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Time to turn up the heat on the Nation

Liberals can sound pretty pathetic when their back is to the wall, and liberal Zionists even more so. A case in point is Eric Alterman.

Rania Khalek has initiated important criticisms, amplified by both Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, that not only establishment media such as the NYT but also the most progressive media in the US, such as the Nation, have effectively marginalised Palestinian and Arab voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, preferring to allow Israeli and Jewish voices to dominate.

The Nation’s editors were especially rattled when Naomi Klein agreed on Twitter that the magazine “can and should do much better”.     

One editor, Richard Kim, tried to defend the Nation’s record, arguing that it had published  14 pieces by Palestinian writers over the past six years – or just over two a year.

As Ali Abunimah noted:

Kim did not produce a list showing how many articles focusing on Palestine and the Israelis had been written by Israelis or Jewish Americans. If he did, he might have had to point out, for example, that the number of Nation articles written by just two Israelis – Neve Gordon and Bernard Avishai – added up to 34 pieces!

Now Alterman, a Nation regular, has waded in, desperately trying to justify his own privileged place at the Nation commenting on the Middle East – remember it was he who got to critique Max Blumenthal’s superb book Goliath for the magazine with one of the most petulant reviews ever. He is in similar mood about the latest efforts to hold the Nation accountable for its claims to be a progressive magazine on Israel-Palestine.

In his latest column, Alterman causally dismisses criticisms even from the Nation’s editors that in an earlier piece he inaccurately characterised Khalek as arguing that there were “too many Jews” writing in the Nation. He argues that she may not have actually made that claim but his point stands nonetheless. It seems the facts – that Khalek was arguing for better representation of Arab opinion, not suppression of Jewish or Israeli opinion – are irrelevant to Alterman.

He then claims that the Nation includes Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists, as though this is a rebuttal of Khalek’s argument. It seems we don’t need to know what Palestinians think themselves because, according to Alterman, Jewish anti-Zionists can speak for them.

Next he has the chutzpah to argue that the reason there are so many Jews writing on Israel-Palestine at the Nation is because, well, it sounds like he’s saying it’s because they are more intelligent or articulate than Palestinians. But I wouldn’t want to be as loose with the facts as Alterman is, so let’s do him the courtesy of quoting him:

To complain about too many Jews writing on the Middle East or any other issue is to essentialize a racial/ethnic characteristic and ignore the quality of argument and evidence. … Either the arguments are compelling or not. Either the evidence support them or it does not. The race/ethnicity/gender of the person making an argument is, or ought to be, irrelevant. … This is not politics we are talking about, where representation obviously matters, but the world of argument and ideas, which ought to rise or fall strictly on their moral and intellectual merit.

Hmmm. Is he saying that there are so few Arabs / Palestinians writing about Israel-Palestine because they have no credible arguments, or because they are just too dumb to make a credible case, so Jews need to do it for them? Either way the word “bigot”, liberal or otherwise, springs to mind.

Then he switches to a strawman.

Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights? Should it limit the number of Latinos it publishes on immigration? Should it limit the number of women it publishes on feminism? Should it limit the number of whites, non-Hispanics and men respectively as well? And what, pray tell, is the difference?

Let’s rephrase those questions to get a different perspective – one that Alterman from his privileged position may have missed: Should The Nation allow white Americans to dominate the coverage of civil rights? Should it allow non-Hispanics to dominate the coverage of immigration? Should it allow men to dominate the coverage of feminism?

The answer is obvious. It would be grossly unfair for a progressive publication to let men dictate the discussion of feminism, or whites dominate the discussion about civil rights. In fact, it would be so patently unprogressive that it should not need to be stated in those cases. So why is it not clear to Alterman in this case?

Next he segues into a baffling and brief discussion about who is a Jew.

How is The Nation to decide how many Jews are too many when Jews themselves cannot agree on who’s Jewish?

But again that is not the point. Khalek and others are not waging a McCarthyite campaign against Jews at the Nation; they are asking for the door to be a little more open to Palestinians and Arabs writing on an issue on which they may have a perspective that needs to be taken into account.

It is time for reform at the Nation and other publications. Alterman and his editors need to starting feeling the heat.

(NOTE: Please don’t be put off by the unrelated headline on the Alterman piece in the link to the Nation above. The headline refers to an article below Alterman’s.)

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