A panel on the meaning of being pro-Israel got out of hand Monday, as Commentary editor and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz marched off stage after he said he was irritated by Forward editor Jane Eisner, who allegedly gestured at him a bit too firmly.
Podhoretz and Eisner, along with J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, were taking part in a discussion at New York’s 92nd Street Y on support for the Jewish state when Podhoretz became enraged by one of the panelist’s comments.
“You’re blaming the victim!” Podhoretz said in response to a remark by Ben-Ami, who suggested that Israeli government policies rendered it difficult for some Americans to believe Israel really wants peace with the Palestinians.
The crowed did not take kindly to Podhoretz’s words and began jeering and booing.
Podhoretz “started wagging his finger at Ben-Ami in a manner at once threatening and condescending,” Eisner, who also acted as the panel’s mediator, wrote on the Forward website.
“That’s when I stepped in, trying to rein in the argument, using my hands (I am known to gesticulate) to try to calm him down,” she continued.
Podhoretz said he had nothing against Ben-Ami, but Eisner’s hand waving was uncalled for.
“I had no problem with Ben-Ami personally throughout the panel, though we disagreed vehemently,” Podhoretz wrote in Commentary.
“[G]iven that he was ten feet away from me and we were having an exchange that was mutually heated, I’m not sure how threatening my condescending finger-wagging could have been.”
Both sides agreed that at that point in the event, Podhoretz stormed off stage.
“Podhoretz angrily said that I raised my hand at him and stormed off the stage,” Eisner related. ”I was stunned by what I can only describe as a temper tantrum.”
Podhoretz, however, maintained that his actions had been prompted by the moderator’s effort to “shush” him.
“Whatever I did, it was, to be sure, no more ‘threatening’ than Eisner’s response, which was to put her hand up close to me for the purposes of quieting me down.”
“Eisner seems to think that when I spoke in objection to this gesture, which I did angrily, I was perhaps fearful she was going to attack me physically—which is the height of silliness… In the middle of the panel, I chose to walk off the stage rather than continue.”
“Bottom line: I’d had a long day and I didn’t see the point in spending more of it getting booed and shushed. So I left. So sue me.”