Max Blumenthal on the unwillingness of his critics to debate him


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.

He concludes:

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.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    Ah gee, Prof. Singham cites the refusal of Blumenthal’s critics to debate him. I think that they should agree to debate him when Stephen Walt agrees to debate Alan Dershowitz on the claims made in the Walt/Mearsheimer tome.

  2. Chiroptera says

    The rhetoric from the other side had rapidly degenerated from ahistorical to bigoted to bizarre to downright berserk.

    Weird. He could have been describing the comments to Middle Eastern topics on FtB.

  3. colnago80 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #4

    Hey, the Assads are only following the advice of the late former Israeli Prime Minister Shamir: when you live in a tough neighborhood, you have to be a tough guy and we live in a tough neighborhood.. Syria is a tough neighborhood.

  4. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Just curious Professor Singham on how you felt about Bill Nye debating Ken Ham.

    Did you agree with many at FTB that it’s worse than useless for scientists to debate Creationists?

  5. Mano Singham says

    No, I don’t think they are useless, provided you are not being exploited. I am at heart a teacher and so I see these debates as providing opportunities to maybe open the minds of some people in the audience, especially young people. That is why I favor a format where I am not trying to ‘win’ the debate but instead am am making my case to those who may have an open mind.

  6. wtfwhateverd00d says

    No, I don’t think they are useless, provided you are not being exploited. I am at heart a teacher and so I see these debates as providing opportunities to maybe open the minds of some people in the audience, especially young people. That is why I favor a format where I am not trying to ‘win’ the debate but instead am am making my case to those who may have an open mind.

    Thank you. I agree with you though with a different perspective.

    Public policy is made in public. People who refuse to debate (and that includes scientists) should have no claim on the direction of public policy.

    That is why I favor a format where I am not trying to ‘win’ the debate but instead am am making my case to those who may have an open mind.

    I don’t mind the winning or losing aspect (though it can be frustrating). We are animals that keep score love to win and hate to lose!

    I am not an expert in public debates, and do acknowledge there are can be huge difficulties in debating some people, and perhaps that should determine choice of venue, or ground rules, but basically yes, “put up or shut up” when it comes to debates.

  7. psweet says

    Scientists don’t refuse public debates — they just do them in print, where there’s time to fully deal with points raised by others.

  8. says

    The strongest arguments are the ones that withstand questions, which is why Israeli apologists won’y engage Blumenthal. They can’t win a rational argument up close, so they resort to the usual propaganda and name calling (“antisemitism!”) from a distance.

  9. colnago80 says

    Re Mano Singham @ #7

    Scientists should only agree to debate creationists if they are willing to put in the effort to counteract the Gish Gallop. The example of this was the debate between Ken Miller and Henry Morris where the former was fully prepared to confront the Gish Gallop.

  10. Nick Gotts says

    I think that they should agree to debate him when Stephen Walt agrees to debate Alan Dershowitz on the claims made in the Walt/Mearsheimer tome. – colnago80@1

    Why is that relevant? Blumenthal is, presumably, not responsible for Walt’s refusal to debate Dershowitz, so why should that refusal be an excuse for those who refuse to debate Blumenthal?* I’d have some sympathy for those refusing to take part in a time-limited oral debate, where rhetorical tricks such as raising irrelevant complaints about the behaviour of third parties can count for more than facts and logic, but not for those refusing to take part in an online debate where both sides get a full opportunity to refute claims made by the other with properly sourced evidence.

    *Oh, I think I get it now. In colnago80’s bizarre way of looking at the world, anyone who criticises Israeli policies in any way is responsible for anything said or done by everyone else who has ever done so, and indeed, for the whole history of antisemitism up to and including the Shoah.

  11. Mano Singham says

    People who refuse to debate (and that includes scientists) should have no claim on the direction of public policy.

    I don’t agree with this. Not everyone likes to debate. That does not mean that they should be shut out of policy discussions.

  12. colnago80 says

    Re Nick Gotts @ #12

    Well, Stephen Walt is one of Blumenthal’s go to guys on the Middle East so he should be as critical oft the former’s refusal to debate Alan Dershowitz as he is about his critic’s refusal to debate him.

  13. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I’m not speaking of individuals. I am speaking of groups.

    Ie. hypothetical

    Biologists that want to teach evolution in school and ban creationism but caution other biologists not to debate creationists.

