Category Archives: anti-Semitism

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 !

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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.

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

sanders.ndn_edited-3

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.

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.

  

The Fairness Problem. Open Letter to Mr. Omidyar

 

My dear Mr. Pierre Omidyar,

I am writing to express my concern about the lack of fairness in  your news venture First Look Media. In the over seven months of its operation, FLS has been shrilly propagandistic rather than either informative, or thoughtful, or even, a good deal of the time, truthful.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “fairness” (sense 6) as “honesty;  impartiality, equitableness, justness; fair dealing.”  In journalism,  a number of authoritative statements on professional ethics all  stress the overriding necessity for fairness:

Society of Professional Journalists   Seek Truth and Report It Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

New York Times  The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible — “without fear or favor,” in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch — and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and others fairly and openly, and to be seen to be doing so. 

Washington Post  Reporters and editors of The Post are committed to fairness. While arguments about objectivity are endless, the concept of fairness is something that editors and reporters can easily understand and pursue. …No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.

Up to now you have been known for your successful entrepreneurship, for your innovative computer programming, and for your philanthropy.  But with the establishment of First Look Media with its associated website Intercept, you have suddenly turned to the financing and organizing of something quite different, something, to tell the truth, that I find disreputable. I have previously shown, on this blog, how your site must be considered (why mince words ?) to be yellow-press,  radically anti-American, and anti-Semitic.  (Others, for example Gabriel Schoenfeld, have come to the same conclusion.) The problem is aggravated by the huge financial resources that you have deployed for this project.  You are clearly using your great wealth to tilt the public arena of discussion, preventing it from being the level playing field that the Founders intended.

Since I have discussed many of the details about your site before, I need not rehearse them here.  Let me just say that Intercept does not as much as pretend to balance or fairness, and most especially not when it  denounces and slanders  its perceived arch enemies, i.e.  the United States government and Israel.  You give loving latitude to any fact or factoid, proven or fabricated,  that will tend to show your chosen enemies in a bad light;  on the other hand, you radically exclude any factors that run counter your basic hatreds.

One example is typical of your methods.  According to your declared intentions, you were to reveal the contents of the Snowden materials to the public.  That would accord with your repeated calls for transparency in the public arena.  But what has happened so far, almost eight months after you began publication, is that only a very tiny proportion of the apparently thousands of Snowden  documents in your possession have been revealed by you.  For all the rest, the many thousands, there is opaqueness where you promised transparency.    Now every single document that you have so far released has tended to harm and embarrass your declared enemies, the United States and/or Israel.  Are there any documents among the tens of thousands that you have not found fit to release that put your enemies in a favorable light ?  Any that reveal humanitarian efforts, or any sort of good faith  on the part of these governments, either  at home or abroad ?    Is it really true, as your treatment of these materials suggests, that all available documentary evidence proves criminality, vile methods, and base motives at all levels of the US and Israeli governments ?  You pick and choose a dozen or so documents from among many thousands, without showing context, without any regard whatever for what traditional journalists would call fairness, or for what I would call truth.

When I was a young man, some sixty years ago now, I lived in the state of Wisconsin, whose junior US Senator at the time, Mr. Joseph McCarthy, also felt that fairness is something not needed in public life.  And I remember when he too tangled with the US Government, in this case the US Army, and had to be admonished by the Army’s attorney, Mr. Joseph Welch:

Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Yours truly,

Werner Cohn

 

*** Why does Pierre Omidyar Finance the New Stalinism ? ***

 

When one of the richest men in the world, Pierre Omidyar, recently committed a quarter of a billion dollars to finance Glenn Greenwald’s propaganda operation Intercept, he provided a tremendous boost to a heretofore shadowy and uncertain resurrection of the Stalinist tradition in American culture.  And the new Stalinism has an entirely new twist:   it has  embraced a currently fashionable anti-Semitism, or what its adherents term “anti-Zionism.”

But in all his public pronouncements, Omidyar says that he acts only for the public benefit.  He stands for freedom of the press and all the other freedoms.  He stands for a better world.  True, he’s got a few dollars.  But he wants to share his fortune with the rest of us.  He wants us all to be happy.   As it happens, of course, the old Stalinists also said that they wanted a better world.  More of that later.

