Aristotle’s logic includes not only rules of valid inference but also fallacies, i.e., rules of invalid inference and other strategies to trip up your opponent in debate.
If Aristotle were around today, he would offer the following rule for the online writer: Always link to a claim that doesn’t really support your claim. Most of your readers won’t check your links anyway, just as most readers of scholarly articles don’t check footnotes.
Two articles on movements that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel appeared in the mainstream Jewish media today. What they shared was the “confirmatory link” fallacy.
Over at Tablet, Prof. Jarrod Tanny (a.k.a. Jarropolk Tenewitz) calls upon Jewish Studies colleagues to recognize Jewish Voice for Peace’s “demagoguery” and take a stand against the organization. He attributes to JVP a litany of offences, and, as any good academic, provides links ostensibly to support his claims. But a perusal of the links shows that none backs up his assertions.
Especially odd is his link purporting to provide evidence for his claim that JVP doesn’t take leftwing anti-Semitism seriously. I clicked on the link expecting to find a JVP statement to that effect. Instead, my browser was redirected to an ADL website which made no mention of leftwing anti-Semitism at all, much less JVP’s alleged tolerance of of it. Giving Prof. Tanny the benefit of the doubt, I clicked again and read the entire ADL profile. Again, no mention of “left” or “leftwing” anti-Semitism. I then googled “JVP” and “anti-Semitism” and found JVP’s condemnation of Alison Weir, a pro-Palestinian activist, for not dissociating herself from anti-Semites, as well as noted leftwing anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon’s criticism of JVP for its position.
Although this was the most egregious of the nine links purportedly supporting Prof. Tanny’s claims, an examination of each one of them shows that they don’t support them at all. I don’t have time for all the debunking; just click and see for yourself. And that’s leaving aside the fact that some of the links don’t even take you to JVP websites.
Unlike Prof. Tanny, I am not discouraged that other Jewish Studies academics are not rallying to his call. Apparently, he is one corner; the rest of his colleagues are somewhere else.
But why pick on Tablet when, the Forward, under the misleading headline, “David Grossman Play Under Attack By BDS Supporters” claims that Grossman’s play is a “surprising target” for boycott, when it is not being targeted for boycott at all. As anybody who reads the link to Adalah NY can see, the boycott is not at all targeted against Grossman or his play as such, but against the Israeli government’s support of the play, and the fact that the two Israeli theater companies producing it perform in settlements built illegally on Palestinian land. (The first reason is mentioned by the Forward.) “Why would anybody boycott a play by a good Israeli like David Grossman” makes as much sense as “Why would anybody boycott a symphony by a good Russian like Shostakovich?? And yet when the Moscow Symphony Orchestra performed in the United States at the height of the student struggle for Soviet Jewry, Jewish activists outside the concert halls asked concertgoers to boycott the Soviet Union’s exercise in public diplomacy. It wasn’t Shostakovich or the conductor that was being boycotted. (I suppose this could be called “Shostakovich -washing”)
At least Tablet and the Forward provides links, and to be fair, the Forward gets most of the story right. But maybe they assume — or hope — that their readers won’t click.
Or maybe when it comes to non-violent actions taken by supporters of Palestinian human rights, demonization is de rigeur.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on July 6, 2017, on The Magnes Zionist, a website featuring commentary by Jewish studies and philosophy professor, Jerry Haber (a nom de plume). It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Haber.