Bari Weiss clumsily regurgitates old hasbara talking points
|David Samel – February 23, 2019
In her recent podcast discussion with Joe Rogan and in her New York Times column, Bari Weiss manages to make dishonest and endlessly rehashed hasbara talking points even worse.
Item one: When the subject of Israel came up with Rogan, Weiss offered:
“There’s an obsession on the State of Israel. Like if you were an alien that landed from outer space, you would think that the greatest oppressor in the world is this tiny state that’s the size of New Jersey. These people say nothing generally about the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China. . . It’s an enormous story [and it’s appalling] that you don’t know about it.”
At first hearing, this is just another nauseating attempt to shame Israel’s critics as anti-Semites for elevating concern for Palestinians over supposedly more deserving victims elsewhere in the world. Weiss, however, is especially vulnerable to the comeback, “What about you?” She enjoys an extremely prominent and influential media position as op-ed columnist for the Times, yet has never written a single column about the Uighurs for whom she feigns concern only as a pretext to defend Israel. And while she chides pro-Palestinian voices for their apathy over the Uighurs, she has never urged supporters of Israel to abandon their focus on an economic and military powerhouse and instead labor on behalf of the Uighurs.
Weiss and her ilk feel entitled to work tirelessly to support and defend Israel while bemoaning the fact that other people are interested in the same issue but have a contrary opinion. While everyone who makes this obscene “what about” argument is grossly hypocritical, Weiss’s ability to shine a light on what she pretends to feel is such a deserving yet under-covered cause makes her version especially embarrassing.
Item two: In her recent Israel-centered op-ed smearing Ilhan Omar for a six-year-old tweet, Weiss retreads another hasbara staple accusation that anti-Zionists are anti-Semitic for denying the Jews’ right to national self-determination:
“Those who call themselves anti-Zionists usually insist they are not anti-Semites. But I struggle to see what else to call an ideology that seeks to eradicate only one state in the world — the one that happens to be the Jewish one — while empathetically insisting on the rights of self-determination for every other minority.”
Once again, on the surface this appears to be merely a rehash of the immensely flawed but widely disseminated “Israel as Jewish self-determination” argument, but here it has a distinctive Bari-Weissian spin. More careful hasbarists proffer the “self-determination” argument in the most vague and imprecise terms, implicitly suggesting that anti-Zionism would deprive Jewish people of a fundamental human right enjoyed by everyone else. But Jewish citizens of the US, UK, France, Canada, Argentina, etc. enjoy the very same right to national self-determination as their fellow citizens; so would Israeli Jews if they shared political power equally with others under their rule. So Israel actually offers Jews around the world a second right of national self-determination and its own Jewish citizens alonethe “right” to discriminate against non-Jewish citizens and impose military rule over millions of non-citizens. For much more extensive analysis of the self-determination issue, see here.
Bari Weiss, rather than safely parroting the usual barebones self-determination argument with its deliberate built-in ambiguity, makes an ill-advised attempt to transform it into an explicit complaint of actual discrimination against Jews. She accuses anti-Zionists of espousing an “ideology” that denies Jewish self-determination “while empathetically insisting on the rights of self-determination for every other minority.”
Anti-Zionists insist on self-determination for every other minority? What about the Uighurs? I thought anti-Zionists didn’t care about them, or the Roma, the Basques, or anyone else other than Palestinians!
Weiss seems to be complaining not of anti-Zionism but more generally about her perception of “progressivisim.” Progressives have long championed self-determination and equal treatment of national minorities. Presuming that most anti-Zionists are also “progressives,” Weiss lazily lumps all of these concepts into an incoherent mess of a sentence whose foremost purpose is to accuse “anti-Zionists” of anti-Semitism.
Finally, while it’s the least of her offenses, Weiss should stop taking others’ material. When the subject of Tulsi Gabbard’s candidacy for President came up with Rogan, Weiss dismissed Gabbard as “the motherlode of bad ideas.” This unique phrase is one coined and repeatedly used by Sam Harris to describe Islam. It’s simply bizarre for Weiss to “borrow” the term and casually present it as her own.
Bizarre but not isolated. Recall Weiss’s reference above to the visitor from outer space mystified at all the negative attention focused on little Israel. This one suspiciously resembles a statement from that true motherlode of bad ideas, Alan Dershowitz, who has been peddling the same fantasy about an intergalactic visitor’s reaction to Israel’s treatment for many years. 2002:
If a visitor from a far away galaxy were to land at an American or Canadian university and peruse some of the petitions that were circulating around the campus, he would probably come away with the conclusion that the Earth is a peaceful and fair planet with only one villainous nation determined to destroy the peace and to violate human rights. That nation would not be Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Russia or Iran…
Of course, much of hasbara consists of a familiar repertoire of talking points –“bad neighborhood,” “surrounded by sworn enemies,” “Jew among nations,” “world’s oldest hatred” – and it would be unfair to accuse everyone who utters these insufferable cliches with the additional offense of quasi-plagiarism. But Weiss should be more careful about using unique phrases about “motherlodes” and visitors from outer space that were crafted by more imaginative though equally offensive commentators. And Bari, if you’re planning to start a blog, don’t name it Mondoweiss. It’s taken.