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Response to
Alexander Cockburn

October 2003

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 on-line.

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, too.

Date: October 26, 2003
To: Alexander Cockburn <>
From: Dennis Fox <>
Subject: Cockburn: Why blast me again?

Alexander Cockburn:

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 myself.

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.

Dennis Fox

Background 2002

On May 14, 2002, my essay Cautions for the Left on Israel and Palestine appeared in Salon (unfortunately retitled The 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. A different 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 responded.

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 anti-Semitic.

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 for more.

Dennis Fox

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 piece.

Alexander Cockburn

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.

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