Israel,  Racism

Repairing Richard Silverstein’s World

This is a cross post by Adam Holland.

Richard Silverstein’s blog still has the outward appearance of a progressive, pro-peace blog, just as it did when he started it in 2004. He called it Tikun Olam, Hebrew for “repair the world”. Over the years, he decorated it with images that evoke peace between Arabs and Israelis, music, children. Back in the early days, he even did a little writing about World Music and his native Hudson Valley. But since then, something has happened. His idealism soured into something harsh and cynical. The columns on music and the Hudson Valley were replaced by a steady stream of attacks on real or imagined enemies, pseudo-investigative journalism which frequently makes a jumble of facts, and gratuitous attacks on Israel and those whom he sees as supporting Israel. The pro-peace images remain on his website, but the feeling behind the writing has profoundly changed.

This was made abundantly clear recently when Silverstein published a vicious attack on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., one filled with venom and tinged with racist imagery. Silverstein was angered by (among other things) Jackson’s proposal that the Palestinians renounce violence and follow the teachings of King and Gandhi. Silverstein, rather than jumping on that bandwagon as he might have at one time, accused Jackson of being a whore, a beggar and an ignorant lackey of “rich pro-Israel Jews”. To his shame, he also mocked Jackson by adopting a blackface dialect, dropping the g’s on several words in the piece in apparent imitation of an African-American accent.

That bugged me, and I said so in a post that appeared on my blog and at Harry’s Place. Silverstein has now responded to my post supporting Rep. Jackson by publishing a blog post which calls me, in Silverstein’s very offensive words, “the Negro’s greatest friend“. He goes on to bizarrely call me “a British Christian” (“keep in mind this guy is British and not Jewish” he writes), and falsely charge that I never write about race or civil rights except as a means of promoting Israeli interests. All that came as news to me. I’m Jewish, American, liberal, and a frequent commenter on racial issues in the U.S. My parents and grandparents were active in the civil rights movement and I consider myself to be proudly in that tradition. Silverstein, knowing virtually nothing about me other than the fact that I had criticized both his racist attack on Jesse Jackson Jr. and his misguided support of violence as a political tool, went so far as to invent an identity for me out of whole cloth, then attacked it.

(Since the time that his “Negro” post went online, Silverstein has learned from a comment that I’m an American Jew and has posted a half-baked explanation of his repeatedly calling me British and Christian. He claims that it was based on my frequent writing about a British cleric named Stephen Sizer. My blog has mentioned this man precisely twice in the course of the more than five years I’ve been blogging: I wrote one paragraph on him in 2007 and I cross-posted another blogger’s piece on him in 2010. According to Silverstein’s explanation, these two references to Sizer somehow led to his belief that I’m a British Christian. As to why this is important to him, I just can’t say.)

I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Silverstein has a reputation of being both thin-skinned and irrational when angry. I even saw evidence of this myself a while back. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he bizarrely condemned Israel for sending portable hospital facilities to assist the victims, an act of charity that many people regarded as heroic. Silverstein called it “the Zionization of disaster relief” in a blog post that was subsequently reposted on neo-Nazi and other racist websites. When I pointed out that Silverstein’s attack was unfair, he wrote a response in which he invented another false identity for me. Without any basis whatsoever, he called me a right wing “Muslim-hater” and “McCarthyite”, linked me, again without basis, to a list of people he put in that category, and went on to condemn the liberal blog Daily Kos for publishing me. His attack verged on paranoia when he wrote of those who expressed disagreement with his views on Haiti relief:

The attack is . . . coordinated along with internet activists recruited by the Foreign Ministry. Dershowitz and buddies of his like Weissman and Holland also play a useful role. I call it the vast right-wing hasbara conspiracy-crusade.

After inexplicably calling me a McCarthyite, he accused me of being part of a vast international conspiracy.

Looking back at both of these tantrums, it strikes me that this new one is actually worse than the previous one, and may reflect a further stage of Silverstein’s decline. While the level of vituperation and deception in the personal attack is about the same, the broader implications of Silverstein’s words are actually much more destructive. Having been criticized for using racist language, Silverstein in response uses even more offensive racist language. Having been criticized for opposing non-violence and negotiations, his response calls advocates of non-violence and peace negotiations agents of oppression.

What has become painfully obvious from his recent writing is Silverstein’s difficult relationship with advocates of peace. Silverstein starts from the assumption that his opposition to Israel is intrinsically pro-peace and progressive. He then argues that people like Jesse Jackson, Jr. only support non-violence to help Israel, which Silverstein regards as being intrinsically reactionary and warlike. Through these mental gymnastics, Silverstein would have us believe that his support of political violence is more pro-peace than Jesse Jackson’s support of non-violence.

It makes me sad to think that Richard Silverstein used to support peace in the Middle East and oppose the use of racially offensive stereotypes. I wonder what went wrong with him.

UPDATE: It appears that the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street agrees with Adam’s assessment of Silverstein’s racism. It has re-Tweeted his original post.

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