Jewish Journal


Answering my readers: Conservatism, Orthodoxy, Lieberman, Rudoren

by Shmuel Rosner

February 19, 2012 | 7:48 am

This occasional feature is just a way for me to respond to what other people write about my work.

1. Sara Wildman interviewed me in an article about the leftie webzine +972. My quote is accurate, the article is predictably sympathetic to the webzine (The Nation and +972 are both to the left of most people), and there’s no reason to complain except that Wildman takes the liberty to write:

Shmuel Rosner, a blogger and conservative writer.

Three comments:

A. I’m not sure how and why Wildman concluded that I am a “conservative” (not that there’s anything wrong with it). She did not ask me if I was a conservative, and if “conservative” is someone that is to the right of “The Nation” then most of the world is “conservative” and this title means little. In other words: Since Wildman doesn’t know me and didn’t ask me, I suspect that what “conservative” might mean in this context is really “not to be trusted”. But in that case, why call me for a quote?

B. Wildman is not the first one to call me a “conservative”. Other writers occasionally called me other names - “Jewish (in name only) blogger, leftist” is one of them. In most cases this was not intended as a compliment.

C. I don’t mind being tagged one way or the other (if I’m asked, I tend to describe myself as centrist, but you don’t have to take my word for it). However, I am often left wondering about the criteria used by all writers as they divide the world into “conservative” and “liberal” writers.

2. Many readers responded to my IHT-NYT article on Jewish Revivalism. Michael of Philadelphia posted this message:

Rosner’s conclusions remind me of media trope voiced about the American right a decade ago: once in charge of all three branches of government, they’d necessarily moderate their tone and pursue the best interests of the nation. It is at its heart a facile and mindlessly rosy argument, and you’ll excuse me for failing to see Avigdor Lieberman or those harassing women on buses subordinating their instincts to democratic values.

Three comments:

A. The assumption that one can compare the tendencies of Israel’s “right” to those of America’s “right” is false. Both are on the “right” of a totally different political system and map. Whether Michael is right or wrong about “the American right” it is highly questionable to learn anything from it regarding Israel’s right.

B. “Those harassing women” are a tiny minority. This minority doesn’t have to change or moderate for Israel’s society to become more moderate. What Israel need is a strong moderate center that will relegate “harassing” radicals to irrelevance.

C. Avigdor Lieberman heads a party that is very secular and essentially anti-religion. Bundling him and Orthodox radicals in a response to an article about Israel’s growing religiosity makes the responder seem somewhat out of touch or uninformed.

3. David Lehrer thinks I should give Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times the benefit of the doubt:

[W]hat I do know is that the reflexive anticipation of bias and lack of professionalism from a career professional is an often wrongheaded approach. I distinctly remember the hue and cry that came from some leaders of the Jewish community when George Shultz was selected as Secretary of State by Ronald Reagan after Alexander Haig’s resignation in 1982. You might have thought that Yassir Arafat would be running American foreign policy by the tone of the commentary.

Two short comments:

A. I don’t “anticipate” bias from Rudoren. What I wrote is quite simple: By doing what she did, Rudoren seems to have revealed to the public her political tendencies. She now has an image that will be very hard to erase. Such image will make her job much more difficult. I’m skeptical as to whether she can somehow convince all parties that for her professionalism trumps ideology. But I hope - I sincerely hope - she can.

B. The Schultz comparison is bizarre. The government of Israel had to learn to live with Schultz, no matter what he thought (it is true that the initial fear for later replaced by great appreciation). Rudoren doesn’t enjoy such status. Government officials can shun her and avoid her and refrain from cooperating with her.

4. Stephen Walt writes:

Rudoren was being chastised by a familiar list of commentators, including Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon, Shmuel Rosner of the Jerusalem Post, and Josh Block, the former AIPAC staffer who recently led a despicable effort to smear the Center for American Progress. And of course Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, self-appointed Supreme Jurisprudent of What is Permissible to Say about Israel, got into the act as well.

Two short comments:

A. I don’t write for the Jerusalem Post. A professor as savvy as Walt should be able to distinguish between the Post and the Journal.

B. If you needed any more proof that Rudoren is in trouble, having Stephen Walt defend her is all the proof I need.

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