Another Alterman temper tantrum at The Nation

The tide is turning in the progressive community towards recognition that Israel is an apartheid state.

Issam Rimawi APA images

In a recent column at The Nation, Eric Alterman threw yet another temper tantrum aimed at people who see Palestinians as human beings deserving of basic rights.

The only difference this time around is that I was his punching bag.

My crime? I wrote a piece for The Electronic Intifada critical of The Nation’s coverage of the Palestinian-led boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement.

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.

Progressive meritocracy

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.

Demographic threat

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?




"Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights?"

Apparently he doesn't have a problem with the Nation limiting the number of Palestinian writers. Duh.


It's apparent that in Eric Alterman's mind, Israel/Palestine is only about Jews. The Palestinians don't register except as they affect Israeli Jews.


Thank you. The man is just racist, pure and simple. It makes me weep for humanity when minorities that faced so much discrimination now promote discrimination against others as soon as they are granted freedoms and equality.


The reason there is space for people like Alterman even on a supposedly "progressive" venue like The Nation is that Zionists are very successful in distorting any attack on Israelis as being an attack against Jews. People in the BDS movement is concerned about Israeli ethnocracy and colonization, but Zionists like Alterman and Dershowitz always lie and say such attacks are about attacking Jews for being Jews. How they can get away with such lies and distortions without people seeing through them, I don't know.


It seems he thinks it "obsessive" (neurotic) for Middle East websites to write about... the Middle East. He's channeling Palin.


The Nation had it's part in lobbying for the zionist state. They made a booklet in which the relations were depicted between Nazi Germany and Palestinian leaders like Huseini. This booklet was sent to all members of the UN in 1947 in order to influence them to vote in favour of the zionists. The Nation played an important role aswell in convincing Chinato abstain in voring in the UN and to convince Yugoslavia back then to vote in favour of the zionists. It is all written in Wikipedia, so not hard to find.
Its is obvious that the Nation is as liberal and leftwing as the publications of Memri for instance. The Nation is wolf disguised as a sheep.
Avoid this outlet en don't buy it anymore.


I think it's disingenuous to suggest Alterman shares the kind of racist motivation that Pipes has, with no praise or even noting by Alterman. That's sloppy. One is outright bigotry. The other defends the status quo, but doesn't know it does. (Noam Chomsky once wrote to Hitchens saying might say he must not believe what he's writing when he pulled a similar hissy fit). Alterman and his ultranationalist friends just wants to maintain the myth that Jews are always under attack, which was developed to support the Israeli government, not a Jewish journalist majority.

And his particular racism has a name. It is usually called "neo-conservative" -- the kind Stephen Colbert parodies when he says he can't see race. So Alterman has a slightly different bigotry than Pipes. Pipes fears a brown horde. Alterman fears a kind of gross incivility, often a code word for hate (e.g. that neighborhood is so loud, they listen to rap). He acts out the routine as well when he just so happens to be thinking of "African-American," "Latino" and "women" writers -- none of which by name, except Hitchens -- sort of like how J.K. Rowling had a few Indians and Black people in the background of the Harry Potter series.

But I think his pressing motivation is something much more banal. It is just to be right. Hence the "mitigating" comment. Nothing more satisfying than a public slam piece with no regrets, written pithily and wittily for blurbs. Why else would he actually suggest The Nation bring in more non-Zionist voices? He doesn't seem to care one way or the other. (As opposed to the pro-Zionist stories which saturates the media, I would definitely like to see more left-wing criticism of BDS in The Nation, which exists among scholars, but not in the media in any serious form, if only to test its merits).


"Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights?"
That he thinks the Zionists are what African-Americans are to civil rights is telling.
Dear Rania, Keep going!


Alterman's comments are utterly disingenuous, no one is suggesting there should be less Jewish voices - only that there should be more Palestinian voices in addition to those Jewish voices. I think Alterman knows this and consciously chose to misunderstand the argument in order to avoid addressing it.


So they can't argue with your piece on the merits so the author created a strawman and attacked that instead. How depressing coming from The Nation.


I stopped my subscription to the Nation years ago because of their insisting on printing the highly offensive and misinformed advertisement FLAME. They claimed it was a necessary economic decision. Would they be similarly inclined were the customer somebody like David Duke or the Koch Brothers?

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.