When blogger Richard Silverstein recently fell for a not particularly elaborate hoax by Aussie Dave of Israellycool, nobody who is familiar with his writings should have been surprised. Silverstein’s blogging reflects a rigid anti-Israel ideology, and he is prone to view any disagreement in intensely personal terms. He even hates people he mixes up with other people, as this recent Twitter exchange illustrates (click to enlarge):
One issue that came up in the context of the hoax story was the astonishing fact that Silverstein has occasionally been treated as a reliable “source” by supposedly reputable mainstream media outlets like the New York Times.
According to the NYT, Silverstein’s blog “gives a liberal perspective on Israel and Israeli-American relations.”
To illustrate what passes as a “liberal perspective” – and, presumably, confers quasi-automatic trustworthiness – at the NYT, I reproduce here the relevant passages from some of my archived posts on Silverstein:
[…] Yet another variation on the theme of how best to spin Islamist terrorism was offered by Richard Silverstein on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site – inadvertently, he also offered a lesson of how this kind of spin is created. Supposedly, Silverstein intended to cut “through the fog of terror”, which he proceeded to do by asserting that the Mumbai terrorists were not “merely avenging India’s suppression of Muslim Kashmir, [but that] they were seeking redress for crimes against Palestine as well.” How does he know? Well, the Chabad House in Mumbai was selected as a target because it was seen as an Israeli and not as a Jewish symbol. And how does he know that? Well, he doesn’t know that, but he quite openly acknowledges that it suits him better, because he wants to see the perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai as “political terrorists” – very much like Hamas, which Silverstein portrays as a group whose leaders generally “eschew the language of religious jihad to portray their struggle.”
However, it’s not enough for Silverstein to deny that the Mumbai terrorists had any Islamist agenda, he then proceeds and accuses “Israel’s nationalist leaders” – for example people like Tzipi Livni – of wanting “nothing more than to piggyback their own cause onto the western jihad against radical Islam.” It’s definitely something to savor: “the western jihad against radical Islam”… And how did Tzipi Livni deserve all that: well, Silverstein quotes her as saying: “We have here radical Islamic elements who do not accept either our existence or the values of the western world” – and that serves him later on to accuse Livni of having the “need to see the Chabad House attack as emblems of Muslim perfidy and antisemitic hate.”
In other words: the Mumbai terrorists were simply motivated by legitimate political grievances, but Livni is guilty of Islamophobia.
How a wannabe spinmaster like Silverstein reacts to criticism can be seen on his own website Tikun Olam – Make the World a Better Place (I kid you not): In a piece entitled “Mumbai and the Jewish Jihadis” he complains about “the entirely depressingly hostile response” elicited by his piece. Responding in the comment section to the question of one blogger who asked: “Did you notice that your article, despite being on a forum known for generally being quite hostile to Israel, was almost uniquely panned?”, Richard Silverstein responds: “the fact that my article was panned by a bunch of almost universally dim CiF readers (except for you of course) doesn’t bother me in the least. My articles always generate that type of response. The same is true of tolerant, reasoned, balanced articles published in Haaretz. There’s a hate patrol that frequents all these sites looking for anything written that is too critical of Israel or Jews or too sympathetic to Arabs. There is absolutely no failure of logic in the piece. Their [sic] is a failure of humanity in those who fault it.”
Demonizing your opponents as a “hate patrol”, accusing them of “a failure of humanity” – I know what that reminds me of: sure not of anything that would make the world a better place.
[…] But the message is really a very different one: Israel has no right to defend itself. Whenever its army moves – whether it’s in response to the violation of the Jewish state’s legitimate borders and assaults on its soldiers as in 2006, or, recently, in response to relentless rocket barrages that endanger hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians – there will be an outcry around the world. The claims and accusations of groups like Hamas and Hizbullah, which both are openly dedicated to eradicating the Jewish state, will be presented as “fact” by the international media, and gullible western reporters will rush to “corroborate” any alleged Israeli “war crimes” with the “evidence” helpfully provided by supporters of Hamas and Hizbullah.
