See Shushed and Booed, Podhoretz Walks Out on 92 St. Y Panel for a better informed version of this story.
Commentary editor John Podhoretz stormed off the New York’s 92nd Street Y Stage Monday night in the middle of spat with J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami but denied reports that he said “students at Swarthmore College deserve to be spat upon.”
Jewish Daily Forward Jane Eisner, who moderated a panel discussion on the term “pro-Israel,” wrote in her account of the incident that Podhoretz “lost it when a member of the audience asked about the American Studies Association’s announcement Monday that it would boycott Israeli academic institutions over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”
Ben-Ami agreed that the ASA vote was “hypocritical” but then launched into a tirade against Israeli government policies, which he said “make it difficult for some Americans to believe Israel really does want peace with the Palestinians.” Podhoretz angrily replied, Eisner tried to calm tempers, and he then stalked off stage.
The Commentary editor wrote following the incident that he had a “bad night,” and he clarified his remark on spitting. Referring to the Hillel group at Swarthmore College, he wrote, “What I said was that if you advocate anti-Zionism, you are calling for the destruction of the homeland of my family. You are free to do so, and I am free to revile you and spit upon you.”
“This bit of hysterical rhetoric was not my finest verbal improvisation,” Podhoretz added, but he emphasized that he did not say anyone should be spat on. “Given that an organization cannot be spat upon, the flourish here, though admittedly stupid and in bad taste, was clearly and entirely rhetorical. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a word of what I said, though.”