Disappointed Too: A Note on Comments

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disappointed.jpgIn some of the comments posted in earlier entries, a mentor of mine posted a note to me:

Steve, I have followed The Washington Note periodically and have been increasingly concerned to see in the “Comments” how your website has attracted progressively more and stronger reactions of the vilest racist kind in response to your repeated, usually reasonable but sometimes strident attacks on Israeli policy and critiques of US failure to toughen up its policy on the “peace process.”
Of course, opposition to Israeli policy and anti-Semitism are hardly the same thing, but the Comments on your site are often obscuring the difference. I hope you realize that you are providing “acceptable” space for some truly hateful rantings. With “friends” like these that you are attracting, you don’t need enemies.
Disappointed, a one-time mentor.

The person who wrote this note to me is one of America’s premier strategic thinkers, and my acquaintance with him in my early career was life-changing.
He is absolutely right about the toxic nature of the comments which often spiral out of control — particularly when matters related to the broad Middle East and Israel/Palestine come up.
I want to make clear to everyone on this list that I find the ad hominem attacks and back and forth personal attacks that some engage in absolutely disrespectful of the purpose of this blog. I am disturbed by the behavior, but have been conflicted about what to do about the problem. I will not take sides between those of you debating these issues and will not line up behind one purveyor of insults against another.
I can either turn off comments — which I do not want to do as there are many excellent comments made by some readers that help to add to the discussion and to broad understanding of some issue — or leave them on and ask you to behave better.
I will try to be more engaged with comments and respond in civil, measured tones — and hope that others will follow my lead. I do not have the time to respond to every comment and will not be drawn into issues that I feel are trivial or off a course that interests me.
That said, I will begin to have my staff (or will myself) start removing ANY comment that crosses lines that I feel are uncivil or rude. The POA-Nadine wars must become more issues based and less personal, or you will simply see your hard work and writing removed from the blog.
The comments are a distraction for me, not a primary focus — and I’m irritated that I have to post this note. But given my mentor’s very appropriate note, I must take this action.
So, I would like to encourage all who read and comment to do so in a constructive manner and to up the game here. If you engage in further erosion of the culture of comments here, your comments will simply be removed.
Best regards — and thanks for understanding and trying to improve the tone and level of exchange here.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

27 comments on “Disappointed Too: A Note on Comments

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  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Mark, stop milking it. You’re beginning to come across as a total jackass.
    And yes, I am being civil, far more so than warranted by your nipping at Steve’s heels.

    Reply

  4. nadine says:

    Hi Mark,
    Just to recap, in Israel a few rabbis have told their followers not to sell or rent to Gentiles.
    They have been condemned by PM Netanyahu, Pres. Perez, and the chief Ashknazi and Sephardi rabbis. See comments here http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2010/12/more-on-wrong-headed-rabbis.html
    Conversely, in the Palestinian Authority, it is a capital crime to sell land to Jews. They will sentence you to death for it. Men have died for it. This is not just the opinion of a few dopey imams, this is the law, which has been upheld by PA courts http://www.virtualjerusalem.com/news.php?Itemid=866
    Now, can I toss your question
    “How, then, should American foreign policy be based or changed, if at all, when dealing with a nation that promotes or bans the sale or rental of property to a group based upon religion, ethnicity, or race?”
    back at you and ask, should sauce for the goose also be sauce for the gander here?

    Reply

  5. Tosk59 says:

    Oh darn, typo. Clearly “from the few *who* always insist” Sorry…

    Reply

  6. Tosk59 says:

    99% of the problems stem from the few you always insist on having the last word… I’m not sure that they are amenable to reason and/or polite requests… (so nay improved tone may not last)

    Reply

  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Oh, my other suggestion is to ban people who just repost long screeds from other sources”
    Hey that makes sense, then we could express opinions and make assertions that needn’t be collaborated or backed up with evidence!!!
    Self censorship, or blog censorship, makes sense to you, but practicing self control on what you choose to read doesn’t make sense, apparently.
    Me? I kinda pity those poor souls that are forced into reading things they don’t care to read. It must be a horrible situation to be in.
    “OH NO, ANOTHER LONG SCREED!!! OH SHIT, I’M GOING TO BE LATE FOR DINNER AGAIN!!!”
    I can kinda empathize, though, Drew. I’m not much into cold potatoes, either. And those long screeds can be excruciating when struggled through with a full bladder.

