Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tobin vs. Klein - Who Is Antisemitic?

Joe Klein’s Unhinged Attack on COMMENTARY Jonathan Tobin

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

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