J Street co-founder Daniel Levy went to Doha to sit on an Al Jazeera panel with an accused terrorist, a terrorist mouthpiece, an advocate for the eradication of the Jewish State of Israel, and his fellow New America Foundation Fellow Steve Clemons. During Q+A he revealed that he thinks the creation of Israel was “an act that was wrong,” and went on to describe the Palestinian rocket bombardment of Israeli civilians as “a human reaction” to anti-terrorism measures like Israel’s security fence and the Gaza closure. I posted the transcript of his remarks here on Mere Rhetoric and the text was later confirmed by a crystal-clear videotape dug up by Daniel Halper.
First a few J Street officials and J Street partisans tried to deny the quote’s existence. Then the organization admitted that Levy said something like the quote but insisted that he didn’t talk about Israel, which they ostensibly proved by posting a transcript that cropped out the part where he talked about Israel. Now Clemons and the JTA’s Ron Kampeas are accusing MR of having omitted crucial context that changed the nature of Levy’s remarks. This third gambit somehow manages to be less credible than the first two, although in fairness it’s not really a denial per se, but more like a smear and a non sequitur hoping to give the impression of a denial.
I’ve included details and blockquotes and parsing below, but the truncated version is: Clemons threw around accusations like “Ceren edits [the transcript] in important ways,” while Kampeas declared that “Mere Rhetoric’s Omri Ceren” posted Levy’s quote “ripped out of context” and that the context was actively “removed.” Except buried right in the middle of his article Kampeas grudgingly admitted that the rest of transcript actually has no bearing on what Levy said about Israel’s creation:
The full excerpt doesn’t quite exonerate Levy of casting Israel’s creation as “wrong,” but it paints a remarkably different picture of what he was trying to refute.
In a technical sense the “full excerpt” – “full excerpt” being the second most ironic phrase in Kampeas’s post, more on that at the very end – exonerates Levy not at all. “Not at all” is a lot less than “doesn’t quite.” In fact nothing in his entire statement, as we now know from extended videos, adds or subtracts anything from how MR described Levy’s heartfelt admission that permanent Palestinian irredentism is an understandable reaction to Israel’s existence, the creation of which was “an act that was wrong.”
One might wonder, then, about the basis for Kampeas’s and Clemons’s repeated “out of context” accusations.
Apparently Kampeas and Clemons want to have a debate along the lines of “is Daniel Levy a good guy who wants people to be decent to each other” or “does Daniel Levy think that Jews should be allowed to safely exist in the Middle East.” So they they present the original MR transcript, plus a sentence that starts before the quote and two that end after. Kampeas says they were “removed” and Clemons is more circumspect, but in either case the intent is to demonstrate Levy’s innocence and suggest a lapse in integrity at MR:
…I think you have to get your head around the idea that the Jewish community in Israel is not going back to Poland or Germany or Morocco or Iraq.
One can be a utilitarian two-stater. In other words think that the practical, pragmatic way forward is two states. This is my understanding of the current Hamas position. One can be an ideological two-stater as someone who believes in exclusively Palestinian self-determination or in Zionism. I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a progressive Zionism. Or one can be a one-stater. But in either of those outcomes, we’re going to live next-door to each other or in a one state disposition. And that means wrapping ones head around the humanity of both sides. I believe that where Jewish history was in 1948 excused, for me – it was good enough for me – an act that was wrong. I don’t expect Palestinians to think that. I have no reason – there is no reason – that Palestinians should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.
But if we’re going to live as neighbors or in one state, one has to begin to develop an understanding and a respect for who the other is. And to compare a Zionist to a Nazi doesn’t really get you very far down that road…
Of course the question wasn’t and isn’t “is Daniel Levy a guy who just wants people to be decent and humane to each other” or “does Daniel Levy think that Jews should be allowed to safely exist in the Middle East.” The actual question was and is “does Daniel Levy think that Israel’s creation is the reason that people are indecent to each other or and that the Middle East is unsafe for Jews.” It’s not about his goals, but about the degree to which he thinks Israel’s existence stands in the way of achieving those goals – which directly impacts whether he can be an effective or honest advocate for Israel. Neither J Street nor Levy’s people have offered a credible defense, other than insisting that if the MR post was about something totally different than what it was, there should have been more words included.
