The Dark Side of Public Television

I watch and appreciate the regular programming on public television.  There is not a day that goes by without my watching the serious, intelligent, and largely balanced news programming on my local PBS Channel 13 in New York. On weekdays, I watch Charlie Rose on this channel, whose intelligent-content quotient I judge to be much higher than that of commercial broadcasting.  In sum, the (regular) PBS offerings respect the intelligence of their audience.  They tend to examine things from various angles, and they invite the listener to weigh and judge complex issues.

But every three months or so, Channel 13, like other PBS channels all over the country, interrupts its generally highbrow programming to go lowbrow, very lowbrow.  It’s fund-raising time, and various cranks and snake-oil salesmen are presented to raise money, ostensibly for public television but, more immediately for themselves.   Suddenly issues are no longer complex but are presented in the style of evangelism:  everything is simple, just do as I say, and, above all, send me your money.  These charlatans  claim to have  medical, financial, and emotional  cure-alls.    The medical quacks are of course the worst.  They tell you (without ever examining you) that if you will only follow their directives — which they will sell you by way of promotional material — that you can cure your heart disease, your sexual inadequacies, and everything in between.

Am I the first one to raise the alarm here ?  Absolutely not.    The PBS ombudsman Michael Getler has said more or less the same thing.  And so have Brian Dunning and Harriet Hall, among many others.

My own modest contribution to the discussion will restrict itself to my experience with the most recent Channel 13 fund drive that featured a certain Steven Masley, self-styled “board-certified physician” and author of self-help tomes such as “Smart Fat: Eat More Fat. Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now.”  Masley’s audience on public TV is told that, in addition to being a physician,  he is also a master chef, so following his advice makes you not only healthy but tastes good to boot.   If you follow his advice, it is suggested, you will get healthy;  and in particular, you are lead to believe, any heart condition that you may have  can be cured within thirty days:

THE 30-DAY HEART TUNE-UP takes readers step by step through a revolutionary program to tune up their hearts, energy, waistlines, and sex lives, with 60 delicious recipes to help jump-start a heart-healthy diet.

Now whatever his formal credentials, Masley is not practicing the profession of medicine when he advises unseen audiences, for his own financial gain, on how to cure heart conditions and other ailments.  For this reason alone he must be considered a charlatan rather than a doctor.

But just what are his formal credentials, insofar as these can be verified ?  Is he a cardiologist, as is sometimes claimed for him in his own publicity ?  Is he certified in some other specialty, as he claims consistently ?

The fact seems to be that, while he is a licensed physician in the state of Florida, he has no specialist credentials whatever.   In reply to my inquiry as to which medical board has actually certified him, he writes as follows: “I am board certified in Family Medicine and I am a Fellow with the American Heart Association, the American College of Nutrition, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.”  As it happens, the board-certifying group for family medicine is the American Board of Family Medicine, which he does not mention.  There are a number of online facilities that allow members of the public to verify the board certification of a physician.  None of these, insofar as I could detect, confirm Masley as board certified, either by the ABFM or any other medical board.

As to the groups for which he claims being a fellow, these are not at all comparable to medical boards that certify physicians.  These “fellowships” are awarded by application from physicians;  and, once a fee is paid by the applicant, are not very demanding.  For example, the requirements of the American Academy of Family Physicians, are shown here.  An acquaintance of mine is a family physician and writes: “The American Academy of Family Physicians is the professional organization that I belong to. I never bothered to apply to become a Fellow … It is a mere formality, not an “award for merit””.

What Masley does in fact represent is the dark side of public television.  I have repeatedly contacted Channel 13 to protest, regarding Masley and all the other charlatans it airs four times a year.  In particular, I have tried to contact Channel 13 about the misrepresentation of Masley as a “board certified physician,” as I have also tried to contact the PBS ombudsman.  I have not received any reply whatever.

Hat tip:  Harriet Hall

Gay and anti-Israel; Why ?

The Homosexual Factor

Among the most vociferous and the most radical of the Jews who have declared themselves against Israel — think Noam Chomsky, think Judith Butler, think Glenn Greenwald, think Norman Finkelstein — a good proportion, say 50%, also declare themselves gay or lesbian. (In this abbreviated listing that would be Butler and Greenwald. ) So here is a kashe, as we say in Yiddish, a hard question. And not only is it a kashe, it’s considered absolutely impolite to even mention it (so much more reason to pose it) : Why are many of the publicly visible, radical anti-Israel Jews also publicly gay ? There does not appear to be any necessary or logical or indeed reasonable connection. And yet, I will argue, the connection is as observable as it is puzzling and it cries out for investigation.

 

When I was a young graduate student in New York in the 1950’s, I became interested in why so many Communists were Jewish, a question on which I wrote my PhD in 1956. The answer at which I arrived was basically historical, having to do with the traditional European political Left/Right alignments in which the Left supported, and the Right opposed, the emancipation of Jews. My dissertation work elicited a certain amount of pushback from people who feared that the airing of the question would enflame anti-Semitic prejudices. The editors of one influential journal of opinion (which exists to this day) accepted an article I wrote based on my dissertation, only to have its board members spike it. But overall, my work soon became accepted (and would today be considered just a piece of conventional wisdom).

 

Among the similarities to what I propose here, I never suggested that most Jews were Communists, only that a very disproportionate number of American Communists were Jews. That was simply a fact in that period. My work differed from the conventional views at the time in that I looked for explanations beyond the professed ideology of the people involved, the Jewish Communists. They of course insisted that the motives for their political commitment be found in the humanitarian professions of their movement. My explanation, in contrast, looked to non-professed factors, in this case the social position of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Similarly, I will argue here that the RJAI(Radical Jews Against Israel)-LGBT entanglement must be explained by factors beyond the professed views of the participants.

 

Now, back to the issue at hand, the RJAI movement of our day and its entanglement with the LGBT phenomenon. To begin, some disclaimers.

 

1) I do not say that all, or most, or even a disproportionate number of gay Jews are anti-Israel. The high proportion that I will describe is not an attribute of group JG (Jewish gays) but rather of group RAIJ (radical anti-Israel Jews). Of these, the RAIJ’s, a high proportion is (probably) gay.

 

2) While my main concern is with the radical group of anti-Israel folks, the line between radical and moderate is sometimes fluid. Moreover, radicalism sometimes (mis)represents itself as moderation.

 

3) The evidence that I will adduce is, on the whole, suggestive rather than conclusive. To put this another way, I would describe my case as one of a balance of probabilities rather than of a proof beyond reasonable doubt.

 

The most basic fact to keep in mind is the actually very low number of gay people in the population. The actual proportion seems to hover around two or three percent, depending on how the data are gathered and interpreted. But though low in numbers, and possibly because of this, homosexuality is widely noticed, and the impression is created that it is more common than it actually is. There is a German saying, bekannt sein wie ein bunter Hund, well-known like a rainbow-colored dog. Rainbow-colored dogs are not common, but (if and) when they occur, they arouse attention. An expression from Latin, rara avis, rare bird, carries the same meaning.

 

This actually very low incidence of homosexuality in the general population implies, of course, that the statistically expected number of homosexuals in any sub-group is also very low. But the empirical investigation of the question is made difficult by the fact that, generally, it is not publicly ascertainable who is and who is not gay. But in certain exceptional cases we do have figures that are reasonably reliable.

