Preventing a Mainstream Debate on Israel: Why We Were Smeared In The Atlantic

​Editor's note: Last weekend, a writer in the Atlantic attacked Alex Kane in an article that claimed that Peter Beinart's blog on The Daily Beast was "mainstreaming" anti-Semitism because two pieces by Kane were published there. Kane, who is also the World editor at AlterNet, responds below with the editors of Mondoweiss:

Armin Rosen's attack on Mondoweiss on the Atlantic website is about nothing more than policing the discourse on Israel. Rosen’s article on alleged anti-Semitism is a shoddy attempt at smearing Alex Kane, Mondoweiss and Peter Beinart. It was sparked by the fact that a mainstream publication, The Daily Beast(on Beinart’s Open Zion blog), had the audacity to publish two articles by Alex that speak in favor of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. 

Rosen argues The Daily Beast should never publish someone associated with Mondoweiss (or, we're sure, with the Electronic Intifada, or any other website that pushes the boundaries of our lacking discourse on the Middle East). Why? Because Mondoweiss "often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise," and thus "by vilifying and dehumanizing one side of the conflict, the poison of anti-Semitism makes a constructive, forward-looking discourse far more difficult to achieve." This coming from someone who defended the term "Islamo-facism." Usually we’d ignore the kind of shallow and unsubstantiated attack on this website, but the piece appeared in the Atlantic, and Rosen is an Atlantic fellow, so we will meet fire from this quarter with a strong defense.

On Twitter, Rosen promised the "definitive bitch-smacking of Mondoweiss." You’d think that in order to characterize someone as anti-Semitic (which is actually a libelous accusation, when unsupported), you’d have to really bring the goods. Here are Rosen’s charges as to why Alex Kane should not be published by The Daily Beast:

  • Phil Weiss wrote an article for the American Conservative which has been associated with Pat Buchanan 

  • Phil Weiss writes about the Israel Lobby

  • Mondoweiss published a piece from Refaat Alareer a writer in Gaza that questioned the role the Israeli government could have played in the death of Vittorio Arrigoni

  • Mondoweiss published a piece by Max Ajl which puts the deaths of the Fogel family in the Itamar settlement in the context of the violence of the occupation

  • Mondoweiss published a piece by Jack Ross (who Rosen implies is a Holocaust denying Nazi sympathizer)

  • Mondoweiss claims "Iran has never officially denied the Holocaust," which Rosen admits is factually true

  • Phil Weiss writes about the role of American Jews in the establishment

Notice any criticism of Alex? No? Well, Rosen still holds Alex responsible because "publicly he does not challenge the site's lunacy." If that is not the epitome of  McCarthyite guilt by association, then we don't know what it. 

This isn't the first time Rosen has offered himself as an attack dog. He distinguished himself during his time in a joint Jewish Theological Seminary/Columbia University program by being an especially shrill voice in the campaigns to deny Joseph Massad tenure at Columbia  Although Massad was far from the only professor Rosen disapproved of. He also had issues with Mahmoud Mamdani and Hamid Dabashi -- notice a trend?

Rosen’s conduct toward Massad is similar to his conduct with us. He’s namecalling in an effort to establish a redline in the discourse. He doesn’t want our voices granted any legitimacy. And the reason is obvious. We are unremitting critics of what Israel looks like today and what Zionism had produced for Palestine, the US and American Jewish life; and because Americans are opening themselves up to these ideas, we are getting more attention from the mainstream. Rosen is doing his utmost to shut the door on us. 

Alex Kane's work stands on its own. While Rosen admits he is not responsible for what other people write, his entire article is based on that very premise. He should actually take the time to read Alex's work--in The Daily Beast, in Mondoweiss and in other publications. Alex has an extensive record by now of writing on this issue, and anyone who wants to show that he's an “anti-Semite” has material to comb through. But there’s nothing anti-Semitic about his work.

Ultimately, this is not about Alex or Mondoweiss. It is about the larger issue of policing the discourse on Israel in this country. It is about the routine use of smears to discredit your opposition. It is about the tired use of the word “anti-Semitism” to shut down debate over Israel--a use that has cheapened that word to mean “anyone who critiques Israel.” And as for Rosen's issue with Phil's examination of Jewish privilege, read Marc Ellis’s meditation on Jewish empowerment, or Liz Shulman on the issue of male Jewish privilege, or Avraham Burg on Jewish wealth and access and of course Peter Beinart who grounds his critique in the admission "we live in an age not of Jewish weakness, but of Jewish power." We live in an unprecedented moment of Jewish history; our intellectuals, and not just Jewish ones, have a right and responsibility to reflect on these questions.  


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