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The New York Times and the "Conservative" American Jewish Committee:

The New York Times story on the American Jewish Committee's report criticizing left-wing opponents of Israel describes the AJC as a "conservative advocacy group."

This statement is very hard to reconcile with the facts, unless the Times is using an extremely idiosyncratic definition of "conservative." Like most mainstream Jewish organizations, the AJC is in fact dominated by political liberals.

The AJC's positions on public policy issues reflect this orientation. For example, its web page listing "Domestic Policy Statements" includes press releases decrying conservative criticisms of the "independent judiciary," supporting equal rights for gay couples and opposing the federal anti-gay marriage amendment, opposing Republican efforts to change Senate rules that permitted Democratic senators to filibuster Bush's judicial nominees, embracing the cause of DC statehood (a position supported by most liberal Democrats and opposed by most Republicans and conservatives), advocating for the rights of illegal immigrants and so on. The AJC has also taken generally liberal positions on separation of church and state (e.g. - opposing religious displays on public property), and education policy, among other issues.

Many of the AJC's leaders are also liberal in their politics. For example, Kenneth Stern, the AJC's "specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism" is best known for a book he wrote denouncing right-wing militia groups.

If the Times can be so wrong about the simple and fairly obvious fact that the AJC is a liberal organization (or at the very least not a "conservative" one), it is difficult to put much faith in the validity of the other statements in the article.

There are, to be sure, different definitions of what it means to be "conservative." But it's hard to believe that a group with the above set of positions could reasonably be described as "conservative" in a way that conforms to the generally accepted usage of that term in modern American political discourse.

Perhaps Times reporter Patricia Cohen merely meant to say that the AJC is "conservative" on Israel-related issues. Even this characterization is questionable, given that the organization endorses the idea of a Palestinian state and strongly supported the Oslo "peace process" (which most Israeli right-wingers and American Jewish conservatives opposed). But if this was the meaning that Cohen had in mind, she should have at the very least indicated that the AJC is "conservative" on Israel-related issues, while taking liberal stances on most other issues.

UPDATE: Here is the AJC's own statement denying that it is a conservative organization. The AJC claims that "it is a strictly nonpartisan organization long viewed as centrist in its orientation." I think that "liberal" is a more accurate classification of the AJC than "centrist." Be that as it may, it certainly isn't conservative.

John (mail):
Your post seems to proceed on the assumption that the Times' goal is honesty in its reporting.

The Times tries to make money first and promote its publisher's agenda second. Its management seeks to do this by pandering to a certain audience cross section. Honest reporting occurs only by happy coincidence.

I don't mean to single out the Times in this, of course.
2.2.2007 12:28am
Lev:
If the NYTers are...."anti fascist progressives"....then the AJC is liberal bourgeouis conservative.
2.2.2007 12:32am
Ilya Somin:
Your post seems to proceed on the assumption that the Times' goal is honesty in its reporting.

I'm not naive enough to assume that this is the Times' only goal, or even its most important one. But it should at least be one of its goals.
2.2.2007 12:37am
Minnesota Reader:
While obviously the conspirators are free to blog about what they want, I'd much prefer to see the energy used to marshal evidence to "prove" that the Times made a mistake be devoted instead to a critique of the substance of the article.

I'm not naive to assume that reporters don't have their biases, but I am skeptical of systematic efforts to inject a political slant into most "straight" news.

Disclosure: I subscribe to the Times, read the Wall Street Journal, and avoid the editorial pages of both.
2.2.2007 1:27am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
Considering the AJC chose to name the report, "'Progressive' Liberal Thought and the New Anti-Semitism", a name that must have been inspired by Rush Limbaugh, perhaps we should not be so tough on the NY Times reporter.

And really, a report that calls a Washington DC corporate centrist like Richard Cohen an anti-Semite is so over the top that it is the opposite of "liberal thinking." It sounds instead like right wing red baiting.

I get your point though, and winced myself when first reading the article. But the rest of the article reasonably summarizes the report and some of the responses to the report.
2.2.2007 1:29am
Ilya Somin:
While obviously the conspirators are free to blog about what they want, I'd much prefer to see the energy used to marshal evidence to "prove" that the Times made a mistake be devoted instead to a critique of the substance of the article.

If the Times article cannot get a very simple fact right (or, worse, is deliberately misleading its readers about it), that at the very least rest calls the accuracy of the rest of the article into question. If the author can be so egregiously inaccurate in her characterization of the AJC, she might also have misrepresented the views of the other people and organizations she discusses - either intentionally or inadvertently.
2.2.2007 1:30am
Ilya Somin:
And really, a report that calls a Washington DC corporate centrist like Richard Cohen an anti-Semite is so over the top that it is the opposite of "liberal thinking." It sounds instead like right wing red baiting.

