Further Reflection on Blog Etiquette

5 Jan

A Message of Partial Concession


After the past week of comments on the blog I am a loss as to how to be a constructive filter. Constructive in the core sense of disallowing insult and injury clearly meant to discredit adversaries in debate. What I have found is that there is a tendency by both Israel’s defenders and critics to have such a deeply rooted distaste for each other as to make it almost impossible to disentangle substance from ad hominem invective.


Of course, as should be obvious I do not regard the critics and the apologists as equally justified in giving vent to their frustrations. There is a reality to be reckoned with, and for me that reality must begin with an acknowledgement of the intrinsic inequities of the oppresser/oppressed structure as a precondition for any valid discussion of the Israel/Palestine struggle. The master who whips and lynches should never be equated with the slave who resists abuse by whatever means are at his or her disposal. Such a relationship is wrongly conceived as a ‘conflict,’ which implies some sort of equality of status. For the Palestinians the issue is increasingly best understood as a choice between resistance and surrender, while for the Israelis the issue increasingly presents a choice between weaponry and tactics to suppress and respond with the earlier claim of a choice between peace and war being superseded long ago.


I recognize that there is a difference of opinion among blog regulars as to whether it is preferable to have open unrestricted debate however uncivil as against seeking through monitoring comments a more sanitized dialogue that confronts issues, not the persons who take those positions. As I have often pointed out I welcome good faith disagreement, and find that I learn more from those who express their differences in well-reasoned and principled prose than from those who are in agreement.


These consideration lead to modify the position adopted in my ‘Note on Blog Etiquette’ that has itself generated a flurry of responses. Instead of seeking to exclude all comments that contain insults and innuendo, I will limit my filtering effort to those comments that combine an angry tone with a focus on the personal. I will allow incidental invective to pass through my filter. This is my compromise, and I will see how it works.


Perhaps, better than a filter is an appeal to those who value the blog conversations that I aspire to nurture that civility is almost always more edifying than vilifying exchanges that inevitably degenerate into dialogues of the deaf.


Part of the issue here, I believe, is similar to the problems I encountered while serving the UN as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. Those that sought to defame and discredit were completely disinterested in the substance of the issues being discussed in the official reports, and participated only to rally support for my dismissal, and beyond this, for the end of any role on the part of the UN Human Rights Council in monitoring and appraising the Palestinian ordeal by reference to international law and human rights standards. In the blog context, those inveterate detractors are seeking to defame and discredit me, but beyond this, to darken the reputation of the blog and of those that support my posts.

I am sure that many followers of this blog find these reflections on blog etiquette tedious, even superfluous. To some extent I do myself. I feel, however, that social media in the digital age engenders new forms of social responsibility, and my attempt here is both to act responsibly and to make beneficial use of this platform for the expression and exchange of ideas. Nothing less, nothing more.

18 Responses to “Further Reflection on Blog Etiquette”

  1. Wayne Glass January 5, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    Civility—-my highest priority. Must have learned it at Princeton….:-)

  2. Fred Skolnik January 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    You are being disingenuous. You were attacked as rapporteur precisely on the substantive issues and for your distortions of fact, which was what prompted the demands for your dismissal. I for one do not remember a single instance where I did not address the facts of the matter.

    I have also addressed your assumption, which you nonetheless repeat above, that we are obliged to begin with “an acknowledgement of the intrinsic inequities of the oppressor/oppressed structure as a precondition for any valid discussion of the Israel/Palestine struggle.” This too is disingenuous. Of course the relationship between an occupying power and an occupied population is one of inequality – what exactly do you expect? – but whether it is oppressive or not also depends on the behavior of the occupied population. The Germans wished to rebuild and get on with there lives and I therefore imagine that they didn’t find the Allied occupation particularly oppressive once the dust had settled. The Arabs also didn’t find the occupation particularly oppressive until the terrorism started. Tens of thousands of them were working in Israel, there was an open bridges policy with Jordan, there was no security fence, no security roads, and few checkpoints. I say this as someone who lives here and served in the army for 20 years on active reserve duty and not as someone who gets his information from the English-language edition of Haaretz or Counterpunch The terrorism did not come as a result of oppression but as a result of the same impulses that had led the Arabs into war in the first place and which led them subsequently to announce in Khartoum: no peace, no negotiations, no recognition.

