Is “Israel First” The Worst?

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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22 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Eh, much like with discussions of how “I’m using the word ‘n***a’, not ‘n***er’, therefore your accusations of racism are unfounded and trying to change the subject!”, I’m wondering if, maybe, it’d be more useful to try to have the conversation without anyone using what most people consider to be a slur.

    Is is *POSSIBLE* to discuss whether Israel’s influence on US foreign policy is in the US’s short or long-term best interest *WITHOUT* using what thin-skinned Jews consider to be a slur?

    If it is possible to have that discussion, wouldn’t we want to?

    To run with your analogy, isn’t it so much more interesting to discuss policy than whether I should have the right to use a particular slur that other people used before they killed/raped/threatened a third group of people because, may I point out, I’m using it ironically?

    If we’re talking about the difference between how Outkast says it and how Axl Rose says it and how, seriously, I’m using it the way that Outkast does… well, we’re no longer talking about education policy, are we? Or welfare policy. Or hiring policy. Or the war on drugs. Or whatever. We’re now talking about the suffix ‘a’ versus ‘er’.

    Which is, seriously, avoidable.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      Is is *POSSIBLE* to discuss whether Israel’s influence on US foreign policy is in the US’s short or long-term best interest *WITHOUT* using what thin-skinned Jews consider to be a slur?

      If it is possible to have that discussion, wouldn’t we want to?

      Does ‘we’ include M.J. Rosenberg here, or not? Because I’m not at all comfortable saying that I don’t think he has thought through very carefully what he does and doesn’t want to do.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Of course it does. Let *HIM* be the guy who throws slurs around in a conversation. If we want to discuss whether he’s more brave than Steve Sailer or less brave than Steve Sailer, we can take a vote on whether that’s the conversation we want to have.

        If, however, we have the option of having this conversation *WITHOUT* throwing slurs around… wouldn’t we want to do that?

        To use a very recent example, would you rather discuss immigration policy with someone who says “illegal immigrants” or “illegals”? Now, sure, the person who comes into the conversation and says “I REFUSE TO DISCUSS THIS TOPIC UNLESS WE SAY ‘HUMAN BEINGS WITHOUT DOCUMENTS'” is, of course, a prat.

        It does seem to me that there’s a lot of room between “illegals” and “human beings without documents”.

        If we could avoid using things that people have said, over and over and over again, are slurs, why wouldn’t we *WANT* to do that? Heck, then, after we go out of our way to discuss the outside influence of lobbyists on government policy without using slurs, when someone says “lobbyists means money and money means Jews??? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE REFERENCES TO JEWS HAVING A LOT OF MONEY????”, we can point to them and say “you’re just being silly at this point”.

        If, however, they say “look, a lot of really offensive critics use this particular term and it’s a pretty offensive slur” beforehand and we say “sorry, we’d rather keep using it”, then that says something as well. If nothing else, it gives us an opportunity to ask (if I may go back to our previous analogy) “is there a term you would prefer we use to describe people who are citizens of another country who come to this country and ignore the immigration process?”

        They can then answer. If they come back and say “human beings without documents” rather than “illegal immigrants”, then we know exactly what’s going on in the conversation… and we never once had to use what we know is considered a slur.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          You’re confusing a term that is used to describe a certain class of people with a term that is used to refer to people making certain very particular arguments in the public square – and only inasmuch as they use those arguments.  Also, “we” continues to do work in an unaccountable way for you.  And you aren’t dealing with the basic issue, either: in- vs. out-group use.

          You can totally use ‘we’ to talk about me.  I endorse.  But I can’t speak for Rosenberg.  He may say, “I can’t remotely say what I want to say without using this term,” or he may say, “Sure, I could say the same basic thing without using this term, but I’m using it for very conscious reasons that I am satisfied with.”  And I don’t think either of us can gainsay him on that, for a reason that is well-understood.  Others certainly can, but not us.  There is indeed a ‘we’ here, and we’re not part of it.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            The conversation is taking place in a place where both members of the in-group and the out-group congregate. The dynamic of in-group use around in-group members is not the dynamic that exists *HERE*.

            You know what? He could very easily say “Sure, I could say the same basic thing without using this term, but I’m using it for very conscious reasons that I am satisfied with.”

            If he looks at all of the folks who happened to show up and, doing a quick calculus of who is “us” and who ain’t “us” decides to go for it? Great, swell. That’s his decision.

