This is part of a continuing series by Yakov Hirsch seeking to explain the nature and effect of Hasbara culture. A compilation of his writings for us is here.
The shocking Donald Trump victory in the 2016 election has many people wondering what if it had been Bernie Sanders facing off against Donald Trump. How tantalizing does that race seem now? Naturally we hear if Hillary couldn’t beat Trump, how would Sanders? But a little while ago these same voices were convinced Donald Trump was even more unelectable than Sanders. And whatever liabilities a Sanders general election campaign would have, lack of enthusiasm for the candidate wouldn’t be one of them. How refreshing would that be? There is a lot to be said for at least going down with a candidate you can be proud of.
This two-part article will look at one of Bernie Sanders’s more formidable foes in the Democratic primary. Sanders was up against what I have come to call “hasbara culture.” Hasbara culture is an aggressive and proselytizing understanding of the world. It is a social construction of reality by a minority within the Jewish community. As I have shown in my last couple of articles, Hasbara culturalists experience the word differently than the average American Jew does. This article will try to shed light on why Bernie Sanders provoked such enmity from the people whose understanding of reality is shaped the most by Hasbara culture.
There are two main reason why Bernie Sanders was such a threat to Hasbara culture. The obvious one is his very progressive position on Israel/Palestine. Hasbara Culture prefers its liberals to be progressive except for Palestine (or PEP). Listen to Hillary Clinton’s speech to AIPAC last March and you will understand why the most important Hasbara culture journalist in the country Jeffrey Goldberg pushed her candidacy so much.
The second and more interesting thing we explore in this article is why the one group that was trafficking in hate against Bernie Sanders were other Jews. It wasn’t Trump’s neo-Nazis, who hasbara culturalists like Goldberg were so meticulously tracking, who was waging war against Sanders’ “Judaism.” It seems the neo-Nazis couldn’t care less about Sanders’ Jewish background. By contrast, Jeffrey Goldberg and Jaime Kirchick and other Hasbara culturalists seemed to care for little else when attacking the senator from Vermont. Let’s start with the reaction to Sanders’s position on Israel/Palestine.
Recall what now seems like ancient history: during one of the Hillary-Bernie debates, Sanders placed pressure on Hillary from the left on Israel. He caused quite the sensation. It was a totally new and exciting discourse started by a major candidate in a presidential race.
The ADL was displeased. The most influential organization in America concerned with anti-Semitism and human rights leaped into action.
Not everyone was unhappy. This was The Atlantic’s James Fallows’s reaction.
Fallows was expressing a widespread view “re Palestine” that the country needed a “broadening of the acceptable debate.” And Fallows was expressing his approval that Bernie Sanders was publicly sticking up for Palestinian rights and not backing down.
Notice that Greenblatt and Fallows (and everyone else) at the time were not questioning the significance of the Sanders glasnost attempt on Israel/Palestine. And this is why I use the word “culture.” A new culture on Israel/Palestine was being made by the Bernie culture. This is how politics works. There is no going back now. It takes a Bernie Sanders saying the water is fine in the issue. You can take these positions on Israel and Netanyahu and it’s not the end of the world. It might actually even be good politics. Which is to say, Does the Democratic base want a policy like Hillary Clinton states at AIPAC or like Bernie states in the debate? Answer: Bernie.
Now see something interesting. Look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s response to Fallows:
The Fallows tweet creates a psychological and political crisis for Goldberg. First, Goldberg’s narcissism has him believing that the discourse about Israel can only change when he gives the OK. That is merely what he feels his agitation about Jews and Israel over the years have earned him. That explains the Goldbergese condescension “ @Jamesfallows you do realize…” (and Goldberg’s condescension to his peers is a large and rich subject; I will devote special attention to it at a later date).
But more importantly: observe how Goldberg deals with the political crisis of Sanders. He realizes that once the political culture starts changing on these delicate subjects, changing policies are not far behind.
So Goldberg decides, as he often does, to defy reality. He will simply deny that anything changed at all. He is trying to put the proverbial cat back in the bag. Goldberg is claiming that Sanders said nothing new at the debate. “@JamesFallows You do realize that Sanders is saying nothing new about Palestinians? Just read Obama over the past 10 years.”
Goldberg, who has since been elevated to editor in chief of the Atlantic after being determined to be the best journalist of the 500 “current and next generation stars to meet”, is being dishonest here. He knows good and well how big a jolt to the Orwellian discourse on Israel and Palestine Sanders’s New York statement was. Remember: we live in a political culture where both party platforms had no mention of the Israeli occupation, and the Democratic leadership specifically stripped any mention of the suffering in Gaza from its platform.
Mehdi Hassan of Al Jazeera probably was not expecting a response by Goldberg to this tweet. But he made the point that Goldberg was misrepresenting political reality.
Let’s look at another Hasbara culturalist, Jamie Kirchick, go up against reality on whether Sanders said anything new:
Within seconds [of the debate], hosannas from the herd of independent minds poured forth. “Historic” declared The Huffington Post. “Bernie Sanders just shattered an American taboo on Israel,” gushed Vox’s Zack Beauchamp, whose knowledge of the Middle East is so voluminous as to include the imaginative, like the “bridge” connecting Gaza to the West Bank (which, naturally, Israel “limits traffic on.”) “Bravo to Sanders for saying that Israel’s assault on Gaza was disproportionate!” exclaimed Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. “Truth in a campaign! Wonders never cease!”
In reality, standing up for “Palestinians’ humanity,” as Beauchamp wrote, is as much a “taboo” as being in favor of healthy school lunches or cleaner air and water…
While Sanders’ even-handedness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is utterly banal…
What Goldberg and Kirchick are doing here is traditional hasbara, denying reality when it comes to Israel and Palestine. They don’t like like the change in the discourse on the issue; so they just lie and claim that there hasn’t been any change.
Their thinking is: If we obfuscate enough, things will hopefully go back to normal once Sanders and his crazy ideas are defeated, in coming weeks.
Goldberg and Kirchick are very conscious of their disinformation. They know exactly what they are up to. We will be contrasting those intellectual gymnastics with the culture of hasbara shortly. In hasbara culture, not a lot of thinking goes on. It’s an instinctual culture, as we will see.
The next important Sanders moment was his “notorious” and “disastrous” Daily News interview. The reports of this interview could not be more different from the reality. In recent weeks, I have given examples of the disconnect between reality as we all experience it and hasbara culture’s social construction of reality. Events which mean nothing to the rest of us are experienced as actual reality for hasbara culturalists. (Say when Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson likens settlement-building to termites or when Mahmoud Abbas makes reference to a report about alleged well-poisoning in the West Bank without knowing that it has been debunked and the roof caves in on both of them.)
That is what happened to Sanders.
Here is a reminder of what happened in the real world when Sanders met the Daily News:
“During a recent New York Daily News editorial board interview, Sanders was asked about the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. “Help me out here because I don’t remember the figures,” he said before saying his recollection was that 10,000 Palestinians were killed. He then immediately added, “Does that sound right?” The interviewer did a quick search and found that, in fact, more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 10,000 were wounded. The United Nations has estimated that 2,104 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. Understanding that his recollection was about the total number of casualties, not the death toll, the senator immediately accepted that correction and the discussion moved on to other topics.
But this is what happened in hasbara culture:
Welcome to hasbara culture. A progressive presidential candidate’s momentary confusion over numbers killed in Gaza is being connected to medieval Christian blood libels against Jews, by Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. (who grew up in New Jersey and imagined pogroms in South Orange).
This blood libel accusation is part of the “ritual” of hasbara culture. Outsiders just watch and shake their heads. To everyone but the hasbara culturalist, this discourse, this jargon, has no relationship to the real world.
Also be mindful of how hasbara culturalists like Jennifer Rubin and Greenblatt of the ADL talk down to the Vermont senator and presidential candidate. This disrespect is also part of the ritual of hasbara culture. What’s behind this disrespect i will get into in part two.
Hey hey Bernie!? I may not be a Washington Post journalist or Jewish leader, but I would never say “hey” and be condescending to Senator Sanders as he is leading a movement in the Democratic Party, or try and slap him down, either. On whose behalf is Jonathan Greenblatt talking to Senator Sanders like that? Is Greenblatt tweeting this contempt as CEO of the ADL or is it in a private capacity?
Of course if you live outside hasbara culture, you understand that the old Jewish socialist from Brooklyn who wants everyone to live happily ever after has nothing to do with ancient blood libels against Jews. In the real world, when the topic isn’t Israel, the type of momentary confusion shown by Sanders is entirely unremarkable.
And notice it meant nothing to the Daily News reporters interviewing Sanders. There was nothing noteworthy or newsworthy to them about the 10k Gaza mistake. Sanders’s momentary uncertainty was not a story.
But I dare anyone to try to explain that to Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who lives inside hasbara culture and represents the district I grew up in, as he tries to pursue Bernie Sanders into a Brooklyn apartment building, shouting, “A blood libel against Israel! What’s wrong with you?”
The Sanders incident demonstrates yet another aspect of hasbara culture: the culturalists’ sense exemption from basic human ethics. This is really fascinating. It is not in dispute what happened during the Daily News interview. Now let’s look at Greenblatt’s ADL press release.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today called on presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to correct his misstatements regarding the 2014 conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.
Greenblatt is trying to change the story to make Sanders’s mistake much worse than it was. This press release is a lie. It is intentionally misleading to incite against Bernie Sanders. It is actions like this which have people believing “defamation league” is a more appropriate name for the ADL:
[Sanders] called Israel’s actions during the 2014 war in Gaza “disproportionate” and greatly overstated Palestinian civilian casualties, saying “my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza.”
“Even the highest number of casualties claimed by Palestinian sources that include Hamas members engaged in attacking Israel is five times less than the number cited by Bernie Sanders,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO….
Stephen Greenblatt head of the ADL and supposed guardian of American Jews frames the Jewish Senator from Vermont. I am no lawyer but I bet Sanders can sue Greenblatt for libel for what he is doing here. This is hasbara culture in action.
Why does Stephen Greenblatt head of the ADL hates Jews like Bernie Sanders so much? Why would he risk being this this duplicitous about what happened during that Daily News interview? What does the ADL head get out of defaming Bernie Sanders? I will get to all that in Part two.
I would like to close with Tablet/Foreign policy writer Jamie Kirchick, in my humble opinion one of the worst Torquemadas of hasbara culture. For hasbara culture’s social construction of reality gives the people most enthralled by that culture (among them Kirchick) an exemption to lie freely. I don’t even think Kirchick experiences a twinge of conscience when he creates this parody of what actually happened during the Daily News interview. This whole Kirchick paragraph below is a total lie. Sanders didn’t “assert,” he didn’t “consult”. But for a Jewish jihadi journalist like Kirchick, that type of distortion is just another weapon in the arsenal of his holy war.
“A more revealing aspect of the Sanders phenomenon concerned his notorious interview with the Daily News editorial board, in which he incorrectly asserted that 10,000 civilians had been killed in the 2014 Gaza War. After Sanders consulted with the Anti-Defamation League, his campaign revised the number down to the United Nations estimate of some 1,500 civilians”
A reminder of reality again:
“During a recent New York Daily News editorial board interview, Sanders was asked about the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. “Help me out here because I don’t remember the figures,” he said before saying his recollection was that 10,000 Palestinians were killed. He then immediately added, “Does that sound right?” The interviewer did a quick search and found that, in fact, more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 10,000 were wounded. The United Nations has estimated that 2,104 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. Understanding that his recollection was about the total number of casualties, not the death toll, the senator immediately accepted that correction and the discussion moved on to other topics
In part two I will move on to what is it about Bernie Sanders that created so much cognitive dissonance to the social construction of reality of hasbara culturalists like Kirchick, Greenblatt and Goldberg, that has led to the unethical behavior we have seen above.