    At the risk of being offensive, I will address a few words to my perception of your competence to make judgments about the Arab-Israel conflict, and this in itself provokes questions about your good faith or biases. It is simply not good enough to rely on second- and third-hand English-language sources to underpin arguments and assertions about the Middle East. That is not how scholars and historians operate. That is how polemicists operate, and polemics have very little value in establishing historical truth. You yourself know that even in this entirely illegitimate manner of examining the conflict you are selecting only those secondary sources that give you what you want and would not think to consider a source that challenges them. You perhaps find it convenient to reduce everything to “interpretation” and this is clearly because you do not have a scholar’s or native’s familiarity with the Middle East, and certainly not with its ethos, and are totally unequipped to verify the assertions of others, and therefore you take as a given whatever you wish to believe, occasionally citing a Miko Peled or Gideon Levi for “proof.” I have said this before and I will say it again, because too many of your readers have no real understanding of how real scholars operate: you are very much like a Chinese blogger without a word of English “explaining” America to his Chinese readers. I offer this as a challenge to your qualifications to pontificate about the Middle East. Were someone to offer me the job of acting as rapporteur in China, for example, I would simply laugh and say, “But I don’t speak a word of Chinese.” You should have done the same with regard to the Middle East.

    Now you may of course remove this remark, though I am not trying to insult you, or you may respond to it and explain how someone without a word of Hebrew or Arabic can possibly analyze the thinking of Israelis and Arabs or sequences of events that require an intimate understanding of the actors involved. I do not know of a single historian or scholar who does not understand the language of the people he is studying. Obviously such scholars may disagree among themselves, but people outside the field cannot possibly determine the facts of the matter, and will therefore arbitrarily choose a version of events, or in the case of yourself and your admirers, choose a version in accordance with your biases. To pretend that this style of inquiry represents an inquiry into truth or justice is ludicrous, and it is for this reason that I am continually challenging the motives of Israel’s detractors.

    I don’t know if I will continue to look in on you, though the outrageous assertions that creep into your writing are extremely offensive to fair-minded people. I do sincerely hope that you will take the time one day to ask yourself the kind of questions that I occasionally raise about the underlying causes of your attitude to the State of Israel.

    • Richard Falk January 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

      I readily acknowledge these limitations in efforts to understand the reality of the Middle East,
      but I am waiting for you to do the same, and I suspect I will wait for a very long time. What you
      see is so far from what I believe to be the reality that there is little common ground. Beyond this, the
      realities of some situations may be grasped without intimate knowledge because they are so self-evident.
      You don’t need to know Arabic to realize that their beheadings of poets and clerics are contrary to
      minimal morality. You seem to have the arrogant view that what you believe to be true is ‘fact,’ while
      what I believe and others you view with disapproval believe is colored by ‘bias.’ We both have subjective and objective elements in the way we present controversial subject-matter, and neither of us is qualified to self-certify the superiority of their own
      beliefs. So long as you lack this degree of humility we simply talk past one another.

      • Fred Skolnik January 5, 2016 at 10:19 pm #

        Dear Prof. Falk

        Thank you for your reply. The fact remains that it is not I who created a blog attacking the Arabs, and would not think to, but you who have created a blog attacking Israel, so the burden of proof, and of competence, is on you. When I feel that you are misstating the facts of the matter I say so and address the issue substantively. I limit myself to the specific allegations and assertions that you make and find not only that too many of them are factually incorrect but also that they are advanced in a spirit that I find offensive and which reveals a very strong will to criminalize Israel, even to the extent of redefining commonly understood terms of opprobrium for the express purpose of extending them to Israel. It is natural when encountering such unremitting and unwarranted hostility for people who are sympathetic to Israel to defend it. As for self-certification, that too is precisely what you are doing when you make categorical judgments about events you are not equipped to investigate. I have never heard you suggest that you may be wrong. The very act of offering these posts of yours implies a belief in the superiority of your views, that is, their correctness as opposed to the views of those who disagree with you, so I hardly see where any humility comes into play on your part.

