Thursday, December 02, 2004

Brenner and Cole Discussion

My email discussion with Juan Cole. I invited him to comment. He refuses:


Dear Professor Cole:

I have posted a response to your post on MEMRI on my own blog, and would be interested in your
comments, particularly to the concluding portion of my post.

Thank you.


Michael Brenner


Dear Michael:

There are some positions (positions, not people) that don't lend
themselves to fruitful dialogue. The one you have sketched out is one of them.

I have not "admitted" that I have no source for my figure on MEMRI
financing. They declare almost $2 million a year in the US alone and have offices in several capitals, and scanning the entire Arabic press would not be an inexpensive operation or one that could be done from Washington, DC.

Far from being "anti-Israeli," I wrote against the European boycott of Israeli academics, and am among the few Middle East experts from the US to be involved in a multi-year joint project with Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities.

It is true that I abhor Ariel Sharon and everything he stands for. In that I think you will find I have many Israeli analogues.



I have heard this line of reasoning before and disagree with you,
acknowledging that if by fruitful dialogue you mean a discussion where there is a good chance that I might take on some of your opinions, it is not likely. I have noticed that when people fear losing an argument, they decline to participate, citing the risk of fruitless discussion, regardless of political position. If, however, we can have a discussion on topics that leads to increased understanding, then I think it is worth it.

You seem too sensitive to semantic minutiae, especially for someone
who is not averse to throwing around political labels like "far-right" and so on. You are not pro-Israeli, though I'm relatively sure you would say that your criticisms can only help Israel, not hurt it. You do not seem to be especially friendly to positions which acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. You are entitled to characterize your own position as you like. Labels are an admittedly imperfect form of communication, and if you take issue with mine, you can ignore them. But when I see someone citing MERIP and people like Kurt Nimmo and Robert Fisk, I have a hard time concluding that such a person is friendly to Israel.

I sincerely commend you on your stand against the European boycott,
though I must say that standing against an act of racism like that
does not matter either way for assessing your position on the

I still think you played fast and loose with the facts here. You have not set out a source for your $60 million number, and that is your responsibility, since you made the original claim. I sincerely hope that your thought process was not to extrapolate that because MEMRI is essentially an organization run by Jewish people with American and Israeli funding sources, that it therefore must have a great deal of money behind it.

And I don't think MEMRI reads every Arab newspaper every day. It
looks at government presses and probably pulls most of its stuff off
the Net. It translates a few articles a day, if that.

And as I said, there would be no need for them for others like
yourself presented an accurate picture of the Arab world, a place
where, unfortunately, hard-core antisemitic beliefs have taken hold.
This was my central point.

It is interesting that you felt the need to remind me that you abhor
Ariel Sharon even though I did not mention Sharon in my post. MEMRI
does not profess to be pro-Sharon, even though both of its founders
were opposed to Oslo, and I would wager that a good number of MEMRI
readers are not pro-Sharon either. (And why does their position on
Oslo make any difference?) Thomas Friedman and New York Times are
certainly not pro-Sharon.

If it is pro-Sharon to point out instances of antisemitic hatred in
the Arab press and trumpet liberal Arab voices, then you are
illustrating my point, which is that the left has become soft on
antisemitism. And these voices are secular and religious, contrary to what you claimed.

I myself think the major reason for this is that the Left relies a
great deal on class warfare, and because it sees Jews as a successful minority group, it sees antisemitism as a less important issue. I'm not necessarily averse to class warfare, but it is ironic that the people most protected by ignoring antisemitism in the Arab world are ultra-wealthy Arab elites who use the stuff to keep their peoples in line.

I again extend an invitation for you to comment and appreciate your
writing back to me.

Thank you,

Michael Brenner


This is dreary. I have repeatedly said that I support Israel's right to exist as a Jewish stated.

Please find someone else to argue with and/or demonize.

cheers Juan


I'm sorry you feel that way. Your refusal to engage in a very
legitimate and moderate form of debate is really quite unfortunate.
With regard to what you describe as "demonizing", you are hardly a
model of level-headed critiquing. I have no intention of demonizing
you; I am merely positing an argument. I've been quite polite in the process of doing so.

I believe I have made clear my view that the Left is not taking
antisemitism as seriously as the Right and is thus ceding moral
capital to the right in the process. Your playing fast and loose with the facts in evaluating MEMRI is merely symptomatic of this
phenomenon; I don't believe you would be as damning of a pro-Arab
organization if it did the same thing. I'm not accusing you or
demonizing you in any way; I don't believe you are antisemitic, much
as you sometimes rely on sources that I would describe as antisemitic.

As I said, you are free to ignore my approximate labels if you wish,
since they are not essential to my argument.

If this is indeed the attitude you insist on taking, I can see why you view debate as a fruitless endeavor. It is an unbecoming attitude for an intellectual, in my view. If this is indeed your attitude, I am not sure why you bothered to respond to me in the first place. I hope you don't treat your students this way. My Middle East studies professor at Vassar, Andy Davison, who holds many views similar to yours, was far more welcoming of opinions from across the political spectrum.

My invitation to you to comment remains open.


Michael Brenner


At 9:06 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I thought your response to Cole was very even-handed. However, as I've said before, trying to get individuals with such POV into a discussion is useless. You've already tried that with the guy from BBC (don't recall his name, they all sound the same to me), and he accused you of being unreasonable as well. I'm sure there are so many other people more willing to discuss points of disagreement. Try taking on Rashid Khalidi, for example! ; )

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wonder how long it will be before dipshits figure out that the most racist thing to do is exclude people with speech.... sort of like the rudest thing one can do is call another person rude

here is some logic thomas aquinas-style for ya.

the arabs are more numerous than the jews.

anti-semitic as a term refers only to jews and a BROAD band of sentiment from disdain to hatred

therefore since anti-semitic as a phrase effectively disenfranchises the majority of their existence... the phrase is more racist than the most virulently anti JEWISH person... but to make any observation in this direction is to be labled anti semitic to begin with...

and here we are again begging the question.

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Michael Brenner said...

What this has to do with my post I have no idea. But since you ask, the term "antisemitic" is a term devised by German jewhater in the nineteenth century that specifically refers to Jews. It has long since become the term used to refer to antipathy toward Jews. It "disenfrancises" no one. It has nothing whatsoever to do the concept of racial semitism, though this appears to be a widespread misconception in the Arab world, probably because it has been repeated so many times in Arab media and because of the inexactness of the term's provenience. Feel free to substitute anti-Jewish for antisemitism if it makes you feel better.

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