You’re so vain, you probably think my agenda’s about you

Jonathan S. Tobin, executive editor of Commentary magazine, has responded to my objections to his ridiculous mischaracterizations of my recent Foreign Policy article with a cowardly and dishonest reply that confirms everything I said in my last Ibishblog posting. He again falsely claims that my article alleged a “false moral equivalence” between Israel and Hamas, which I did not do; that I “attempt to blame Israel for Hamas terrorism,” which anyone familiar with my writings will know is completely ridiculous; and that I argued that a new war in Gaza might “convince those hoping that Arab tyrannies might be replaced by democracies to forget about reforming their own countries,” when my conclusion was precisely the opposite. Anyone who compares my actual article with his caricature will see the dishonesty in all its frank ugliness.

Tobin correctly says that I accused him of calling me an anti-Semite, adding “even though [I] admit [he] never actually wrote that.” I did indeed point out that he never actually used the term directly, but he described me as someone who “can never resist blaming the Jews for everything.” If that's not a textbook definition of an anti-Semite, I don't know what is. His ridiculous disavowal is very much like someone saying, “I never actually called him a racist, I merely said he takes every opportunity to insist that black people are inferior to white people.” This man is not only a liar, he's a coward who lacks the courage of his convictions. He wants to describe me as an anti-Semite in unmistakable terms, but hedge by not actually using the word, and then repeat the accusation by continuing to assert the clear description. He wants to have it both ways, but of course he can't. He has obviously described me as an anti-Semite, and no thinking individual could conclude otherwise, but he doesn't have the guts to say so directly. Here's the most telling thing: if Tobin really doesn't think I'm an anti-Semite, even though he plainly described me as one, he had a perfect opportunity to say so in his last article. That he did not do so tells you all you need to know.

Naturally, Tobin again provides a narrative in which Israel can do, and has done, no wrong, and has no share of the blame whatsoever in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, of course, is in stark contrast to my own analysis that frankly recognizes the faults on both sides and understands there are no clean hands here and plenty of blame to go around. But he's stuck in a chauvinist, tribalist mentality holding that the essence of the problem is simply what he calls “the twisted nature of Palestinian political culture.” Me good. You bad. End of story.

I'm deeply heartened by the number of Jewish supporters of Israel, including conservatives, and indeed neoconservatives, who have, since his outrageous article was published, told me frankly that they consider Commentary an ongoing embarrassment. And so they should. Goodness knows sensible Arabs consider those who cling to the mirror image Arab version of the narrative in which Palestinians can do no wrong and everything boils down to “the twisted nature of Zionism” to be precisely such an embarrassment as well, and I've spent a great deal of my time in recent years combating such reductive, tribalist sentiments.

The most delicious part of Tobin's pathetic response is his contention that my carefully considered riposte to his outrageous attack is motivated because I believe that “spewing hate toward COMMENTARY will bolster [my] image with the Jewish left,” and that I am trying to “ingratiate [myself] to left-wing Jews.” This is particularly delightful given that some of Tobin's counterparts on the Jewish ultra-left have been on a long campaign to insist that all of my rhetoric is actually designed to ingratiate myself with right-wing Jews! So here we have the mirror image of that same solipsistic fantasy in which everything boils down to what some people imagine I supposedly hope one group of Jews or another will think of me (“don't you, don't you, don't you?"). This is chauvinistic, tribal narcissism at its very worst, indeed pathologically so.

Let me say this as clearly as possible. Attention far-right and ultra-left wing Jewish Americans: this is NOT about you! It's about trying to build the most broad-based, wide, robust and powerful coalition for peace between Israel and the Palestinians as possible, even if that idea frightens Jewish and Arab extremists alike. I'm not going to speak for anyone other than myself (though I am sure many other Arab-Americans must feel the same way) when I insist now and for the record that I am not, and I refuse to become, a prop in internecine conflicts between Jewish extremists on the far-left and ultra-right. Anyone who thinks I'm trying to undermine their side in this battle in which I have no stake, or ingratiate myself with the other side in somebody else's internal communal squabble is deluding themselves. You think too much of yourselves, guys. All of this, of course, is in stark contrast with the rational Jewish center-left and center-right organizations and commentators who recognize that Arabs and Palestinians can think and speak for themselves, and have their own agenda, independent of intra-Jewish bickering. They have proven perfectly capable of dealing respectfully with my colleagues and me at the American Task Force on Palestine on our own terms without trying to drag us into internecine Jewish quarrels.

Tobin's final comment, that in talking about the future of the Middle East and the Arab world I "should leave Israel out of that discussion” proves a crucial point I was making in my initial response perfectly: that the only thing that would satisfy him is if I never mentioned Israel or the occupation, except maybe to praise them. But the fact is that Israel is a major factor in the Middle East, another war in Gaza would have a major impact on the political and strategic landscape of the region, and, although as I said it would not derail the Arab reform movement, it would almost certainly complicate it. To think otherwise is to deliberately adopt the ostrich pose, burying one's tiny little brain as deep in the sand of neurotic denial as possible. Tobin can ask, demand or beg that I stop talking about Israel and the occupation that began in 1967 while I continue to talk about the future of the rest of the Middle East and pretend that it's not an important factor. But I'm not going to give myself the kind of auto-lobotomy he seems to have performed on himself, and switch off a major part of my brain.