Open Zion

10.25.13

What Bret Stephens Said At Yeshiva University

I don’t at all mind being criticized, but is it too much to ask the writers at Open Zion to quote and characterize what I say accurately? Lisa Goldman apparently attended a Yeshiva University event this week at which I was a panelist. Among other things, she has me saying that “Pakistan has ‘managed to produce absolutely nothing’ in its entire history [besides nuclear weapons]”—the words within single quotes supposedly being mine. This has been the source of some indignant tweeting from Karachi.

Video screenshot

For the record—and you can check the record, since there’s a YouTube clip of the entire event embedded in her piece—this is what I said, in connection to a question about Iran in which my main point was that mere possession of nuclear weapons was in itself a form of use of nuclear weapons.

The relevant section begins around the 21:30 mark:

When you have a nuclear weapon you can do things as a country that countries that don’t have nuclear weapons cannot. OK. North Korea is this impoverished, famished regime, but they have our attention because they have nuclear weapons. Pakistan is a country that has produced almost nothing in its entire history except, its most distinguished citizens always manage to leave the country, which is an interesting subject unto itself, but they have nuclear weapons, so they have our attention. They are important in a way that a Kyrgyzstan or a Turkmenistan simply is not. If Turkmenistan got nuclear weapons, believe me, we’d all become Turkmenistan experts.

Ms. Goldman has me saying “absolutely nothing,” but there’s no question from the recording that I said “almost nothing.”

Absolutely: Wrong.

Almost: Right.

Open Zion also has a journalistic responsibility to characterize what I say accurately. In Ms. Goldman’s account, my comment about Pakistan appears as a kind of off-hand slur. In fact I took the trouble to qualify my statement in a way that many Pakistanis would recognize as being tragically true. To take the most obvious example: Abdus Salam, the one Pakistani ever to win a Nobel Prize for physics, quit the country after the Pakistani parliament declared his Ahmadiyya sect to be “non-Muslim” in 1974.

There are other things Ms. Goldman gets factually wrong in her piece (the two Israeli Nobelists this month won for chemistry, not physics), or that she grossly mischaracterizes. That includes the very first sentence of her article. I did not claim, as she implies, that “Jews are the smartest people in the world.” I merely recounted it as an anecdote about a woman from Shanghai who said those words to me, while making a broader point about global philo-semitism. Again, go see for yourself: It’s at the 1:08:10 mark.

A more intelligent writer than Ms. Goldman could no doubt have taken honest exception to things I said at the conference without resorting to two-bit rhetorical tricks. She should try harder next time, or find another line of work.