changing in "permissible" mainstream public debate—and
what is not?
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an American journalist who co-edits Mondoweiss, a news
website devoted to covering American foreign policy in
the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish
Weiss has written for the New York Times
Magazine, Harper's Magazine, Esquire,
and the New York Observer. In 2006 he began
writing a daily blog called Mondoweiss on The New York
Observer website. In the spring of 2007 he started
Mondoweiss as an independent blog because of 9/11, Iraq,
Gaza, the Nakba, the struggling people of Israel and
Palestine, with the aim of building a diverse community,
with posts from many authors.
He co-edited The
Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark
Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (2011) with Adam
Horowitz and Lizzy Ratner.
having me today. I'm a progressive blogger, so I'm going
to be a little more superficial than some of the earlier
comments you've heard, a little less scholarly. And I'm
also going to tell a progress narrative because I
believe in progress.
I can remember that day eight years ago when Scott sent
me, Scott McConnell sent me "The Israel Lobby" over the
internet. It had just been published in the London
Review of Books, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer's
paper. And I was just completely stunned that such
truths would be expressed, and I remember running around
the house saying it's high noon for the Israel lobby.
You know, I even had my six-guns out.
I'm going to talk about where the media are on Israel, I
have to look back at that moment and say that I was
really wrong. I thought that the scales were going to
fall from American's eyes. I thought that the doors were
open, the gates were open. I didn't anticipate the
enormous resistance there would be to these ideas.
Myself, I hadn't even been to Palestine or Israel, so I
didn't understand how much censorship was going on. And
so, instead, I realized that, it was probably around 3
in the morning for the Israel lobby, but there was sort
of a hint of, the dark before the dawn was sort of
coming to an end.
So as someone who monitors the media pretty closely on
these issues, I want to relate to you, first, to convey
how much the Israel lobby is still entrenched. And when
I say Israel lobby here, I mean sort of just a strong
partisanship for Israel is still entrenched in the
I want to
just relate one day, a week ago actually, three
different news accounts that came across my screen that
I blogged about. One was that Wolf Blitzer had Michael
Oren on CNN and presented Oren as, you know, our new CNN
analyst. And Michael Oren is a former ambassador for
Israel, and he moved to Israel from, I think, upstate
New York and a true believer. I mean, a Zionist zealot
really. And here he is presented as an analyst on CNN by
Wolf Blitzer, who I think is someone who's waking up on
the issue but used to work at AIPAC or for a journal
that was associated with AIPAC as a young man.
And Oren was saying, I should emphasize what Oren was
saying. He was saying that Palestinians must not go, if
the two-state peace process fails, Palestinians must not
go to international forums, they must not exercise that.
So he was saying these people have no rights in
international fora, they should not take any of their
powers, and he's saying this to Wolf Blitzer without
contradiction. And this is presented as analysis of the
two-state solution or the peace process.
day, I was sent two links to Hadassah Magazine, which I
hadn't really read until that day, I have to say. I
think I have to get a subscription. In one of them, Ari
Shavit, an Israeli writer who recently had a triumphant
book tour to the United States. He was just sort of
celebrated everywhere. He was celebrated on Charlie
Rose. He was on Fresh Air. He was, the 92nd Street Y. I
think his book was excerpted in The New Yorker, and he
got these, I think it was on the front page of The New
York Times book review, too.
But Shavit is just a unreconstructed, I mean he's a
reconstructed Zionist. He acknowledges the Nakba. He
acknowledges that Palestinians were dispossessed, but
it's all a miraculous narrative. He uses the word
"miracle" to describe Israel. Israel is a miracle in
And he said
that, he was talking to Hadassah Magazine about this
incredible, it was just a joyful month for him here. And
he said that this came about because of, in part,
because of four menschen. He was using the Hebrew or
Yiddish word for man, plural menschen. Four menschen:
David Remnick, Leon Wieseltier, Tom Friedman, and
So he was referring to these kind of very powerful
journalists who had played such a role in embracing him
and celebrating him. And it was a frank description of
the degree to which people who have a very positive view
of Zionism and of Israel, and, in Wieseltier and Jeffrey
Goldberg's case, are really right wing Zionists, the
degree to which they play a central role still in our
piece in Hadassah Magazine was one in which they
interviewed Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times, and she
talked all about her Jewish background. And she said
that she had gone to Israel first with the United
Synagogue Youth as a girl and that she has come to this
issue with great knowledge of the American Jewish
experience and the Israel, the Jewish Israeli side of
the conflict, which is really, I mean, it's a tragic
kind of admission, from my standpoint, especially as
it's borne out by her coverage, because this is not
someone who has extended herself to the other narrative.
