Category Archives: Arendt Hannah

THE TWO SIDES OF JFREJ

 

THE TWO SIDES OF JFREF

1.  I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.”  Henry Schwarzschild, 1982, Winner of JFREJ’s Meyer Award, 1995.

2.“We partner with community organizations that are led by low-income folks, people of color, and immigrant communities, working on campaigns to make changes in the lives of individuals and result in the long-term systemic changes that are about overcoming systems of oppression.,,,People ask, ‘Why don’t you work on national or international issues? Why just New York?’ We follow a tradition called doykayt, which can be translated as here-ness. It’s about working where you are, that where you are is home. That’s the place where you can and should work–where you can make the most impact. Staying local is very key to the work that we do.” Marjorie Dove Kent, JFREJ Executive Director July 2013

As background for a discussion of New York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) some words about political groups in general.  At the risk of oversimplification, we may broadly categorize political thought as either fringe (which I shall call esoteric) or  conventional (which I shall call exoteric). The hallmark of the esoteric, of course, is that it is based on presumed special illumination and is thus accessible only to the initiated. Exoteric thought, on the other hand, acknowledges rational argument and is thus, at least in principle, publicly accessible.  Esoteric movements include the various Marxist sects, extreme right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and religious movements like Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of the branches of the Disciples of Christ.

JFREJ — New York’s own Jews for Racial and Economic Justice — has a problem.  On the one hand it has an esoteric (hidden to all but the initiates) core ideology (1. above) which few would accept, viz. fanatic enmity toward Israel.  On the other hand the group seeks to influence the larger Jewish community.  What to do ?  Well, there is an answer, fashioned some ninety years ago by the group’s Stalinist forebears:  create exoteric (publicly accessible and publicly acceptable) “front” activities (see 2. above) that will serve to veil its esoteric aims and, at the same time, serve to drag in the “innocents.”  The (exoteric) lure consists of a seemingly benign program for “democracy,” for “justice,” against “racism,” against “Islamophobia.”

[Please see my previous posting in which I have given more detail about the JFREJ’s dynamics and have shown numerous instances in which the group lets slip its veil of normalcy and reveals its esoteric core.  And click here to read an excerpt from Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism concerning the function of Communist and Nazi front organizations. This excerpt is, in fact, an indispensable text for the understanding of JFREJ.  As I see it, JFREJ’s  basic similarity to the totalitarian movements of the last century lies in having an esoteric ideology coupled with techniques of transmitting this doctrine in exoteric forms.]

But there is a dilemma.  If there is a an esoteric aim that is completely hidden behind the exoteric day-to-day work, how can that aim ever be realized ?  In other words:  if your true aim is to abolish Israel but you never say this to your followers, you cannot  expect these followers to take the necessary steps to accomplish the aim.  In actual fact, the dilemma is unsolvable as long as the inner cadre refrains from pushing the esoteric program. Of course if it were to practice such restraint, it would, in its own eyes, betray its holy mission.  This it will not do;  this it has not done. So we see, over and over again, that the generally hidden aim becomes revealed, albeit with some discretion.  Here we can see the difference between a deep-cover organization like an espionage ring, which can consistently hide its aims to the public, and an esoteric political movement, which must reveal its inner core from time to time in order to accomplish its  proselytizing mission.

In addition to the extensive evidence of its anti-Israel work that I have shown previously, it is revealing to look at the list of its leadership and, perhaps even more important, the list of those to whom it has awarded its annual “Meyer” awards. As I have noted in my previous posting, these recipients include Tony Kushner, Debbie Almontaser, Adam Shapiro, and Henry Schwarzschild, among others.  Adam Shapiro, honored by JFREJ with a special award in 2003, is among the few anti-Israel activists who does not shy away from actually urging, rather than just winking at,  Arab violence against Israel.  But the tone-setting annual JFREJ award was the first one, in 1995, to Henry Schwarzschild, who died a year later (see above).

When we look at the current list of JFREJ leadership, we find, for instance, the board member Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky, who is described as “a puppeteer, designer, organizer and agitator based at Brooklyn’s Glitter House. 3rd-generation radical; 2nd-generation queer. Active in JFREJ since 1999, on the Board since 2010. Co-founder of Jews Against the Occupation/NYC, Palestine Activist Forum (now Adalah-NY).”  Of those on the “Rabbinic Council,” it is hard to find a single one who lacks an extensive hate-Israel background, but a man identified as Michael Feinberg, even in this lamentable group, stands out for the violence of his expressed hatred for the Jewish state.   Feinberg sits on the “Rabbinic Council” not only of JFREJ but also on that of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the most notorious hate-Israel groups in the United States.   (See the ADL description of JVP here.)

Another link of JFREJ to JVP is the married couple Donna Nevel/Alan Levine.  Both are members of JVP.  Nevel is a founding member of JFREJ, and Levine is the 2013 recipient of JFREJ’s Meyer Award.  Nevel, an anti-Israel activist, has written a revealing account  of JFREJ’s esoteric-exoteric tension from her own perspective.