    Climate Scientists that want a carbon tax but caution other climate scientists not to debate global warming deniers.

    Researchers and doctors that want to mandate a vaccine but caution others not to debate anti-vaxxers.

  14. Silentbob says

    @ 12 Nick Gotts

    Oh, I think I get it now. In colnago80’s bizarre way of looking at the world, anyone who criticises Israeli policies in any way is responsible for anything said or done by everyone else who has ever done so, and indeed, for the whole history of antisemitism up to and including the Shoah.

    I know the response to that one by heart.

    When one gets into the pen with the pigs, one may expect to emerge with a coating of mud.

    lol 🙂

  15. doublereed says

    hahaha, I thought that line was stupid when I first heard it, and now I’m baffled that he apparently loves it.

    I don’t even get it, It sounds like you’re just self-aware of how much of a dumbass you’re being. It’s both self-deprecating and insulting. Weird.

  16. Silentbob says

    @ 17 doublereed

    I could have put more links, but I think there’s a limit of three without moderation. 😉

  17. readysf says

    Blumenthal is excellent on stage, which is why he is so frightening. I head him on BookTV, and he makes his arguments clearly and logically. A dangerous voice, indeed!

    There is today great debate within the Jewish community about Zionism. The debasement of Palestinians clearly violates Jewish values, but the “establishment” is well funded and prefers to coverup the obvious.

    The debate is quite nasty, with Jews calling each other anti Semitic. Quite hilarious, except that establishment Jewry (represented by AIPAC) have corrupted US foreign policy in the process. AIPAC has become a strategic threat, and the kowtowing of Congress is an open demonstration of the terror tactics they employ.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Prof Singham. This is by far the most pressing problem in US foreign policy, because it prioritizes Israel above other countries.

  18. Dunc says

    @17: I’m becoming increasingly convinced that he wears size 78 shoes, and if you honk the horn in his car, the doors fall off.

  19. colnago80 says

    Re readysf @ 319

    Shorter readysf: let’s throw Israel under the bus and support terrorist organizations like Hizbollah, Hamas Al Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad. His rantings about AIPAC are right out of the Protocols of Zion.

  20. readysf says

    Colnago80, re your post#21

    When you cant refute the facts, attack the messenger. Old trick. When it comes to Israel it has stopped working.

    “Throw Israel under the bus”: Israel is de-legitimizing itself, and throwing itself under the bus through its behavior.

    “Support terrorists”: This accusation is a silly joke. Why not just call me anti semitic as well?

    It is people who try and “protect” Israel from the facts who are anti-Israel. People like you.

  21. says

    It is people who try and “protect” Israel from the facts who are anti-Israel.

    He’s worse than that. He also says things like “settlements, now and forever as far as the eye can see” and advocates nuclear strikes on Iran. He’s not knowingly anti-Israel but he sure is not the kind of person you want on your side because he makes you look horrible by association.

  22. readysf says

    Re post #24, colnago80:

    Israel and Iran can do what they want with each other, just like China and Taiwan. That’s geopolitics.

    But no one dare mess with my right to speak what I want!!

    I do not want my country associated with Israel’s behavior, and not be able to speak about it as forcefully as I choose. I am an American, and I am not conflicted. I will boycott anyone I choose to express my displeasure, and I will NOT desist from speaking truth to power….which these days happens to be the shameless Israel lobby.

  23. colnago80 says

    Re readysf

    Hey, you can say anything you want. You have complete freedom of speech living, I assume in San Francisco (sf). But, of course, I also have complete freedom of speech and can call you out for your desire to give the Jews in Israel the Eichmann treatment. And by the way, the US is obligated by treaty to defend the independence of Taiwan.

  24. readysf says

    Colagno, here is what you said:

    “I also have complete freedom of speech and can call you out for your desire to give the Jews in Israel the Eichmann treatment.”

    I have expressed no such desire, and you are demented. And, remarkably stupid. I suggest you seek professional help. I will not be replying to any more of your posts.

  25. colnago80 says

    Re readysf @ #27

    This is what you said @ #25

    Israel and Iran can do what they want with each other, just like China and Taiwan. That’s geopolitics.

    Since members of the Iranian Government have proposed removing Israel from the map of the world and you say that they can do whatever they want, my interpretation is that you would be indifferent to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, which would be the equivalent of the Eichmann treatment. Thus, fair comment on my part.

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