    • ray032 January 5, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

      Reading this self-serving, cynical, blindly self-righteous diatribe is a new low even for you. You are as guilty of doing the same things you accuse the Professor of doing.

      The Professor’s expertise is in the field of International Law which you don’t have. He is also fundamentally, a decent, caring human being that is eminently obvious to me and so many other followers of his Blog

      As for this, ” I for one do not remember a single instance where I did not address the facts of the matter.” you may be experiencing the early stages of Alzheimers.

      You routinely deny facts that challenge your ideological position that Israel is sinless, faultless and blameless in contributing to the current state of affairs in Israel.

      I read The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz daily. Haaretx exposed the dirty laundry of the immoral acts of the IDF and Jewish legislation that enshrines the concept of Jewish superiority vis a vis Palestinian lives.

      Israel is no longer a Democratic State, and as I read the comments in The Jerusalem Post, more than ever they reflect a Nazi Master Race ideology with a Zionist face.

      My concern is the world outside Israel will increasingly come to see that developing reality, and insular Israel will falsely think it is due to Jew hatred and will possibly lead this world to a Masada II-Holocaust II.

      God forbid! But as I read and understand Scripture, God may not forbid it, but save only those with a Sincere and True Faith in the Spirit of God doing good works.

      In my view, Israel is capitalizing on the Palestinian conflict building an expanding Military-Industrial Complex of it’s own. This presents a grave conflict of interest with the prophecy of the Great Jewish Prophet Isaiah who saw the Day coming, “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
      O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
      Therefore you have forsaken your people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
      Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:
      Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

      Now I’m beginning to think “Rabbi” as Ira calls himself, is no more than a fictitious online avatar since he has no opinions on scripture as they apply to the corrupted people of this corrupted world.

    • Clif Brown January 8, 2016 at 12:11 am #

      Mr. Skolnick, I keep reading over one particular part of your comment that I need some help in following. It is your example of complaint Germans in a defeated Nazi Germany under Allied occupation, with return to German authority being expected within a matter of perhaps a decade of of rebuilding, being compared to Arab Palestinians living under an occupier for several decades with no intention by the occupier of leaving. Your lamentation for good old days of the contented Palestinian seems quite similar to the stories of happiness among the slaves of the Old South often told by slave owners.

      • Clif Brown January 8, 2016 at 12:12 am #

        the word is, of course, “compliant” not “complaint”

      • Fred Skolnik January 8, 2016 at 12:59 am #

        Israel had every intention of leaving. The Arabs could have had everything back within a month, with the exception of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, and possibly Gush Etzion. I remember the optimism. Everyone thought that peace was just around the corner. The Arab response at Khartoum was: no peace, no negotiations, no recognition – and for the next 25 years the Arabs could not even bring themselves to pronounce Israel’s name. Since the early 1990s two reasonable offers were made to the Palestinians under Arafat and Abu Mazen by Barak and Olmert, involving a tradeoff of territory. The Arabs refused to consider these offers even as a starting point. Arafat was reported to have said that he would be murdered if he considered such an offer. Today, in my view, the stumbling block are the terrorist organizations and not Netanyahu or the settlers. I base this view on my intimate knowledge of how Israelis think and how political processes evolve and unfold in Israel, under what influences and under what circumstances. The moment the Palestinians disavow terrorism and dismantle the terrorist organizations, and relinquish the Big Dream of a great massacre on the shores of the Mediterranean, they will get their state. Under no circumstances will Hamas ever be allowed to set up its rocket launchers 15 feet from Jewish Jerusalem.

