Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Daniel Gordis's War on Adverbs

Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center and a Senior Fellow. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, his most recent book Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a War That May Never End won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. He also stole 75 minutes of my time in Israel.

I knew of his neo-con perspective ahead of time, but was expecting an attempt at dialogue. You know where each side gets in a word or two. Up until then, we had had many meetings with some not inconsequential figures in Israel --  President and Nobel Prize winner Shimon Peres, Israel Prize winners,Yehuda Bauer and David Harel, and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor. To a man, each of them solicited questions from us and gave them due consideration. Not Dr. Gordis.

Dr. Gordis filibustered for a full 60 minutes of a planned 60 minute meeting. When he finally took a question or two, he continued the filibuster for another 15 minutes until the meeting concluded.

Dr. Gordis began his comments by deconstructing J Street's statement on the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, in which J Street basically raised a lot of questions. It can be read here. It turns out that Dr. Gordis is no fan of adverbs, with particular distaste for the word, "obviously." Seriously.

He questioned J Street's use of the word in the following paragraph:

Overcoming the split between Fatah and Hamas, and between the West Bank and Gaza, has always been a precondition for final resolution of the conflict. In fact, many who oppose a two-state deal have, in recent years, done so by arguing that divisions among the Palestinians make peace impossible. Obviously, reconciliation reduces that obstacle – but now skeptics of a two-state agreement have immediately stepped forward to say that a deal is impossible with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. (Emphasis is mine.)

Dr. Gordis said there was nothing obvious about the statement that reconciliation reduces the obstacles to a two-state solution. Perhaps. But that's not what the statement said. It said reconciliation reduces that obstacle, meaning the obstacle referenced in the prior sentence, i.e., divisions among the Palestinians. It should be obvious to everyone that reconciliation reduces - in fact, negates - division. It was a stupid point for him to try to make in the first place, made worse by the fact that he misread the statement. And the baytzim on this guy to call into question the care with which the statement was written! I apologize for taking your time up with this minutiae, but that's how Dr. Gordis fashioned his argument. Of course, his filibuster prevented anyone from pointing that out.

But he wasn't done with his war on adverbs. See, he's such a scholar that he runs a word search to make sure that his writings don't include "of course" or "obviously." Not sure of his position with respect to "clearly" and "plainly." But his seventh grade English teacher must be proud. After all he did win the 2009 National Jewish Book Award.

Then there was the matter of J Street's self-assuredness that caused him to question whether the group belonged inside the pro-Israel tent. Clearly (apparently?) Dr. Gordis's blinding arrogance not only robbed me of my morning, but himself of any sense of irony. And without the self-assured Jew, who exactly is going to fill this pro-Israel tent? Had been hoping to ask him that.

Dr. Gordis then proceeded to construct straw man arguments and he quite impressively knocked each one down. Do you think Israelis like sending their kids to the army? Do you not think Israel has real enemies?

Why Dr. Gordis decided to address us, I can't say for sure. I imagine (almost forgot, he attacked John Lennon's universalism), citing his meeting with J Street, he will tell people that he gave us a chance. If he tells you that, don't believe him. And tell him I want my morning back.

Editor's Note, May 29: The entry above was posted on May 3, 2011, prior to Gordis's May 27 piece in the Jerusalem Post. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if my impression as to his reason for meeting with us was correct.


  1. Are you a part of the delegation that has been to all these meetings? Cool! And don't worry about this Gordis guy, people are just going to be disingenuous when they have no real arguments. If and when the conflict is resolved, we will look back on people like that and shake our heads, with the knowledge that we were on the right side of history.

  2. Richard,
    Thanks for a scintillating account of your excruciating encounter. I can understand why you want your morning back, but please don't think it was wasted. Anyone who's been exposed to Gordis's bloviations in the U.S. Jewish press will be reassured to hear that he's every bit as arrogant and patronizing in person as he is on paper.

  3. Hope you're right, Gil. Philip, yes, I've been part of the delegation. Going to see P.M. Salam Fayad this morning.

  4. I think Daniel Gordis was right on target and I am not an extreme right winger, nor do I like Netanyahu. Diana Engel, Washington, DC

  5. Two out of three ain't bad. What'd you think was on target?