All posts by wernercohn@mac.com

Mr. Mivasair Goes to Hebron

Mr. David Mivasair of Vancouver has done all he can, it would seem, to tell the world that he doesn’t like things Jewish, and certainly not things Israeli:

* He has declared that in no way will he “support” Israel;  on the contrary, he has supported Hamas killings of Israeli civilians.

* While he has an ordination from the (Jewish) Reconstructionist denomination, and while he is pleased to refer to himself as “rabbi,” he has also, simultaneously with that activity, been part of the clergy of the United Church of Canada.

*. He does not believe in the Jewish practice of Brit Milah (circumcision) for Jewish boys;  instead he will (for a fee) preside over an “intactivist” “Brit Shalom.”

Etc.  I have written a bit about him before, but a simple google search will tell you more than you probably want to know.

Well, there is a new development.  Mr. Mivasair is making a pilgrimage to “Palestine” next month (and wants you to give him money to do this), and guess where he is going in “Palestine” — he is going to Hebron, ground zero of the Islamist assault on Jews in 1929, where 67 Jews (many of which were Yeshivah students) were murdered.

No, Hebron was not part of an Israeli-occupied territory.  Israel did not exist at the time, and the Jews there were not recent “settlers.”  They were part of the oldest Jewish community in the world.  Until the murders of 1929, there had never been a time since antiquity that Jews did not live in Hebron.  Today, this 1929 murder is celebrated by the Fatah organization as the work of “martyrs.”

Mr. Mivasair has promised that he will tell us about his trip upon his return.  What will he say about the 1929 murders ?

What We Must Know About Palestinian Public Opinion

polisar

Daniel Polisar

To those of us intensely interested in Israel, or Israel/Palestine, each day brings a barrage of new materials.  Much of it is propagandistic, for one side or the other, so we may be pardoned for fallen prey to a certain information fatigue.  Yes, yes, we know, we’ve heard it.  So when an exceptional piece of new scholarship becomes available, it risks being ignored.

And here is the impressive scholarship by Daniel Polisar (Shalem College, BA Princeton, PhD Harvard), in two separate articles in Mosaic, which is absolutely essential reading because it tells us in stupendous detail what the Palestinian Arabs want.  (No, it’s not co-existence with Jews.  Nor is it any kind of acceptance of a Jewish presence anywhere “from the river to the sea.”)

Polisar has examined over three hundred separate public opinion studies and has analyzed these with great discernment. Polar’s work needs to be in the mental library of all those concerned for Israel.  I would go further and say that those who have not studied  his work  actually have no place at any table of discussion on this topic.

Well, finally, I must say that Polisar’s work is not perfect.  He does not share with the reader enough technical detail concerning the sampling procedures of the studies that he considers.  But, given the scholarly tone and rigor of his work, I tend to trust his judgment about the adequacy of the polling procedures.

Here are the articles:

1). What Do Palestinians Want ?

2). Do Palestinians Want a Two-State Solution ?

The Clergyman’s Aura

The Reverend Al Sharpton preached his first sermon at the age of four.  But he was not formally ordained a clergyman until much later, when he was nine.  The alleged rabbinic ordination of the “spiritually progressive”  Michael Lerner of California (like our new President, thrice married) cannot be verified at all.   Moreover, a few minutes spent on Google will present anyone so minded with many opportunities for achieving rapid clerical ordination, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Other,  with little effort and at little or no cost.  On the other hand, the more demanding New York based  Rabbinical Seminary International” (under the same management as the “All Faiths Seminary International”) does require three long days of in-house training and a fee of $5000 for full, presumably legal ordination as rabbi.

Such aberrations within the clerical calling are not the norm for the whole profession.  But they point to more general problems.  First, not everyone can tell the impostor from the real thing.  Second, as is true in the medical profession, the most harmful of the charlatans often carry legitimate credentials.  And third, the line between the specious and the genuine is not always easily ascertainable.

The basic, insurmountable problem with the clerical profession lies in its borderless area of alleged competence.  True, the major religions all have a body of scripture and a further body of ritual that its clergy is expected to master.  But this core of expected competence is just the beginning.  In and by themselves these core subjects may qualify a person as an expert, perhaps a scholar of religion.  Ordination as clergy, on the other hand, involves something much larger, viz. the assumption of a spiritual aura which is never explicitly delimited.

In Roman Catholicism, this aura comes closest to being precisely defined.  A Catholic priest is said to have such supernatural powers as the forgiveness of sin and the  power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In other religions the clerical aura is more implied than expressed, but my Conservative Jewish denomination holds that a local rabbi, alone, has the power of mara d’atra, the power to decide on Jewish law in his locality.

More broadly, the aura of the clergy is generally understood to involve overall wisdom and righteousness.