The report does not call Cohen an anti-Semite. It merely claims that his argument that the creation of Israel was a "mistake" tends to reinforce anti-Semitic attacks on Israel. I think that the report's criticism of Cohen is excessive, but at no point does it say that he is an anti-semite.
2.2.2007 1:34am
r78:
Actually, many of the examples you cite as evidence that the AJC is "liberal" are actually true conservative positions.

True conservatives want an independent judiciary, believe that the government has no business telling gay people that they can't marry, believe that the fed. govt. has no business passing "anti-gay marriage amendments".

I don't see how DC statehood is a "liberal" or "conservative" issue.

And true conservatives are solidly behind the idea of separation of church and state. They don't want the govt meddling in the church or the church meddling in the government.

It sounds like your definition of "conservative" is been warped by the black hole of nutty post-Reagan republicanism.
2.2.2007 1:50am
Kovarsky (mail):
Ilya,

I'm perfectly content to say that the article is non-credible on the basis of that oversight, but it's worth noting that the article appears in the arts section.

The distinction between news and editorial often trips people up, let alone arts. You won't hear nearly as many news people talking smack about the NYT "news" division as you will hear talking same about the various other divisions.
2.2.2007 1:54am
Ilya Somin:
Actually, many of the examples you cite as evidence that the AJC is "liberal" are actually true conservative positions.

True conservatives want an independent judiciary, believe that the government has no business telling gay people that they can't marry, believe that the fed. govt. has no business passing "anti-gay marriage amendments".


This is simply redefining "true conservatism" to align with one's own policy preferences. I myself agree with several of the positions listed above, but they are not "conservative" as that term is understood in contemporary political discourse.
2.2.2007 1:54am
Kovarsky (mail):
Ilya,

Out of curiousity, was that an oversight or do you think it doesn't matter? I think the benign explanation was that you were claiming the article non-credible, which it is, based on that wince-inducing characterization. The malign explanation is that you're inviting this stupid stream of "everything nyt news reports on is fake" commentary that pollutes these threads sometimes. I'm inclined to believe the benign explanation.
2.2.2007 2:00am
Michael B (mail):
"Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader." Martha Gellhorn, 1959

The NYT badly wants to be a guiding light, so badly; hence the not so honorable behavior. A few exceptions, e.g., John Burns.
2.2.2007 2:07am
Ilya Somin:
Out of curiousity, was that an oversight or do you think it doesn't matter? I think the benign explanation was that you were claiming the article non-credible, which it is, based on that wince-inducing characterization.

I honestly don't know whether Cohen deliberately misrpresented the orientation of the AJC or whether she simply screwed up. It would be wrong to accuse her of deliberate deception without additional proof. Either way, however, it definitely reduces the credibility of the article.
2.2.2007 2:13am
A. Zarkov (mail):
r78:

You notion of a "true" conservative makes him a liberal, but that's ok because most people passing themselves off as conservatives are actually liberals. They are liberals because they really accept the basic tenets of liberalism regarding the nature and perfectibility of humans. You can tell liberals very easily, they are constantly making exceptions to what they believe. Take for example public schools. Liberals are constantly extolling the virtues of the public schools. But they send their own children to private schools. Look at Bill Clinton, did he send his daughter to the DC public school system? No, she went to Sidwell Friends School, the elite DC school for the rich and powerful. Al Gore sent his son there, so did Dan Rather. The liberal columnist Tom Wicker suffered a press ambush at Sidwell. Wicker had written columns telling people to send their children to the public school system. He was extremely angry when a reporter asked why he didn't send his children to the DC public schools instead of Sidwell. Jimmy Carter, to his credit, did send his daughter to the DC public system, under the watchful eye of the secret service of course.
2.2.2007 2:26am
Beem:
When the AJC puts "Progressive" in snarky quotes, and then decides Richard Cohen - Richard Cohen, for pete's sake - as a lynchpin of the new anti-Semitism, then "conservative" is only an improper descriptor insofar as it fails to also include "rabidly insane." The article relies entirely on demonization to advance it's agenda, and I honestly can't believe how anyone can accept its characterization of Cohen &others but have the chutzpah to complain about "conservative" labeling. Like Kovarsky, I also found the post wandered quite close to the "poisoning the well" technique so popular among the tinfoil hat brigade.
2.2.2007 2:43am
Kovarsky (mail):
Ilya,

I meant the benign/malign dichotomy as-applied to your post. I'm wondering whether you meant to make the very reasonable point that the article was silly and non-credible, or whether you deliberately sought to invite Michael B. et al. to wax uninformed about the newspaper's organization.
2.2.2007 3:13am
Ilya Somin:
When the AJC puts "Progressive" in snarky quotes, and then decides Richard Cohen - Richard Cohen, for pete's sake - as a lynchpin of the new anti-Semitism, then "conservative" is only an improper descriptor insofar as it fails to also include "rabidly insane.

