Max Blumenthal writes that although there have been many people who have been criticizing his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel that takes a hard look at what Israeli society has become, they have been reluctant to share a stage with him and debate the issues.
Over the years, I have experienced a barrage of attacks from a virtual who’s who of pro-Israel activists and intellectuals. Yet none of my assailants have ever accepted an invitation to engage with me in a public conversation. The most notable example of the phenomenon was provided in recent months by Eric Alterman, who attacked me in nine separate posts on the Nation website but vehemently refused to debate me, though he solicited a $10,000 fee to do so under the table.
Alterman was not alone. The Nation Institute invited Peter Beinart to engage with me in a moderated discussion in October in New York City at the opening event of my book tour, but Beinart refused without explanation. Gershom Gorenberg, the liberal Zionist author and journalist who has scathingly attacked my work, refused an invitation from the journalist Robert Wright to engage with me in a discussion on the online debating site, Bloggingheads. So did Eli Lake, the passionately neoconservative correspondent who busies himself during lunch breaks and throughout the workday by lobbying insults at me on Twitter. They were cowed, and understandably so.
It is increasingly clear that the struggle over the future of Israel-Palestine will be decided through a conflict between Zionists and anti-Zionists, with Jews and Arabs aligned on both sides of the divide. However, American Zionists have stringently avoided sharing any intellectual space with their real adversaries. Beinart was eager to debate Alan Dershowitz; Jeremy Ben Ami has jousted with Bill Kristol; and Daniel Gordis argued the merits of boycotting settlements with Lara Friedman. But few of these figures have ever dared to expose their ideas to the interrogation of a Palestinian or an anti-Zionist Jew. Instead, liberal and Likudnik Zionists stage one mock debate after another, aiming to conceal their fundamentally anti-Palestinian ideological alignment behind a smokescreen of rancorous dispute.
However there was one person willing to debate him and that was Richard Landes, a professor of history at Boston University. Blumenthal gives an interesting account of the event that featured him and Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian-American Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies at Brown University, on one side, and Landes and a former South Sudanese refugee named Simon Deng on the other.
The rhetoric from the other side had rapidly degenerated from ahistorical to bigoted to bizarre to downright berserk. It had become painfully clear that this was all Zionists had left. No wonder events like our debate were so rare, and why they will become increasingly so.