 

The great public interest in the personal lives of politicians has resulted in an apparently reliable counting of gays in the US Congress. It appears that of the 100 current members of the Senate, one is gay; of the 435 current members of the House, six are gay. So out of 535 members of Congress, seven, or 1.3%, are gay. This is somewhat lower than the expected proportion, but, given all the imprecisions of available data, well within expected margins.

 

The point to remember here is this: it is unusual to find more than, say, five percent in any group that is homosexual. As we saw, the percentage is exactly 1.3% among the leading American politicians who constitute the Congress, . A homosexual, statistically, is a rara avis in most social environments. And if we find a group or profession or movement in which the proportion of homosexuals is at all substantial, that circumstance requires attention and analysis.

 

In some ways similar to elected officials, pulpit rabbis commonly disclose their sexual orientation. And more to the point for our present purposes, their views on Israel are also generally known. In the city of New York, there are at least two pulpit rabbis who are harsh opponents of Israel. Both are lesbian.

 

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is the spiritual leader of Kolot Chayenu, an anti-Israel synagogue in Brooklyn. Her wife, Kathryn Conroy, is not Jewish but is called the “rebbetzin” of the congregation. She explains that she will not convert (to Judaism) because “I cannot convert to anything because I am already who I am and what I am going to continue to be.” As for the Rabbi herself, it would be tedious to enumerate all the anti-Israel declarations she has signed; here is one.

 

The other anti-Israel congregation in New York is Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, whose spiritual leader is the lesbian Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Unlike Rabbi Lippmann’s, Rabbi Kleinbaum’s partner, Randi Weingarten, is Jewish.   There is some question, as there is indeed also in the case of Lippmann, whether Kleinbaum’s anti-Israel positions are extreme or more moderate. My own take is that these positions are indeed extreme but are often veiled in moderate-sounding formulas. The issue is discussed in an article by Debra Kamin.

 

There are not many openly anti-Israel pulpit rabbis in North America, and some of these, for example Brant Rosen of Chicago and David Mivasair on Vancouver, are not homosexual. It may well be that homosexuals among the anti-Israel rabbis are a minority. But they are not the very small minority, as the homosexual proportions in the general population would lead us to expect. At the very least, they are a substantial minority.

 

Both Rabbi Lippmann and Rabbi Kleinbaum sit on the Rabbinic Council of the radically anti-Israel Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), together with at least two other lesbian rabbis (Nancy Wiener and Carrie Carter). That makes at least four lesbians on a board of sixteen.

 

As for JFREJ, I have written about the group in 2013 and again in 2015. Briefly, it is as radical an anti-Israel formation as is imaginable. At the same time, to quote from its own website:

 

(Question) I came to the Meyer Awards on the last night of Hanukkah and I noticed that there were a lot of queer Jews. JFREJ isn’t explicitly [gay] but it seems pretty queer. It seems to me that being a LGBTQ individual and JFREJ sort of go hand in hand.(Answer) JFREJ is not exclusively queer but we work within an explicit anti-oppression framework. Because of that JFREJ is safe place for LGBTQ people as well a place  to celebrate the LGTBQ community. We’re not explicitly queer but, yeah it can be pretty gay.

 

JFREJ is a New York organization. As I have shown on my blogs, its leadership overlaps to a large extent with the national Jewish Voices for Peace.   JVP, in turn, is recognized as the most vocal, the most aggressive, and the most visible of the (ostensibly) Jewish anti-Israel formations. Camera has given us a useful summary of the available information on this group.

 

To what extent is JVP gay or lesbian ? For obvious reasons there are no hard data, but the impression created by the overlap with known gay-related groups, such as JFREJ and Kolot Chayenu, is that there is a disproportionately high gay, especially lesbian component in JVP. When I looked at the group’s IRS disclosure form in 2010, I found that two of the five female board members were also active in lesbian causes.

 

Phyllis Chesler, in a revealing article some four years ago, has contributed some valuable first-hand observations of the obverse of our problem, what she calls the “Palestinization” of the radical lesbian movement; i. e. the fact that among the radical lesbians it is taken for granted that participants are also militant foes of the Jewish state.

 

In short, there is the inescapable conclusion of a sizable overlap between Jewish anti-Israel activism and the politicized section of the homosexual movement. Again, whether we speak of the absolutely rabid Max Blumenthal or the more moderate Tony Kushner, or the Trotskyist Sherry Wolf, we see a disproportionately high number of homosexuals among the Jewish foes of Israel. Of course there are counter-examples. Noam Chomsky is not gay, nor is Naomi Klein, nor are any number of others. But keeping in mind the demographics of homosexuality that I have stressed, anything higher than, say, five percent homosexuals among the RAIJ would be disproportionate. The actual percentage — impossible to state with precision — is likely to be ten times that or more. Another way of putting this is to observe that If the number of gays and lesbians in the RAIJ movement were proportionate to their representation in the general population, we would have to find between twenty and thirty straight RAIJ folks for every gay one. You will not find anything like that.

 

So here is the nexus: homosexuality/RJAI. That is not a hard thing to recognize. What is hard and possibly impossible to answer, the real kashe, is the why. Why is there this nexus ? What explains it ? What are the motives ? Why, in other words, controlling for the demographics, is it so much more likely for a homosexual to become RJAI than for a straight person ?

 

To begin, it is helpful to consider two questions separately: a. professed motivations, and b. the possibly non-professed motives behind the nexus.

 

If we were to ask a homosexual RJAI about his or her dual commitment, we might get a reply something like this: homosexuals belong to an oppressed group and they therefore have a natural affinity for other oppressed groups, in this case Palestinians. We Jewish LGBT people are the natural allies of all the disadvantaged and oppressed, and in particular favor the struggle against Zionism, against Islamophobia, against homophobia, against racism. I think that this is a fair restatement of the language found on RJAI pronouncements; the professed motivations are invariably couched in universalist humanitarian terms.

 

I will not belabor the illogic of this professed humanitarianism. The flaws have been pointed out many times, for instance by Cary Nelson with regard to Judith Butler, and are as familiar as they are disheartening. In a word: the self-professed humanitarian concern by RJAI for Palestinians is not matched by any comparable concern on their part for the gross human rights abuses in the Islamic world. The most striking hypocrisy of the LGBT-RJAI’s, of course, is their quietism — read implied approbation — of the persecution of gay and lesbian people by the militant Islamic regimes, most particularly in Gaza and Iran.

 

The very extreme nature of the RJAI agitation against Israel is an important aspect of this movement. Greenwald and Blumenthal in particular (together with Chomsky) are rarely far from demanding the physical annihilation of Israeli Jews. In view of the sometimes extreme malice in this agitation it is often difficult to maintain detachment in discussing this topic.

 

Now, if the professed motives for the (militant) LGBT-RJAI nexus must be dismissed, there remains the set of non-professed, and perhaps non-conscious, and in any case illogical motivations. Here we enter a murky field of interpretation and speculation. The easy psychoanalytic social interpretations that served previous generations, having generally been found wanting in their explanatory value, are no longer available to us, tempting as they may seem.

