Saturday, May 9, 2009

I stumbled on a nifty little site recently called Muzzlewatch-watch. This triggered a flashback from two years ago [camera goes blurry and beings waving, image of me with slightly more hair at a keyboard]:

Several years ago, I was intrigued by the cover of the Boston Globe's Sunday Magazine. In big, bold, colorful word bubbles, the names of various international political issues were highlighted, in contrast to one word appearing in tiny type in the lower corner: "Israel." The topic of the cover story was how every political issue was open to discussion at Boston's (and America's) college campuses, except for one subject that was off limits: criticism of the Jewish state. According to the Globe at least, such discussion was routinely stifled, or "muzzled" by accusations of anti-Semitism which automatically shut down conversations about this important topic.

As a Boston resident and veteran activist, I found the thesis of the Globe Magazine piece a bit peculiar. After all, on any given week one can find a host of events (lectures, films, rallies, etc.) regarding the Middle East, the vast majority of which are dedicated to listing, relisting and pounding on (to the exclusion of any other relevant topic) Israel's shortcomings and alleged "crimes." In March of this year alone, "Israel Apartheid Week" events broke out on campus after campus demonstrating (as if it needed demonstration) that criticism of Israel - far from being shut down - has and continues to be shouted from the rooftops of nearly every academic institution in the land. And, in contrast to the Globe's cover, it is this topic (brought up at events run by multiple competing anti-Israel organizations on college campuses) that drowns out discussion of virtually every other human rights issue on the planet, from the repression of Tibetans by China, to the gross assaults on women, homosexuals and religious minorities throughout the Muslim world.

In my curiosity to discover how such a demonstrably false thesis (that discussion of Israel, the subject of perpetual high-volume attack on campus after campus, was somehow fearfully repressed) could be taken as gospel, I stumbled on a new Website/blog dedicated to perpetuating this accusation, a site called Muzzlewatch. And because my curiosity had gotten the better of me, I chose to do something I had not done in over a decade: participate in online debate on the site's comment section.

It's not that debate can't be fun (anyone else out there remember the Wild West days of Usenet?), but on highly trafficked sites with active forums, I've generally discovered that it takes about 25 comments before debate tends to "gravitate towards the meme" (i.e., degenerate to the lowest common denominator, normally a stale, un-listening slinging of accusations broken down along party lines). Still, the desire to get to the bottom of this conundrum overwhelmed me and in I jumped.

The first thing that needed to be pointed out (and still does) is that Muzzlewatch is a project of an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that (among other things) became very agitated when a different group of politically organized Boston citizens began criticizing the construction of a huge mosque in the region. To show their disapproval, JVP signed onto a lawsuit by the mosque as a friend of the court which attacked the Boston activists (as well as local media) for the scrutiny they were giving the mosque project. So my first question was why a group dedicated to using state power (i.e., the courts) to stifle public discourse about which JVP disagreed had chosen to project its own censorship agenda onto its critics.

It would be a while before the creators of Muzzlewatch got around to responding to my questions (and only then because I refused to stop asking them). In the meantime, I had several weeks to discover what Muzzlewatch had in mind when they claimed their point of view was routinely stifled or censored.

The thing was, in posting after posting (sometimes several a day), the creators of the Muzzlewatch site never managed to provide a single actual example of their opinion being shut down in the way they had tried to shut down debate about the Boston mosque. In fact, almost every case they sited up boiled down to anti-Israel speakers or published books being criticized by people who did not share JVP's political views. As became quickly apparent, what Muzzlewatch classified as "muzzling" actually turned out to be other people utilizing their free speech rights to critique political opinions at odds with those who agreed with Jewish Voice for Peace.

Interestingly, there were even occasions when Muzzlewatch seemed to celebrate the stifling of those with whom they disagreed. I have already noted the mosque issue, but there were also posts celebrating when certain right-wing Web sites were shut down due to protests lodged with those site's Internet Service Providers. While the names of the supposedly nasty sites meant nothing to me (and I was even willing to concede their argument that these obscure sites were as vulgar as Muzzlewatchers described), it seemed strange that a blog like Muzzlewatch, dedicated as it posed to be to free speech, would joyously highlight cases where other people's speech - no matter how unseemly - was being cut off. Needless to say, this question (as well as questions regarding pro-Israel speakers being booed, heckled or threatened off the stage at various campuses - an onslaught Israel bashers never seem to face, for some strange reason) remained unanswered.

By the time I and others finally forced the creators of Muzzlewatch to confront the Boston mosque issue, I had pretty much discovered the answer to my original question. Far from being stifled, the views of Jewish Voice for Peace (and the like minded) were ringing in our ears on campus after campus, from publication after publication, speech after speech. But while these folks were jealously guarding their own free speech rights (as all of us should), they were appalled that anyone else should be allowed the freedom to criticize those opinions. Knowing full well that their opponents appreciated the open debate that Muzzlewatch only feigned, accusations of censorship were an attempt to get JVP opponents to question their own legitimate free speech rights, fearing that pointing out the many flaws in Muzzlewatch and other anti-Israel arguments would immediately lead to accusations of "muzzling" and censorship, often accompanied by statements that anti-Semitism was frequently being used as a weapon in debate (even against people like me who, for various reasons, made sure to never mention the subject in my routine eviscerations of Muzzlewatch postings).

