Silverstein-Derfner Partnership Reconsidered

The only thing more prominent than the eyebrows of Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner are his ridiculous views. So it was no surprise when I heard of his latest venture – a blog called Israel Reconsidered – launched with anti-Israel pest Richard Silverstein.

At the time of the launch in May, Silverstein wrote:

I’m flattered that Larry thinks that despite my sharp debating style in my blog comment threads, that I’m a principled, decent representative of my brand of political discourse.

Well, not even a month has passed and let’s just say Derfner has reconsidered Silverstein’s involvement with Israel Reconsidered.

Let’s hear about it from the horse’s mouth.

A few months ago Larry Derfner came to me with an idea I thought was terrific: co-authoring a blog to debate the burning issues of the nature of Israeli society, Israeli democracy and modern Zionism; and to do this from a progressive perspective.  We’d tackle the big philosophical issues that don’t get addressed often in political blogs: Zionism vs. Diasporism; Nakba, Right of Return, Law of Return, Religion vs secularism in Israel, etc.  I was proud and flattered that Larry found me to be a worthy partner for this project.

We began the blog and for the first few weeks it went well, though I think perhaps I didn’t participate on a regular enough basis for Larry.

Then Larry suggested we debate the issue of Nakba and Right of Return.  He warned me that he didn’t agree that the 1948 War was a crucial moral failing of Israel (though he did feel that about 1967).  So I wrote the first post about why I felt Nakba was Israel’s Original Sin and why the Right of Return must be resolved along the lines proposed by the Geneva Accords, with a quota of Palestinian refugees permitted to return to Israel as citizens if they refused the generous compensation package offered to settle elsewhere.

Larry replied with a post I thought rather unfortunately titled, The Right of Return is Wrong.  I felt that this title attempted to be punchy at the cost of presenting the issue in a nuanced way.  Frankly, I thought poorly of Larry’s defense of Israel’s behavior in 1948 and his total dismissal of ROR and Israeli responsibility for Nakba.  In fact, I even used the term “cheap and unworthy” to describe one of Larry’s arguments.  He didn’t like that.  Thought it was insulting, uncivil and violated our agreement to debate the issues in a civil manner.

I told him that though I knew we disagreed about issues, I had no idea his approach to Nakba was going to be so dismissive and I replied in the only way I knew how.

As I watched the comment threads I saw that most of the commenters were either right wingers I’d banned here for violating comment rules or they were Larry’s readers from the Jerusalem Post.  Some of my friends and allies here like Deir Yassin and Leonid came over.  But 80% of the comments were hostile.  And I have a rule that if someone is hostile to me in debate I’m hostile in reply.  It ain’t pretty I admit and people I respect take me to task for it.  But it’s really the only way I know how to deal with provocateurs, trolls and intemperate right wing racists.

All of which made me realize that I couldn’t achieve the tone Larry wanted for the blog.  So we’ve agreed to part company.  It was a worthy experiment.  It’s unfortunate it couldn’t last longer.  But it’s better to recognize something isn’t going to work and end it gracefully, than allow it to drag on with both parties festering in resentment because the partner isn’t living up to his end of the bargain (I don’t see Larry that way, but I imagine he saw me that way or would have had we continued).

I now realize something neither of us took into account before we began.  We thought we should allow comments for the blog.  But in hindsight I think if two people are debating an issue you don’t really need comments.  You are your own commenter in a blog like this.  It probably would’ve taken some of the pressure off me if we’d stopped allowing comments and just debated amongst the two of us.

At any rate, my involvement with Israel Reconsidered is ended. 

For his part, Derfner had this say:

I read Richard Silverstein’s post on Tikun Olam explaining why he left Israel Reconsidered. I have no problem with anything he wrote except this:

“…I have a rule that if someone is hostile to me in debate I’m hostile in reply. It ain’t pretty I admit and people I respect take me to task for it. But it’s really the only way I know how to deal with provocateurs, trolls and intemperate right wing racists.”

My problem with Richard’s replies was that in most cases, he was hostile to people who were not hostile to him, and who were not right-wing racists or provocateurs. (I’m new to the blogosphere; I don’t know what ”trolls” are.) He was hostile to basically everyone whose politics were to the right of his. I disagreed strongly with some of Richard’s opinions, of course – that was why I approached him in the first place – but I had no “problem” with their substance; I did with the way they were often expressed.

In other words, Derfner quickly realized what I have been saying on here for a while now: Silverstein is one nasty piece of work.


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media