What a day! On anti-Semitism & clarity.

So this morning, I posted a piece at Open Zion/The Daily Beast (which I was up writing well past midnight) that opens with the words “Pro-tip: If your goal is to help the Palestinian people, anti-Semitism is a really poor tool.” (The whole thing, which is entitled “Anti-Semitism — Bad for Palestinians, Too” and is full of very angry adjectives, can be read here).

From there I went on to (in the words of my boss, Peter Beinart) eviscerate a woman named Greta Berlin, co-founder of The Free Gaza Movement, who had tweeted a link to a vile, anti-Semitic video with the words “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Her only excuse and/or apology was to say that she had meant to post the video to a private Facebook discussion and – oops! – it had been tweeted, too. So sorry for the mix up.

In the meantime, as you might imagine, there has been a whirlwind of response, much of it very, very angry. Free Gaza issued a statement which may or may or may not have been written by Berlin herself (as she is one of their spokespeople) but which refers to her in the third person. The organizational statement/apology notes that “[the tweet] came from Greta’s private Facebook page and was shared with a group of people  who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.” The only words actually put in Berlin’s mouth read:

Greta has added, “I apologize that I did not watch the video before hitting SHARE on Facebook. I was in a rush to get to a book event and simply reposted. The fault is completely mine. Free Gaza had nothing to do with the post at all. “

Soon after my post went up, however, I learned that Larry Derfner, a writer I greatly admire, had accused those expressing dismay over Berlin’s actions of having slandered her (not including me, as my post had not yet appeared), so I looked into what he said, and was in the process (literally) of writing a clarification in which I said, essentially “Look, Derfner says XYZ, but here’s why I don’t buy it” — when Berlin herself issued a statement saying

I am not a Holocaust denier. And I am not a supporter of the video that I posted, nor would I ever have been. It was, in fact, an example of propaganda that is EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over.

And when I say “literally,” I mean “literally”: I was about to send the second piece (on which I’d worked for more than an hour) to Open Zion when, given the speed of events, I thought I’d better look at the Free Gaza Twitter feed again — and lo, there the statement was.

So, more emails to all & sundry, followed by me (over the course of another hour or so) writing an entirely new clarification, which you will find below. Of course, thereupon followed many more communications regarding ALL the turns of events, and in rapid succession, people having all kinds of responses to things I had either said or not (actually) said and me having to respond to same.

And at two different points during the day, I hosted large school groups in our backyard sukkah. And I never got any lunch.

So. Anyway. I’m tired now. I cannot tell you how glad I am that it’s almost Shabbat and I can turn all this off.

And here’s my clarification, in full:

Greta Berlin Clarifies

I wrote this morning about a controversial tweet sent by the co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin. I learned later that a writer who I’ve long respected, Larry Derfner, has written in defense of Berlin, calling attacks on her “slander,” and when Derfner writes something, I listen. The heart of his defense was that:

All these stories referred to Berlin’s apology on the Free Gaza Movement website—but only to one part of it: the part where she explains that she didn’t mean for the tweet to go out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Tweeter [sic] account, but only to a group of people on her personal Facebook page. Reporting this and only this as her “apology” naturally made Berlin look even more evil.

…Berlin’s full explanation… is that her tweet was not a statement of her views, but a headline for the video she was sending to a discussion group on “propaganda and racism” as an “example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.”

Initially, I didn’t agree with Derfner. I had seen the statement to which he refers, and it was actually written in the third person as an organizational statement, and the one comment with Berlin’s own name behind it repeated the tone she had taken on Twitter in which she repeatedly apologized for a technical snafu, but not the content of the tweet, or even the impression it might have made.

In the last few hours, however, Berlin issued the following statement:

I am not a Holocaust denier. And I am not a supporter of the video that I posted, nor would I ever have been. It was, in fact, an example of propaganda that is EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over. The video (although I didn’t watch it then) seemed like the kind propaganda that our group was discussing. And I passed it on because of the title.

Ironically I am caught in the same propaganda hysteria that I was trying to fight. It was my mistake that I didn’t post to the small private group on Facebook and the video ended up on my wall. Greta

I know that for some, this will not be enough, because it came after a series of non-apology apologies, or because Berlin has failed in the past to create much daylight between herself and old-school anti-Semitism. I believe that if she and Free Gaza want to genuinely put this story behind them, they will need to produce some proof of the private group discussion to which they refer, beyond a statement made well after the fact with nothing to corroborate it.

For me, however, as one of the writers who has positively slammed her in the past few days, Berlin’s fresh statement is enough: She has said unequivocally that her intent in sharing that deeply disturbing video was not to support its content.

It would be nice if she might indicate that she understands why people were horrified, and sought both clarification and apology. I would also disagree with her suggestion we who took issue with her unexplained sharing of a video claiming that Zionists ran the concentration camps rise to the same level of “propaganda hysteria” as the video itself—but I’m sure that’s not the only thing on which she and I would disagree.

I was careful in writing my piece to speak up for those who are falsely accused of being anti-Semitic simply because they support Palestinian rights—I am among those people, as are many beloved friends. The point of my post was that in spite of what I see as a troubling over-use of the anti-Semitism accusation, real, honest-to-god Jew hatred does still exist, and pro-Palestinian activists who employ it not only hurt the Jews against which it is directed, but also the cause they claim to defend: Palestinian rights, and a just resolution of the conflict.

I am sorry that in writing about a real problem, I used Greta Berlin as the example around which my thesis was built. With her new statement, I now understand that my reading of her earlier comments was absolutely inaccurate.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast


Truth be told, the thing that annoys me most in this whole story is that the main point of my original post (that real anti-Semitism exists, and that when it’s employed by pro-Palestinian activists, it hurts not only Jews, but the Palestinian cause) was and remains valid and very important. But now that’s going to be lost in the back and forth.

So it goes.

I imagine I might have another chance to talk about anti-Semitism in the future.

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