The report does not say that Cohen is a "lynchpin of the new anti-Semitism." It merely used one statement that Cohen made in one column (that the creation of Israel was a "mistake") as an example of the type of statement that feeds anti-Semitism (even though it itself is not anti-Semitic). As I said, I think the criticism of Cohen in the report is excessive, butit's hardly "insane" or even unreasonable.

As for the other people discussed in the report, most of them have indeed made attacks on Israel that go far beyond any reasonable bounds, and in some cases verge on anti-Semitism or even cross the line into it. Cohen himself implied the truth of this in his comments in the NYT article, where he carefully separates himself from some of the other people attacked in the AJC report.
2.2.2007 3:16am
Beem:
Well, I find the phrase "the age old indictment of Jews" to point towards a kind of ZOG neo-Nazi belief, not some light charge to be tossed around. And that's exactly how they bring up Cohen. Your interpretation: "Cohen is a good fellow who is playing to some extent into the hands of anti-Semites" is never offered at all by the text. There are simply no qualifications given, because, again, the article relies on demonization and certainly not good faith debate. It is Ann Coulter style argumentation. I even see some backpedaling in AJC update letter, suggesting that they were indeed caught off in the deep end with the attacks on Cohen. I just don't see how your take fits with the severity of the text.
2.2.2007 3:46am
Ilya Somin:
Well, I find the phrase "the age old indictment of Jews" to point towards a kind of ZOG neo-Nazi belief, not some light charge to be tossed around. And that's exactly how they bring up Cohen. Your interpretation: "Cohen is a good fellow who is playing to some extent into the hands of anti-Semites" is never offered at all by the text.


Here's the text:


Far from slumbering, the age-old indictment of the Jews has reawakened and rediscovered its voice, which these days is inflected more and more with a Jewish accent. One hears it, for instance, in a recent op-ed by Richard Cohen, a Washington Post journalist who in
the middle of the Second Lebanon War pronounced the creation of Israel to be a "mistake" that has "produced a century of warfare and terrorism." Cohen is right about the never-ending violence, but wrong about its causes. Instead of placing the responsibility for terrorism
squarely where it belongs, he dodges the issue, saying,
"There is no point in condemning Hezbollah." Instead, he blamesthe agents of an abstract and errant "history" for having brought the Jewish state into being in the first place.


It does not say that Cohen is an anti-Semite. It does say that what he says is similar to same kind of blaming the Jews for the animosity towards them that has traditionally fed anti-Semitism. In the very next paragraph, the Report distinguishes Cohen's view that Israel is a "mistake" from what it correctly sees as the much more pernicious view that its establishment was a "crime."

I think that the report is unfair to Cohen because it seems to conflate his view that the creation of Israel was a strategic error with the reprehensible view that it was immoral or that the world would be better off if Israel didn't exist. I also have to admit that on rereading this part of the text, it seems to me to come a lot closer to accusing Cohen of anti-Semitism than I initially thought. At the same time, I think that the report's unfairness to Cohen (who is only very briefly mentioned ) should not prevent us from recognizing that most of its other targets are far more deserving of the criticism it levels.

And of course none of this defeats my point that the NYT was egregiously mistaken in claiming that the AJC is "conservative."
2.2.2007 4:01am
Ilya Somin:
meant the benign/malign dichotomy as-applied to your post. I'm wondering whether you meant to make the very reasonable point that the article was silly and non-credible, or whether you deliberately sought to invite Michael B. et al. to wax uninformed about the newspaper's organization.

I meant to do nothing more than make the points I actually did make in the text of the post. In any event, what it is important is the validity of the argument, not the motives of the person making it.
2.2.2007 4:04am
BobNSF (mail):
Is it an "egregious mistake" to refer to an essay as a report?
2.2.2007 4:50am
Ilya Somin:
Is it an "egregious mistake" to refer to an essay as a report?

The two terms are not mutually exclusive, so it isn't a mistake at all.
2.2.2007 5:35am
A. Zarkov (mail):
The AJC report does not call Richard Cohen an anti-Semite. It does discuss him in a paragraph labeled "Proud to Be Ashamed to Be Jews," which does seem like unwarranted and excessive name-calling. Here is what Cohen said:

"The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now."

I would hardly call that statement anti-Semitic, nor would it justify saying that he is "Proud to Be Ashamed to Be a Jew." Perhaps he had made other statements that would put him in that category. His article simply shows he is ignorant of the history of the Middle East.