    Reply

  8. drew says:

    Oh, my other suggestion is to ban people who just repost long
    screeds from other sources. A link and a comment will suffice. Why
    give your site to people who want to repost opinions they didn’t
    create? Serious people have opinions, not cut-and-paste skills.

    Reply

  9. drew says:

    I stopped reading and posting because the vitriol made me feel
    soiled.
    I also blog on casual public interests like … football! … and we
    don’t have the same problem. Jerks are banned. Suggest you try it.
    One would think that serious blogs would have less issue policing
    their contributors, than blogs studied by beer-drinking men in their
    undershorts.
    So far, one would be wrong.

    Reply

  10. Arun says:

    “The more fundamental issue was how to deal with a
    rising China, MM Lee observed. The intellectual resources of the United States were being “sucked away” by the problems in the Middle East, making it difficult for the United States to focus on China. ”
    Lee Kuan Yew, from Wikileaks cable:
    http://cablesearch.org/cable/view.php?id=07SINGAPORE1932
    Any comments, Steve?

    Reply

  11. MarkL says:

    Steve, why not require that comments be on topic? Most blogs do. That would solve 90% of the problem.

    Reply

  12. Steve Clemons says:

    Mark — I’m not going to get into it with you. The issue you are concerned with is not my issue. I have a full plate. I write about what interests me — you can write about what turns you on. Culture wars inside Israel are not my mainstay here — America’s strategic choices are — and Israel’s response to them. All best, steve

    Reply

  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And do they REALLY want headlines that say…..
    “The Jewish State shoots another American peace activist in the head”
    …..??
    Because sooner or later, those jackboots in the IDF are going to target the wrong kid, some American politician’s son or daughter, and the media and our cowardly and derelict State Department won’t be able to ignore it.

    Reply

  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Settlers Flood Palestinian Village with Sewage
    Brynn Utela / Palestine Solidarity Project & Palestine Monitor
    BEIT UMMAR (October 24, 2010) — Beit Ummar is just one of hundreds of villages in Palestine under constant harassment from Israeli settlers. [Its residents] have suffered the loss of their land, limited access to their own water supply, rocks smashing their windows, midnight arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, and daily Israeli military aggression. The most recent insult: settlers’ feces covering the vineyards of Beit Ummar.
    Twelve vital acres of farmland lie underneath thousands of liters of raw sewage leaked from the nearby illegal settlement of Gush Etzion. The settlement stores its sewage in a reservoir, where it is filtered to extract non-potable “grey” water for agricultural purposes. The leftover, concentrated toxic sludge was released on October 18, downhill directly onto Palestinian farmland. The stench is overpowering, the grape harvests ruined, and the residents of Beit Ummar are tired.
    “Even if the Israelis never dump sewage again,” said Beit Ummar Public Committee volunteer Raied Aboyyash, “the land would need to be cleaned with a chemical solvent and the top meter of polluted dirt removed, and then new dirt brought in.”
    This is the fourth time this year the settlement has pumped sewage from their storage reservoir into Beit Ummar, destroying crops and effectively depriving the farmers of thousands of shekels in lost harvest.
    continues….
    http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=10077
    So who do we criticize here, Israel, or Jewish settlers? Does “Israel” condone or support these kinds of hideous acts? Are these people in this settlement feeling empowered to do this kind of thing because they are Israeli, or because they are Jewish?
    We accept criticism of radical Islam as a matter of course, but criticism of radical Judaism is immediately countered with accusations of anti-semitism.
    I feel nothing but loathing for a community that commits an act such as this under the mantle of religious or racial superiority. And make no mistake, that is EXACTLY what this JEWISH community is doing with this despicable act.
    Do I place all Jews in the same category I put the inhabitants of this settlement? Absolutely not. Do I place Nadine in that category. Yes. She represents a radical form of Judaism that I am not at all ashamed to announce my disgust with.
    What is alarming to me is the direction that Israeli society is taking. When you have scores of influential Israeli rabbis advocating for policies of national racism and societal prejudice, are they doing so out of nationalism, or religious and racial intolerance and bigotry?
    The answer is obvious. Right now I can profess to being disgusted with SOME in the global Jewish community that are committing acts and expressing ideologies that I find loathsome. I can say the same about just about ANY religious or ethnic segment of mankind. But when these loathsome practices and ideologies become the practices and ideologies of the majority within a particular segment, than the logical global response is going to be disgust with that particular segment of the global community. That is what I feel is happening to Israel and the Israeli Jews.
    The Israeli jews might be well served, as long as some in their ranks are dumping raw sewage on Palestinian farmland, or incinerating women and children in white phosphorous, to be a little less eager to request that mankind recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”. Because if we do so, then when you next incinerate a child in white phosphorous, or dump your shit in a neighbor’s orchard, we are perfectly justified in calling it a “Jewish” act.