Wisdom:  there seems to be an expectation that a clergyman’s advice is somehow superior to that of a random acquaintance.  Clergymen are known to dispense advice on how to lead better lives in their sermons and in private conversation, even though there is nothing in the training or background of a clergyman that would lead us to assume that, qua clergyman, his wisdom is more reliable than, say, your mother’s.  Often the clerical advice is wildly inappropriate to anyone with specialized experience.  I remember an occasion some years ago when I was present at a rabbi’s exhortation to his flock to be more productive in their professional lives.  No doubt aware of the fact that there were some academics in his audience, the rabbi opined that one should work on and complete “that paper you are working on.”  I noticed a junior professor who gave a knowing smile.  How apt, how true, how helpful, she seemed to be saying to herself.  But to anyone with some experience in academia, the urge to publish, while perhaps helpful in furthering a career, is more often than not an urge to perpetuate intellectual malfunction.  A more thoughtful advice would have been to study more, to do better research, and to refrain from publishing until you have something important to say.  In short, the rabbi’s advice was conventional, careerist, and basically unethical.

Clergymen are also presumed by those who respect them to lead exemplary lives.  The ones I have encountered have as many failed marriages, narcissistic behavior, and inadequate people skills as anyone else.  And yet we are expected to show them more deference than we show the waiter in a restaurant.  Why ?

Righteousness:  here I address myself particularly to the do-gooders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, but also to the liberal Protestant groups, the Unitarians, the Universalists, the (liberal) Presbyterians, etc., although conservative groups have their own forms of such sanctimony.

The job descriptions for rabbis that I have found on the websites of the Conservative and Reform Jewish seminaries all include references to a rabbi’s obligation to advocate tikkun olam, i.e. healing of the world;  to work for social justice;  to be, in short, a political and social activist.  But the curricula of these schools do not include any in-depth study of social or economic problems, and certainly no technical tools — for instance social statistics — to analyze the social problems of the day.  In other words, these clergymen are required to be dilettantes.  Go ahead, they are told, you must ceaselessly opine on social issues, but never, ever, must you learn anything about, say, multivariate analysis.  I have sat through many an ignorant discourse by clergy, citing mangled statistics and misinterpreted bits of social data, all delivered in tones of officious self-righteousness.  Does this kind of social discourse serve the cause of social betterment ?  Or rather, as I would argue, the very opposite ?

We are left with the problem of aura.  By virtue of his anointment or ordination, a clergyman is often presumed to have powers of intellect and character that he obviously does not possess. Of course we also encounter a certain ambivalence.  Perhaps for the very reason of the presumed aura, there is sometimes a tendency to be hypercritical of clergy.  The minister or priest or rabbi when perceived to fall short  may be judged more harshly than would someone not expected to have the aura.

Whatever the outcome, it seems to me that the clerical aura that comes with ordination, originating as it did in an earlier era, causes misapprehensions, false expectations, and foolishly sanctimonious social action.  At least outside of the Catholic Church, we would be better off without the institution of ordination.  Protestant and Jewish congregations could hire religious professionals on the basis of demonstrated knowledge and skills, without any presumption of extraordinary wisdom or righteousness.  Insofar as there may be a need for “spiritual” leadership beyond professional skill, this would have to be demonstrated in each case by action and behavior and examined critically and skeptically,  rather than deduced from pieces of paper issued by a seminary.

The Friends of Mr. Keith Ellison

Keith Ellison, the black Minnesota congressman and the only Muslim in Congress, wants to become the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  But he has a checkered record on Jews and, quite frankly, on anti-Semitism.  To evaluate the responses to his candidacy, it is useful first to look at roughly four contending viewpoints concerning Israel.   I color-code them  from white to black.

1) CW Code White

This is the majority group among American Jews, and probably among  all Americans.  They are people who find no problem in standing for Israel.  I count myself in this group.  I attend AIPAC meetings when I can, I attend Salute to Israel parades, I contribute to the Jewish National Fund.  Like all the other categories, this one is not homogeneous;  there are a number of ways in which one can be CW on this issue.

2) CLG Code Light Grey

These are the people organized in groups like JStreet and similar formations.  Much of this activity is financed by George Soros (see my writeup here.)  The ideas behind this (thin) slice of American Jewish opinion  are roughly  as follows:  Well, yes, of course we are for Israel.  One hundred percent.  But the government over there ?  Can you believe it, it is right wing.  Not liberal, not humanistic, not like us at all.  They are a bunch of right-wingers, reactionaries, McCarthyites.  They are at war with the Palestinians because, well, because they are right-wing chauvinists.  They carry on this Occupation.  They don’t realize what is good for Israel.  We American Jewish progressives, we do know what is good for Israel. If only those unenlightened voters of Israel were to listen to us and were to vote for a left-wing splinter party and end the Occupation, there would be peace in the Middle East, pronto.

3) CDG Code Dark Grey

As things get darker here, we have little grouplets of Social Justice warriors, often overlapping with Code Black, who may not directly call for the destruction of Israel but who are close to it.  An example is the New York group “Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,” which I have described here.

4) CB Code Black

Electronic Intifada, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace.  From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. Intifada ! Intifada !

