“Dissident dialogues” pits pro- and anti-Israel pundits against each other

by Brian on June 30, 2024

in In the News,Living Through Terror,War in Gaza,War with Hezbollah

To understand why tempers have flared so profoundly after October 7 and why the world seems to have erupted in antisemitic rhetoric, you only have to listen to a debate sponsored by New York-based “Dissident Dialogues” and posted online by Bari Weiss’s podcast Honestly.

The topic of the debate was “Do Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute a just war?” It pitted Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders, and anti-Zionist journalist Jake Klein of the Foundation for Economic Education, against Eli Lake and Michael Moynihan, two pro-Israel reporters for Weiss’s publication, The Free Press.

Briahna Joy Gray

It didn’t take long until the “debate” descended into pandemonium. 

The pro-Israel journalists were fairly well-behaved, but the pro-jihadist side acted atrociously. (I’m still searching for the right term – is it “pro-Palestine,” “pro-Hamas” or what I’m coming to prefer, “eliminationist” as Daniel Goldhagen describes Jew-hatred in his 1997 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.) 

Gray and Klein refused to play by the rules of debate decorum, talking over the other side (and the moderator) while screaming out their eliminationist epithets.

They would or could not articulate a proactive solution to the war and were unable to say what Israel might have done differently. Instead, they parroted a stream of false and debunked “data.” 

  • Israel deliberately targeted the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City early on in the war, Gray claimed, something we now know was due to an errant Islamic Jihad missile. Not true, Gray claimed. “Every hospital in Gaza has been destroyed, partly because of [the] mythology…that a Hamas headquarters was underneath, which was disproven roundly.” Lake’s response: “Briahna, you’re entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts.”
  • Israel has killed more people proportionally than the U.S. did in any war since the 1980s. In fact, the IDF’s ratio of combatants to civilians killed is somewhere between 1:1 and 1:5, representing perhaps the lowest such figure in military history. The ratio of civilians to combatants killed in conflicts outside of the Gaza conflict? Nine-to-one, according to the United Nations. 
  • At one point, Gray was audacious enough to claim that “Muslims had nothing to do with October 7. Gazans didn’t do October 7.” I don’t even have the words to counter that absurdity.
  • “When the Palestinians feel that there is a real path towards peace, they moderate, the hatred decreases and the violence stops. This is how the Second Intifada ended.” Really? The Second Intifada started after the Oslo peace process and only stopped because Israel applied massive military might to root out the terrorists.

Near the end of the rancor, Gray and Klein revealed their true colors. The solution to the problems in the Middle East was a single nation under control of the Palestinians, replacing the illegitimate “Jewish ethno-nation state” with a pluralistic progressive one – “like what we have in the United States of America.” 

When challenged about how that could possibly work, Gray claimed that “prior to the founding of Israel, Arab Jews lived peacefully alongside Muslims.” So, of course, that will be the case when Hamas rules the entire land from the river to the sea.

How can we ever achieve a peaceful settlement if people aren’t willing to listen to each other?

The die was cast for the tenor of this verbal slugfest during the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 1996. Like Gray and Klein, Trump interrupted, cajoled, menaced, traded in perfidy, and simply would not shut up.

That approach has been co-opted by the eliminationist encampments on hundreds of U.S. college campuses. Entrance was allowed only for those who affirmed their anti-Zionism. Anyone attempting true dialogue was surrounded by a mob and intimidated into leaving.

In today’s upside-down world, being a victim (as Hamas is remarkably perceived but Jews are not) has become the ultimate validation of virtue. That explains why Gray and Klein had no interest beyond re-litigating past grievances against the Jewish state. It helps us understand how Trump, even once he was the president of the United States, could still brand himself a victim. 

It’s also Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s modus operandi – the perennial victim despite being Israel’s leader for some 16 years.

The irony is that, historically, victimhood was something people wanted to transcend. Now, it’s become a badge of honor to fervently hold onto.

Elliot Cosgrove, senior rabbi at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue, writing in The Forward, laid out three rules for discussing Israel when you don’t agree with the other party.

  1. Judge generously. The Gen Z protesters likely know little to nothing about the history of Arab rejection of past peace proposals. Can you muster compassion and try to gently educate them?
  2. Reject the thought police. Don’t scold someone for expressing a different view of how to resolve the conflict. After all, such questions are being deliberated in real-time by Israelis, too. (But do it without the hate.)
  3. Ask a good question. That’s the only way to get past “the tired and toxic slogans that dominate their social media.” Cosgrove gives an example: “I understand your outrage over proportionality. But how do you explain the fact that the same people accusing Israel of war crimes cannot bring themselves to name the atrocities of Oct. 7?” 

At the conclusion of the Dissident Dialogues scream-fest, moderator Konstantin Kisin displayed the result of a smartphone poll he conducted. One hundred people agreed that Israel was conducting a just war in Gaza. Only 20 disagreed.

As for Briahna Joy Gray, during a subsequent video interview with Yarden Gonen, whose sister was abducted by Hamas on October 7, Gray rolled her eyes when Gonen urged her to believe female victims of sexual assault. Gray was subsequently fired from her job at the political news publication The Hill.

The battle may not be lost yet.

Image of Brihanna Joy Gray from Wikimedia Commons during a 2019 interview.

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