    Reply

  15. Pahlavan says:

    With all do respect to your mentor, he seems more consumed with political correctness than civility, otherwise a periodical visit to the site, as the basic fundamental, is not an educated conclusion when the intellectual base of the daily contributors are factored in.
    More importantly, while objecting to the animated engagement of some, there seem to be no discourse with resorting to censorship under this profound pretext of civility, not to mention the constant indifference to threats, acts of humiliation or the grossly intentional turkey shoot that our so called civil society has been immersed with all throughout the middle-east.

    Reply

  16. samuelburke says:

    debate is not part of the american experience, at least not in the
    present. that’s the impression one gets.
    today self censorship is encouraged.
    all one can say is wow!

    Reply

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Initially, as Carroll points out, our discussions about Isr/Pal were on topic, as a rule civil, and we were careful to specifically target Israel, and not Jews or Judaism. The majority of the ad hominem was from a whole chain of trolls that used vile insinuation about everything from sexual matters to racism in insulting anyone and everyone that dared criticize Israeli policy. I have had it up to my ears with this business of being called “anti-semitic” because I dare to point out the racist and murderous direction that Israeli policy has taken.
    As for Nadine, I have no respect for her narrative, her character, or her callous dismissal of human suffering caused by the policies of Israel. And how do we call Nadine to task for her revisionist history, her lies, the ease with which she has thrown the “anti-semite” label at Steve Clemons, me, Carroll, countless others, and even a moderate Jew that posts here who is a regular visitor to Israel and the West Bank, who knows first hand about what is occurring in Isreal??? Nadine IS NOT an Israeli. So what is it about Nadine that makes her feel the need to lie, twist, accuse, malign, insult, and revise history in order to defend that which is indefensible? If criticizing her brand of Judaism is “anti-semitic”, than count me in, or criticizing the ongoing racist direction Israel policy is taking IN THE NAME OF JUDAISM, (such as the recent “letter” signed by numerous influential Israeli rabbis), then again, count me in. Recognizing the “Jewishness” of the nation of Israel is a demand that Israel is making of ALL of us, Jew, Christian, and Muslim. So, if we are to recognize the “JEWISH State of Israel”, than doesn’t Israel lay claim to the JEWISHNESS of its actions? Is Israel dumping raw sewage on its Palestinian neighbors, or are radical Jewish settlers doing this? If we are to recognize Israel’s “Jewishness”, are we to separate its attrocities from our recognition?
    And how are we to respond to a regular contributer here that calls the arab street “uneducated”, “docile”, “ignorant” and “irrelevent”???? With civility or respect? Does such an act of the bigoted labeling of a few billion people really warrant or deserve a civil response?
    Undoubtedly, this post will be removed. If so, so be it. I too need a rest from this. Wiggie and Nadine can have it. And the NAF can pride itself in maintaining the status quo of the narrative, and muzzling those of us that are sick and tired of being expected to counter venom and insult with sugar and civility. People like Nadine do not deserve my repect, nor do their narratives foster civility. I will be damned if I will show respect for someone that regularly spits in my face. That might be Obama and Clinton’s response to the Nadine-like arrogance and disrespect that Netanyahu shows them, but count me out.
    It worked Steve, Nadine has accomplished what she came here to do. You’ve been punked.