            But he shouldn’t be surprised to hear that there are large numbers of “his” folks shocked that he’d be talking that way in front of “us”.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              I wasn’t saying that the dynamic of in-group use around in-group is the dynamic at work here. I simply said that you weren’t dealing with the issue of in-group use(.), and whether we out-groupers can speak to it or not.

              I don’t think he is surprised by the reaction, and neither do I think I can judge the reaction. My guess is that he may have anticipated the reaction, and that may have something to do with why he used the term in the first place.

              The point is, I don’t know whether Chis Rock should have mainstreamed the -a term and the -er term in the way he did.  How the hell should *I* know?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Is this one of those things where we can’t criticize in-group usage but we can criticize in-group criticism of in-group usage?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not me.  I’m saying I can’t criticize the use by an in-group member (even if it’s audible in public or directed at an audience not restricted to other in-group members) – nor the criticism that said in-group members receive from other members.  I thought I had said that: that’s what I meant when I said, “…and neither do I think I can judge the reaction.”

                I think everything in your initial comment certainly does go for us out-groupers, though: we should mindfully eschew whatever language, say, a plurality, or even just any significant sub-group, of in-group members say is unwelcome.   But I feel I have to assume that in-group members do what they do advisedly; that they have their reasons.  And I think it follows that it isn’t up to me to judge what they do from the perspective of the in-group.  It also follows that I should not judge whether other in-group members who hear what the first in-group members say and criticize them for it are wrong either (they’re in-group members too!), whatever their reaction is (within reason – I’m not going to condone violence).  It’s just not my place to say on either score – it’s an in-group thing.Report

  2. J.L. Wall says:

    What bothers me about Freddie’s comment — the one you quoted in particular — is that there’s no shortage of criticism of Israel of just the sort he describes.  Perhaps it’s not on CNN, but for the love of God, he moves in academia, the world in which liberal Jews who support Israel but not Bibi are frequently hesitant to voice their opinions on the matter outside of Jewish circles — for fear of being labelled an “Israel Firster,” or, as one woman put it, “I don’t want angry letters again.”  During the 2008/9 Gaza War, Northwestern’s paper spent a full week publishing op-eds and letters to the editor accusing Israel of intending and acting upon genocidal designs — and, while posting their little box complaining of a lack of submissions, refused to print anything dissenting from accusations of genocide.  (I know they existed, because I know that I, and others, wrote them.)  Of course, I’m actually glad that crap like that isn’t allowed on CNN.

    BUT: Yes, it was sheer idiocy for AIPAC to go nuclear on the “Israel-Firster” line.  Their usual press release would have been enough, because no one would have really cared.  They need to pick their battles better.  Because there are damn better battles for them to pick.Report

    • Matt in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      Isn’t it interesting how a heck of a lot of the “Israel Firster” crap comes from people who have written long pro-Palestinian screeds in years past?

      It’s almost as if these fifth reichers were still fighting the 1948 war or something.Report

    • MFarmer in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      As J.L. says, there are many, many more people who do not consider it anti-semitic to ask such questions of Israel and Israel’s supporters than do consider it anti-semitic. I don’t think anyone’s in danger of being silenced because they’re criticizing Israel. There are supporters of Israel who believe all criticism is anti-semitic, but they are so few in number relative to those who freely and vociferously criticize Israel as to make them insignificant “reactionaries” in the discussions on Israel.Report

    • Max in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      Yep, this.

      If you are a university professor, or a politics blogger, criticizing Israel harshly doesn’t make you brave, it makes you part of the pack. Please, *please*, stop congratulating yourselves, it’s wearying.Report

      • Max in reply to Max says:

        On a related note, if you’re looking to speak about a contentious issue in a way that reaches people who disagree with you, Freddie deBoer may not be your best jumping-off point.Report

  3. E.C. Gach says:

    “That is to say, if there are American Jews who, if push came to shove, would choose Israel over America; fine, whatever, good for them. Something I quite like about this country — or at least the idea of this country — is that hold those beliefs and live here in peace, and not as some kind of intellectual second-class citizens.”

    Exactly.  We should be open about what are views are, as well as the motivations, values, beliefs behind them.  But none of this should be disqualifying, and any attempt to shut a conversation down rather than air it out will only leave us worse off.Report

  4. Robert Greer says:

    Not because I find the term so overloaded with historical poison so as to be untouchable (more on that in a second) but rather because, like Corey, I’m pretty ambivalent (at best) about any rhetoric that endorses the tribalist framework of nationalism.