 

I have read a fair amount of the self-explanations by LGBT-RJAI individuals, and I have encountered a fair number of such people, mostly young, in person. I will give my impressions with the proviso that I do not insist on them as the final word.

 

The LGBT-RJAI folks I have met and read are often angry in a very diffuse way.   Not only are they furious at Israel, they also tend to identify with the other political radicalisms of the day;  they like to think of themselves as in revolt against everything that the Left-du-jour  is against.  They often feel that their straight parents and the straight people of their parents’ generation do not understand them or their special needs and gifts. Most of all they are angry at what they conceive as (straight) conventional society and (straight) conventional values. The “establishment” is seen as a threat and an enemy. This “establishment,” also known as the One Percent, is supportive of Israel. And Israel, like any part of an establishment, can easily be shown to fall short of the absolute purity that is traditionally demanded by absolutist radicals of all persuasions. As Nelson writes of Judith Butler, there is “the deployment of an abstract, universalizing concept of ‘justice,'” but only, of course, when it comes to the domains controlled by the enemy.

 

In other words, LGBT-RJAI is angry, angry, angry. I do not think that anything that Israel could possibly do or say would reduce this anger, no more, indeed, than anything that the (straight) “establishment” could do or say. My suggestion here is that the professed ideology of the LGBT-RJAI movement — humanitarian idealism — is largely irrelevant to the actual motivations and energies and furies of these largely young people.

 

So, my answer to the kashe that I posed at the beginning is this: the relatively small cadre of gays and lesbians within the RJAI movement is driven by personal furies to energize and stimulate and mobilize a movement that is larger than they. Given the anti-Semitic implications of their work, these Jewish “militants” may very well live to regret the consequences of their activities.

 

Hat tip:  Rita Cohn, Richard Klagsbrun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard Sanders — Twenty-First Century Apostate

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After months of some ambiguity, Mr. Bernie Sanders, by his appointments of Cornel West and James Zogby to the Democratic Party’s platform committee,  has now declared his de facto, hostile apostasy from the community of Jews.

Hostile apostates are not new to the Jewish people.  Since antiquity there have been individuals who have left the Jewish community to defame and wage war against their erstwhile  own.  In previous times such actions were mostly under color of religious conversion — to Christianity or Islam — but for at least the last two hundred years apostasy from Judaism has been largely under color of some secular creed. (My friend Edward Alexander, among others, has devoted much of his recent work to describe these modern apostates.)

Early on in the current presidential campaign, Sanders has maintained a certain ambiguity in his relationship to Jews. Often stating that he is “for” Israel, he has also condemned the Israeli military as using “disproportionate” force.  Early last year he could not find time attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.  He also announced that he is “not a great fan of Netanyahu” (not stating what he may or may not think about any other foreign leader).  Earlier this year he could not find the time — unlike all the other presidential candidates — to attend the AIPAC conference to which he had been invited, and which was probably the year’s largest gathering of American Jews. On the other hand, he did find the time, in the midst of a crucial campaign for the New York primaries, to make a rather bizarre trip to the Vatican.  There he shook the Pope’s hand but apparently he did not ask the Pope to open the secret Vatican archives on the Church’s role during the Holocaust. (I had asked Mr. Sanders, in an open letter just before this trip, to make this very request on behalf of the world’s scholarly community.)

A month ago the Sanders campaign appointed Simone Zimmerman as its “Jewish outreach coordinator.”  Ms. Zimmerman was well known for her extreme anti-Israel views,  having written on her Facebook that “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative ass**** … F*** you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of Jews in this world.”  Zimmerman’s appointment was widely noticed in the Jewish community and caused concern even among Sanders’ supporters.  A day or so after the appointment, the Sanders campaign retreated and “suspended” Zimmerman, not apparently because of her views but because of the manner in which she had expressed them.

After months of more or less talking out of both sides of his mouth, Sanders suddenly and spectacularly  ended all ambiguity this week.   Not by anything he said but by what he did.

In a pre-convention agreement with the Clinton campaign, Sanders was allowed to name five people (to Clinton’s six) to the Democratic Party’s convention platform committee.  Platforms of the two parties are neither binding nor enforceable in any way, but fights over platforms attract media attention and the outcomes have some symbolic significance.  The five people named by Sanders are 1) Cornel West, a well-known Black professor/agitator,  2) James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, 3) Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Black Muslim, 4) Bill McKiben, a writer and environmentalist, and 5) Deborah Parker, a Native American activist. Both West and Zogby are vigorous proponents of the BDS movement against Israel.  There are no Jews in this group of Sanders appointees, nor is there anyone who is identified with either pro-Israel views or with Jewish aspirations.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Sander’s appointment of West must be taken as signaling his final break with the Jewish people.

West’s resume, at first glance, suggests that he is an absolute genius.  He has degrees from the most prestigious institutions in the world and he has held the very highest academic rank at both Harvard and Princeton.  Can a man with these (paper) credentials be as ignorant, as pretentious, as hateful and as anti-Semitic as his detractors will have him be ?

You be the judge.  You may first like to read an essay by Leon Wieseltier, who finds that the many books and articles by West are “almost completely worthless.”  Or you may look at an article by David Horowitz, who details West’s close collaboration with just about all the radical Black anti-Semites of our day.  If that isn’t enough, you might like to explore West’s behavior after he had a disagreement with Harvard”s Larry Summers.  West referred to Summers, with obvious anti-Semitic intent, as “the Ariel Sharon of American higher education.” Five Princeton professors, in a letter to the New York Times, tried to call West to order on this. “Such an analogy carries innuendoes and implications regarding both President Summers and Prime Minister Sharon that many on the Princeton faculty find highly inappropriate, indeed repugnant and intolerable,” they wrote.

Now it is true that West’s malice is not restricted to Jews.  As reported by Chez Pazienza (in an article entitled “Colonel West Does Not Deserve a Say in the Democratic Party Platform”) West has been on a scurrilous warfare against Barak Obama:

During a live appearance on CNN, West claimed Obama had been “niggerized,” with the exact quote being, “The first black president has become the first niggerized black president.” When pressed by an obviously aghast Poppy Harlow, West elaborated: “A niggerized black person is a black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy.” … West’s personal obsession with Barack Obama had finally truly overwhelmed any good judgment he happened to have left.

Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist” although neither his philosophy nor his procedures resemble very much the socialism of traditional socialist organizations.

To begin, Sanders is not affiliated with a socialist party, nor is he in any way bound to collaborative activity with other self-described socialists. He is pretty much a solo player, which has led even people who are generally sympathetic to him to doubt his effectiveness.   Nor are there any of the usual appurtenances of socialist political work.  The International is not intoned by him or his co-workers.  Nobody is a “comrade.”

Sanders appears to have had only fleeting connections to other socialists of the past.  In no way can he fairly be called a Stalinist, nor, to listen to his speeches, does he seem to rely on the teachings of Karl Marx.  Aside from some pie-in-the-sky demands like free college for all,   his rhetoric is one of fairly simple-minded resentment and envy:  the “millionaires and the billionaires” are at fault, as is, in his idiolect, “Wall Shtreet.”  But there are more than a few echoes of totalitarian proclivities;  in his past as in his present, he has found much to admire in the Stalinist dictatorships of Cuba and Central America.   In brief, the creed by which Sanders has marked his opposition to the Jewish community is not so much the socialism of the twentieth century but rather a fairly idiosyncratic doctrine of strong resentments and naked class envy.  (His favorite villains tend to be rich or famous Jews:  Benjamin Netanyahu, Henry Kissinger, Sheldon Adelson.)

