter to the paper containing the original blog item, the Globe truncated it, preventing its readers from seeing the evidence. The paper also refused to publish letters from a number of prominent Jewish voices, like that of M.J. Rosenberg, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, and Jo-Ann Mort, a national board member of Americans for Peace Now (some of the letters the Globe didn't publish can be found at www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6980484/). When the editors did finally run a letter in support of my work, from Boston attorney and Jewish peace activist Geoffrey Lewis, they not only edited it self-protectively but mistitled it,"He's Pro-Israel," as if that were somehow the point. (Just ask Jerry Falwell if it's possible to like Israel and still claim all Jews are going to hell.) The paper's own ombudsman, meanwhile, termed Young's column"ad hominem" and"not worthy of an opinion page where readers expect (and usually get) thoughtful analysis and insight."
Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy wondered,"How could a toxic suggestion that Alterman is a 'self-hating' Jew make it through the editing process?" True, it is the kind of thing one reads all the time in the swamps of the conservative blogosphere--indeed, David Horowitz ran it untouched. But the Boston Globe? King, Young's editor, has admitted to me that he never read the blog item in question--you can read it at www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6968346/#050215--and would not say that he thought her accusations accurate. Rather he termed them to be"provocative"--as if this were a sufficient excuse for an attempt to ruin someone's reputation. For her part, King's boss, editorial page editor Renee Loth, in response to a series of questions I e-mailed her for this column, declined to address any of them because, she said, they"get into internal editorial operations." So the Globe feels it is entitled to destroy a reputation established over two decades while simultaneously investigating the internal operations of any powerful entity it chooses, but when one of the victims of its own abuse of power who happens to have a media column seeks to clarify just how it took place, its editors claim the equivalent of"executive privilege." Is it any wonder so many people resent the media?
Whether she sought payback for what I've written in The Nation about her ex-boyfriend or merely to silence anyone who expresses sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, the result of Young's clumsy slander is to aid the cause of anti-Semitism by revealing the political motivation of those who use the accusation as nothing more than a convenient ideological weapon. As Peace Now's Jo-Ann Mort wrote to the Globe,"With friends like Cathy Young, the Jews don't need enemies." Neither does journalism.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
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