  3. Walker Percy January 8, 2016 at 6:24 am #

    The position that you have staked out here makes sense. Yours is the best remaining outlet for truth-telling about I-P, evidenced by the swarm of angry propagandists it attracts, so I am glad you will still permit comments that explore this difficult subject without boundaries. I can no longer get past the censors at Mondoweiss, where comments that focus on the causal relationship between Jewish religious practice and zionist crime are not allowed. On J-post, the number of comments has been cut from 500 or more on a typical article to around 30, with the most outrageous pro-zionist comments, as well as the most scathing rebuttals, now deleted. Even Arutz Sheva seems to be less outrageous in its defamation and incitement. Is there some organized pacification going on, where websites that discuss this issue are officially warned to tone it down? If so, the fact that no one has blown the whistle yet is hard for me to fathom. I sometimes try to imagine the editorial meetings at Mondoweiss, where they have to formulate the rules for comments. What is the real rationale for their decisions? Has Mondoweiss been contacted by gov’t? Richard, have you been approached? If 1984 is officially here, I would like to know.

    • Richard Falk January 8, 2016 at 8:13 am #

      I have pondered your plea for an unrestricted comment section carefully, but feel unconvinced that
      abandoning some civility markers is helpful. It discourages more informed and reasoned discussion
      and allows competing views to scream at one another, hurling insults. This has happened to some extent
      on this blog during the last several days by the flurry of comments from those you rightly call ‘angry
      propagandists.’ I have struggled without success to find a balance between openness and an atmosphere
      conducive to constructive dialogue. Finally, I have not been approached ever to alter the nature of
      the blog or its comments section. If you look at the AJ comments section it is dominated by what might
      as well label as ‘hate speech’ with no useful exchange of views. Belated HNY. Richard

      • Fred Skolnik January 8, 2016 at 9:54 am #

        It is amusing to see that this newfound bedfellow of yours is even too extreme or “off the wall” for Mondoweiss! And that is saying a lot.

        All you have been saying in your recent “structural” arguments is that you do not wish to have your assumptions challenged and refuse to engage in a discussion with anyone who does not accept these assumptions. Here I’ve said in a single sentence what you have been saying in reams of tortured rhetoric. But your assumptions are false: The Arabs do not own the Middle East and the Palestinians do not own the Land of Israel. The Palestinians furthermore are not an indigenous population and the Land of Israel is not their ancient homeland. (Call it their medieval homeland and you’ll get no argument from me. You are only using the word “ancient” because it sounds better.) In addition, the Zionist settlers did not displace a single Arab. They purchased land from private landowners when the country was under Ottoman and British rule. And the Arabs launched an attack on Israel in 1948 for the reasons set forth very clearly by Azzam Pasha. And so on and so forth. You have constructed a fictitious and unscholarly history of the Middle East in order to delegitimize the State of Israel. Because this fiction does not stand up to scrutiny you simply slide around or run away from any substantive challenge, labeling it “angry propaganda.” You are right that it is angry, because your uncritical version of events and wild language are deeply offensive. But it is anything but propaganda, as you probably know.

      • ray032 January 8, 2016 at 10:43 am #

        Fred, you ignore your own Jewish history recorded in the Torah. There were Canaanites living on the same plot of land before the Jewish ancestors arrived.

        Genesis 34 records the Jewish tribal Patriarchs, Jacob-Israel’s sons, were lying, thieving, murderers when they 1st saw the “Promised Land” some 400 years before the Hebrew hoards came out of the wilderness and perpetrated a genocide on the indigenous people living on the land before the “chosen people” took it.

        It was “given” to them as recorded in Genesis 34 if they did not consider themselves to be so superior to the locals.