    You know, you could also characterize the “Israel-Firster” term as a repudiation of a “the tribalist framework of nationalism.”  In a country (America) that claims to hold equal all religions and nationalities, it might be natural to see loyalty to another nation that explicitly favors one religion/tribe as insufficiently cosmopolitan.  To put another way: Should we think differently of nationalism when it’s expressed by people who see their nation as an anti-tribalist entity?Report

  5. Steve S. says:

    Thing is, we need a vocabulary to talk about various things.  Let me draw an imperfect analogy; I’ve known Irish-Americans who were proud of the heritage, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, teared up at “Danny boy”, and so on, but I’ve not personally known one who spoke openly with a great deal of sympathy for the IRA, or who would have dreamt of joining them.  We need a vocabulary to distinguish these two sorts of people, just as we need a vocabulary to distinguish someone who would go so far as to join the IDF from someone like Elias (and of course there are many flavors in between).  We need a vocabulary to talk about these things without causing offense.

    Ackerman’s piece is good at telling us what we can’t say but not so good at telling us what we can.  For example, “former Israeli prison guard” offends him.  For those who don’t find that phrase offensive but might want to write something about Jeffrey Goldberg and his personal history an alternative would be helpful.  Needless to say, there are things that need to be talked about by honest people of good will without getting stuck in a mire of accusations.Report

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    It’s interesting how nuanced the left’s views about what is and what is not anti-semitic are, relative to their views about what is and what is not racist.Report

  7. Will H. says:

    Nit 1): Iranians are not Persians. The Persians were invaded by Arabs, and now the Arabs never want them to be able to live it down. Persians are a racial underclass in modern Iran.

    Nit 2): Israel has attacked an American ship before, at great loss of life. This was quickly glossed over, because to do otherwise would be “anti-Semitic.” (wish I could remember the name of the ship, a destroyer, I think, off the coast of Egypt)

    As for Jaybird’s whole line upthread:
    Most people that are wetbacks already know that they’re wetbacks. There’s no shame in it. I’ve known and worked with several of them. And I feared for their safety as well. No, I would never turn them in. They came here to make a better life for their families, and they don’t make trouble. Too afraid of being sent back to make trouble.
    I’ve known several people from Ireland, and I can’t think of a one that I didn’t like. Conversely, I tend to revile the Irish-Americans, who are happy to go on and on about how Irish they are.
    And yes, the IRA was funded mainly by Irish-Americans.
    What is generally accepted as a racial slur, the word ‘nigger’ is Creole. In the striated caste system that the French devised, pidgin French (Cajun) was a step above pidgin Spanish (Creole). Those Spanish speakers were outsiders that came from the Islands.
    I’m not defending its use. I’m just saying that the whole concept of the term as being reprobate is itself somewhat reprobate.

    That said, this night, I am enjoying my home-brewed Vienna lager. This is my most-requested brew. I plan on entering it into some local County fairs this year. Good stuff.
    If any of you Leaguers are in the Springfield area, I’ll give you a half-gallon of mead. Bring your own jug. No more than half a gallon.
    All Jews welcome.
    American Jews only.
    Not an Israel Firster over here or something, ya know.

    Ok, so I’m not done yet.
    What about people like me, who are predominantly Assholian?
    Don’t you think we would want a better term to be known as other than A-hole?
    I’m afraid I’m going to have to stand up for A**holes everywhere.

    Look, if you’re an A**hole, and you’re out there reading this–
    I want you to know:
    You’re not alone.
    I understand.
    Don’t give up hope.
    Just keep being yourself.
    It gets better.Report

  8. Will Truman says:

    I always find this general discussion to be quite interesting. It’s not unlike a lot of other discussions, but all of the shoes are on the wrong feet.Report

  9. K. A. M. says:

    I will agree with the language police as to avoiding the use of terms they decide they don’t like, notwithstanding their substantive and contextual accuracy of the term so used, if they agree to allow ‘antisemitism’ to mean the hatred, disparagement, and murder of Palestinians who, as Arabs, are Semites, due, in part, to the substantive and contextual accuracy of the term so used.




    Also – have they voted on funding the Ministry of Truth yet?  I am still somehow bothered by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people over the past year due to neocon/Ziocon thinking.  Clearly, I need to be re-educated as to which killings of unarmed civilians merit our reclined outrage.