Now are we really sure that Cohen is even Jewish? He did write a column "What is the Value of Algebra" where he admits "… I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time …" (I have to say I have never known a Jew who flunked algebra.) He took quite a bit of (undeserved) flack for that article because he basically said that the LA school system should not require all its students to pass a year of algebra to graduate high school. However I don't agree when he says, "Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact." This shows how ignorant of he is of what mathematicians do. I think Cohen is more of an ignoramus then he is any kind of anti-Semite. But I guess he knows enough to be a columnist for the Washington Post.
2.2.2007 7:06am
johnt (mail):
The Times has come a long way down since it's calm, objective, and thorough reporting on the Duke lacrosse case. Still, it will never lose the loyalty of that hardy band of open minded liberals who sit by their computers shaking and covered with sweat, waiting to dash off another rightous denunciation and warning against illegal war, ignoring the UN, the rape of the Constitution, and inevitably, the total loss of any shred of our civil liberties.
The last, a sword that has been hanging over all our heads for five years now, just waiting to drop. Keep your doors double locked and burn all those canceled checks to the ACLU!
2.2.2007 7:35am
lurker:
The discussion of whether it was a "mistake" or deliberate misses the point. The AJC is labeled conservative, because the criteria for being conservative in the circles the reporter (and many NYC elites)runs in are quite different than the criteria used in most other circles. Everyone in her circles shares the AJC views that Professor Somin thinks make it liberal. Recall Pauline Kael's shock after Nixon took 49 states in the 72 election, because she didn't know a single person who supported Nixon.
2.2.2007 7:35am
Loki13 (mail):
So.... I'm not sure I understand what's going on here. I'm new to this 'follow the argument' thing on Volokh.

The NY Times writes an article. (check).
They characterize a group as 'conservative'. (check)
Writer on Volokh disgagress with this assertion, alerting said writer to perhaps more fallacies in article. (check)
Writer on Volokh then shows us the other fallacies, and why this article, as a whole, is essentially fallacious (um....)

Don't know if the AJC is conservative. Conservative compared to what, exactly? Advocacy groups in general? Other jewish advocacy groups? Other jewish advocacy groups specializing in Isreal (as opposed to, say jewish charities or dating services)? But more importantly, isn't this a fight over the wrong thing? Conservative and liberal aren't wholly descriptive labels in many cases, especially when used in relative terms (and true believers prefer 'right' and 'wrong'), so why the kerfuffle? What are the other factual inaccuracies in the article that Ilya Somin found?

If the Times can be so wrong about the simple and fairly obvious fact that the AJC is a liberal organization (or at the very least not a "conservative" one), it is difficult to put much faith in the validity of the other statements in the article

But what does this mean, Ilya? What other problems were there with the article? Just because you disagree with the reporters labelling of a group (and a Jewish group that self-identifies as centrist is often considered, in *relative* terms, conservative) doesn't make the entirety of the article useless.
2.2.2007 7:53am
Richard Riley (mail):
Prof Somin, the American Jewish Committee founded and for a long time published Commentary magazine, obviously a conservative publication and one I have read for many years. Commentary describes itself on its own website ("About Us" page) as the "flagship of neoconservatism," which sounds about right. Why would it be erroneous to describe an organization that founded and published that magazine as "conservative"?

I am being careful about whether AJC still publishes and sponsors Commentary. Certainly it founded the magazine, and until very recently the cover of the magazine said "Published by the American Jewish Committee." Now the cover says "commentarymagazine.com." On a glance through the Commentary website this morning, I couldn't find any reference to the magazine's relationship to AJC. Have they parted ways?

In any event, certainly AJC sponsored Commentary when the publication emerged as a voice of neoconservatism in recent decades. That's relevant to whether it's fair to call AJC "conservative."
2.2.2007 8:00am
fred lapides (mail) (www):
I am old enough to recall the time when many of us read
Commentary because it was liberal and not what it currently is.
Things change.
Liberal? Conservative? Times good? Times bad? I gujess we see things not as they are but as we are
2.2.2007 8:09am
Damn it Gumby!:
It's worth pointing out that Cohen's knowledge of the demographics of Israel diminishes his credibility in anyone taking his views seriously. He views Israel as a "nation of European Jews" ignoring the Sephardim, i.e., the Jews from the Arab countries.

I guess he flunked Israeli history.
2.2.2007 8:18am
Jeek:
a Washington DC corporate centrist like Richard Cohen

Hahahaha, is that what they call ultraliberals now?
2.2.2007 8:37am
great unknown (mail):

The Times tries to make money first and promote its publisher's agenda second.

I think you have this backwards. The publisher has apparently decided it is worth sinking the financial ship in order to push his agenda. Just check out the latest NYT financial results, their stock prices, and the dissension among major - but without voting rights - stockholders.
2.2.2007 9:08am
Ken Arromdee:
What are the other factual inaccuracies in the article that Ilya Somin found?

The point is that the article says other things whose accuracy must be taken on trust. The fact that something which is easy to look up is inaccurate ruins the credibility of the parts which aren't easy to look up.

Asking which of these are inaccurate misses the point, which is that you *can't tell* whether they are accurate, but the other, obviously inaccurate, part doesn't give you cause for optimism.
2.2.2007 9:18am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Good catch, Ilya, don't know how I overlooked that. There is no question that AJC is a "liberal" group overall, in the general spectrum of American politics. The AJC founded Commentary as a liberal magazine, but declined to interfere editorially when former editor Norman Podhoretz turned neoconservative. But the continued funding of the magazine was extremely controversial among the AJC's donors.