Levy spoke for a while, got to the part that dealt with his feelings on the creation of Israel, declared that it was a historical wrong, and moved on. There were lots more irrelevant paragraphs before and after that part of speech, and pretending that they were relevant is a good way of muddying the water. But if that’s going to happen, one should at least have the decency to ignore rather than smear the people who point out what’s actually being said. Even J Street had that much decency, and they’re borderline sociopathic liars.
And yet the accusations get a little more surreal and absurd:
(1) Even if those imaginary alternative questions were the ones at stake, the purportedly “removed” lines still wouldn’t make the post out of context, and adding them still wouldn’t add any context. The MR transcript already had Levy saying things like “we’re going to live next-door to each other or in a one state disposition, [a]nd that means wrapping ones head around the humanity of both sides.” It would have been justifiable to ellipse them out, since the post wasn’t about whether Levy thinks that Jews living in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jewish State should be treated humanely (he does). But I wanted to be extra careful not to be accused of excluding context, so I just transcribed the whole paragraph. Ah well.
(2) Clemons and Kampeas make much of how Levy was responding to an audience rant that equated Zionism and Nazism, and which asserted along the way that progressive Zionism is a contradiction in terms. Levy ducked the challenge rather than actually defending progressive Zionism – “yes it can too exist!” isn’t actually a defense – but again I’m not sure why any of that is relevant. Is the nuanced rejoinder from his defenders really “Levy always explains his attendance at these pro-Hamas cesspools by insisting that he defends progressive Zionism in front of tough audiences, but in fact he says that Israel’s creation was morally unjustifiable and insists that Palestinians have a basis for endless intransigence”? And if that is actually what they’re saying, why is that an issue of context or the basis for a smear? Or somehow the fault of Levy’s critics?
(3) Earlier I flagged how Kampeas’s “full excerpt” phrase was particularly ill-chosen. What he and Clemons posted wasn’t the full transcript at all. They stopped mere seconds before Levy explained that it’s “a human reaction when a foot is being held to your throat, to respond violently” – i.e. to respond with rockets to Israeli anti-terrorism measures including the West Bank “barrier” and “what’s happening in Gaza.” Why wasn’t this part of Levy’s speech included, given the suspicion that’s supposed to fall on anything less than a “full transcript”? It could be because Kampeas and Clemons didn’t think those portions were relevant to the question at hand, and so they didn’t bother pasting them in, which would make their accusations of MR merely unfair.
That said, “full excerpt” is only the second most ironic phrase in Kampeas’s article. The most obnoxious part was when he snidely described the work here on MR as sneer-quoted “research,” even while he feigned confusion over questions that could have been answered with a quick email or IM or Twitter DM. What a gentleman!
All of which is a roundabout way of saying: I’m not getting an apology am I?
* AlJazeeraEnglish [YouTube]
* Daniel Levy Archive [Mere Rhetoric]
* J Street Co-Founder Daniel Levy: Israel’s Creation “An Act That Was Wrong” [Mere Rhetoric]
* Daniel Levy’s Israel Problem And J Street’s. [Weekly Standard / Halper]
* Unbelievable – J Street Crops Daniel Levy’s Anti-Israel Quote, Then Blasts “Far Right-Wing Blogs” For “Misreporting” It [Mere Rhetoric]
* Conspiracism American Style: The Daniel Levy Debate [Clemons / Washington Note]
* Steve Clemons, gentleman blogger [Kampeas / JTA]
* New J-Street Poll Is Rigged In Particularly Stupid, Obnoxious Ways [Mere Rhetoric]