The new Stalinism has been with us for some years.  Using the veneer of concern for human rights, as did the old Stalinism, it wages an assault on democracy worldwide, as did the old Stalinism, and it gives aid and comfort to repressive regimes abroad, as did the old Stalinism.  But never before has it been able to establish itself as a major player, at least not financially. That is what the Omidyar money has  now changed.

As I have suggested, the old and the new Stalinisms are not identical, and we will need to pay attention to the differences as well as the similarities.

The Old Stalinism

Centered secretly around the Communist Party of the US [CPUSA], this movement exerted its influence primarily through its vast network of “front organizations,” most of which had no ostensible connection with the CP but were secretly controlled by it.  Here is a small sampling, as of 1949, taken from the list of sponsor organizations of the notorious “Waldorf Peace Conference:”

American Committee on Democracy and Intellectual Freedom

American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born

Civil Rights Congress

Equality

Greater New York Emergency Conference on Inalienable Rights

New York Conference for Inalienable Rights

In Defense of the Bill of Rights

National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners

National Federation for Constitutional Liberties

School for Democracy

Southern Conference for Human Welfare

Voice of Freedom Committee

This particular group of fronts carried professions of democratic commitment in their titles;  not all front groups did.  But the claim that they were “fighters” for peace and democracy and civil rights constituted the main public theme of the old Stalinist world.

During the very worst time of Stalinist repression in Russia, Stalin’s devoted follower in America, the  CP leader Earl Browder, assured his listeners that Communism is no more than “20th century Americanism.”  His followers, party members as well as fellow travelers in the front organizations, developed an unctuous self-righteousness.  The CP-organized “folk singers” specialized in the affectation and grimaces of song-as-struggle in which the staging of Communist propaganda songs was accompanied by facial mannerisms (comical to an outsider) to suggest heroic personal struggle.   Here is an example of the style, as presented by Pete Seeger and comrades. The book by Aileen Kraditor, Jimmy Higgins, is perhaps the best insider’s account of what it meant to be an American Communist in mid-twentieth century.

Actually the American Stalinism of the 20th century was more than the kumbaya of self-righteous “democratic struggle.”  Hidden far away from its public face in the Party and front organizations, there was the secret Stalinist work on behalf of the Soviet Union, most particularly espionage.  The literature on this aspect of the old Stalinism is now vast, as a quick Google search will confirm.

The central hypocrisy of this old Stalinism, then,  lay in its bountiful verbal affirmations of democracy on the one hand, and its total, uncritical support of the Stalinist dictatorship on the other.  As we shall see, a similar bifurcation underlies the neo-Stalinism of our day.

Stalinism Recidivus

The old CP — except as a ghost of a ghost on 23rd Street in Manhattan — is dead.  It had a slow, painful death, complete with various schisms and recriminations (we are talking Marxism here)  during the last decades of the twentieth century, and then all but gave up.  But there is a bit of an afterlife:   The Nation magazine, which exists to our day.  Financed in part by wealthy old-time Stalinists (so-called Nation Builders), this magazine has succeeded in creating a newer generation of bitter and resentful radical writers and readers.  Like the Stalinists of old, these newer “progressives”  are unhappy with American democracy. Unlike their forebears, they are also very unhappy about the existence of Israel, and happy, or happy enough, with contemporary Islamism.  The bulk of Omidyar’s team on Intercept have served in some capacity at The Nation.  There is also, overlapping with The Nation in personnel and  political orientation, the radio organization Democracy Now !, with Amy Goodman as its leading personality.

Outside of The Nation and Goodman’s group,  there are a number of key individuals who have shaped the new Stalinism.  Perhaps first and foremost is Noam Chomsky about whom I have already said just about all I can in previous postings.  There are others in academia who have played supporting roles, like Judith Butler, winner of an incomprehensibility prize, and other academics like her.  Many of these latter-day Stalinists, but by no means all,  are also active in gay rights movements.  Some of the most prominent come from Jewish backgrounds and use this circumstance — no matter how tenuous — for propagandistic purposes.

Finally there is Glenn Greenwald, sometime lawyer and gay pornographer, prolific polemicist against the American government and the state of Israel, regular speaker for the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization,  now famous as possessor of the Snowden stolen government documents.   Greenwald, of course,  is the one chosen by Omidyar to run his Intercept.

