Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eric Fingerhut

Joe Klein’s Unhinged Attack on COMMENTARY

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

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Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

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