While Sanders has apparently had two Jewish parents, he seems to have no meaningful personal connections to the Jewish community.  He had a number of wives and domestic partners, but none of these, as far as I could gather, have been Jewish, nor, apparently, are any of his children. He says that he spent some months as a youngster on an (unnamed) Israeli kibbutz, and he also says that he has (unnamed) relatives in Israel.  But such Jewish ties seem to play little role in his life.   There is no information of his ever having been associated with a synagogue or other Jewish organization. Does he observe any Jewish rituals or holidays ?  Does Judaism play a role in his life as a husband or father ? Not very likely.

A person who has had Jewish parents is conventionally thought of as Jewish, especially if he has not formally embraced a non-Jewish religious faith.  In Sanders’ case, I think this identification is misleading.  I think that it is more descriptively correct to think of him as an apostate from Judaism.

There are no doubt many individuals in America today who, born Jewish, have drifted out of Judaism by way of their practices and associations.  If we can call all such persons apostates, the case of Sanders is still somewhat different insofar as he actively hostile to the Jewish community, i.e. he is not just an apostate  but a hostile apostate. Others, indeed, fall into this category, most prominently Noam Chomsky, whose enmities are of course much sharper than those of Sanders.  But Sanders  plays a role no other hostile Jewish apostate has played in the course of American history:  he has achieved a public prominence and a public influence that is entirely unprecedented.

I dare say that American Jews and the Jews of the world will survive Mr. Bernie Sanders;  we have survived far worse.  But that is not to say that the Sanders phenomenon is either benign or harmless.

Senator Sanders, Ask the Pope to Come Clean !

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Open Letter to Senator Sanders:  Help to Open Up  the Secret  Vatican Archives !

So Bernie Sanders, in the very midst of the crucial primary fight in New York, is taking time off to travel to the Vatican.   He hopes, he says, to see the Pope of Rome.  Whether the Vatican invited him on its own initiative or whether the Senator wrangled the invitation himself is a matter of conflicting reports.

Some weeks ago Sanders could not find the time to address AIPAC, as all the other candidates did.  Nor could he find the time, last year, to attend a joint session of Congress to listen to Netanyahu of Israel.  Well, every man must have his own priorities.

All this aside, here is a great opportunity now for this self-described “democratic socialist” to strike a blow for those democratic values that he professes, viz., in this case, transparency of the historical record.

Scholars are divided over whether the Nazi-era Catholic Church was complicit in the Holocaust.  Many professional scholars suspect a (greater or lesser) Catholic collaboration with the Nazis, while the clerical apologists (of course) deny any such complicity.  So far so good.  The question now, as is explained by the excellent article by Gerald Posner, is whether the Vatican will allow outside scholars to have access to the secret Vatican archives that deal with this period.  True, the Vatican has itself published a certain number of documents, but these were all selected and vetted by the Catholic hierarchy — hardly a confidence-inspiring procedure.

Given the authoritarian governance of the Vatican, Pope Francis can open all these archives by a single stroke of his papal pen.  Sanders has said repeatedly that the is a huge, a very huge fan of this Pope.  So here is my challenge to the Senator.  Make a simple request of your hero:  Holy father, for God’s sake, open up those archives !

Inequality in Israel: Propaganda vs. Analysis

Those of us who are concerned for the quality of Israeli democracy are often challenged by statistical findings that, on the surface, appear to present a bleak picture. Along these lines, Rabbi Samuel Weintraub of the synagogue to which I belong, Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, recently came back from a trip to Israel and sent a communication to his congregation as follows:

[The] Biblical principles of social responsibility and unity … guided the modern
nation of Israel in its early decades.

Sadly, that tradition has been drastically weakened. … In Israel, as in the United
States, the economic fault line also intersects with other social fault lines, in its case
the divides between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews, between Jewish and Palestinian
Arab Israelis, and between residents of the country’s center and its geographic
periphery. For examples, Arab primary and high school students receive one fifth
the governmental budgetary allotment as their Jewish peers.
….

The Rabbi gives no source for these figures, so the reader has no way of checking on the methodology and indeed the veracity underlying such findings, so skepticism must be advised. And skepticism must increase in view of the simple bi-variate model that we are asked to accept: one single variable — ethnicity — is posited as the cause of the inequality variables.

Students of social inequality have learned to study the phenomenon within a nexus of other variables, among them educational level, age, and cultural factors such as occupational preferences. As it happens, the eminent Israeli social scientist Steven Plaut has undertaken a thorough multi-variate examination of ethnic inequality in Israel, and has been able to demonstrate that the observed income differences between Arabs and Jews vanish when controlled by educational, age, and cultural factors.

Of course, not everyone can be a social scientist. But is it too much to ask that those who publish ostensible social data consult the work of experts before venturing to express an opinion ?

A Jew’s Guide to Synagogue Life

A Jew’s Guide to Synagogue Life

It seems like a new development, but of course it has been under way for some time:  a wave of extreme assimilationism, much in the form of anti-Israel agitation, in non-Orthodox American synagogues.  I am writing from Brownstone Brooklyn where this neo-Hellenism seems particularly rampant.

First, there is the extreme form, (still) relatively rare:  “brit shalom.”

Here is a frequently-heard witticism at a brit (or bris), a circumcision ceremony: iz shver tsu zeyn a yid, it’s hard to be a Jew.  But now there are people who have found a way around the problem:  let’s not do it, the circumcision, let’s just say we did. This “non-cutting naming ceremony for Jewish boys”  is disingenuously called Brit Shalom, provided by  the “Jews Against Circumcision.  We are told that there are 216 “celebrants” who will (for a fee) perform the service, among them 132 rabbis, or at least people who say they are.

As it happens, two of these “celebrants” — David Mivasair of Vancouver and Brat Rosen of Chicago —  enjoy considerable  public attention because of their leadership positions in the radical anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace.  Both men hold ordination from the  Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, home of the bulk of anti-Israel rabbis.  But despite each man’s vigorous protestation, there is doubt about the extent to which either can be called Jewish at all.  While Mivasair had his nominally Jewish congregation in Vancouver, he also, at the same time, held the title of Chaplain at the United Church of Canada.  Rosen, while Rabbi of  Tzedek Chicago,  is also, simultaneously, the Midwest Regional Director of the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee,

An explicit embrace of non-Jewish religion, though rare among self-described Jews, is not confined to men like Mivasair and Rosen who affiliate with Christian groups.  The late Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the fathers of the Jewish Renewal movement, was also a practitioner of both Buddhism and Sufism.  At the time of his death he held the (modestly named) World Wisdom Chair at the (Buddhist) Naropa Institute of Colorado, and, if that weren’t enough, he was also described as a Sufi shaikh, whatever that means.