The Crusade of Intercept 

Nominally, Intercept is part of Omidyar’s First Look Media.  But since there are (so far) no other such parts, these two entities are in fact one and the same. Now FLM, according to its website, is organized as a nonprofit 501c3 organization.  Why pay taxes, especially to a government that Omidyar and Greenwald despise ?  Of course the law requires that  501c3 organizations  restrict themselves to  IRS-approved nonprofit activities, viz. those that are  “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”  The IRS does not include anti-Semitic agitation as one of these.   As we shall see, Omidyar and Greenwald (who is a lawyer) would seem to be in violation of IRS regulations.  But that is only one of their problems.

Intercept first appeared online on February 10 of this year.  Since then it has published just over seventy items.

As I have shown elsewhere, whatever can be verified in these Intercept postings turns out to be false.  For instance, Greenwald cites Goebbels and Netanyahu (7/21/14), claiming the two are congruent, when, once the contexts of these citations are examined, the two turn out to be diametrically opposed.

In this same posting Greenwald pontificates on a point of law.  Citing no statute, no law case, no legal authority,  he states baldly that “in Anglo-American law” recklessness on the part of an accused in a murder case is the equivalent of proven intent to kill.  Since Greenwald had gone to law school, this is obviously a piece of intentional misrepresentation. Get a treatise on criminal law, any such treatise, and look up mens rea in murder cases.

The bulk of these Intercept postings contain claims and accusations that cannot be verified:  what it says are exposures of US government secrets.  Intercept claims that it has obtained these secrets largely from Edward Snowden, who, it says, turned them over to Greenwald.  Apparently there are many thousands of these alleged secret US documents in this Snowden trove, but so far Greenwald has published only a very small proportion — maybe one or two percent — of what he says he has.   He has repeatedly claimed that, as a member of the press, he has the unlimited right to publish any or all such documents, at his own sole discretion, at times and places of his choosing. And yes, he is a lawyer.

Of course the public has no independent access to these alleged secret documents, so the reader is asked, on Greenwald’s sole say-so, to believe that the documents that he “reveals” are indeed genuine US secrets;  that the texts have not been tampered with and/or misrepresented by him;  and finally that there is nothing in the trove as a whole that limits or vitiates the particular document that he publishes.  Even if his personal record for veracity were spotless, which it not exactly is, that would be a tall order.

While the reader, as I say, cannot independently check the content of Greenwald’s trove, there are reasons to be suspicious.   In all its alleged revelations of government secrets, Intercept claims to have learned  that the US invariably acts in a deeply malevolent manner.  To believe Intercept, these ostensible secret documents never show that the US government acts benevolently or that it is any way even able to act in good faith.  Never ever does the US government act to help the poor, or to alleviate distress, or to promote education, or to promote democracy.  To believe Greenwald here, you have to be like the Stalinist of old, who could believe only the worst about the US and only the best of the Soviet Union.  As Greenwald has explained in numerous publications and Youtube talks, he sees the US government as a vast conspiracy for evil, while, at the same time, he sees no reason to complain about Islamist behavior anywhere in the world.

And now we come to what may indeed be the darkest aspect of the Omidyar-Greenwald enterprise:  its anti-Semitism.  As Robert Wistrich (e.g. in From Ambivalence to Betrayal) and other scholars have explained, the current version of anti-Semitism takes the following form:  carefully collect all real or imagined shortcomings of the Israeli government, carefully ignore all human rights abuses in the Islamic world, and then loudly denounce Israel as a war criminal.

In the period from July 14 to August 11 of this year, Intercept published five separate strident pieces against Israel.  To summarize its position:  Israel is deeply and criminally at fault in Gaza;  Hamas is completely, innocently victimized.  In the same period some of the worst human rights abuses in history took place: in Syria, to which Intercept turned a blind eye;  in Nigeria, a country which does not exist in the world of Intercept;  in Iraq, involving the Yaziti, which Intercept apparently has heard of, because it denounced the American aid there.  So Israel (and, incidentally  America) is criminal, nobody else’s actions deserve even the slightest criticism.  Which is what defines the modern anti-Semitism.

Those of us who have followed Mr. Greenwald’s public agitation before he became Snowden-famous, particularly his work with the Trotskyist Independent Socialist Organization over the years,  cannot be surprised by his deep animus against the Jewish people.  But what has moved Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire overprivileged of the overprivileged, to finance this disreputable war against decency ?

