Why Bloggers Avoid Writing About Israel

by Conor Friedersdorf

When I blog here at The Daily Dish, I get a couple dozen emails a day from readers directing me to potential fodder. That's how I came across this post by Philip Giraldi, linked here on 31 January 2011 – as you can see, it's a relatively short post where Mr. Giraldi asserts three things: a) that Rand Paul's call to eliminate all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, was getting insufficient press attention considering how unusual it is for a US Senator to say such a thing; b) that Israel is wealthy enough that it doesn't need our aid; c) and that although Rand Paul has been attacked by the Israel lobby for his statement, President Obama's review of aid to Egypt would be a good time to examine all our foreign aid to that region.

I excerpted the assertions to that affect, and added only this by way of my own commentary: "It would be a good time to re-examine aid flowing to every region, which isn't to say that I want to eliminate all of it."

That's actually blogger code for this more involved thought process: I'd tentatively love to stop giving aid to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Colombia – especially stuff that flows through the DEA – but I actually don't know all that much even about the specific US aid recipients that make me uncomfortable, nor do I really know a lot about Israel's economy or aid to Israel, nor do I have particularly strong feelings about any of it, or a desire to read up on the subject for several hours. So rather than offer some half-cocked opinion about any of these countries, I'll excerpt this post that seems kinda interesting, especially about Rand Paul bringing a new voice to the Senate. And then I'll express my vague desire to look at these things more closely, which really is all I'm comfortable saying I think with confidence. Maybe I'll even get some interesting e-mail back that helps me better flesh out my thoughts.

This shows why it's good for the reader that bloggers aren't forced to make all their thinking explicit. What tedium would ensue! But it was necessary in this post due to the curious way Pejman Yousefzadeh has responded to my earlier, unremarkable item. It seems that the author I quoted, Mr. Giraldi, wrote a controversial letter to the University of Chicago alumni magazine back in 1999, when I was nineteen.

After quoting the letter, Yousefzadeh says this:

Given Giraldi’s plain and simple derangement, and the derangement that he excites in others, the question arises: Why did Conor Friedersdorf deem it necessary to throw Giraldi a favorable link, and to cite him as some kind of potential authority on the issue of foreign aid? Oh, to be sure, Friedersdorf cites Giraldi on foreign aid while at the same time assuring us that his decision to link to Giraldi’s post “isn’t to say that I want to eliminate all” foreign aid. But why is Giraldi allowed anywhere near the realm of polite conversation when it comes to this, or any other issue, given his insane views? Why is he given any semblance of respectability by a magazine like the Atlantic, which continues to maintain some respectability despite the determined efforts of the people associated with the Daily Dish to annihilate that respectability beyond salvaging?

He titles this post, "Philip Giraldi, Conor Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan, Anti-Semitism, and the Further Decline of the Atlantic."

As it happens, I disagree rather strongly with some of what Mr. Giraldi wrote 11 years ago in that letter to the editor. But that is beside the point. I've taken the time to lay all this out because I think what Mr. Yousefzadeh is doing here is just vile, and that he should be ashamed of himself. Unless he is a very stupid man, he knows full well that no blogger in the world, having found a short blog post to excerpt, goes searching through the archives of alumni magazines at institutions they didn't attend, just in case the person they're about to link maybe wrote something wrongheaded in the letters section over a decade prior.

Yet here he is condemning me because I failed to banish this man from the realm of polite conversation? And claiming that whole magazines fall based upon such failures?! What kind of incoherent, blinkered model of public discourse is he assuming? At best, his is a system whereby every blog post requires a tedious series of long archival searches – and wherein authors who write perfectly typical blog posts are denied links in a permanent blacklist because of other stuff they wrote in an obscure letter a decade prior. His is also a system where the explicit focus is on the writers and their prior work rather than ideas themselves. I don't think very much of his system, and the fact that literally no one in the blogosphere has adopted it makes me think that others don't either.

But I actually think it's much worse – that what he's trying to do is attack any writer who broaches the subject of American aid to Israel, even if neutrally passing along a blog post by another writer – as a rhetorical intimidation tactic. Well, I don't even think that we should withdraw all aid from Israel, but I'll be damned if I'm going to be intimidated out of covering cogent arguments on either side of the debate. There's nothing worse than an intellectual bully.

Matt Yglesias sometimes claims that conservatives care more about false charges of racism than racism itself. Well I care about racism a lot. At the same time, all my life I've loathed it when people cynically use racism or some variation in order to accrue power. And I don't think the two impulses are in tension with one another. This sort of thing is poison, and it ought to be called out whenever it shows itself. I hated it when it was a leftist college professor at Claremont McKenna College faking a hate crime. I hated it when it was a corrupt prosecutor targeting the Duke Lacross Team. I hated it when it was Rush Limbaugh calling various liberals racists. And I hate it when a poorly reasoned blog post tries to tarnish me with anti-Semitism through some bullshit, guilt-by-association tactic. Yousefzadeh seems to have some other factual quibbles with Giraldi's post, which is the sort of thing I'll always air when it comes in over the transom – I certainly don't fact check everything asserted in every blog post I link – but if your approach is to carelessly wield anti-Semitism like a cudgel, that will be my focus.

Most astonishing to me – though I don't know why it even surprises me any more – is that Jonah Goldberg and the insightful-at-article-length, indefensible-at-blog-post length Glenn Reynolds linked this nonsense. I'll just say with regard to Instapundit that if I regularly linked Dan Riehl, I'd be very uncomfortable with a standard that imputes responsibility to a blogger for anything written by the people he links!