In his May 2002 columns in The Nation and CounterPunch,
Alexander Cockburn misrepresented my views in order to make a broader
point about inaccurate, politically motivated charges of anti-Semitism
-- a point I happen to agree with (see below).
He has now repeated some of his unsupportable accusations in a new book
(The Politics of Anti-Semitism, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair).
Cockburn's chapter is also available
In my letter to The Nation responding to his columns,
I said that "Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject
is either sloppy or dishonest." Now that Cockburn has had more than
a year to correct his misrepresentations, it seems to me simple sloppiness
can be ruled out.
Cockburn's style demonstrates he'd rather preach to the
converted than communicate with a broader public. Yet even many of us
on the left find his nastiness hard to stomach. False accusations and
absurd overgeneralizations damage the left's credibility, not just Cockburn's.
I sent Cockburn the following email. I'm still waiting for a response.
If you think I've got this all wrong, I'd like to hear that,
Date: October 26, 2003
To: Alexander Cockburn <email@example.com>
From: Dennis Fox <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Cockburn: Why blast me again?
You begin your chapter in The Politics of Anti-Semitism by repeating
the inaccurate claim, first made in your May 2002 column, that I accused
"the left" of anti-Semitism in my
Salon piece. I did no such thing.
Noting that some members of the pro-Palestinian left ignore real Jew-hatred
where it exists is not the same thing as accusing "the left"
of anything -- a left that I am part of. As I have in other work before
and since, I also noted my criticisms of Israel, my support for Palestinian
efforts, and my rejection of any equation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
On the next page in your chapter you compound the problem -- as you
did last year -- by ridiculing "people like Fox trudging all the
way back to the 60s to dig up the necessary anti-Semitic jibe."
This gives the completely false impression that I have made such allegations
My agreement with much of what you write, including what you write
about Israel and Palestine, adds to my distress. Particularly as someone
whose work CounterPunch has published (an article last fall about
Amer Jubran's INS
hearing), I'm at a loss to understand why you continue to misrepresent
my views. Can't you find someone to blast who actually says and thinks
what you charge me with saying and thinking?
A number of websites, including ZMag and Working for Change, added
a link on your 2002 column pointing to my response. Not CounterPunch,
though. So I once again ask you to add the link on CounterPunch
and other relevant sites, and to make it clear in other ways that I
challenge your attack on my views.
This seems to me the minimally fair thing to do. Even fairer would
be to remove the inaccuracies from your future work.
On May 14, 2002, my essay Cautions
for the Left on Israel and Palestine appeared in Salon (unfortunately
Shame of the Pro-Palestinian Left).
On May 16, Alexander Cockburn trashed
both me and my essay, and also Naomi Klein and Frank Rich. This critique
appears as his regular column in the June 3 edition of The Nation.
version also appears on the web, in which he only attacks me.
I asked The Nation's editor for space to respond
to Cockburn in particular, but also to write about the very similar hostile
responses I get on Israel/Palestine from both left and right whenever
I speak from somewhere other than the two extremes. The editor declined.
They printed a short letter, to which Cockburn
See my longer critique
of Cockburn's distortions.
And an essay in Tikkun
Magazine on the same subject.
I've been thinking often these days that too many activists on both sides
see things only in black-and-white -- one issue I discussed in Salon.
Good examples are some of the
letters to Salon's editor in response to my essay -- two criticisms
from the left and two from the right, plus two people who appreciated my
effort, as one said, "to remain partisan but also to be fair and even-handed
in his treatment of the issues."
I don't expect universal agreement. I do expect criticism,
and I welcome dialogue with those whose side I'm on about common concerns.
What bothers me here, though, is that Cockburn puts me in the wrong camp
and then blasts me for it. It doesn't seem fair.
I'm also sort of horrified that Cockburn's distortion of
my views will be the first thing thousands of people learn about me, and
that my response will never catch up to the distortion.
I sent letters to Cockburn via two websites where his column
appears, asking him to link his column to my response (as Z Magazine,
Working for Change, and some other websites have done). He has not responded.
Fox Letter to The Nation
May 20, 2002 (edited version published June 24, 2002)
His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads
Alexander Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into
practice by racists, ethnic cleansers and in Sharon's case, an unquestioned
war criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct." Since I
share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for every Israeli policy
and I agree with much of what he says about false claims of anti-Semitism,
I wish he'd accompanied his identification of my possible inconsistencies
with accurate reporting of what I actually wrote. Ascribing to me words
I'd never say and views I reject is either sloppy or dishonest.
My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should
address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation, and
difficulties of communication. I end with this: "the justice-based
left must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and
reject those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."
I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel
has committed past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian
oppression is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians
would amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how Palestinians
became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance (though not against
uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian call for militant nonviolent
resistance is welcome.
And I say, clearly, that opposing Israeli policy is not
Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. The day
I read his piece, a letter to my local newspaper, for which I write a
column, claimed my views would lead to "the destruction of Israel
and create a danger to Jews throughout the world." That writer, too,
sees only what he wants to see.
I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion, but the
Nation gives me only 300 words. Please see www.dennisfox.net/politics/israel.html
Cockburn's 2002 Response:
Letter to The Nation
There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third
paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make
it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his Salon
People tell me this is as close as Cockburn gets to acknowledging he
might have gotten something wrong. As I read it, he's still claiming --
wrongly -- I didn't make the points in question in my original essay.
See my original piece and longer
critique and judge for yourself.
Meanwhile, he repeats his allegations about me in his 2003 book and ignores
my request that he address the issue.