Commentary Magazine


Contentions

A Bad Night on 92nd Street

Ever had a bad night? I just had one. Ever lost your cool? I just did.

I was on a panel at the 92nd Street Y in New York about what it means to be pro-Israel. The panelists were Jeremy Ben-Ami of JStreet, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, and I; the moderator was Jane Eisner of the Forward. In the middle of the panel, I chose to walk off the stage rather than continue.

Eisner has written an account of the event, almost comic in its level of detail, in which she calls me a “rude, angry man.” So let me offer some notes on what may be the least significant tempest-in-a-teapot in the history of world Jewry.

In the course of her account, she claims that “mystifyingly,” I “encouraged” the audience to boo and hiss me. In fact, after a prolonged bout of booing, I responded by suggesting—in a manner that was intended, for what I would have thought were obvious reasons, to be ironic—that the crowd might try hissing too. Which they did. Maybe they didn’t pick up on the irony; Eisner apparently didn’t, given her level of mystification.

Eisner then says I wagged my finger “in a manner threatening and concescending” at Ben-Ami. As it happens, I had no problem with Ben-Ami personally throughout the panel, though we disagreed vehemently. And given that he was five or ten feet away from me and we were having an exchange that was mutually heated, I’m not sure how threatening my condescending finger-wagging could have been. (I am unaware there was any finger-wagging, by the way, but I will stipulate for the sake of comity that some wagging took place.)

Whatever I did, it was, to be sure, no more “threatening” than Eisner’s response, which was to put her hand up close to  me for the purposes of quieting me down. Eisner seems to think that when I spoke in objection to this gesture, which I did angrily, I was perhaps fearful she was going to attack me physically—which is the height of silliness. I was annoyed by the hostility of the crowd, one of whose number had shrieked at me, and I was troubled by Eisner’s effort to shush me.

Bottom line: I’d had a long day and I didn’t see the point in spending more of it getting booed and shushed. So I left. So sue me.

By the way, David Harris was just great on the panel.