There has been much discussion and meta-posting recently about the poor quality of the I/P debate on Daily Kos, with comments regularly descending into flame-wars, invective and the dragging up of pro-forma talking points, seen hundreds of times before. Many suggestions and ideas have been proposed to deal with this problem, with some even going so far as to suggest a total ban on I/P at Daily Kos. Speaking for ourselves, we agree that the level of I/P debate needs to improve but vehemently oppose a complete prohibition on diarying about the topic, for reasons that should be self-evident, but in any case have been expressed elsewhere. We have been working on a diary detailing our views on the matter in full, but unfortunately events have necessitated that this statement be made first.
Put simply: whilst the debate has been raging on the pros and cons of shutting down I/P debate on DKos in toto, in practise it has already been happening. Specifically, we refer to the recent banning of two valuable I/P contributors, Sabbah and umkahlil. A quick look back through the diaries and comments these authors have contributed will confirm that they have attempted to engage in sincere and honest debate about the conflict. They have done nothing wrong - on the contrary, they have made a valuable contribution to the site. In an unintended irony, the bannings took place on May 15 - Nakba Day. Daily Kos's own mini-purge happened on the very day Palestinians commemorate their expulsion from their homes in what is today the State of Israel.
It is difficult to see how their banning can be justified. Neither diarist has broken any of the site rules and both have shared valuable information and insight into the conflict with the DKos community. It might be useful to briefly examine the unfounded hostility these diarists have faced during their short time here at Daily Kos.
A common criticism levelled at not only these diarists but others on the so-called "pro-Palestinian side" as well is that they simply post anti-Israel propaganda, with the intent to demonise as opposed to enlighten. In reality, it is of critical importance to know what is being done with our money and in our names. A serious discussion of how to solve a problem necessitates knowledge of what the problem actually is. It is, for example, important to be aware of what Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem terms the "quiet transfer" currently going on in Hebron, that has resulted in over 1,000 Palestinian residents abandoning their homes. Yet, if a diarist (particularly a new diarist; they are perceived as being more vulnerable - 'easy meat', so to speak) wrote a diary describing what is alleged to have happened and linking to the B'Tselem report, they would almost certainly be denounced as an "Israel-basher", a "propagandizer" whose goal is simply to portray Israel is the greatest evil on the planet. Likely as not, their diary tags would be changed to "troll diary", someone would post a recipe for humus and someone else would accuse them of being "shergald".
Another oft-hurled accusation, particularly aimed at Sabbah, regards a perceived unwillingness by him to engage in comments after his diaries. There are two points to make about this. Firstly, the site rules do not require a diarist to post a 'Tip Jar' or make comments after his/her diaries. It's entirely optional. Secondly, to the extent that Sabbah has been unwilling to enter into discussions in the comment threads, this is surely entirely understandable. For example, in his recent diary showcasing the occupation as seen through the eyes of Palestinian artists, he recieved comments like this:
"You know this is all nice and warm and fuzzy, but aside from the Israeli's being horrible blood sucking vampire children eating monsters",
"How many pictures... (6+ / 3-)
brittain33, Cecrops Tangaroa, dvo, unfounded, MBNYC, zemblan
mattes, hypersphere01, Diaries
...portray Israel in a positive light?
Or is this just another in your ongoing series to make Israel look bad?"
Those are, I'm afraid, pretty representative examples of the kind of comments Sabbah has attracted. From the same diary:
"Okay then... (2+ / 0-)
unfounded, Five Thirty
So, Sabbah, what is it about Jew Watch that you consider to be a valuable contribution to Progressive discourse? Why aren't you deleting this comment despite having it pointed out to you multiple times? And why are you thanking Shergald?"
This was in relation not to something Sabbah had written in the diary, or even on Daily Kos, or even on his own personal blog. Rather, it was a reference to a comment some unknown person had posted to Sabbah's blog. That Sabbah had let the comment stand (presumably because, unlike some here at Daily Kos, he is at least mildly committed to freedom of speech) was enough for his diary to be hijacked yet again with demands that he defend himself and his character.
This appears to be a recurring theme. umkahlil, who has posted many thought-provoking and informed diaries here, has been constantly under attack by interrogators who seem to think that the purpose of a comments section is to put the diarist (as opposed to the diary) on trial. So, for example, after posting a thoughtful account of the importance of the Nakba to the collective Palestinian "psyche", umkahlil was greeted with the following:
"One of the glories of Daily Kos (4+ / 0-)
daisycolorado, Pumpkinlove, jhecht, dfb1968
is that we are free to ask questions and make comments sparked by and relating to a diary, even if the diarist would prefer a narrow focus on just the point she wants made.
