The Websternet

Matthew J. Webster – Writer

My work, not The Forward’s

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(The following essay was submitted to The Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar–Sargon on 6/18/19. In an abhorrent — if typical and perfectly legal — example of journalistic hackery, Ungar-Sargon appears to have assigned the thesis of my submission to a staffer and published his “hot” take today.

I love good editors and want to work with them! If this one had responded whatsoever to my efforts, I would not be calling her out. Instead she blithely stole my idea.)

6/18/19 — LOS ANGELES — Matthew J. Webster

A worldwide legislative effort to discredit boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel continues apace.

In Germany, the country my Jewish grandfather fled for the US as an undocumented (I prefer “illegal”) refugee in 1939, the Bundestag last month moved to declare BDS activities anti-Semitic and illegitimate. The Netanyahu government is lobbying hard for Germany lawmakers to formally adopt and enforce the motion, which notes that the “Don’t Buy” stickers BDS activists have placed on Israeli products disturbingly recall the Nazi slogan “Don’t Buy From Jews.”

Merely suggesting that citizens have the right to boycott Israel can be career suicide in Germany, where recent anti-Semitic incidents have rattled the Jewish population of 200,000. Last week the director of Berlin’s Jewish museum resigned following backlash to his tweet referencing a letter signed by 240 Israeli and American scientists. The signatories, among them prominent anti-Semitism and Holocaust researchers, defended BDS as a legitimate, non-violent means of resistance.

In Israel, a law passed in 2017 barring BDS supporters from entering the country has to date mainly resulted in alienating two-plus million ethnic minorities and the outrageous detention of an American college student in October. A public benefit corporation staffed by former Netanyahu advisor Dore Gold and a pair of ex-generals has also received about $36 million of government funds to combat BDS, and datebooks of Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan confirmed that in 2018 Erdan met with Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen specifically to discuss “the struggle against the boycott.”

In my native US, 27 states have adopted legislation hoping to dissuade Americans from exercising their Constitutional freedoms specifically to criticize Israel, and Senate Teds Cruz and Kaine are now pushing a complementary federal bill.

I have to wonder if this is all a bit much. As permanently flawed as Israel may be, I love the country and don’t support BDS, because boycotts separate Israel’s critics from the very counterparts they should be dialoguing with.

On the other hand, data from the Brookings Institute estimate the effects of BDS on Israel’s economy are approximately zero, and you can’t effectively ban an idea. If my neighbor won’t buy wine grown in the Golan Heights for ideological reasons, what can I or the government do about it? And why is it so important to punish Israel’s critics for boycotting when they have little real impact?

US politicians sponsor anti-BDS legislation because it’s popular. Most Americans support Israel, and there is no major downside in espousing to protect it.

Germany’s history makes criticism of Israel even more fraught than in the US, but nothing (yet) stops thousands of people from demonstrating each year on al-Quds Day. Legislation calling their actions anti-Semitic will not influence their personal sentiments, and overzealous restrictions on speech may produce a reaction Germans absolutely do not want.

In 2016, federal judges rejected the last of many attempts to outlaw the NDP, an extreme-right wing, openly anti-Semitic political party, ruling the NDP had no real influence beyond municipal politics. The judges also noted that banning the group would not change the mentality of its members, who even after a ban could form a new party or change their votes to the much larger anti-immigration party, AfD. (Incidentally, AfD voted in favor of the January motion delegitimizing BDS.)

All men being equal in the eyes of the law, I hope the Bundestag will apply the same principles to the BDS movement. Mischaracterizing reasonable criticism of Israel’s administration as equivalent to anti-Semitism is repression, and creates a chilling effect where respectful debate is the only way forward.

Israel faces another general election in September. Netanyahu’s support of the 2017 anti-BDS law helped him curry favor with racist, extreme-right parties and win the April election. Meanwhile, insiders profit from the richly financed war on BDS.

I also hope Israeli voters will consider the cynicism of these arrangements, and how they are seen from abroad. The state of Israel is a thing, and Jews are people. When even Jews are afraid to openly evaluate Israel’s government, what future remains?

Written by webster71

July 10, 2019 at 14:20

Posted in Uncategorized

When Your House Explodes

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True story for OZY about that time my house burned down in unglamorous Allston, MA.


Written by webster71

May 22, 2019 at 20:22

Posted in OZY Media

Muay Thai in Vegas

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Wrote this five years ago for VICE Media’s now-defunct FIGHTLAND channel, never got paid.

Written by webster71

May 22, 2019 at 20:11

Watch me get beat up

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Did some fighting for OZY last summer. Thanks Kirian and Dreamkiller for the opportunity. Yes, there is some written content beneath the video!

Written by webster71

March 26, 2018 at 19:27

“Breaking up big banks” is BS.

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Former Secretary of Labor and cloying nudist Robert Reich has piped up in defense of Bernie Sanders, a transcript of whose interview with the NY Daily News seems to display some uncertainty regarding federal authority over large financial institutions.