I think one commenter hit the nail on the head. The author, Ms. Cohen, is so far left that she thinks mainstream liberals are conservative. Either that, or all the leftists she spoke to for the article are so far left that they told her AJC is conservative, and she believed them instead of doing some research. Regardless, this should have never gotten past the editor, who should have realized that it's highly unlikely that any mainstream Jewish organization founded almost one hundred years ago would be "conservative" politically.
2.2.2007 9:24am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
So Ilya, if I wrote an report about right wing extremists nobody knows, call the report "Conservative thought and the lust for war" and included a stray statement you made, and saying how you have helped mainstream war mongering, you'd be okay with that right? I mean, after all, I didn't say you were personally lusting for war, right?

I would also add that the attack in the AJC report on Tony Kushner is also ridiculous. Kushner is not pro-Zionist as a concept and harkens back to the Socialist Bunds of the early 20th Century. Kushner is not an anti-Semite in any way.

And note the AJC report doesn't even try to prove its case against Chomsky for being anti-Zionist. Why? Because if the professor who wrote the article ever really read Chomsky, he would note Chomsky has called for a two state solution for Israel and Palestinians, opposes academic and other boycotts against Israel, has criticized the Walt/Mearshimer essay as unfairly blaming Israel instead of the American foreign policy establishment apparatus for the Iraq War under Bush II, and has said the Palestinians should give up on the right of return to Israel inside the Green Line. Yet, Chomsky is often villified under the heading "anti-Zionist." I won't go into the Faussion episode as that would raise a whole new thread. Suffice it to say, however, Chomsky's point in defending Faussion was to fight against those laws in Europe, including France, which subject people to civil fines and sometimes criminal prosecution for stating offensive ideas, i.e. Holocaust denial. Again, anyone who reads Chomsky carefully over the years would know he does not support Nazi positions on the Holocaust.

Instead of snarky attacks on the NYT, why don't you at least acknowledge how too often in the US, critics of Israel are demonized in ways that don't occur in Israel itself? The AJC report is the latest example, though the good news is that this time progressives, and even more so-called "moderate" folks like Richard Cohen, who are sometimes critical of Israeli policies, but support Israel overall, are fighting back at this form of guilt by association.
2.2.2007 9:27am
Kovarsky (mail):
Ilya,

I meant to do nothing more than make the points I actually did make in the text of the post. In any event, what it is important is the validity of the argument, not the motives of the person making it.

I certainly understand that. My question involved the scope of the argument you were making, and whether that had something to do with why you would omit mentioning the piece was in the Arts section as opposed to, say, U.S. news. That omission doesn't necessarily go to your motives; it could also go to what the inference you sought to create actually was.
2.2.2007 10:02am
Jewboy (mail):
What's more amazing is that the Times thought that the Alvin Rosenberg essay broke some new ground. Rosenberg wasn't singling out mainstream Jewish figures as de facto antisemitic. Every individual he named has long been known to dwell on the wacko-left fringe, sort of the Jewish equivalents of Farrakhan. Thus, Michael Lerner, while a committed leftie, didn't merit mention. Rosenberg merely called a spade a spade. As a Jewish history professor, I found nothing strange or objectionable about his characterizations.
2.2.2007 10:23am
David M. Nieporent (www):
And note the AJC report doesn't even try to prove its case against Chomsky for being anti-Zionist. Why? Because if the professor who wrote the article ever really read Chomsky, he would note Chomsky has called for a two state solution for Israel and Palestinians, opposes academic and other boycotts against Israel, has criticized the Walt/Mearshimer essay as unfairly blaming Israel instead of the American foreign policy establishment apparatus for the Iraq War under Bush II, and has said the Palestinians should give up on the right of return to Israel inside the Green Line.
And if I had never read Chomsky, I might believe you. Chomsky supports, and always has, what he calls a "binational" state. He accepts the two-state approach as an interim step, on the grounds that it isn't realistic at this time to jump right to a binational state. He does not support, and never has, the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Even when he called himself a Zionist in his younger days, he meant a binational state.

As for boycotts, Chomsky signed the divestment petition floating around Cambridge. He later claimed he didn't support divestment, but all that shows is that he's dishonest, not that he opposes boycotts. He opposes academic boycotts of Israel purely on tactical grounds -- that he doesn't want debates about academic freedom to divert us from the larger campaign of demonizing Israel.

Oh, and he criticized Walt/Mearshimer because it didn't place enough blame on the U.S., not because he has any love for Israel. It's common in his sorts of circles to call Ariel Sharon a war criminal -- but he calls Shimon Peres one, as well.

And that reflects the bottom line: someone who condemns everything a country does to defend itself cannot possibly be said to be anything other than anti-that country.


