David Atkins, co-writer with Digby at Hullaballoo, responds — indirectly — to my recent post (“Blogging and Nothingness”) on the silence of leading progressive bloggers about the ongoing, Obama-supported slaughter in Gaza. Below is his response in full, followed by my reply.
There has been some annoyance in some quarters at the lack of comprehensive coverage of the events in Gaza by the much of the most widely read parts of the progressive blogosphere. I agree that the coverage has been limited. But there are three good reasons for that:
1) Incoherent, hateful backlash. The fact is that it’s impossible to say anything substantive about the Israel-Palestine conflict without being called a hateful anti-Semite, or a hateful bloodthirsty imperialist. Most hilarious is the notion that silence on the issue is caused by defense of the Administration, as if most of the progressive blogosphere had been somehow aggressive against the Bush Administration for failure to be concerned about the Palestinian people. If one examines the archives, one will see that most of the big sites from Atrios to DailyKos to TPM to Hullabaloo and the rest have largely refrained from commenting too much on the issue for years, long before Obama took office. That’s in large part because nothing can be said about it without eliciting a horrifying deluge of asinine commentary that no other issue seems to generate. Especially for unpaid bloggers more concerned with climate change, the predations of the financial sector, the ongoing assault against the middle class and women’s rights, etc., it’s often not worth the headache of being called a vicious anti-semitic terrorist enabler and/or imperialist apartheid murderer–often for the exact same post.
2) There are no good guys here. Bibi Netanyahu is a horrible person, and Likud is filled with horrible people. They’re basically the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and John Bolton, but with a religious belief in their right to steal land that belongs to others.
Hamas, meanwhile, is a murderous organization of cutthroats who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and want to drive every Jew out of the land they believe their God owes them.
Israeli policy pretends to want to keep control of illegal settlements that continue to incur into Palestinian lands while secretly encouraging it. Whatever goes for Palestinian authority pretends to want peace and self-determination while doing next to nothing to prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians. Hamas knows that there can be no peace without recognizing Israel’s fundamental right to exist, but they can’t even bring themselves to put those words down on a negotiating contract. Israel knows that there can be no pressure on Hamas to negotiate fairly as long as Palestine remains an Apartheid-style lockdown zone with continued encroachment from settlement.
So we get the usual cycle of violence with no end in sight.
3) There’s nothing we can do about it. It makes sense to blog about things that we can theoretically do something about. The Gaza situation is frankly hopeless at the moment. America is not going to abandon its commitment to protect the only functioning democracy in the region and the only dependable national refuge for the Jewish people. The American people can and should eschew support for Netanyahu and Likud, but it’s not as if relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu aren’t already frosty. Netanyahu quite obviously wanted Romney to win, and there can be little doubt that Obama would prefer to deal with someone from Labour/Kadima. Defunding Israel isn’t an option, particularly given the hostility of other Middle Eastern powers to Israel’s very existence.
So that leaves bloggers advocating for cooler heads and changes in leadership on both sides of a dispute over which American activists have very little control, and in which there are no clear-cut good guys. Syria is less complicated, frankly, with much greater suffering and bloodshed–and it’s not exactly been a huge topic of debate in the progressive blogosphere, either.
So don’t expect a lot of coverage of the issue. Most of us don’t want to take a lot of stupid abuse from nutty people for speaking powerlessly over an issue in which both sides deserve plenty of scorn.
Taking these justifications point by point, here, as I understand it, is the essential argument for progressives remaining silent on the slaughter in Gaza.
1) We are scared. People might call us bad names, and that would be unpleasant. And it would also, somehow, interfere with our ability to support other causes. Do you want us to be like that fool Martin Luther King Jr., who didn’t stick to his niche issue of civil rights but also took on murderous American militarism and economic injustice? That’s not savvy, that’s not how to get things done. Anyway, look what happened to him when he stuck his neck out too far.
2) We are childish. There are no “good guys” we can root for in a comic-book version of good vs. evil. [How about rooting for the innocent people being slaughtered? Are they not “good” enough?] Also, we are too uninterested to read of any context or history beyond the day’s headlines, so we have no idea about the many efforts made by Hamas and others, including Israelis, to “prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians.” We also have nothing to say about Israel’s endless provocations — killing children, blockades, assassinations, etc. — that produce the missiles fired in retaliation. In short, because the institutional leaders on both sides are morally compromised individuals instead of clearly marked good guys and bad guys, we have nothing at all to say about innocent people being killed — in our name, with American weaponry, American money and the full support of the president we have just worked so hard to re-elect.
