Blank Tablet: Distorted Defense of Boycott Discredits Publication
What qualifies a publication for consideration as a serious contributor to the national Jewish conversation? Tablet magazine is an online publication that appears to aspire to such a status despite the fact that it mixes political and literary commentary with breezier lifestyle articles. But it is getting increasingly difficult to look at this website without wondering: what exactly is Tablet’s conception of serious commentary on Jewish issues and Israel?
While Tablet eschews an overt ideological line, its editorial choices skew heavily toward liberal pieties about contemporary issues such as the Ground Zero mosque. Its loudest voice on Israel belongs to Liel Leibovitz. Leibovitz is an Israeli academic who holds the post of executive producer of Tablet’s video and interactive media. The bulk of his writing for Tablet has been a Ritual and Observance column in which he often frames political or social issues in a religious context without actually discussing religious texts while denouncing Israeli security practices whenever possible. Last summer, he invoked the biblical prophet Zechariah in order to defend those Turkish “activists” who had attempted to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Anyone who had taken the trouble to follow the news, as opposed to video games, already knew that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as food and medicine has been freely flowing into Hamasistan without letup. The only point of the flotilla was to try and halt the isolation of a terrorist province and to bring aid and comfort to its terrorist rulers. But the fact that even Hamas doesn’t claim that people in Gaza lack food didn’t stop Leibovitz from asserting that there was “starvation” there. Leibovitz’s ideological blinders caused him to misrepresent the situation in Gaza as well as the decidedly non-humanitarian intent of the blockade runners.
A similar problem distorts his appalling discussion this week of the controversy over a proposed loyalty oath to be administered to naturalized Israeli citizens pledging allegiance to the Jewish and democratic nature of the state. Tablet also ran a piece by Lee Smith defending the oath, but Liebovitz wasn’t so much interested in denouncing the measure as he was in justifying the stances of those who would use this issue — and others — to institute a boycott of Israel. Specifically, Liebovitz defended British filmmaker and playwright Mike Leigh for his cancelation of a visit to Israel over this issue and other “policies.” Leibovitz’s strained point was that isolating Israeli artists (the ones who suffer most from a boycott by foreign artists) was defensible since this already highly politicized and uniformly left-wing segment of society needed to be pressured into more radical opposition to the state’s democratically elected government. Ignoring the political realities of his own country, whose left-wing parties have been utterly discredited by the Palestinian refusal to make peace and abandon terror, Liebovitz agrees with Time magazine’s libelous assertion that Israelis don’t want peace and thinks they must be bludgeoned by foreign pressure into bowing to Arab demands.
It is important not to mince words about what endorsing any boycott of Israel means. It amounts to saying that economic warfare meant to bring the Jewish state to its knees is not only legitimate but also mandatory for decent-thinking persons, according to Liebovitz. But it is instructive to note that in putting forward such a vile position, Liebovitz clearly misrepresents the nature of Leigh’s objections to Israel and Zionism. Leigh has never made any secret of his disgust with both.
Leigh, the writer and director of the marvelous Topsy Turvy, is also the author of the play Two Thousand Years, a scathing attack on Jewish life and specifically with religious Jews and Israel. Leigh’s open and passionate desire to distance himself from his Jewish background from the earliest days of his artistic career is key to understanding his statements about Israel. He joined the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a leftist platform for denouncing supposed Israeli atrocities and rationalizing Palestinian terrorism, and in 2007 helped form the group Independent Jewish Voices, whose purpose was to undermine support for Israel by Britain’s Jewish communal organs and to disassociate the Diaspora from the Jewish state. All of which is to say that Leigh’s willingness to blast Israel is not merely a principled disgust with a particular policy but consistent opposition to the state per se. The notion that, as Leibovitz claims, Israel doesn’t “merit” a Leigh visit because of its alleged betrayal of Jewish values is laughable. It fits in with Leibovitz’s own disgust with his former compatriots, whom he denounces as “devoid of convictions” because they have rejected policies he supports at the ballot box. But it is also fundamentally dishonest of Leibovitz, and Tablet, to represent Leigh as a neutral figure when it comes to Israel.
By providing Liebovitz with a platform for his dishonest and skewed take on Israeli issues, Tablet calls into question not only the judgment of its editors but also their presumption that the website they are publishing offers a valuable perspective on Israel, Jewry, or a specifically Jewish journalism.