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How to hide good points and alienate the people you want to convince

Many words have been spoken; many sentences written on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Given that world apparently now has one billion bloggers, I doubt that the rate of generation of those words is going to do anything other than increase either. How can people still find new things to say? Actually, to be honest - they don't. They just rehash previous comment (or make up previously expressed comment all by themselves).

I have some news which actually may come as surprise. I'm sure it has written before, but I think it needs repetition: Israel is a country. Why is this news, you might ask? Well, a lot of commentators seem to have decided that it is a battleground for left-right arguments. This is unfortunate, because, in amongst all the point scoring, balanced reporting has gone out the window, and depending on your view, one side or the other is a blameless victim acting out of desparation because of the crimes of the other side. You can actually apply that tag to either side. It isn't right either way, but that doesn't stop people applying it.

A prime example is Antony Loewenstein. I have previously discussed some of his work. A little while ago, he published an article in crikey which can be found here. Taking issue with a one-sided piece being claimed as the "truth", I responded in Crikey as follows:

Yesterday, Antony Loewenstein (item 11) wrote another of his religious sermons preaching "the truth". As is typically the case with Loewenstein's articles, this "truth" was a one sided criticism of Israeli and American Governmental policy without so much as a hint of the real situation they face from some sectors of the Palestinian people. This "truth" tends to be repeating the opinions and beliefs of his mates and colleagues. The truth is (and by truth I mean my opinion) that the situation in the Middle East is complex, there is blame on all sides, victimhood on all sides, and, frequently, justification on all sides. To write on Israel's blockade of the Gaza without mentioning Gilad Shalit or Qassam rockets leaves a somewhat distorted view of the situation. Similarly the alleged undermining of the Hamas Government (much as Loewenstein himself would happily do to the Howard or Bush administrations if he had the power) seems to miss some important points regarding acceptance of Israel and renouncing violence. Things that most of the political players see as necessary for Hamas actually to be a potential partner for peace. Given that Loewenstein has previously spoken in favour of boycotts, surely he must appreciate Hamas being boycotted if they won't renounce violence.

That seems to me to be as central and balanced a statement as I could manage. Loewenstein saw fit to post this, and the other responses, on his site. Apparently, my response is predictable and irate. Given that I primarily read Loewenstein's writings for entertainment purposes only, treating it as satire, I am unlikely to be irate over what he writes. Surely he's taking the piss, right?

Anyway, apparently I, and the other commentors, must have said something along the lines of "Israel is perfect". I didn't see it, myself, but, if you read down to the bottom of the link where Loewenstein has published my comment (ironic because, despite claiming a commitment to free speech and a comments policy here claiming "Everybody has the right to comment but must feel comfortable and not intimidated when doing so.", this is the only time any of my comments has been published, despite me actually commenting on his blog from time to time. I'm sure there are appropriate words to call someone who does this, but I'm not going to name-call.), you'll read the response in Crikey from Craig Berkman. I think I might have been drawn in by satire, or else he may not have properly read what I had written. He probably just thought he was reading what he wanted to see to fit into his thesis.

Apparently, this constitutes a "less blinkered understanding". Anyway, I sent a follow-up comment, which, while crikey edited it for length, left the content largely intact.

Yesterday, Craig Berkman (Crikey, comments) asked: "Do people like Alex Lubansky, Lionel Kowal and Grant Ye ever acknowledge any wrongdoing by the state of Israel under any circumstances?" Unfortunately, I feel I must repeat part of what I wrote. Two days ago, I wrote (Crikey, comments): "The truth is (and by truth I mean my opinion) that the situation in the Middle East is complex, there is blame on all sides, victimhood on all sides, and, frequently, justification on all sides." Note the "blame on all sides" should suggest that Israel is not perfect and shares some of the blame. I apologise if anything other than one-sided, biased anti-Israeli criticism constitutes "irrational, unthinking and blind devotion" as Mr Berkman seems to suggest. As far as criticism of Loewenstein's post is concerned, it was just that. A criticism of his posts. In those of his writings I have read, he frequently claims to speak the truth, with an implication that this is the whole truth and nothing but. However, his "truth" as I have read it, is frequently one-sided, anti-Israeli and ends up reading like a Palestinian propagandist. Writing a one-sided, unbalanced piece is not helpful. Nor is it good journalism. All it does is enable writing to be criticised as presenting a distorted view of the situation. An intelligent, balanced piece acknowledging the wrongs and justifications of all sides contributes to understanding. Unfortunately, I am yet to see any of Loewenstein's pieces acknowledging either Palestinian wrongs or the situation which makes Israel feel it must take the courses of action it does. He does, however, highlight Israeli wrongs... And as far as "attacking the person rather than the issues", I did not attack the person, I attacked the article (indeed, a series of articles). More to the point, the issue I was addressing was biased coverage. The issue Mr Berkman seems to have completely and utterly missed. I certainly did not intend to criticise Loewenstein-as-person, and if anything I wrote came across as such I apologise. However, Loewenstein-as-commentator/journalist is not above discussion (much as Bolt, Adams, Kerr, Greer, Fisk, Mayne-as-commentator/journalists are not above discussion). If the writing presents a distorted, one-sided view of any given situation, does Mr Berkman think that pointing this out is unacceptable and constitutes a "standard and pathetic political method of attacking the person rather than the issues"?