3) We are helpless. You should only blog about things you can “theoretically” do something about. So apparently there is nothing anyone can ever do — even “theoretically” — to prevent the United States government from giving its full and unstinting support to the ongoing operation in Gaza. Even though George W. Bush himself condemned Israeli “extrajudicial assassinations,” even though Ronald Reagan condemned the Israeli strike on Iraq’s nuclear plant (and actually suspended arms shipments to Israel in protest), it is now completely impossible for anyone, anywhere, to put the slightest pressure on Barack Obama to voice even the mildest criticism of Israel’s actions. So what’s the point of using one’s public platform to register even the smallest complaint about one’s government using its money, weapons and full political muscle to support the slaughter of innocent people?
However, it must be theoretically possible to, say, convince Barack Obama not to sign a “grand bargain” that will gut social programs and entrench brutal economic and social injustice for generations. And how does one do that? By writing about it, agitating about it, talking about it, protesting against it, and so on — as our leading progressives do every day. And even though the record of the past four years shows that Barack Obama does not pay the slightest attention to these efforts — and has recently reiterated that the $4 trillion economy-wrecking, society-degrading “deal” he offered Republicans earlier is “still on the table” — it is at least theoretically possible that strenuous protest and pressure might cause some alteration of policy.
I think this is true. And I think it’s an effort worth making, however slight its chance of success. But why does this not also apply to Obama’s policy toward Israel and the Middle East? Instead of the gritty realism, savvy tactics and nuanced analyses we see on the Grand Bargain, on Gaza all we get are childish, cartoonish exaggerations: the idea that even criticising Israeli actions — as George Bush did, as Ronald Reagan did — is somehow equivalent to “abandoning Israel” and the Jewish people. This is puerile nonsense. (It is also an example of the aforementioned “incoherent, hateful backlash” in action, albeit in more muted, tasteful form. But it carries the same implication: “What, do you want us to abandon the Jewish people, drive them from their only refuge? What are you, some kind of Nazi?”)
Look, people can concentrate on whatever issues they want. I do it; everyone who writes does it. I just found it remarkable — and still do — that several prominent liberal bloggers dedicated to analyzing American policy and politics had nothing at all to say about innocent people being slaughtered with the full support — physical, financial and political — of the American political establishment, which is the focus of their blogs. Not a single word on the subject — positive, negative, even in passing — nothing at all, day after day, death after death.
However, during the last major assault on Gaza, in the last days of the Bush administration, there were several mentions of Gaza on Hullaballoo, including a post from Digby on the horror of watching the slaughter on CNN. On Kos, there were no fewer than 29 “front-paged diary” entries that mentioned Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, including long columns of analysis, and pieces mocking George Bush for his claims to seek Middle East peace (“just ask the people of Gaza”), mocking Joe the Plumber for his “reporting” from the Israeli side of the attack, and so on.
All of this, I might add, was mixed in with other issues of the day: the economy, the predations of the financial sector, women’s rights, etc. Apparently, when George Bush was still in office, it “made sense” to blog about Gaza, to criticize the Israeli actions AND the American support for them, and still continue to advocate for one’s other concerns.
But now we are told that it is not even theoretically possible to influence American policy on this issue. It is pointless — “frankly hopeless” — to even try. So let the children die, with American lead shredding their flesh and American money loading the guns and American politicians — including the Democrats our progressives worked so hard for — officially recording their full support of these atrocities.
Again, people should write what they like. If an issue doesn’t interest you, or if it’s too complicated for you, or if it scares you, then by all means ignore it. But it seems strange to me that those who are publicly dedicated to building a better, more just society and a more ethical, morally responsible government would simply shrug their shoulders, give up hope and keep quiet when their government — led by a man they themselves fought to elect — gives its total support to such murderous deeds.
It makes one think that they have made their own “Grand Bargain”: countenancing crime and murder (the drone wars, Obama’s death squads, indefinite detention, support for state terror in Gaza, etc., etc.) in exchange for the hope — the “theoretical possibility” — that their support for such a system will be rewarded with a few crumbs and gestures on the domestic front. As I said before, this kind of “progressivism” seems to me to be a most paltry, curdled and complicit thing. It has lashed itself to the machine of power, and it will, in the end, go wherever power takes it.