But the gravamen of the radical new assimilationism among certain  non-Orthodox rabbis does not lie in any explicit syncretism with other religions.  It lies in the embrace of the trendy new philosophy of “human rights” — sometimes called a movement for “social justice” — which tends to override any loyalty to the Jewish people.   Its organizational exponents, to varying degrees, are the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the New York based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), T’ruah “the rabbinic call for human rights,” and JStreet.  All these groups have substantial adherence by non-Orthodox rabbis.  All have special boards of rabbinic advisors.

No straight-forward parsing of “human rights” or “social justice” will reveal the significance of these terms for  these groups; the terms do not mean here what they seem to mean.  Broadly speaking, the victimology of the new Hellenism embraces Muslims and (sometimes) African Americans.  In the very prolific propaganda literature of these groups, Jews are (almost) never mentioned as aggressed-upon, only, generally, as aggressors.

Take the newly-found sin of “Islamophobia” which the Jewish Hellenizing groups never tire of castigating.  As I have shown for 2008 data, hate crimes against American Jews, proportionately, are four times as frequent as hate crimes against Muslims. The most recent data show the persistence of the trend:  Jews are far more often targeted than Muslims.  Yet none of our Hellenizing groups, insofar as I can see, mention anti-Semitism as an evil.

My attention to Hellenizing rabbis was recently piqued by the reaction to the current intifada by two Brooklyn Brownstone rabbis.

The first of these rabbis was Carie Carter of the Park Slope Jewish Center, a synagogue which I have attended in the past at the invitation of family members.  Someone shared with me the rabbi’s message to her congregation dated Oct. 13.  It contains a listing of violent incidents in Israel and the Palestinian territories, treating the recent knifing attacks against Jews as of the same quality as the loss of life of the Arab assailants.  Assailants and victims are treated equally.  Rabbi Carter sits on the board of JFREJ, and as part of her letter she asked her members to “join me in choosing your favorite organization that works on behalf of co-existence in Israel and Palestine.”  I wrote to the rabbi on October 14, as follows: “Dear Rabbi Carie,Your letter suggests that Jews and Arabs are equally at fault.  This leaves out the root of the problem: the ongoing incitement to violence by the political, religious, and media leadership of Palestinian Arabs.  There is nothing comparable on the Jewish side.Our fellow Jews in Israel need our support, by way of solidarity trips and other action.  They do not need advice from the self-styled “progressives” of Brooklyn “peace” groups.”  My letter has remained unanswered.

My communication with my own rabbi, Samuel H. Weintraub of the Kane Street Synagogue, was a bit longer but, essentially, as one-sided as my correspondence with Rabbi Carter.  Here are some highlights:

On October 16, shortly after news reached us about the current intifada,  I wrote to Rabbi Weintraub to suggest that KSS organize an emergency solidarity trip to Israel for Synagogue members.  I included some details on how such a trip could be organized, and I offered to contribute financially.  This letter has remained unanswered to this day.

On October 20, Rabbi Weintraub sent a message to his members in which he expressed sentiments similar to Rabbi Carter’s.  While he never expressed criticism of the Arab elites that incite violence against Jews, he was careful to find fault on the side of the Israelis:  “We are now in a time when anti-democratic and triumphalist groups are exerting great pressures on political processes in Israel. It is important to also broadcast strongly the voice of democracy, tolerance, diversity and open discourse.’ And, like Rabbi Carter, he urged his members to support leftist groups: “You can also strengthen your support for organizations and groups in Israel which reflect your deepest Jewish values.”

I wrote to the rabbi to voice my concern over his stand, resulting in a brief, inconclusive correspondence between us.

Finally, Rabbi Weintraub once more wrote to his members on December 9.

In this new missive the Rabbi attacks Donald Trump for his allegedly “vile” statements.  I am no supporter of Trump, but the rabbi’s statements here involve the synagogue in partisan political activity incompatible with its 501(c)3 tax status.  Pew has a very detailed discussion of the IRS rules; it is quite clear that KSS is in violation.

But another aspect of this letter is of even greater concern:  the rabbi calls on his members to go into the streets and demonstrate shoulder to shoulder with Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, with the Arab American Association of New York, and with T’ruah.  He could have added JFREJ, which also sponsored this event.

1)  The Arab American Association of New York.  On the surface, an anodyne grouping devoted to social services for its immigrant community.  But a bit of research with google reveals a leadership enmeshed with anti-Israel activity.  This is true of Mirna Haidar, the “Lead Organizer and Advocacy Trainer” of the group, and even more so of Linda Sarsour, its Executive Director.

2) Congregation Kolot Chayeinu of Brooklyn has been front and center of anti-Israel activity in the New York area for a number of years.  The rabbi is Ellen Lippmann, a board member of JFREJ.  The president of the synagogue is Cyndy Greenberg, a leading member of Jewish Voice for Peace. In Rabbi’s Lippmann’s public statements there is always a certain nod and a wink in her opposition to Israel;  no, she has never publicly said that Israel should be immediately destroyed.  But she has not been able to fool the folks at Mondoweiss, a radical anti-Israel site, which says that Lippmann is “highly regarded.”  There is also some doubt about whether this congregation can be called Jewish at all, at least in the strong sense of the word.  Rabbi Lippmann has a wife,  Kathryn Conroy, who is not Jewish but is nevertheless recognized as the congregation’s “rebbetzin.”  Coroy explains that she will not convert to Judaism because  “I cannot convert to anything because I am already who I am and what I am going to continue to be.”

3) Truah, “the rabbinic call for human rights,” was formerly called Rabbis for Human Rights.  Like JStreet, it is  heavily subsidized by George Soros. (Urgent suggestion:  get the free download of Alexander Joffe’s brilliant, essential monograph “Bad Investment.  George Soros and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”) T’ruah has a very long list of rabbinic “chaverim.” Many are fully supportive of Israel, but the list also contains just about every rabbi who has declared against the Jewish state.  The “human rights” that it champions are not those of Jews.

4)  JFREJ, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.  As I have said in previous posts here and here, there is no more anti-Israel group in the United States, though, as I have also explained, it takes care to veil its character to the casual observer.  But now it has released its 25-year jubileum publication which should lift the veil a bit for anyone who cares to know the facts.  For example, we find certain names among its leadership that are also prominently associated with the Jewish Voice for Peace:  Cynthia Greenberg, Donna Nevel, Marilyn Neimark, and probably others.  Moreover, there is a place of honor for the late Henry Scharzschild, who was given an award by JFREJ some time after he announced  “I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.”

By way of summarizing my complaint about the Hellenized rabbinate of our days, I present some summary data about a number of synagogues of which I have some acquaintance.  For each, I  give the name of the senior rabbi, followed by the names of any other rabbis associated with the group.  In some cases these are assistant rabbis, in other cases they are rabbis emeriti.  For each name, I supply affiliation, or lack thereof, with five of the groups I have discussed:  Brit Shalom, JVP, JFREJ, T’ruah, and JStreet (which I have not discussed because its chracteristics will be familiar to the reader.  My own previous discussion can be found here and here.) Most of the synagogues are in Brooklyn, but, for reasons of comparison, I also list some that are in Manhattan and elsewhere..