    Reply

  18. Maw of America says:

    Too often recently, I have been struck by the nature of the comments. And while they are ocassionally entertaining, they are rarely enlightening.
    Debating the facts and their implications is an intellectual challenge that for which most here would be well-equipped. But too often, those arguments are lost in the conflagration of name-calling and personal attacks.
    I say we can disagree without being disagreeable. I hope you find some purchase with this new approach to comments. I support it.

    Reply

  19. ... says:

    interesting post! i haven’t visited washington note for months, but it is marked by an interesting comment section that must have turned me off enough to stay away too… i am in agreement with johng to an extent, but i know it is really interesting to read the commentary here when the wars are not happening.. unfortunately they seemed to happen quite regularly in the past… good luck with this steve, whatever ends up happening..

    Reply

  20. Carroll says:

    Posted by DonS, Dec 13 2010, 1:19PM – Link
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I am in total agreement.
    Just for the record, if this comment makes it through, two of my comments have been removed.
    One in which I replied to nadine on her claim we do not use facts and law when discussing Israel and P/I and citing a fact of law by the ICC that I had just posted in the same thread. It was in fact very civil and even agreed that nadine was not as overtly racist as some posters here.
    At the same time her post accusing me of nazi propaganda was not removed.
    The other was addressed to disappointed mentor disagreeing that Steve had made ‘strident attacks” on Israel and that his comment seemed to have ‘warning’ flavor to it as we have seen aimed at other blog sites to restrict Israel discussion. And asking him to clarify if the viciousness he was referring to were attacks on Israel and Jews or attacks by Israel activist on others with anti semitic slurs or both. And suggesting he do a guest post to state his own position since Steve identified him as a strategic thinker and interact with the commenters on the thread so we could have an open and serious discussion on the Israel issue.
    Perhaps I had been banned and didn’t know it, LOL…I’ll check my mail. Or perhaps I won my point in an actual too civil and logical manner so it couldn’t be allowed to be viewed.
    Which ever, selective censorship doesn’t appeal to me. I am all for civil debate but not if one side of the debate has their hands tied at the request of a mentor or anyone else.
    It’s Steve choice and blog but it’s also readers choice to participate or even read so I am joining the others on a hiatus for a while till we see whether or not TWN is pressured into censorship of not just personal attacks but opinions not approved of by his advisor or any other side or interest. I will be very “disappointed” myself if it does.
    Meanwhile..if fellow TWN posters see this…Merry Christmas!.. to all….and the pups.

    Reply

  21. DonS says:

    For example, it became quite tedious to try to remain reason and logic-based while being identified, just as one particular example, as a “walking exemplar of anti-Semitism”. My own background — and those who have been here more than just a few years have heard it — make such an ad hominem so dissappointingly insulting that any response only dignifies the accusation. Not that I don’t have a sharp pen myself.
    I agree that a TWN comments section that adheres to civility can provide a real service by way of framing different arguments, and I don’t doubt that Steve has borne with the accelerated visciousness because of (memories of?) it’s potential in this regard. I myself am doubtful that the propagandists messages can be satisfied without sneaking in ad hominems whether in the form of personal insults or outrageous lies and tropes (which should be considered attacks on concensus reality-based history) Often such tactics or, for example, slandering legitimate figures, such as Steve Walt, as a substitute for slandering a poster per se, are equally noxious.
    I’ll watch for myself.
    And Steve, I’m sorry, I had meant to email and never put pen to paper, as far as my own recent withdrawal not being any slight to you. But I think you know that.