By the time the site published a rambling statement on the Boston mosque that attempted (unsuccessfully) to claim that turning to the courts to try to get newspapers and citizens to shut up about an important political issue somehow translated into a battle FOR free speech for all, the jig was pretty much up for Muzzlewatch. When those of us who understood the Boston issue intimately pointed out the absurdity of the JVP response, some of Boston's most notorious Jew baiters (and, as noted above, this is not an accusation I used lightly) showed up to do their thing. This gave Muzzlewatch administrators the opening they needed to shut down the site's comment section, an action they have clearly chosen never to reverse (despite the wealth of options open to them to keep debate civil on their site).

During the last round of debate over the mosque, I had some brief communication with the site administrator at Muzzlewatch who (without breaking any confidence in our correspondence) was sincerely troubled by comments which attacked her integrity. Yet when I brought up the fact that the entire point of her site was to assault the integrity of people who share my opinions, claiming as it does that we do not challenge JVP orthodoxy legitimately but only seek to stifle their voice through insincere accusations of anti-Semitism, I received no reply.

In truth, by the time Muzzlewatch chose to restrict the conversation to nothing more than its own endless string of accusations, most of us had their number. They (and by "they" I mean the JVP organization of which the Muzzlewatch site is just a tactic) are simple political partisans, nothing more, nothing less, who are absolutely convinced of their own rightness and virtue on all matters relating to the Middle East. Now there is nothing wrong with partisans having strong convictions (most of us do). But Muzzlewatch is different in its dedication to shutting down the other side of the debate via hypocritical accusations of censorship.

If their own unshakable sense of unquestionable virtue prevents them from seeing the irony of the situation, all I can think of is the advice George Castanza gave to his friend Jerry Seinfeld in an episode many years ago when Jerry needed help trying to fake a lie detector test. "If you really believe it," said George to his friend, "it's not a lie."

So the question is not why a group of ruthless, hypocritical partisans like the folks at Muzzlewatch want to deploy a tactic that results in them saying whatever the hell they feel like, but making their political opponents feel guilty about opening their mouths in protest. The reason behind their choice of tactic is obvious. The real question then remains: why should we or anyone else fall for it?

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Muzzlewatch-Watch.

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» Muzzlewatch Gets Miffed at the blog Solomonia

Normally, the wannabe censors of Muzzlewatch simply hurl their accusations of censorship at those who have the temerity to use their own free speech rights to criticize the political positions of Jewish Voice for Peace. But in this case, their rage ri... Read More


This guy is a either an Israeli government agent or some one with far too much time on his hands. His goal is not to simply disagree, offer some kind of intelligent counter argument (something he never approaches doing, but I'll stipulate to for the sake of argument) but to, leaving no stone unturned, debase, insult and delegitimize those he disagrees with. The problem is that, independent from his weak ass, poorly reasoned and badly sources arguments, he is, in no way interested in free speech or debate. Further, the sheer idea that somehow, critical voices against Israel, hold sway in the US, is typically maximalist, and flat wrong. The US mainstream press, almost without any exceptions, is far less critical of all things Israel then the media in Israel, which is saying something if you've ever watched Israeli TV, like for instance during the gaza massacre. In almost every case that Haber wants to site his fake intellectual/logical position uses potted history, politics and bullying tactics to attempt to persuade, oh yeah, if you haven't figured it out so far Jon, I'm essentially just parroting your distorted language.

Naturally, no one could possibly create blog entries supporting a political position you disagree with without being an Israeli (or AIPAC or Mossad) agent (take your pick). I’ve been accused of all three by people who refuse to accept the notion that free-thinking individuals (vs. paid conspirators) can oppose their political opinions.

Now isn’t it great that my friend Sol has kept up his comment board (even when he’s had to suffer attacks therein), a comment board that allows you to critique my post, for me to answer and – viola! conversation ensues. Perhaps the folks running Muzzlewatch could learn something from this and the thousands of other sites that permit others to respond to their one-sided deluge of unaccountable accusations.

But I digress. Now that you have chosen to partake in online debate, you will find that you cannot simply show up and declare victory. No, I’m afraid you will have to actually PROVE that your criticisms have merit (or that the original argument did not). And you can begin by providing us examples (which I said I never found at Muzzlewatch) of people sharing your political opinion ACTUALLY having their voices shut down (as opposed to simply having to suffer criticism from people like me who are just exercising our free speech rights, something the Muzzlewatchers reserve only for themselves).


"comment from...",

Why do you need to use curses and insults in your response? You don't seem to actually have any type of intelligent response to the column, so you are forced to respond with expletives. That's because what the Jon's column says is true.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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