Accordingly, I again ask you:
* Do you believe that we live in "Zionist occupied America"?
* What do you mean by the phrase?
* If you no longer believe it, how and why did you change your mind?
I also would appreciate a substantive response to another point I've tried to raise before. Does it matter to you that by demonizing Israel and making demands that entail the destruction of Israel you:
* put off the achievement of a free and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and
* make enemies of progressive friends of Israel who otherwise would ally with you in working to achieve a genuine two-state end-of-conflict peace settlement?"
This despite umkahlil's preemptive request in the 'Tip Jar' for people to please "focus on the diary", and avoid making personal attacks against her. Some were evidently unperturbed, as only a few comments down it was observed that the diarist was "in good company, with David Duke, maybe Pat Buchanan". The case of the "Zionist Occupied America" nonsense illustrates perfectly what we are talking about. It seems that, faced with a well-informed and eloquent "pro-Palestinian" diarist, a concerted effort was made to dig up the necessary dirt with which to discredit her. It is surely a testament to how reasonable a person she is that these people were reduced to quoting a phrase ("Zionist Occupied America") the diarist used on her personal blog some two years ago, and which was obviously a simple exaggeration for effect. Yet, it has been dragged up time and time again, with no relevance whatsoever to the diary, and umkahlil has been repeatedly ordered to retract it. This is just plain bullying.
Another tactic of intimidation has been to accuse those Palestinian diarists who express support for a one-state solution of seeking the "destruction of the state of Israel". Indeed, one person went so far as to brand umkahlil their "enemy" for doing so.
In short, the diarists in question have been the subject of a campaign of hostility and intimidation virtually from the moment they arrived (Sabbah's welcome into the DKos community consisted of recipes, accusations of being a troll and tag abuse). This disgraceful behaviour, whilst unpleasant, is only to be expected from some quarters in the debate. It is surely no coincidence that as the number of "pro-Palestinian" diarists have increased, so has the level of hostility and invective against them. In one particularly entertaining comment, a self-designated "pro-Israel" commenter expressed pity for new diarists who have to suffer the "vastly unfair" suspicion that they are sockpuppets and for Hunter, who has to deal with it all, even as, in that very same comment, he accuses annainpalestine of being "you-know-who, again", without a shred of supporting evidence (indeed, had he followed the links posted in the first few lines of her diary before making the accusation, he would have realised that Anna Baltzer is not, in fact, shergald).
Speaking of Anna – she herself was recently banned, apparently on the grounds that one of her diaries included the conveying of a conversation with a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement and a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Again, this action appears totally unjustifiable. Anna was simply reporting what she heard the man say – is it not important to hear what people on both sides of the conflict think, even those (or, perhaps, especially those) who pursue illegal and immoral tactics? It is interesting to note that, on this topic at least, Daily Kos has actually fallen behind the mainstream press. Last year, for example, the Washington Post published an article by Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister and leader of Hamas – itself a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. If the Washington Post felt able to publish the views of the leader of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, why can’t Daily Kos? It seems the problem was not a legal one – after all, surely the WaPo is bound by the same if not stricter rules – and so the decision was evidently a moral one. If so, it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind it. If it is forbidden and punishable by banning for a diarist to quote a member of a Palestinian terrorist organization in the interests of bringing to the community eye-witness testimony invaluable to understanding the motives and thoughts of the relevant actors in the conflict, without ever once associating herself with those views, it should surely be forbidden for diarists to quote senior IDF generals who, without even a sliver of doubt, have perpetrated terrorism on a scale that dwarfs anything the al-Aqsa Brigades are capable of. In the course of last year’s war on Lebanon, for example, the IDF killed over 1,000 Lebanese civilians and caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. As a result of Israeli bombing, Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure suffered "destruction on a catastrophic scale" (Amnesty International). Israeli forces "pounded buildings into the ground, reducing entire neighbourhoods to rubble", whilst "[e]ntire families were killed in air strikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages." Amnesty concludes, "[t]he evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate and an integral part of the military strategy, rather than "collateral damage". Human Rights Watch concurs. This amounts to state terror on a massive scale, and yet one can regularly find people quoting those responsible for it (Ehud Olmert, Gen. Halutz, Amir Peretz, etc. etc.) on this site with impunity. It is therefore rank hypocrisy to ban a Palestinian peace activist who is obviously not a troll (check her diaries out – they are long, thoughtful and detailed on-the-ground accounts of life in occupied Palestine) for quoting a member of a Palestinian terrorist organization even as diarists regularly quote members of Israeli terrorist organizations (or institutions).