But today the promise to go gangbusting on financial industries is a red herring raised ten years too late, and it’s improbable and dishonest coming from political candidates.

Dodd-Frank provides for federal liquidation and receivership of banks and other institutions even where the company’s board doesn’t want it to happen.

However, Sanders, Clinton and other pols who want to “break up the big banks” are ignoring the fact that these same institutions are the undisputed champions of complying with federal regulations.

That’s not easy to do, and it’s exactly how they got “too big” in the first place. Institutions grew so complex that they could profit from unethical practices that were NOT illegal, yet.

If certain companies made exactly the same mistakes today that they did ten years ago, yes, the FDIC would have the power to liquidate them now. It’s an appealing prospect to Americans who, rightly, feel cheated by the subprime lending scandal and bailouts that followed. And it’s not going to happen.

Written by webster71

April 6, 2016 at 19:45

Germany is not “on the Brink”

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RE: Germany on the Brink

Mr. Douthat’s ignorance of Germany is remarkable and embarrassing. As any informed citizen of that country (which I am) is aware, a significant majority of Germans support increased immigration in light of the historic refugee crisis precipitated by war in Syria and Iraq, however statistically aging we may be, and we do not appreciate being called fools because we refuse to succumb to our own culture’s worst xenophobic tendencies. 

Secondly, sadly, Germany has never outgrown the “1930s-style political violence” Mr Douthat fears immigration will provoke. Although the severity of the violence has lessened, a survey of German newspapers will show it has only grown more prevalent in the past year.

And who is more capable of leading Germany through a crisis than the historically popular, and immigration-skeptical, Chancellor Merkel? Germany is on the cusp of redefining itself, not collapsing into chaos.

–Matthew J. Webster


Written by webster71

January 10, 2016 at 11:55

Sports Betting Is No Crime

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Licensed UK betting shop. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian

Licensed UK betting shop. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian

Pity The Punter
By Matthew J. Webster

Should betting on sports be a crime in America? N.B.A. commisioner Adam Silver reignited the debate, and reversed two decades of league policy, with his November 13 New York Times Op-Ed piece asserting that sports betting should be legalized in the US. In a nutshell, Silver argues that sports betting is legal in most of the world outside the US, and has become widely normalized in this country since Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, prohibiting states from allowing gambling in 1992.

In those days before the Internet brought betting into our living rooms, all the major American professional sports leagues supported PASPA. The terrain has shifted since then. Silver references estimates that Americans now illegally wager $400 billion annually on sports. If accurate, that’s an awful lot of potentially taxable revenue vanishing into the ether based on vague and outdated moral arguments.

One example was offered by Boston Globe columnist Steven Syre the week following Silver’s Op-Ed. Asserting that “gambling is the most serious threat to sports in general, to the public’s belief that the outcomes of games are legitimate,” Syre claims the “moral high ground” on the subject, with his primary supporting argument being that people who favor legalized gambling are likely to make money from it.

Notwithstanding the fact that there’s nothing morally wrong with making money, Syre’s rhetoric is weak. He names Silver as potentially biased because he could, conceivably, gain money in connection with gambling, disregarding the fact Silver is an N.B.A. official and so must necessarily recuse himself from wagering on his own league. With regards to the legitimacy of results, Syre seems to allude to the possibility of match fixing, but does not mention this term, understandably since Americans have wagered billions on their favorite sports since PASPA with negligible match fixing in evidence. Match fixing is a real danger wherever sports betting occurs, but, as Silver points out, the best way to prevent it is close scrutiny of anomalies in betting-line action by regulatory bodies.

Professional sports are businesses. Like all manners of free enterprise, everything related to sports involves calculated risk. An N.B.A. fan may gamble thousands of dollars on season tickets for a team that turns out as disappointing as last year’s Milwaukee Bucks, or the manager of Liverpool Football Club may risk tens of millions on a young player who turns out as unstable and infamously vampiric as Luis Suárez.

Sports and fixed-odds betting are kinds of games, each having its rules and objectives. Games, sports and betting are all inseparable from strategic risk. Not all games involve betting, but all sports and all betting involve risk. So to say gambling is bad for sports is rather like suggesting prostitution is bad for sex in general.

Yet while the primeval practice of exchanging sex for money is, like sports betting, legally sanctioned and taxed in the state of Nevada, the Federal Republic of Germany, and other civilized places, no one believes its decriminalization negatively effects the sex lives of all who live there.

In the book Gambling: Mapping the American Moral Landscape, theology professor Erik C. Owens describes the irony of US gambling policy with the example of state lotteries. Ninety percent of Americans live in states with lotteries, and studies indicate about half us play them. Billions in revenues from state lotteries are tethered to the cause of public education. But sadly, according to Owens, accrual of those funds actually requires exploitation of the least educated Americans, who bet incrementally more on lotteries, probably because they are less likely to calculate the long odds against winning. Where such a cynical approach to public funding is ubiquitous, can’t we also allow ordinary sports fans a fair bet?

Written by webster71

January 5, 2015 at 16:38

Posted in Gambling, Sport

Tagged with , ,

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