James Fallows "Slithers" Into My Recent Reference to Gertrude Stein

The spat, if it can be called that, over Maureen Dowd's most recent New York Times column, "Neocons Slither Back," amused me for a few reasons. First of all, I concur with James Fallows of the Atlantic that Maureen Dowd is not even remotely an anti-Semite.

Any regular reader of her columns knows that she has a scathing wit and a great bullshit or pretense detector. She has ridiculed everyone from Al Gore (who, as she wrote, was "into the earth and earth tones -- need we say more?") to President Obama, whom she calls Spock, on the left. As for those on the right, she has understandably mocked W., too many bashings to cite, and most recently the "neocon puppet masters" who are advising Mitt Romney, whom she calls Mittens.

It is obvious that she deploys her wit on an equal-opportunity basis, in this case when she detected "slime" in the Romney camp.

I agree with Dowd that, as Romney and Ryan have zero experience on foreign policy, their advisers, such as Dan Senor, deserve some of the blame for the truculent and irresponsible rhetoric we are hearing from the Republican ticket. Yet Romney and Ryan are not completely clueless and deserve the bulk of the blame for their language and policy statements. I don't accept that they are unknowing marionettes.

After Dowd's column came a response from Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who wrote that she was "peddling an old stereotype" about Jews when she used the term, "slimily," in characterizing Paul Wolfowitz.

I don't agree with Goldberg here.

However, it is crucial to point out that Goldberg did not say or imply that Dowd is anti-Semitic.

Sadly, Fallows concludes his blog post sanctimoniously by stating that "it is not good for anyone to label such arguments as 'anti-Semitic' without much stronger evidence."

First of all, Goldberg did not label Dowd's argument as "anti-Semitic," as Fallows says. There is a big difference between, on the one hand, stating that she is peddling a stereotype and, on the other, accusing her of bigotry.

Secondly, I question whether Fallows, a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, is the best person to weigh in on Israel or anti-Semitism.

I don't know Fallows, nor would it be fair to label him a "puppet master" for Carter's views on Israel; one cannot blame Fallows for his former boss's book with the lovely title, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid. No, as far as his book is concerned, Carter alone deserves opprobrium for propagating the notion that Israel is a racist country, a stance that conjures up the U.N. proclamation from the 1970s that "Zionism Is Racism."

Still, Fallows himself should be careful before he weighs in on such an issue. It is not that Jews alone have the right to discuss Dowd's column. I just think that if one is going to make a charge against Goldberg on matters concerning Israel or Jews, it would help if one is a confirmed Zionist. I am one.

For the record, I knew Goldberg years ago on my kibbutz, Mishmar Ha Emek. He had been in the ulpan, or Hebrew immersion program, a year or so before I arrived in 1989, and he had remained in Israel.

While I worked in the kitchen, washing serim, pots dating back in some cases to the War of Independence, Goldberg worked in the lool, the chicken coop.

I remember that period well, including some of the characters on the kibbutz. There was an attractive German girl (I believe her name was Bettina), still living at Mishmar Ha Emek following her ulpan, a woman who wanted to atone for her country's moral failings by cavorting with as many Jewish men as she could. There was also a German-Jewish kibbutznik named Iup, who played Wagner at times in his office, strange for a man who may have lost relatives during the Holocaust. In keeping with the Teutonic theme, one of my best friends in the ulpan was Iorg, a former social worker from Germany, who repaired cars and other vehicles in the musak or garage.

In any event, when I saw Goldberg years later at a Skirball event in Los Angeles, following a phone interview about his book, Prisoners, Goldberg did not remember or recognize me.

That is not Goldberg's fault. Few people whom I knew in my twenties seem to remember or recognize me, which has led me to wonder if having a good memory, as I do, is a blessing or a curse.

It is of course true that, after my two psychotic breaks, I have changed a little. Moreover, at the time I lived on the kibbutz, I did not have a mustache or beard. No, I was a deeply depressed man, who was nonetheless joyful to be living in Israel.

I know that it will be easy for some to dismiss me as just a mentally ill individual, who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia and who wanted to show his love for Israel yet did not complete a few voluntary programs associated with the IDF. Depression and psychosis have a way of impeding your best dreams at times, though I did complete my ulpan as well as Sar-El, a program in which I helped out Israeli soldiers on an Army base.

Whatever some think of my past traumas, traumas I have written about openly, I would like to think that I have the right to critique Fallows, and not simply because of his questionable argument against Goldberg.

Fallows claimed in his blog post not to be a "flatterer" of Maureen Dowd. But oddly enough he may have been flattering me in paraphrasing one of Gertrude Stein's sayings in his article. In referring to Romney's lack of foreign policy experience, Fallows wrote, "there is so little there, there."

Isn't it funny that a few days earlier, in a column comparing Romney to Hemingway's Jake Barnes, I wrote of the Republican nominee that "there is no there there"?

I recognize that I am not the only one who has the right to cite Stein (or to cite Iago, a subject of another recent column of mine, whom Fallows also mentions in his blog post on Dowd and Goldberg). In all likelihood, Fallows will say that he has never read my work, just as Goldberg might tell you that he still does not remember me.

I believe Goldberg. He simply forgot me, as many others have.

I am not so sure of Fallows. He probably should have acknowledged me and my work. So, permit me to borrow a construction from Fallows and conclude by saying, "it is not good for anyone" to say "there is so little there, there" regarding Mitt Romney when another writer, several days before, wrote, "there is no there there," to describe the former Massachusetts governor.

Perhaps, the same can be said of Fallows' argument in which he criticized Goldberg.

There is no there there.