Suffice it to say, however, Chomsky's point in defending Faussion was to fight against those laws in Europe, including France, which subject people to civil fines and sometimes criminal prosecution for stating offensive ideas, i.e. Holocaust denial.
Suffice it to say that this is complete garbage. It is easy to defend the principle of free speech without defending the speaker; the ACLU did in Skokie. Chomsky went out of his way to defend Faurrison (note the spelling) personally, and to claim that Holocaust denial wasn't anti-semitic.
2.2.2007 10:28am
David M. Nieporent (www):
And demonstrating that it is impossible to correct someone's spelling without making an error oneself, let me point out that the actual spelling is Faurisson.
2.2.2007 10:30am
Seamus (mail):

I don't see how DC statehood is a "liberal" or "conservative" issue.



Had D.C. remained predominantly white, the issue of statehood would have remained one without liberal or conservative connotations. (It also would have been an issue that no one would have cared about. The D.C. Democratic and Republican State Committees would have pushed for statehood, but no one outside the District would have seen any good reason to give the city a pair of senators.) But since D.C.'s population became predominantly black, and the issue was re-defined as one of racial politics (and opponents as closet or unconscious racists), it inevitably became a "liberal" issue.
2.2.2007 10:37am
Stash:
Notwithstanding the focus on the wisdom or accuracy of the essay with respect to Richard Cohen, I think the more interesting question of why the AJC was described as "conservative" is worth commenting upon. I believe it likely that the writer wished to be accurate, but that she believed she had sufficient information to make the designation. That is, there are many single issues nowadays that people assume define one's entire political outlook. In a good portion of the left, "supporting Israel" is considered an inherently "conservative" viewpoint.

The reasons why it is so seem complicated. I mean, has anyone noticed that while there are neocons, theocons, paleocons, crunchy cons, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, etc., there are no similar distinctions on the left? However, it is obvious that what we call the "left" has a similar range of opinions, e.g., Joe Lieberman, ACLU vs. Speech Codes, Dershowitz vs. Chomsky, Larry Summers vs. Faculty, The Nation vs. The New Republic, DLC vs Kos and so forth. I have seen "neo-liberal" "cold-war liberal" and the like, but none has really taken. We tend to look at the left as a spectrum, as people being more or less liberal, yet I think it clear that real philosophical and analytic differences exist. It seems as silly to me to view liberals as moderate communists as it is to view conservatives as moderate fascists.

There is some distinction between "liberals" and "progressives" with "progressives" being "further" left, but its basis is undefined. For some reason, however, liberals want to be viewed as "progressive" and accepted by "progressives" as "good guys" (e.g. Summers) while "progressives" tend to disparage the merely liberal, if not labeling them closet-conservatives. Consider the Greens vs. the Democrats/Nader vs. Gore. As such, the "progressives" get to define what is "liberal", while those who disagree become "less" liberal. Meanwhile, for example, libertarians can oppose drug laws, without being deemed "less" conservative. They are just a different brand of conservative.

The point of this rambling is that an institution or group will therefore tend to be defined as left or right by the "progressive" view, which is unforgiving—either you are on the bus or off it. Currently, to be on the bus, you must be anti-Zionist, so anyone who is not, whatever their positions on other issues, is by definition, "conservative." There are no different "brands" that secure your position as a "liberal." If you disagree, you are simply less left. This suggests to me that had the writer been aware of the AJC's other positions, she may have instead described it as "moderate" "otherwise liberal" or "generally liberal," but never simply as "liberal."
2.2.2007 10:50am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
So David makes a spelling error too. That is the problem with quick typing, eh?

As for David's points about Chomsky, I'll also quickly respond: If you compare what I wrote to what David wrote, I didn't write, as he claims, "complete garbage." David simply spins the information a different way. One would never know from David that Chomsky is often quite condescending (perhaps properly so!) regarding those pushing for a bi-national state. He calls such calls unrealistic and notes emphatically that the Israelis and Palestinians show no sign as peoples of wanting to live in a bi-national state. Chomsky has merely said that if the warring parties, after years and years of having their own states, want to federate at some point, that would be nice. David's use of the word "interim" in his context gives the impression of a much shorter interval.

I will admit to learning from David that Chomsky once signed a divestment petition, but the fact remains Chomsky has been fairly consistent in opposing boycotts of Israel. His Walt/Mearsheimer critique is, contrary to David's spin, fairly devestating against those two profs. and Chomsky is quite clear about not wanting to start blaming Israel for the US attacking Iraq.