I have placed the synagogues into three groups:  anti-Israel, pro-Israel, and gray area.  I have made these placements on the basis of my own experience with these groups, so to some extent there is an element of subjectivity.  I have been most heavily influenced, on the one hand,  by whether or not I have seen a rabbi at an AIPAC meeting and/or the annual Salute to Israel parade, which would place him in the pro-Israel group. On the other hand, a rabbi’s hostile or questionable affiliations and statements would place him in one of the other groups.

I might summarize the results as follows:  while not absolutely foolproof, a synagogue’s relationship to the Hellenizing organizations is a good guideline for a Jew in search of authentically Jewish community.

The Anti-Israel Synagogues

Synagogue

Rabbi(s)

Brit Shalom

JVP

JFREJ

T’ruah

JStreet

Ahavat Olam

David Mivasair

yes

yes

no

yes

no

Tzedek Chicago

Brant Rosen

yes

yes

no

yes

no

Beit Simchat Torah

Sharon Kleinbaum

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Rachel Weiss

no

no

no

yes

no

Ayelet Cohen

no

no

yes

yes

yes

David Bauer

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

Kolot Chayenu

Ellen Lippmann

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Gray Area Synagogues

Synagogue

Rabbi(s)

Brit Shalom

JVP

JFREJ

T’ruah

JStreet

Mt.Sinai,Bkln

Seth Wax

no

no

yes

yes

no

JosephPotasnik

no

no

no

no

mo

EastMidwoodJ.C.

Matt Carl

no

no

no

no

yes

AlvinKass

no

no

no

no

no

B’naiJeshurun

J. RolandoMatalon

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Marcelo Bronstein

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Felicia Sol

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Park Slope J.C.

CarieCarter

no

no

yes

yes

no

BethElohim,Bkln

Rachel Timoner

no

no

no

yes

yes

Marc Katz

no

no

yes

yes

yes

GeraldWeider

no

no

no

yes

no

Kane St. Syn.

Sam Weintraub

no

no

no

yes

no

Valerie Lieber

no

no

yes

yes

yes

Some Pro-Israel Synagogues

Synagogue

Rabbi(s)

Brit Shalom

JVP

JFREJ

T’ruah

JStreet

Or Zarua

Scott Bolton

no

no

no

no

no

Harlan Wechsler

no

no

no

no

no

Sinai Temple, LA

DavidWolpe

no

no

no

no

no

Town & Village NYC

LaurenceSebert

no

no

no

yes

no

Rabbi Weintraub has not responded to my request for comments on a pre-publication version of this posting.

THE THREE POSTULATES OF PROGRESSIVE AMERICAN JUDAISM

The Three Postulates of Progressive American Judaism

Postulate:  something taken as self-evident or assumed without proof.

“Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse,” according to the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews. We live in an unprecedented environment of assimilation — Hellenization — of which political Progressive American Judaism is an important concomitant.  Perhaps a quarter of American Jews seem to embrace it to one extent or another.

Some preliminary definitions and disclaimers. 1)  When I say Progressives, I mean self-styled political Progressives.  2)  Not all Progressives conform in all particulars to my descriptions here.  I use the organization JStreet as an exemplar, and my descriptions relate most particularly to this group and to the individuals associated with it.  3) With this focus in mind, the folks I discuss are not exactly foes of israel — certainly not in their own mind — but neither are they exactly friends.  So while on one side they differ from radical enemies of Israel like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler (a small minority), they are also distinct from anyone, whether sometimes critical of Israel or not, who accepts and supports the idea of Israel as a Jewish state (the majority of American Jews).   So, to repeat, I speak of all those who see JStreet as, more or less, an expression of their own views.

A.  The Postulate of Israeli Guilt.

Mr. Peter Beinart, perhaps the most prominent writer associated with JStreet, opens his 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism with an anecdote that he has gleaned from a video.  It seems that an Arab was arrested for stealing water from a Jewish settlement;  the scene was captured on the video.  From this scene, but without any further investigation whatever, Beinart concludes that a grave injustice was done to the Palestinian.  Moreover, Beinart vows, as a result of the lesson that he has learned from the video, he will instruct his children “that unless American Jews help end the occupation that desecrates Israel’s founding ideals, this is what Zionism will become, a movement that fails the test of Jewish power.”

Absent an investigation of the circumstances that lead to the arrest of the Arab man, how does Mr. Beinart know that a grave injustice was done ?  Of course he does not, as Bret Stephens has pointed out in a trenchant review of the book. But even as a religious zealot never questions the postulates of his faith, it does not occur to Mr. Beinart to question the postulate of Israeli guilt.

Note here that the occupation, seen as undesirable by the Israeli government and the majority of the Jewish population of Israel, is presented here by Mr. Beinart as an Israeli crime.  Never mind that Israel has repeatedly, for instance through a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, tried to extricate itself from the burden of the occupation.  Except by those who accept the postulate of Israeli guilt, it is difficult to exculpate the Palestinian elites from responsibility for the stalemate on this question.

After the March re-election of Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel, Mr. Beinart suggested that the U.S. government should “punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government” for holding to its own policies.  One can discuss with people with whom one disagrees, but whom does one “punish,” as Mr. Beinart suggests ? Obviously those who are guilty.

The postulate of Israeli guilt has infected all statements on Israel by these Progressives.  I have seen it, for example, in statements by Progressive rabbis in response to the current intifada in Israel.  Following the lead of JStreet, these Progressives hold that the knifings, shootings, and other murders of Jews, by Palestinian Arabs, are as much the fault of the Israelis as of the Arabs. Go figure.

  Partners for Progressive Israel  (PPI) has gone further:  it suggests that the current violence is actually (mostly) Israel’s fault.  PPI is a small group of self-styled Progressive Jews who support the Meretz party in Israel. PPI’s membership overlaps largely with that of JStreet.

What are we to make of this postulate of Israeli guilt ?  Where does it come from ?  Similar to the question of anti-Semitism, to which it is related, it must remain a mystery to those who insist on seeing man as a rational actor.  And no, our Progressives are not rational.  This irrationality again comes into play when we consider the second of our postulates:

B.  The Postulate of an Immoral Right Wing

Here is a précis of some of the Basic Principles by which the Progressive Judaism of our time likes to define itself:  1)  We support the core democratic values among which there is the principle  of government by the people, as opposed to, for instance, government by an elite.  2) The world can be divided into the Left (good) and the Right Wing (bad).  3)  The Right Wing is, well, not Progressive.  It is, in fact, regressive.  It represent the interests of the billionaires (shades of Bernie Sanders !) and other bad actors.  4) The Israeli government is Right Wing and therefore reprehensible.

Now how do we know that the Israeli government is Right Wing ?  Neither Netanyahu nor the members of his coalition use the term to refer to themselves.  In fact, in the contexts in which our Progressives use the term, Right Wing is no more than an epithet, a term of abuse.  I have blogged on this topic before, here and here. It is of course true that in other contexts, more neutral observers, particularly the media, will refer to the Likud and allied parties as “right wing”  without an implication of moral judgement. But be that as it may, The Progressives’ syllogism — Right Wing is bad;  Likud is Right Wing; hence Likud is bad —  is seriously compromised  when tested by empirical data.