    Reply

  22. JohnG says:

    I would prefer that you eliminate the comment feature altogether and follow the model employed by Andrew Sullivan’s blog: i.e., you post those readers’ email messages that are worthy of sharing your blog space with you.
    I have found that the comments left by the “regulars” to be, with few exceptions, highly predictable, partisan, self-serving, and uninteresting. And the relentless battles in the comments section are not only tiring to observe but they also detract from your very high quality product.
    You have previously been forced to shut down the comments section and you will invariably have to do it again. I vote that you do it now and save yourself from any future embarrassment.

    Reply

  23. Carroll says:

    I, for one, would be delighted to see TWN’s comments on the Israel and P/I problem return to the factual and political.
    If I remember correctly and I think I do,
    most of us started out in that mode originally…criticizing Israeli actions and the political aspect of the US-Isr relationship that affect the P/I problem.
    However I think if disappointed mentor has read here since the beginning of the Israel debate he needs to be objective and honest about the dynamics of how the P/I pie fight began….i.e….the pro Israel posters deliberately making the discussion about “The Jews” instead of “Israel the country”, and hurling the unjustified anti semite slur at everyone who disagreed with their view.
    I think it would be interesting if disappointed mentor joined the discussion, I would be happy to debate the Israel and P/I issue and the US-Isr connection with him on strictly political, US interest, ME stability and international law terms. The only ground rule in the discussion would be that the Jewish qualifier be left entirely out of the debate on Israel and we discuss it exactly as we would any other country we have entanglements or relations with that is involved in a similar problem.

    Reply

  24. Pietr says:

    Good luck with your new policy. May I ask that in the future two short words, “its” and “it’s” are correctly spelled?
    Kudos to questions, a sigh for Steve.

    Reply

  25. chumanist says:

    Dear Steve,
    I do agree with you that while commenting on this blog, some people do not observe civic norms. I, therefore, join you in registering your humble protest against such an “uncivilized deportment”.

    Reply

  26. Steve Clemons says:

    Questions — thanks much for the note, and for it’s tone. Really appreciate it. The equation will be simple. Those who can stick for the most part to reasoned, even if strongly passionate, debate must do so without ad hominem attacks against the character of others. I’m not going to subsidize that kind of banter from any side of these discussions.
    All best, steve

    Reply

  27. questions says:

    My nickel’s worth (inflation and all!) is that I would dearly miss this place. It’s the one comment section I’ve found that allows lengthy postings rather than quips and snark as a rule rather than as an exception.
    It has for whatever reason gotten me to take on IR, game theory, some econ at this point, and it has introduced me to Pape’s work, gotten me to pull dusty books off the shelf and at least open them.
    I appreciate very much the historical and the conservative views I come across. I don’t always share them, but I become familiar with how some other people cut up the world, and that is always valuable.
    The ad hominem posts are wearying for sure, but I’ve had my moments as well, so I’m not going to cast stones on this one.
    I think that if there’s an occasional moderator who reminds us that passion is one thing, insult another, that notes the fierceness with which people hold views doesn’t have to lead to viciousness (disagreeing without being disagreeable…) then maybe this place can continue.
    I am never sure anyone really reads what I post, but I know that I read a whole lot more broadly because of your work here and because of the little box on my screen with a submit button below it.
    So, thanks for the time, the willingness to put up with distractions here, for all the deep breaths you’ve taken, the sighs and “dammits” you’ve uttered — all for some random, anonymous posters to keep up our typing skills, if nothing else.
    And, since it’s the season, I hope you have a healthy and happy holiday month, despite some of the grim tidings we all are surrounded by. Life has both, often bizarrely juxtaposed.
    Best,
    “questions”

    Reply

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