The only difference this time around is that I was his punching bag.
Noting the magazine’s routine privileging of Jewish over Palestinian voices and its shameful lack of Palestinian or Arab staff writers, I argued that progressive outlets like The Nation can and must do better.
Keeping voices out
But in a bizarre stretch of logic Alterman mischaracterized my call for more writers of color as a demand that The Nation purge its Jewish employees.
“Just like Richard Nixon instructing his aide to ‘count the Jews’ at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and get rid of as many as he could, two pro-BDS websites, [The] Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, published articles complaining about how many Jews write for The Nation,” wrote Alterman, in reference to my article and another at Mondoweiss that was supportive of my argument.
In his most recent column, Alterman retreats into the language of meritocracy, where power and privilege are unexplored because ideas and arguments are pure (emphasis added):
To complain about too many Jews writing on the Middle East or any other issue is to essentialize a racial/ethnic characteristic and ignore the quality of argument and evidence. Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights? Should it limit the number of Latinos it publishes on immigration? Should it limit the number of women it publishes on feminism? Should it limit the number of whites, non-Hispanics and men respectively as well? … This is not politics we are talking about, where representation obviously matters, but the world of argument and ideas, which ought to rise or fall strictly on their moral and intellectual merit.
In reality, there’s plenty of room at progressive outlets for people of all shades, ethnicities and religious affiliations to join in the Israel-Palestine discussion.
But like the Israeli government, Alterman is ideologically invested in keeping such voices, particularly those of the anti-Zionist variety, out of the debate.
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Zionism, as it is practiced in Israel, requires the continued erasure of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants in order to maintain a Jewish majority.
From “liberal” to raging bigot
But for liberal Zionists, like Alterman, who advocate for and reap the benefits of multiculturalism in the US while supporting Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land, such truths can be earth shattering to their paradoxical world view.
That’s why when presented with the ugly reality of what Zionism entails (i.e. indefinite occupation, home demolitions, ethnic cleansing, institutionalized apartheid, etc.), its liberal supporters quickly transform into raging bigots.
In this context, Alterman’s knee-jerk outburst is best understood as mirroring the fears of world-class Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, who says Muslim immigration to the US is a threat to the safety of Jews and will weaken support for Israel.
In a statement to the American Jewish Congress convention in October 2001, Pipes warned, “I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews.”
Alterman similarly views the potential influx of brown writers in liberal media as a demographic threat to the livelihoods of Jewish writers like him and, more importantly, to liberal support for Israel.
So in the footsteps of his precious ethnocracy, Alterman is attempting to construct a separation wall around the offices of the The Nation to keep people who look like me out.
Unfortunately for him, the tide is turning in the progressive community towards recognition that Israel is an apartheid state whose policies of racist exclusion must be dismantled.
There’s more than enough room for all kinds of people – including Jews, Palestinians, and Muslims – in progressive media.
So the question is, why is there still space for bigots like Alterman?