What is disturbing in the context of this documented smear campaign is that the site administrators for their own reasons have now decided to ban umkahlil and Sabbah. We do not suggest that this is out of any conscious effort on the part of the admins to stifle the "pro-Palestinian" voice on Daily Kos (although that has certainly been its effect). More likely, it is simply due to frustration, thanks in part to a recent spate of sockpuppets and in part to the general deterioration in the quality of I/P debate here. Hunter's recent comment here, which has also been added to the FAQ, illustrates precisely what we're talking about:
"Second, I believe this demonstrates why every single new pro-Palestinian poster in these threads is going to be presumed guilty until proven innocent, from here on in. I ain't gonna screw around trying to invent elaborate ways of detecting this clown, I'm just going to ban anyone that sounds vaguely like him. I don't have the kind of time in my day necessary to worry about any more "fair" solution, and no inclination. If that results in his side of the discussion being completely wiped from the site except for already well-established posters, then frankly I'm having a hard time getting all teary-eyed about that." [my emphasis]
Whilst his frustration is totally understandable, it is the responsibility of an administrator not to take this out on those who have done nothing wrong. To use the parlance of Israel/Palestine, collective punishment is not an acceptable solution.
A comment made earlier this year by mcjoan (cited here) is more reasonable,
"We have two choices, ban the lot of you, which will happen if these hijackings and fights spill into other, non-I/P diaries, or stay hands off and let you beat each other up in the threads.
There are really no innocent parties in these fights, so there isn't a "side" to take when everyone is behaving badly. We don't want to have mass bannings, so you're going to have to figure out how to handle this without running to the admins every time",
but still misses the point. It's not about "sides" - you'll notice that the "pro-Israel" and "pro-Palestinian" have been placed in scare quotes throughout this diary - it's about the rules. For mcjoan to sweepingly declare that there are "no innocent parties" is simply false. Whilst no one is perfect, the behaviour of the majority of I/P diarists and commenters is certainly not bad enough to warrant banning. Again, this comment simply illustrates that frustration (which, again, is totally understandable) is getting the better of sound judgement. umkahlil and Sabbah are the latest victims of this.
The sad truth is that this isn't really about shergald at all. "Shergald", who has now become an all-encompassing bogeyman, is merely a convenient excuse to justify the stifling of totally legitimate and necessary debate. It seems that those Daily Kos members who have long desired the silencing of the Israel/Palestine debate on this site have succeeded in using the "shergald" affair to sow enough confusion and create enough of a fuss that the admins are on the verge of simply holding up their hands, exclaiming, "well, we tried our best!" and banning I/P discussion altogether.
We would like to emphasise that we are truly sympathetic to the difficulty of successfully moderating a subject which so frequently generates an astonishing degree of venom and vicious personal attacks. In highlighting what we feel to be a serious error in administrative policy, we are not impugning the motives of the admins or minimizing the difficulty of their task. Our aim is simply to correct an injustice.
It appears that Sabbah and umkahlil were banned because it is thought that they were initially invited to post at DKos by He Who Must Not Be Named. If this is indeed the reason, it is perplexing, to say the least. If a diarist's behaviour whilst on the site is fine, then what does it matter how he/she first came to be here? There appears to be a failure to recognise the clear and, we would've thought, self-evident distinction between being shergald - i.e. a sockpuppet - and knowing shergald. The idea that Sabbah, who is one of the most popular Palestinian bloggers on the internet, and umkahlil, who has run her own blog for years, are mere puppets at the mercy of some all-controlling, all-powerful demon-shergald is an insult to both of them, and an unfounded one at that. It is the product of frustration and paranoia as opposed to evidence.
New diarists, especially new Palestinian diarists, should be welcomed as valuable additions to the site. Instead, they are a priori feared and reviled as sockpuppets or trolls. This stifling of the Palestinian voice is to the detriment of the entire community, and in fact represents a serious abdication of moral responsibility.
We hope that, as a gesture of goodwill and in an effort to repair what harm has been caused, posting rights will be promptly returned to both umkahlil and Sabbah. At the very least, we think an apology should be made for getting it wrong. Failure to do so will result in a Daily Kos that is all the poorer for it.
Signed: heathlander, litho, jon the anti-zionist jew, Chilean Jew, curmudgiana, fairleft, npbeachfun, ybruti, weasel, Diaries, davidincleveland, mattes, thecutter, InStride, Alegre, StupidAsshole, crose, howardx, Jagger, redrobin, ormondotvos, james risser, Steven D, Statusquomustgo, bigchin, Terra Mystica, Freedom, pb, lemming22
Note: more people may be added to this list after a while. Those of you who want to support our position can do so by recommending this diary, or else by expressing your views in the comments below (obviously).
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