        Son of man, the dwellers of these ruins on the soil of Israel speak, saying: Abraham was one, and he inherited the land, and we are many-the land has [surely] been given to us for an inheritance.
        בֶּן אָדָם יֹשְׁבֵי הֶחֳרָבוֹת הָאֵלֶּה עַל אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֹמְרִים לֵאמֹר אֶחָד הָיָה אַבְרָהָם וַיִּירַשׁ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וַאֲנַחְנוּ רַבִּים לָנוּ נִתְּנָה הָאָרֶץ לְמוֹרָשָׁה:

        Therefore, say to them: So said the Lord God, You eat on the blood and you raise your eyes to your pagan deities, and you shed blood-and you should inherit the land?
        לָכֵן אֱמֹר אֲלֵהֶם כֹּה אָמַר | אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה עַל הַדָּם | תֹּאכֵלוּ וְעֵינֵכֶם תִּשְׂאוּ אֶל גִּלּוּלֵיכֶם וְדָם תִּשְׁפֹּכוּ וְהָאָרֶץ תִּירָשׁוּ:

        You stood on your sword, you committed abominations, and you contaminated each man his neighbor’s wife, and you should inherit the land?
        עֲמַדְתֶּם עַל חַרְבְּכֶם עֲשִׂיתֶן תּוֹעֵבָה וְאִישׁ אֶת אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ טִמֵּאתֶם וְהָאָרֶץ תִּירָשׁוּ:

        Secular Zionists believe the land was given to them by the God they don’t believe in. They discount the Jewish Prophets to this very Day.

        Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
        And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

        Wherefore you be witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the prophets.
        Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
        You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?

        Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall you scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
        That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar.
        Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

        O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!

        Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
        For I say to you, You shall not see me henceforth, till you shall say, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.

      • Kata Fisher January 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

        “Under no circumstances will Hamas ever be allowed to set up its rocket launchers 15 feet from Jewish Jerusalem.”

        How do you know that Hamas (or someone else in 30 years from now) won’t do Ecclesiastical-illegal things in another illegal (“new state”)? – Because they would have another illegal Saud in Holy Land? Abbas has been a president for how long? Legally or illegally?

        Really? Seriously, for how long.. and really, when is going to start building himself a palace? – Moreover, all Jews will be kicked out while all free Palestinian People would end up being continuously killed: beheaded/ stoned- along with Palestinian Christianity? Another nonsense in Saudi Arabia fashion, on and on, and on. I would not doubt it at all that it may be and would be just so.

        WAKE UP! There is a lot of going on now – what’s next sword to them? WAKE UP!

  4. Clif Brown January 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Prof. Falk, the role of censor is not an easy one for anyone who cherishes the power of reason. This is so because it puts the power in one’s hands that so easily gags reason. Where to draw the line is so difficult in some cases, that it is hard work, a fight within the censor’s mind, an unpleasant duty, undertaken without pleasure for someone who wants to give the benefit of the doubt at all times so must read very carefully what most would easily dismiss with the first sentence.

    Censorship in service to reason. An oxymoron? But What does any good editor do but draw the line before presenting anything to the public to read? All of us appreciate a well edited book. Let anyone read a “self-published” work to know what I mean.

    Your written work here is appreciated. That you would attempt to improve the value to the rational reader by submitting yourself to the ball and chain of censor, given your regard for reason, only doubles the appreciation.

    • Clif Brown January 8, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      A quick reply to Mr. Skolnick that “Israel had every intention of leaving”. Might makes right. Intentions change quickly if a group feels powerful enough. The Indians, considered friendly and quite useful to struggling European settlers were swept from the continent once Uncle Sam felt his power.

    • Richard Falk January 8, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

      Clif: You express my dilemma so well I begin to grasp why this effort to strike
      a balance between free expression and some outer limits of civility has taxed my
      mental capacity during this blog experience. My effort as you suggest is to give
      a presumption of substantive relevance to even those comments that are expressed
      in hostile language and coupled with insults, and block only those that seek to create
      disruption on the blog or cross the boundaries between civility broadly defined and
      hate speech. I know it will be losing battle, but to not wage it, is also a losing
      battle, such is the dilemma. It only arises in the Israel/Palestine context where
      passionate partisanship converges with hasbara varieties of propagandism. Thanks for
      making me more attentive to these issues. HNY, Richard

  5. Kata Fisher January 8, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    A Note:

    Definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/might

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: