What to Think When Someone Writes “As a Jew….”
“… joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance, “ St. Luke teaches us (15:7). And so those who hate Israel and/or the Jews have always been joyful to present us with a Jew to give witness against his own. “Why, even a Jew admits …” Of course sometimes the “Jew” in question, upon closer inspection, may not really be as Jewish as he is claimed to be. But never mind that for now.
As we have seen quite a bit on this blog, Mr. Pierre Omidyar of Hawaii runs an online publication, Intercept, that regularly, about twice a month, rants against the state of Israel. Just what moves Mr. O in this direction is a matter of conjecture. It has been believed that the politics of Intercept are mostly determined by Glenn Greenwald, its reputed, well, brain, with Mr. O just writing the checks. But then there was the case of an Omidyar grant (through the Roshan Institute) to attack alleged Israeli “pink washing,” quite independently, at least apparently, of any Greenwald involvement.
Now we have, and here we get back to St. Luke, an entirely separate Omidyar publication, the Civil Beat of Hawaii, joining in with Mr. O’s anti-Israel campaign.
This Civil Beat is generally a strictly Hawaiian affair, dealing with matters of that state, and publishing a Community Voice feature — a series of op-eds — also dealing with matters of Hawaii. But this local focus was broken recently by the publication of a viciously anti-Israel comment by a Mr. Jon Letman of Kauai, Hawaii. The gist: Netanyahu is a war monger; Iran is peaceful; Israel is an apartheid state; etc. etc. If the Iranians have called for “death to America, death to Israel,” Mr. Letman ignores that or perhaps has never heard of it.
Of course Mr. Letman has a right to his opinions, as Mr. Omidyar has the right to publish them. On the other hand, Mr. O, who repeatedly proclaims that all he does is strictly in the public interest, might be expected to allow his readers to read more than one point of view. But that is not how Mr. O treats the subject of Israel and Jews. But be that as it may, there is something curious about Mr. Letman’s little essay. It begins with the assertion that he speaks “as a Jew,” an assertion made once again at the very end. The argument of rational people should stand on its merits, not on the identity of the arguer. But in this case Mr. Letman insists on the ad hominem; his views, he indicates, gain weight because of his identity as a Jew. This identity is presented to us as a qualification in the same way a physician might mention his medical expertise when speaking on medical subjects.
Of course it is questionable that the Jews of Hawaii are better equipped to opine on Israel than non-Jews. But if we assume, arguendo, that Jewishness is indeed a qualification here, the question arises of how to verify a claim to Jewishness even as we have learned to verify medical credentials in this age of quackery. We know that many who write “As a Jew I oppose Israel” turn out to be only questionably Jewish. Some belong to a Christian church or have otherwise abandoned their Jewish identity, some may have a Jewish relative but no more than that, some,like Mr. Gabriel Schivone, have no claim to Jewish credentials whatsoever, .
With these problems in mind, I wrote to Mr. Letman, explaining my concerns. Yes, I did get a prompt reply, a very courteous one at that. But no, Mr. Letman did not feel that he wants to explain just in what sense he is Jewish. We both, he suggested, have more important things to worry about.
In the meantime, I consulted Mr. Letman’s website, and learned the following:
Jon Letman is an independent freelance journalist and photographer on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His articles on conservation, the environment, politics and the Asia-Pacific region have been published in Al Jazeera English, Truthout, Inter Press Service, Christian Science Monitor, CNN Traveller, as well as publications in Finland, Iceland, Russia, Japan, Canada, the UK and across the US.
Not much Jewish background in this description ? But look at the connection to Al Jazeera — and, after all, aren’t the Arabs cousins to the Jews ? Practically Jewish ?
My Writings on “Partial Jews”