Any comments on my response?

Anyway, while we're on one-sided, Israel's actions in Gaza at the moment cannot be understood without reference to either Gilad Shalit or Qassam rockets, so a thoughtful point would need to at least mention Qassams (or some variant spelling) - do a search through his site for the word Qassam (or variant). See how often he does it. Apart from quotes from other people, never. Not once.

Now, occassionally what he writes needs to be seen and acknowledged. But, by ignoring ones side's legitimacy and good while excusing or ignoring the other side's evils, he turns his site into an irrelevancy. Something which people who agree with him will read and agree with (nothing gained), while people who disagree will miss any of the good points because it is buried in amongst distorted half-truths (and antagonistic statements designed to alienate the people whose opinions you'd like to change).

Actually, I'd like to do something wholly irresponsible for a moment. I'm going to try understanding him. Why is this irresponsible? Because I don't know him personally - I only know his writings and his net/journalist persona. I'm going to make some assumptions which, while verifiable, it would spoil the fun if I actually did. Note: nothing in the forthcoming paragraph is fact, unless I actually highlight it as such. It is all just guesswork.

My guess is Loewenstein is an only child. Possibly a difficult pregnancy/birth, but this isn't necessary for my hypothesis. As is typically the case with such people, he was probably spoilt rotten by his parents. He went to a Jewish school (or possibly went to a different Jewish organisation, although I would guess school), behave like the world owed him a living, and, as we know from children, they probably didn't take it to well. He probably got teased and/or beaten quite regularly and had a horrible time. He harboured a deep resentment to his tormentors, and found the best way to get at them was to call Israel evil. He then got to university (or some other early adult experience) and fell in with some lefties. They probaby showed him a bit of respect at first, and he responded well. Then the topic of Israel came up, and he criticised Israel. On receiving encouragement, he stepped up the criticism, and the encouragement increased. More than that, everytime he criticises Israel, he gets to engage in an intense act of self-love. He gets to tell himself how right and wonderful and clever he is. More than that, every time he criticise diaspora Jewry, he gets to tell himself not only how wonderful he is, but how much better he is because he has risen above his low base where all his peers are cruel and evil and stupid and bigoted etc. That's why it is important to him that he claims the tag of a Jew who doesn't believe in Zionism (He does genuinely claim this tag - I haven't made this bit up). The stance is the "look how wonderful I am", while the "Jew" tag is the "look how far I have come". This is also why he regularly goads and antagonises the people he would (nominally) really like to convince - the diaspora Jewry. Otherwise they might read seriously and agree with him, and then he wouldn't be as wonderful in his eyes. Also, some part of him probably feels the need to distinguish himself from the rest of the Jewish community so that he feels himself more fully welcomed into his lefty community.

If anyone actually knows any facts relating to the above paragraph, please let me know so I can either correct, revise or feel smug.

Ok, so how to hide good points: take such a comical, one sided view of a situation that the only people who treat it as information are people who already believe your point of view already. To avoid taking any risks, make sure you insult anyone who disagrees with you, so that there is no chance they will read you to learn the "truth"


I comment

Despite being personally invited to correct anything that might be wrong in my description of where Loewenstein's views come from, Loewenstein hasn't brought any errors to my attention and has declined to comment. I guess that means I must be right, although, you, my readers, can take it as you will.

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