She knows this narrative. She's saying this is the
narrative I came with and, as it turns out, if you look
at her coverage, she has not really extended herself.
She's really operated inside this comfort zone in what I
call a sort of culturally-bound fashion.
And she was sort of, the tragedy, from my standpoint, is
that The New York Times would send someone over to this
area who has this background who just un-interrogated.
Everyone has a background, but, in her case, it seems so
Now, this is
all-familiar terrain to you. And I should just emphasize
that Rudoren, lately, in describing the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions movement, characterized it and
said, you know, many are comparing it in Israel to the
Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses. So she was using
this highly-inflammatory language to describe this very
powerful movement for Palestinian rights, which I
thought was biased.
All of you are familiar with this terrain or you would
not be here, I think. So I don't need to go over and
over it. The thing that I want to, I now want to move to
is the kind of more positive developments that we're
seeing, even within this -- and I'm focused here on the
elites, the mainstream elites, because I think they're
significant in the end.
there are many people from the grassroots here. There
are many people from the Washington establishment, sort
of a more marginalized Washington establishment. I'm
more from the grassroots now, and all these are powerful
elements but they're not the sort of mainstream
So three positive statements that indicate the sort of
changes that we're beginning to witness. Tom Friedman
said in a column, he described the Congress as being
bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. He said this
last year or so. And to make that type of assertion, you
know, ten years ago, eight years ago, you were just
branded as anti-Semitic. Now, of course, he has
J-positive blood, so he gets a break. But, no, he is
making an assertion that was just beyond the pale, I
think, a few years ago.
And he's doing it because he's honest. There is an
honest component to Tom Friedman, and he knows what's
going on. He also made, he was speaking at Oxford last
year and he said that when someone was interlocked or, I
think, a scholar at Oxford was asking why does the
Israel lobby have such power, and he referred to George
Bush's loss in 1992 when Bill Clinton ran to his right
on settlements. And he said that his son absorbed the
lesson of that. You know, you can't go too far right on
the Israel question and that's what our politicians
understand. He was describing the power of the Israel
lobby. It was a very good statement. He hasn't written
that up, unfortunately.
Another thing that I would point to is a review of John
Judis' book on Truman that's coming out in The New York
Times that's very -- and John Judis' book about Truman
is all about how Truman was for the separation of church
and state and folded on that because of the power of the
lobby. And this piece in The Times frankly describes the
power of the lobby without any kind of bias. He doesn't
share Judis' view, but it's a fair review.
what is happening and why are these changes taking
place, I think the first thing I'd refer to is, of
course, the internet, which has changed everything. It's
changed all our lives. I remember ten years ago I was
here covering a congressional hearing for a magazine.
When I was in the mainstream media, I was making a lot
of money for this article. I'd get $10,000 for covering
this hearing and doing a piece on the anti-war movement.
And at this hearing, there were three bloggers there who
were making nothing, and I was just confused by this.
And I met Craig Newmark of Craigslist soon after, and I
said, "Craig, there's something wrong with this model.
I'm getting $10,000. These three people are getting
zero. The money has got to be averaged out. There's
something wrong." And he said, "There's nothing wrong
with the model," and he said, "These three people are
all getting something out of what they're doing." And I
really hadn't thought about -- he said, "One is being
entrepreneurial. One is having freedom. One is
supporting a cause. These people are using the First
Amendment and not worrying about how much money they're
going to make off of it."
surprise to me is that, in the last ten years, I've
switched sides. I'm one of those three people now. I've
broken out of that sort of elite mind set, and there's
been a lot of freedom, and that's happening with many
journalists. And many journalists are beginning to
understand what great stories there are in covering the
I'm coming down to the end of my time, so I'll leave out
the tribal piece. I was going to get into the whole
Jewish piece of this, the degree to which Jewish life is
changing. Allen addressed this. But to the extent that
Jewish life is changing, it has given other people,
because there is an element of deference for many
reasons, you know, including the donors and the voters
and the hammerlock. There's deference to the Jewish
community inside the American establishment. And because
that Jewish community is now beginning to fracture
openly, that is giving people permission to talk about
it. That's one piece.
piece I'd mention, though, is -- and I think that
journalists are also understanding that these are great
stories. I think that any journalist who came here today
and listened today will understand what just amazing
stories there are if you look back over the history of
the Israel lobby, from the silencing of Sobran to the
USS Liberty attack to, I think about James Forrestal's
death in the 1950s, why he went mad, the Balfour
I mean, there's just this very rich history that John
Judis has treated in his book but that all journalists
who love stories, I think we're going to see more and
more of that. And that's when we'll finally see the high
noon for the Israel lobby. Thank you.
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