Any attempt to question this “evidence” or show that it is flimsy and unreliable will be quickly condemned as a preposterous attack against the absolute truth – and this absolute truth boils down to the conviction that Israel deserves to be condemned as uniquely evil. Whoever dares to doubt that absolute truth risks being denounced as a raving racist right-wing defender of evil.
A good illustration of this dynamic is provided by blogger Richard Silverstein, whose modest ambition is to “Make The World A Better Place.”
This lofty goal apparently requires a heavy dose of blacklisting: Silverstein demands that readers who want to comment on his posts must support any claims they make by providing “sources and links”, but then he threatens to remove any links to “propaganda sites”, which in his view include Debka, Little Green Footballs, CAMERA, MEMRI, and the Middle East Forum. Links to the Jerusalem Post would probably also be unwelcome, since Silverstein considers the paper a “right-wing scandal sheet“.
Inevitably, Silverstein had his say on the “war crimes” supposedly committed by the IDF in Gaza, reveling in the recent Haaretz “revelations” about soldiers’ claims that there were “incidents of cold-blooded murder perpetrated by fellow soldiers.”
But when a reader, posting on another thread as Bbar_kochba132, draws his attention to the fact that Danny Zamir has protested the media’s distortion of what his students said, Silverstein responds impatiently that “[Zamir’s] opinion is irrelevant … Naturally, Zamir is a good soldier Schweid [sic] who has come under immense pressure fr. the IDF to recant. And he dutifully has done so. But I note that he has not recanted the actual testimonies themselves nor has any student come forward to recant what they reported at the meeting.”
See how it works? Silverstein presents his speculation that Zamir “has come under immense pressure fr. the IDF to recant” as fact by asserting: “he dutifully has done so”. But the plain fact that there were no “actual testimonies” because none of the soldiers had witnessed any of the alleged “incidents of cold-blooded murder perpetrated by fellow soldiers” doesnt even have to be acknowledged in Silverstein’s brave new “better world”: it’s a world where leftist righteousness comes cheaply – all you have to do is to present your own assumptions as facts and dismiss any facts that dont suit you as “propaganda.”
Of course, such a “code of conduct” can only produce propaganda – let’s just take the Wikipedia definition: “Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) … or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.”
[…] Richard Silverstein prefers to dole out criticism, and thinks the world would be a better place if he didn’t have to take any – no doubt a very human tendency. The problem with Silverstein is, however, that he is all too eager to dole out preemptive criticism; that is to say, he apparently likes to criticize people for what he thinks they will say and do. Currently, he has a piece on Cif that preemptively trashes Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league for how Silverstein imagines Foxman will react to the shooting at the Holocaust Museum on Wednesday.
Here is what Silverstein claims:
“We know how the usual suspects among the Jewish leadership will line up on this … they will seek to parlay this incident into a much wider antisemitic conspiracy. People like Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, live for tragedies like this. You wait. Tomorrow or the next day he’ll be holding a press conference with the security guard’s wife telling the world that African-Americans and Jews must make common cause against the vast antisemitic conspiracy. If he’s really feeling his oats that day he might even work in a reference to an evil Iranian president who denies the Holocaust as well. Mark my words, it’s coming.”
Well, Silverstein was wrong (nothing unusual here, to be sure). This is how the ADL, and Foxman, really reacted:
“The shooting at the United States Holocaust Museum, in which a security guard was critically wounded, is a very sad and tragic event which reminds us, as the Museum itself does every day, in the starkest way, where the spread of hatred can lead. […]Brunn’s evil attack, at the very place that was created to remember and teach about evil in the world, is an immediate reminder that words of hate matter, that we can never afford to ignore hate because words of hate can easily become acts of hate, no matter the place, no matter the age of the hatemonger. […]”
I just discovered that Wikipedia has an entry on Silverstein’s blog; appropriately, the entry comes with this note:
“This article appears to be written like an advertisement. Please help improve it by rewriting promotional content from a neutral point of view and removing any inappropriate external links. (November 2011)”