Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials





Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Picking Topics and Picking Fights

Dennis Fox

May 29, 2003

I don't usually respond in print to readers who blast me for what I write. If they care enough to send in a letter to the editor, they shouldn't have to worry I might reply with something nasty. This week, though, I'm making an exception.

Skip Sesling's guest commentary two weeks ago is at least the third time he's ripped into me for writing about Israel ("Fox's position on Israel angers reader"). Since he wrote an op-ed piece this time instead of a letter, and since he's a former town selectmen and TAB columnist who doesn't seem to fear the limelight, I feel freer to respond, knowing nothing I say will keep him from complaining again in the future.

Besides, I especially want to comment on a remark he made toward the end of his piece: "It seems that Fox can only write about issues relating to an organization to which he belongs."

Sesling exaggerates a bit. My 75 TAB columns over the past four years have addressed dozens of subjects: Recycling, rape, technology, and law. Town Meeting, elections, decision making, and rules. Overdevelopment, taxes, marijuana, and alcohol. School fundraising, town diversity, and many more. (You can read them all, and related commentaries and academic articles, at

But he does have a point of sorts. I do frequently return to several subjects, three of them related to organizations I joined after first writing about the topic: Israel, post-9/11 war and terrorism issues, and the state MCAS test. During my first column-writing year I also focused on Brookline's parking problem, despite failing to locate a relevant group.

Now, I haven't noticed Sesling complain that Stan Spiegel repeatedly writes about tax and budget issues related to his membership in Town Meeting and the Advisory Committee. That would be pretty silly, since even readers who disagree with Stan's conclusions understand that his knowledge and persistence make him a good read.

Sure, local columnists ordinarily focus on traditional topics that community leaders find interesting -- analyzing candidates, dissecting development proposals, mulling over honcho infighting. I do some of that, too.

But often I pick justice-related issues I've studied in depth, topics with local implications that many ordinary residents find important. The fact that Visions for Peace and Justice in Israel-Palestine, Brookline Peaceworks, and BrooklineCARE have many local supporters signifies to me there is indeed interest in these topics even if local elites find them irrelevant, tiresome, or nerve-wracking. At any rate, readers thank me often enough to make me think Sesling is simply wrong about this.

Sesling's real complaint is not that I write about Israel but that he doesn't like what I say: "Fox knows little about the subject, and what he does know is mostly incorrect, biased, anti-Israel and denigrating to Jews who do not agree with his fantasy of a future Israel dominated by Arabs."

Sesling does know, because I told him so last year in response to an email, that I've been paying attention to this issue since before I first went to Israel in 1966, when our views were closer than they are today. Paying attention, trying to apply general principles of justice, and discussing the topic with people holding a wide range of views have helped me assess the issue more completely, and more honestly, than I had done in the past.

Instead of accepting my invitation last year to join a discussion group organized to assess differing views of Israeli policy, Sesling wrote a letter to the editor ridiculing the idea. He still seems content to re-use tired clichés designed to bully others into silence. That this tactic often succeeds hinders the search for solutions that meet legitimate needs of both Israelis and Palestinians.

So, I might add, does the equally rejectionist opposite view. In a move that might mystify Skip Sesling, a year ago Alexander Cockburn used his column in The Nation to accuse me of being an apologist for Ariel Sharon. As I later wrote in Tikkun, both extremes make Israelis as well as Palestinians less safe rather than more. A solution may yet arise someday from somewhere in the middle, if people like Sesling and Cockburn let it emerge.

More on Israel/Palestine

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

Back to Gadflying Columns List

up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated September 30, 2007