As for the Faurisson episode, the difference between the Nazis marching in Skokie and Faurisson's situation is that the Nazis were only being denied the right to march, not facing personal prosecution. Faurisson was being prosecuted by French government authorities with civil fines and he lost his teaching job when there was no evidence he was teaching his Holocaust denial views. It is more difficult not to try to defend the guy personally in such circumstances. People properly and personally defended Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s when he was harrassed by and ultimately exiled by the Soviets, despite it being known to anyone who wanted to listen that Solzhenitsyn had some rather terrible views about Jews and the cause of the rise of the Soviet Union. Faurisson's situation was not as dire as that, of course, but still, if it happened to David, or Ilya, I'm sure they would find it very distressing.

I do wish Chomsky had not used a 19th Century definition of "apolitical" and "liberal" to describe Faurisson, but of course, he has similar "sensibilities" as George Kennan and Daniel Bell, both of whom were fond of using the term "liberal" in that European 19th Century way that turns both Clinton and Gingrich into "liberals." That was my point in not wanting to start up about the Faurisson episode, but...

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
2.2.2007 10:57am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Oh, and the article also starts off by describing the attack as one on "liberals", though I don't see how most of the individuals mentioned are "liberals" as opposed to leftists. This is in the Times's great tradition of referring to even the most extreme leftists as "liberals", while conservatives get tagged with various extremist labels
2.2.2007 11:32am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Mitchell,

1. Chomsky is condescending towards everyone, so the fact that he's condescending towards binational proponents doesn't really prove anything.

2. You object to my use of "interim" because it sounds like a short interval, but a quick google shows that Chomsky himself uses the phrase "short term."

3. His critique of Walt/Mearshimer is simply that he wants to blame the US, and they want to blame Israel. He doesn't exonerate Israel from any of the negative statements Walt/Mearshimer make of its own policies -- in fact, he's far harsher. So I don't see how this demonstrates anything at all about his views on Zionism.

4. As for Faurisson, you can spin the phrase "apolitical liberal" until the cows come home, but there's no way to make it anything other than a whitewash. Not only is the phrasing absurd, but it's completely gratuitous. There was no need to make any sort of statement at all about Faurisson. (How is it "difficult" not to defend him personally? The apocryphal Voltaire quote would do just nicely.) Particularly when combined with the part you didn't respond to: his claim that Holocaust denial wasn't anti-semitic, and his further claim that Faurisson's work wasn't anti-semitic, even by "implication."
2.2.2007 1:04pm
m henner (mail):
Historically there were 3 general Jewish "defense" organizations. The American Jewish Congress which was thought to be more on the left, the ADL which was mainstream and in the middle, and the American Jewish Committee which had a conservative history in terms of its very wealth and establishment membership and its programs. In fact, in the 1950's, it failed to even clearly suppport Israel, because of the influence of Julius Rosenwald, part of the Sears Roebuck fortune.

By the 1960's All of these organizations did support many liberal and Democratic programs. And AJ Committee staff were very active, with Hy Bookbinder of their Washington office becoming a high official in the War on Poverty, Seymour Samet from the Miami office going to the Community Relations Office in Lyndon Johnson's Justice Department, etc.

But in the 1970, Jews generally became more conservative, partially because of their sense that Republicans might be more supportive of Israel. Many Jews also took more conservative positions because of opposition to affirmative action, and such programs, feeling that it enabled discrimination against Jewish applicants.

Some Jews of course became the famous neocons, and this group changed the very liberal Commentary magazine into the neocon voice. Other AJ Committee staff also moved to the right - for instance the Philadelphia office's Director Murray Friedman was a Reagan appointee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

As a matter of Judgment it can be argued either way, but all told I can't fault the Times in describing the AJ Committee as a more conservative Jewish organization.
2.2.2007 1:54pm
Mitchell Freedman (mail) (www):
David,

Here are relevant quotes from Chomsky from the article you linked to regarding the two state or one state solution:

"There has never been a legitimate proposal for a democratic secular state from any significant Palestinian (or of course Israeli) group. One can debate, abstractly, whether it is 'desirable.' But it is completely unrealistic. There is no meaningful international support for it, and within Israel, opposition to it is close to universal. It is understood that this would soon become a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, and with no guarantee for either democracy or secularism (even if the minority status would be accepted, which it would not). Those who are now calling for a democratic secular state are, in my opinion, in effect providing weapons to the most extreme and violent elements in Israel and the US."

And here is the context for your statement that Chomsky used the phrase "short term" with regard to this subject:

"By 1973 the opportunity (for a bi-national state) was lost, and the only feasible short-term settlement was the two-state proposal. That remains true. If that is implemented, perhaps along the lines of the Geneva Accords, the cycle of violence will be ended and reversed. Perhaps in the longer term, as hostility and fear subside and relations are more firmly developed along non-national lines, there will be a possibility of moving towards a federal version of binationalism, then perhaps on to closer integration, perhaps even to a democratic secular state -- though it is far from obvious that that is the optimal arrangement for complex societies, there or elsewhere, a different matter."

Recall this is an interview, too, where people may say things in ways that are more ambiguous than if written. To conclude he is only talking "interim" or "short term" like one or two years is therefore a spin on what Chomsky is truly saying.