*************

So much for background.  How does it relate to Keith Ellison’s candidacy ?  Who wants him in, who wants him out ?  A Google search reveals a cacophony of opinion on the matter;  I will here only mention those reactions that I found particularly enlightening.

First, there is a strikingly revealing contribution by Sami Rahamim, an undergraduate student who describes himself as “a pro-Israel activist and Jewish student leader,” as well as a “friend,” constituent, and supporter of Ellison.  But he also lists all the hostile public positions that Ellison has taken, against Israel, and yes, against Jews. Any careful reader of this piece will most likely take it not as the endorsement that Rahamim apparently imagines it to be, but rather as a fairly clear piece of damning with faint praise.

Next, there is the strident op-ed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the CLG “JStreet.”  “Stop smearing Keith Ellison” apoplexes the heading to this piece.  “Ellison is but the latest public figure with pro-Israel views that depart from the hawkish dogma of the traditional pro-Israel establishment to find his personal credibility and qualification for high office under fire …” and so forth.  To be sure, “Ellison has made mistakes…,” but never mind a spot of anti-Semitism in the past. The true villains,  to Mr. Ben-Ami,  are Israel and its supporters.  And note the style:  those fully committed to Israel are not merely mistaken, they “smear,” which is to say they are morally reprehensible.

As we get into deep CB territory, there is even stronger vilification of Ellison’s critics.  Mr. Glenn Greenwald does Ben-Ami one better:  “The smear campaign against Keith Ellison is repugnant …” Once again the tell-tale propagandistic “smear.”  Mr. Greenwald finds that  Ellison’s charges against Israel constitute “indisputable fact.”  Criticism of Ellison, according to Greenwald,  “is sheer insanity: malicious insanity at that.”  Mr. Greenwald’s online “Intercept,” totally financed by the Iranian-American billionaire Pierre Omidyar, has now published at least 85 anti-Israel attack articles in its two and a half years of existence.

Another Code Black source, the “Electronic Intifada,” saluted Ellison in 2014 as constituting “a tiny but important crack in [the] unwavering support for Israeli crimes among US elected officials.”  Now, in November 2016, the Intifada regrets Ellison’s apparent opposition to the BDS movement.  Nevertheless, Electric Intifada advises its readers that “activists … believe Ellison … is still likely to be the best candidate for the job.”

So here is the upshot.  Ellison’s public record, in this respect not unlike that of many other American politicians, shows some inconsistency.   But there is wisdom in the old adage:  show me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.  Those who hate Israel support Ellison.  Not a good recommendation for the job of chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s My Synagogue, But Count Me Out

The synagogue in Brooklyn where our dues go — Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill — co-sponsored an event last week which I did not attend.  The event was entitled “How Do We Talk About Israel:  the Rabbis’ Dilemma,” and was co-sponsored by an entity “Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn” (ILJB).

First of all: how and why is Israel a “dilemma” ?  It is not a dilemma for the majority of American Jews (if you can trust the polls), and certainly not for the many thousands who attend AIPAC meetings, attend Salute to Israel parades, and have voted, in their majority, against Finding Fault With Israel (FFWI) candidates, like Bernard Sanders and Jill Stein.  Yes, I know, there are FFWI groups like JStreet and some others, but, to go by the published figures, all these FFWI formations, taken together, are in a minority.  Perhaps a significant minority by now, but a minority nonetheless.

Now back to the “How Do We Talk” event.  The speakers, all described as rabbis, are also described in a Jewish Week ad as “5 prominent Rabbis” (sic), The ILJB website further calls them “leading members of the rabbinate.”  How does one become, after ordination, a “leading” or “prominent” rabbi ?  I never heard of these people before, and neither does an internet search reveal either leadership or prominence for any of them.  At the very best these adjectives are puffery, at the worst they are an attempt to mislead.

On the other hand, an internet search of these five shows that at least four of them are associated with Finding Fault with Israel groups.  Two are listed as part of JStreet;  one is part of the New Israel Fund;  a fourth is part of T’ruah.  None of the five, insofar as I could find, are associated with no-nonsense pro-Israel work.  Would you find any at an AIPAC conference or on a Salute to Israel parade ?  I doubt it.

Now I realize that in my “progressive” part of Brooklyn there are many Jews who are inclined in a FFWI direction, and I would welcome productive and courteous discussion with them.  But when a forum is so clearly stacked, count me out !

My New Website

Here is a brief note to family, friends, and anyone interested:

My old website, on which I have worked unaided for decades, developed many technical flaws and failures, so I have now renovated it and cleared it up.  I was able to hire a really excellent (but reasonably priced) internet specialist, Arie Wolf, with whose help everything works well.

My site features a bibliography of the work work I have done for some sixty-five years, and additional links to my work in such areas as the Gypsies, the CCF of Canada, the Berlin Zoo, criticism of the politics of Noam Chomsky, etc.

So here is the link:  wernercohn.com

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.