OWS — La Crème de la Crème

MIKE CHECK:  Some animals are more equal than others.  Some animals are more equal than others.  Some ….

And so, it seems,  Orwell had it right all along, about Occupy Wall Street no less than about Animal Farm:  some animals are more equal than others.

In a remarkable article by Mattathias Schwartz in the current New Yorker,  we are told about the various heavy thinkers and busy organizers behind OWS.  (In a recent interview on WNYC radio in New York, one of these “facilitators” stressed the “horizontal,” i.e. leaderless nature of this movement.  But the interviewer, usually perceptive and smart, failed to ask the obvious:  who appointed you “facilitator” ?)  And here are the names, nine in number and given here in alphabetical order, that Schwartz has found to constitute OWS’s Crème de la Crème:

Fithian, Lisa
Graeber, David
Holmes, Marisa
Lasn, Kalle
Sitrin, Marina
Stamp, Nelini
Tunney, Justine
Wagner, Evan
White, Micah

MIKE CHECK:  You are the one percent !  You are the one percent !  You …

The attentive reader will no doubt have noticed that the names of six of these crème people are shown as links.  The links are to statements by these crèmists declaring opposition to Israel.  These statements vary in intensity, from the virulent Judeophobia of Kalle Lasn (who, by anybody’s account, is the éminence grise of the movement) to a merely offhand defamation of Israel by Marina Sitrin.  But here it is, fully six out nine crèmists have gone out of their way to harm Israel through public expressions of hatred.  How common is that in the American population ?  One percent ?  It certainly does not represent the “ninety-nine percent” for which the crèmists presume to speak.

So here is a humble request to the Crème from one of the ninety-nine:   please, please do not do it in our name !

University of Toronto: Now Anti-Semitism Without Fig Leaf



First, we heard about the Peto case (on which I reported extensively in earlier posts on this blog), in which the U of T covered itself with the fig leaf of academic freedom in order to justify its sponsorship of anti-Semitic propaganda. Now there is the case of a U of T junior professor of social work who conducted a “Jew count” of professors and university donors, thereby exposing, she appeared to say, the domination of Canada by the Jews. This lady had previously been on record as opposed to “Zionism,” but in her latest activism she dispensed with any such pretext for her anti-Semitism. The students who participated in this “count” were sworn to secrecy. But not all heeded her on this, so the story came out.

None of this would be remarkable if it were not for the shameful cover-up by U. of T. officialdom. In the months that followed the incident, no University official rebuked this professor; instead, she was rewarded by a renewal of her contract.

The details of this story can be found in the blog Eye on a Crazy Planet and also in the more extensive article by Professor Ernie Lightman of the U of T.

National Public Radio, the New York Times, and the Jews

National Public Radio is not rabidly anti-Semitic. In this respect it is not like, say, Mr. David Duke or the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But NPR has its own version of a gentleman’s polite anti-Semitism, something we ordinarily associate with upper-class clubs of England. And the New York Times isn’t anti-Semitic at all, it’s just not interested in the question.

Last week, in a sting operation, two of NPR’s top executives — Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley — were caught on tape in an expensive restaurant huddling with people they thought were rich Muslims about to give them $5 million. Many embarrassing things were said by Ms. Liley and especially by Mr. Schiller, and much of it was reported by mainline media. But Mr. Schiller’s anti-Semitic utterances were suppressed by most. A notable exception was ABC-TV, which came through in an honorable way. But not the NY Times ! It seems that where anti-Semitism is concerned, the Times likes to averts its eyes. Not fit to print in the NYT version of journalistic ethics.

Mr. Schiller has now been forced to resign from NPR as a result of these revelations. He violated the first law of gentlemanly anti-Semitism: do it, but don’t get caught. As for Ms. Liley, she is on some sort of administrative leave, but, at least for now, she’s still on board at NPR.

In the video that follows, note the genteel, self-satisfied, self-righteous, self-styled “liberal” mannerisms of Mr. S. And note his body language as he opines on this and that. No, no, no — he will not accuse Jews of dominating all the media, only the print media. As for Ms. Liley, she really comes to life when she exclaims “I like that” in response to the ostensible Islamist’s praise of NPR as “National Palestine Radio.”