As for Chomsky's statement at the time of the Faurisson situation, he did say Faurssion's work on what gases were or were not used at various death camps was not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. There are of course, legal scholars, perhaps including Eugene V., who might say that is reasonably true. Still, you and I can agree we would not have said that about Faurssion, even though I really didn't know in the early days of that controversy whether he was like David Irving. What I did come to understand was that Chomsky and other international scholars were trying to bring attention to the situation to challenge the French civil and criminal laws on the subject of Holocaust denial. It is interesting to me that nobody rips into anyone who defended Solzyenitsin (spelling?) as being pro-freedom and a Western oriented "democrat," when in fact he was pro-Czar and detested much of America's political and cultural mores for being too open and pluralistic. I am not saying what Solz. faced and what Faurssion faced are the same, but there is a useful analogy there.

Thanks, David, for responding.
2.2.2007 2:01pm
Hoosier:
1. Chomsky is condescending towards everyone, so the fact that he's condescending towards binational proponents doesn't really prove anything.


Thanks, David. This made my day. As did Ali G.'s success in baiting The Chomsker into trying to clarify the distinction between "bilingual" and "bisexual."
2.2.2007 2:20pm
Ilya Somin:
But in the 1970, Jews generally became more conservative, partially because of their sense that Republicans might be more supportive of Israel. Many Jews also took more conservative positions because of opposition to affirmative action, and such programs, feeling that it enabled discrimination against Jewish applicants.

A few Jews became more conservative than before, but Jews continued to overwhelmingly support liberal Democrats in elections and take liberal positions on most issues. Even on affirmative action, Jews are on average more likely to be in favor of it than other whites.

Some Jews of course became the famous neocons, and this group changed the very liberal Commentary magazine into the neocon voice. Other AJ Committee staff also moved to the right - for instance the Philadelphia office's Director Murray Friedman was a Reagan appointee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Yes, a few Jews became famous neocons. However, they were a small minority in the Jewish community, and certainly within the AJC
2.2.2007 4:46pm
Ilya Somin:
the American Jewish Committee which had a conservative history in terms of its very wealth and establishment membership and its programs. In fact, in the 1950's, it failed to even clearly suppport Israel, because of the influence of Julius Rosenwald, part of the Sears Roebuck fortune.

The fact that the AJC (like most establishment organizations) had many wealthy members doesn't mean that they were conservative. There are many wealthy liberals, including most wealthy Jews.

As a matter of Judgment it can be argued either way, but all told I can't fault the Times in describing the AJ Committee as a more conservative Jewish organization.

Given the AJC's consistently liberal public policy positions on most issues over a period of many decades (and certainly today), I see no way it can be described as conservative, at least not as that term is generally used in today's political discourse. Even it's self-characterization as "centrist" is dubious.
2.2.2007 4:50pm
Loki13 (mail):
Again, I would like to know what I am missing.

The AJC characterizes itself as centrist.
There is (IMHO) a reasonable debate as to whether it can be categorized as 'conservative', at least in reference to other Jewish interest groups, as the comments on this board suggest.
What, then, is the problem?

Allow me to use an analogy. If the Times were to print an article about the pilgrimmage to Mecca, and someone wrote in dismissing the entire article because the correct transliteration according to the Saudi Government (the self description) was Makkah and her hearing (the believed description) was Mhackah, then could the writer then make the assumption the rest of the article was biased?

I think the dispute says more about this thread's poster than the NYT's journalist. Why is there the dismissive attitude, the assumption of bad faith, and the belief that 'conservative' is a perjorative, rather than descriptive, term?
2.2.2007 5:37pm
Insignificant Dallasite:
The NYT Political Spectrum:

Liberal--------->Centrist-------->Conservative
Hugo Chavez--->Hillary Clinton---->John McCain

Please note that the Times calibrates the scale this way for a very specific reason.
2.2.2007 5:55pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Allow me to use an analogy. If the Times were to print an article about the pilgrimmage to Mecca, and someone wrote in dismissing the entire article because the correct transliteration according to the Saudi Government (the self description) was Makkah and her hearing (the believed description) was Mhackah, then could the writer then make the assumption the rest of the article was biased?
Your analogy sucks for many reasons, not least of which being that Ilya challenged the validity of the story, not the bias of the story.
I think the dispute says more about this thread's poster than the NYT's journalist. Why is there the dismissive attitude, the assumption of bad faith, and the belief that 'conservative' is a perjorative, rather than descriptive, term?
Well, anybody who reads the Times on a regular basis knows that conservative is a perjorative term to them. But you miss the point. The point is that it's not a descriptive term. It would be like calling Fox News "liberal." If you read that at the beginning of a news story about Fox News, you would dismiss the article, because the author either is dishonest or completely ignorant about Fox News, and if the latter, can't be relied on for anything about the subject.
2.3.2007 1:37am