If, as Progressive doctrine holds, the Right represents the interests of privilege while the Left represents the interests of oppressed masses, it should follow, in accordance with the democratic principle that people must be trusted to know their own interests, that the less privileged in society will vote Left, more privileged Right.  But generally speaking, just about all over the world with some exceptions, the very opposite holds true.  Here is a representative study of Israeli voters in the 2003 elections, conducted by Michael Shalev and Gal Levy.  (The full study is available here.)

table

The most relevant line for our purpose here is the last, which gives the social-economic status of the average voter of the different political parties.  The authors report what they call standard scores, which are more commonly called z-scores, and which I will translate into the more common percentile scores.  So we learn that the average Shas  (“right-wing”) voter is in the 21st  percentile of the population;  the average Likudnik (also “right-wing”) in the 41st, the average Labor voter (moderate Left) in the 56th, and the average Meretz voter (Left, strongly approved by the American-Jewish Progressive PPI) is in the 72nd.  (The numbers for the centrist Shinui are 61,  69 for Russian olim.)  In other words, the electorate of the current governing parties come from the distinctly less advantaged while the splinter Meretz group, so beloved by American Progressive Judaism, attracts the over-privileged.

Of course our Progressives can reply, as Marxists sometimes do, that the poor, the downtrodden, the toiling masses do not know what is good for them.  Only we, the enlightened elite, we have the knowledge and the wisdom and the virtue.  Progressives can say that, but only at the expense of repudiating their profession of belief in democratic self-government.  You can’t have it both ways.

C.  The Postulate of Palestinian Innocence

One of the most striking experiences in reading Mr. Beinart and his comrades is their innocence — in the culpable meaning of that term — of any appreciation for the cultural context of the current Israeli-Arab conflict.  The hell that is today’s Syria, the millions of refugees from Muslim countries, the unspeakable violence, internal and exported, of radical Islamism, none of this finds its way into the Progressive media.  So the question that arises for non-Progressives — if Israel is the cause of violence by Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories, who is responsible for the even greater violence by Arabs and Islamists  in the rest of the world ? — never seems to faze our Progressives.

The major cultural factors of Palestinian society that impinge on the Israeli conflict may be summarized under four headings:

1) There is  an Islamic culture of violence.  A very recent, very thorough, very informative review of Palestinian opinion data by Daniel Polisar shows the deep-rooted nature of the problem.  The companion piece by Amir Taheri adds an important historical perspective.

2) There is a pervasive, quasi-unanimous hatred of Jews among the Palestinian masses, documented in the Polisar study.

3)  There is  a constant incitement to violence on the part of the Palestinian elites, documented by an ongoing basis by MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch.

4) The Palestinian school system, in particular, educates the young to hate the Jews, to reject Israel, and to embrace violence.  This too is documented by MEMRI and PMW.

All these cultural factors in Palestinian society are notorious to all — to all, that is, save our Progressives.  What makes them turn a blind eye ?  I suggest that it is their postulate, their unshakable,  irrational belief in a Palestinian people without agency, a people, in the condescending world of the Progressives, who are as innocent as the Israelis are guilty.

We come back to where we started.  The Hellenizing quarter, approximately,  of American Jews, ashamed as they may be of their pushy and over-assertive and over-sensitive co-religionists, seem to have embraced a fairly new stance of Progressivism.  This stance appears to them enlightened and universalist and humane — much more humane than thou. But these new Progressives have paid a great price for their considerable satisfaction with themselves.  And that price is the illogic and incoherence of dogmatic postulates that cannot stand the test of empirical reality.

  

“Right-Wing” as a Term of Vilification

bloc2

It is a commonplace of self-styled liberal and left-wing groups to speak of the Israeli government and all its supporters as “right-wing.”  I have shown this before in my posting concerning JStreet, see here.  In this respect JStreet is an altogether typical example of bien pensant opinion.

Offhand, “right wing” appears to be a neutral term of description. But here is the problem.  Neither Netanyahu, nor the Likud party, nor any of their supporters will refer to themselves as “right wing.” What other justification is there then for the usage ? Those who use the epithet presumably wish to convey  that their target is somehow less humane, less humanitarian, than they are themselves.  But a moment’s reflection reveals, given the nature of those who make it,  that this claim is difficult to support.  

Unlike “left wing,” “right wing” is not anything that anyone (generally) calls himself.  While the term “left” or “left wing” features in the names of numerous groups and parties, both in the United States and throughout the world, I could find “right” as a self-appellation in only one case in the post-war period, that of the short-lived German Deutsche Rechtspartei, which was extant from 1946 to 1950, and whose followers soon learned to drop “right wing” and found other labels (conservative, nationalist, etc.) to refer to themselves.  By contrast, there is now a large so-named Left party in Germany, and many groups in Europe as well as the United States proudly proclaim their adherence to “the Left.”

So if (almost) nobody describes himself as “right-wing,”  and since there are no objective criteria that are apparent, where is the justification for using the term ?  The fact is that there is no such justification, or rather there is no justification other than there may be for abusive language in general.

The history of the left-right terminology is generally traced to certain seating arrangements in the French National Assembly of 1789.  Since then, “left” (but not “right”) has been used as a self-description by numerous  Stalinist, socialist, and anarchist groups.  It is true that all such groups thought — and think — of themselves as more enlightened and more humane than anyone else, but their actual practice ranged from the most extreme repression (Stalinism) to the more or less benign social democracy of Scandinavia.

The use of “right-wing” or just “right” as a vituperative was energetically promoted by the Stalinists during the middle of the twentieth century.  The Moscow show trial of 1938 against the old Bolsheviks was branded, by Moscow, as directed against an “Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights [sic] and Trotskyites.”  The latter are  explained by the Great Stalin himself as follows:   “Contemporary Trotskyism is not a political tendency in the working class, but [rather] an unprincipled, ideal-less band of wreckers, saboteurs, agents, spies, murdereres [sic], a band of accursed enemies of the working class, acting for hire of intelligence organs of foreign governments.”

To sum up:  “right wing” has no descriptive value.  While superficially a neutral term of description, it is, upon examination,  no more than  a term of abuse.

The Conceits of Social Justice

soc just jews plot

The Conceits of “Social Justice”

The year was 1940, and I began, a boy of fourteen summers, my career as a voyeur of fringe groups.

Sundays were a particular treat. In the afternoon the old Socialist Labor Party hosted lectures in an Eight Avenue hotel. There was much talk of industrial unionism and other forms of very democratic arrangement, even though the Party itself (now all but defunct) was ruled with an iron hand, for fifty-five years, by the apparatchik Arnold Petersen (1885-1976).

That meeting ended early in the afternoon, to the sound of the SLP’s own version of the Internationale. But no sooner was the Final Conflict concluded than I headed one block east, to Broadway in the fifties, where the Christian Front of Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was picketing radio station WMCA. The station styled itself “at the top of the dial,” but to Fr Coughlin’s folks it was “at the bottom of the pile.” It seems that the station had incurred the Father’s displeasure by banishing his anti-Semitic rants from its airways. I must say that I did enjoy this picketing show, more so than the staid SLP lectures to the west.

And I learned, for the first time, about Social Justice. This was Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic magazine until the Roosevelt administration, with the help of a friendly bishop, found ways of silencing the “radio priest.” Looking back now, I must say that I was never struck by the enormity of the conceit — the enormity of the falsehood — of presenting the Christian Front ideology as a call for justice, social or otherwise.

Now here we are, some seventy-five years later, and “social justice” (SJ) is once again what zealots say they are after. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Marxist slogans like “class struggle,” “socialist revolution,” “anti-Fascism,” etc., are much less frequent in the self-styled Left than the shrill self-righteous clamor for “social justice.”

It is now almost 30 years ago that the distinguished political scientist Guenter Lewy published his Peace and Revolution. The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism (1988) in which he traced the slide of pacifist groupings, more particularly the Quakers, from a principled pacifist refusal to taking sides in war to a shrill anti-Americanism and an equally shrill agitation against Israel. Today’s Quakers see grave violations of Palestinian human rights but cannot spare any sympathy for Jewish victims of Arab terror. They see human rights abuses in America but not in Communist China. This new stance, which had its beginnings roughly at the time of the Viet Nam war, is emblematic of “social justice” of our day. More than anything, it means enlistment in certain very selected “progressive causes” regardless of the moral context of this engagement. And at the same time, it means a determined blindness to basic humanitarian issues.

The prominent “social justice” causes of today include homosexual rights, “Black lives matter,” and the “boycott, divestment, sanction” (BDS) movement to delegitimize the state of Israel. What these movements all have in common is that they are movements of enmity; they are directed against selected target groups which are most generally labelled as “right wing.” In this these movements stand in stark contrast to efforts that seek to improve the human condition by, for instance, eliminating poverty and disease or, to give another example. efforts to promote the education of slum dwellers. Humanitarian efforts of this kind, insofar as they are not directed against “right wing” enemies, stand outside the purview of “social justice.”

The current SJ campaign for the legalization of homosexual marriage illustrates the irrationality of all the different strands of SJ. There is a rational case that can made for the legality of such marriages, based on the particular circumstances of homosexual couples. But it is unreasonable to stipulate an overall “human right” that demands “social justice” for such arrangements. If we were indeed obliged, on general moral or ethical grounds, to support the right of anyone to marry anyone, we would have to support, to give just one example, the “man-boy” arrangement which the German Green Party did indeed advocate some years ago. If “social justice” were a meaningful imperative in this area, what about such justice for polygamists, or, for that matter, for those whose tastes run to inter-species arrangements ? The self-righteousness of gay marriage advocates who see a general “social justice” on their side, but who resist, just like the rest of us, the demands of polygamists, pedophiles, incestors, etc. etc., points to the irrationality and inherent hypocrisy of the whole “social justice” enterprise.

The most prominent SJ movement of our day, perhaps, is the one self-styled as Black Lives Matter (BLM). I have analyzed this phenomenon in two previous postings, here and here. Very briefly, this movement protests certain well-publicized cases in which Black people were killed by police. But Black-on-Black homicide, which BLM pointedly ignores , is 1,127 times more frequent, in an average year. Moreover, a recent New York Times analysis shows that “eliminating the biases of all police officers would do little to materially reduce the total number of African-American killings.” In short, BLM, one of the preeminent SJ movements of our day, is simply not concerned with a very real and very pressing humanitarian crisis, i.e. the crushing disadvantages of life in the Black ghetto.

I will not here dwell on the moral hypocrisy of the anti-Israel BDS movement; too much has been written on this topic for me to be able to offer new insights. Put briefly, BDS pounces on all violence emanating from the Jewish side, completely ignoring the violence and terror on the other. Moreover, BDS is absolutely silent on the humanitarian disaster of the Arab populations who live under Islamist rule.

The City of New York is replete with a number of self-styled social justicers. There are Jews Against Israel of various stripes. There are Quakers and Brooklyn-for-Peacers, Queers Against This or That … unlike the days when the old Communist Party ran all such shows, the zealot scene is now full of independent operators. Among the more exotic of these groups there is the Granny Peace Brigade, earnest old ladies (though, I must say, generally younger than I), who, very much like Quakers, see much criminality in the governments of the United States and Israel. Problems with Islamists ? Not that they have heard of. If you wish to test the earnestness of their humanitarian commitments, ask them about the girls kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram. No, if these ladies have heard of these girls at all, they are of no concern to Peace Grannies.

At the time of the bloody Bolshevik revolution with all its conceit of bettering the human condition, a critic remarked that one single nurse in a hospital accomplishes far more in that regard than does Lenin with all his Bolsheviks. And so, mutatis mutandis, there is much more humanitarian value in the work of those who strive for the elimination of hunger and poverty and ignorance than in all the “social justice” movements taken together. In any case, the former will do less harm than the latter.

Facts Matter ! Part 2

FACTS MATTER ! Part 2

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has found its lyricist in the person of Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of a just-out 42000-word remonstrance, Between the World and Me.  Its thesis is simple:  white America is out to destroy the black body;  what happened in Ferguson and on Staten Island is no more and no less than the same murderous path taken by white America since slavery, against the black body. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” (Emphasis in original.)  Moreover, the dust jacket of  Coates’ pamphlet, both in front and in back, contains an urgent recommendation by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison:  “This is required reading.”

As I have shown in my previous posting, there are roughly 1100 black-on-black murders, annually, for each case of police brutality alleged by BLM.  This is not a circumstance that Coates will acknowledge explicitly.  But he is enough of an honest autobiographer to describe the cultural factors surrounding what he describes as  his chronic fears as a young man:  the violence in the streets, the beatings he received from his father, the violence of black neighborhoods.  But he rejects any sort of agency on the part of the black community:  “To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Let’s see now.  Black men kill other black men, and that’s the fault of white America.  I am sure that there are Nobel laureates (in literature) who will be persuaded by this argument, but is it  coherent ?

In stark contrast to the Coates volume we have have another recent publication, The Cultural Matrix, by the distinguished Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson and his associates.  No Nobel prize winners, to my knowledge, have endorsed this one.  And while the Coates volume is a current Amazon best-seller, ranking #25 for all books and #1 for books on African Americans, the Patterson work ranks but #207,816 for all books and #810 for books on African Americans.  Not much worldly acclaim for this outstanding, comprehensive piece of scholarship.

Patterson and his team do not hesitate to examine all the “structural” constraints on the black population, the persisting racism, poverty, residential segregation, over-incarceration.  But neither do they shrink from exploring the “cultural” factors, the violence of a minority that endangers all in black neighborhoods, the unstable family structure that damages so much of black youth.  In short, the black population is not only victim but is also an agent of its own plight.

As it happens, the Patterson volume is also a bargain.  At a list price of $45 and with its hefty 555,000 words, the cost comes to 8¢ per 1000 words.  Compare this to the little Coates volume, at $24 for 4200 words, or fully 57¢ per 1000.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 2015

The New Yorker of Sept.14 has an absolutely brilliant article on this subject by Kelefa Sanneh, Body Count.

UPDATE, October 3, 2015

Here is another brilliant piece by Kelefa Sanneh, viz. a review of Patterson volume that I mention above.  See “Don’t Be Like That,” in the New Yorker of Feb. 9, 2005.

UPDATE October 25, 2015

Here is a New York Times analysis, dated October 16, Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say

Occasional Writings by Werner Cohn, wernercohn@mac.com