Overall, by looking at all the personalities that are publicly associated with JFREJ, we find that almost all are also engaged in the anti-Israel work of related organizations.  This, as I have shown, is particularly true of Marjorie Dove Kent, JFREJ’s Executive Director.

JFREJ is currently involved in “partnerships” with at least two mainline Brooklyn synagogues, one Reform, one Conservative.  I have written to the rabbi and lay leadership of one of these, pointing to the hate-Israel nature of the group.  I have not yet received a reply.  Another mainline rabbi of my acquaintance has commented that JFREJ does “very good work” in inter-racial activity and is not, as far as he knows, involved in anything to do with Israel.  None are so blind as those who will not see. These are the “useful innocents” that the Stalinist core cadre has always relied on as “transmission belts” to a larger audience.

Well, does it matter ?  Indeed it does.  I have seen more than one impressionable young person become radicalized by the allure of the exoteric veneer of such groups, only to be consequently initiated into the esoteric hard core. There are families that have been torn.  Hint to mainline Jewish congregations:  do we really need to “partner” with this kind of outfit ?

 

The One Percenters Against Israel

Hannah Arendt
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Hannah Arendt, Jewish but as famous for her love affair with the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger as for her activities as a public intellectual, attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.  She did not much like Israeli culture as she observed it in the court room.  This is what she wrote to Karl Jaspers as the time:

My first impression: On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic … And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.

The “Galicians,” also known as the Ostjuden by the elegant sections of German Jewry, were of course not as gebildet, as “cultured” as those German Jews who could frequent the salons (and the beds) of German philosophers.  As for sephardim — well, they’re not even Europeans, let alone human beings ….

Ms. Arendt is dead and buried, but her spirit lives on.  Where ?

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The New York Times of April 18 has a full page ad by the New Israel Fund (heretofore known mainly for its support of Arab attempts to dismantle Israel).  The ad solicits funds (“tax-deductible,” i.e. partially financed by US taxpayers) to combat “EXTREMISM” (in letters 1 3/4″ in height) in Israel.  What does this “extremism” consist of ?  Suicide bombers, stone throwing by Arab youngsters, missiles from the Gaza Strip ?  As they say among certain sophisticates of the Upper West Side:  don’t be naive.  According to the ad, the great danger of “extremism” comes from the Yiddish-speaking Ostjuden in Bnei Brak and other Orthodox neighborhoods.   It seems that there is an “actual photograph” (displayed on 7.5″ of the ad’s 20″)  of a billboard that has been “defaced” by “religious extremists” in Jerusalem.

Naomi Chazan, Pres., New Israel Fund
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OK.  Let’s be naive for a moment.  The “defacement” appears to consist of a partial ripping of a poster that contains a woman’s face.   Is that the very worst example of “extremism” that one can think of ?  (In the American understanding of freedom of expression, even “defacing” the Stars and Stripes is protected — see Texas v. Johnson (1989) ). And then, why is the American taxpayer asked to tell the people of Israel what to allow and what not to allow ?  While the photograph may very well be “actual,” how do we know that it was “religious extremists” who perpetrated this heinous act ?  Finally, NIF is famous for demanding “freedom of expression.”  Why demand such freedom for the enemies of Israel, but not for Orthodox Jews ?

Toward the bottom of the ad, we are told that “your tax-deductible gift will be matched up to $500,000 … thanks to the generosity of our donor Murray Koppelman.”

As the current expression goes, Mr. Koppelman is part of the one percent.  No doubt he has a right to   express himself, but does he have the right to keep others from expressing themselves, especially others who live in another country ?

As it happens, Mr. Koppelman (in this NIF video) is disarmingly frank about what bothers him about Israel.  When he visits religious neighborhoods there, he says, he is distressed to see religious women walk behind their husbands.  He doesn’t like it.   So what does he do ?  Well, like any self-respecting billionaire,  he wants to put an end to the practices that he doesn’t like.

Now, just a bit more about those one percenters who want to remake the world in their own image.  Don’t say that the New Israel Fund does nothing but cause mischief in Israel.  No, on the contrary:  it does something right here in the US.  According to the two-year old but last available report (Form 990) that it has submitted to the IRS, the NIF helps to create at least one more American one percenter.  In 2008, NIF payed its top official, Mr. Daniel Sokatch, the sum of $342,717, which puts Mr. Sokatch safely in the top one percent of individual income earners in the US.  But not to worry.  Even after paying Mr. Sokatch, NIF still has lots of money to pay for full-page ads in the NYT, where the rates range, depending on how much the Times likes you, from $100,000 to $200,000 a shot.

It may well be that some NIF money goes to worthwhile causes in Israel.  But in view of the documented millions that NIF spends on  Israel-hostile and frivolous pursuits, what do the NIF fat cats say to the truly disadvantaged ?   “Get lost,” or some variant thereof, is what in fact they say to the social, educational, financial, and security needs of the Jewish people.

Hannah Arendt

I was 26 years old in 1952 when I devoted several weeks to a close study of Hannah Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism,” which had appeared the previous year. I was a college graduate by then (from the then-famed CCNY), but otherwise innocent of the world of scholarship. “Origins” made a tremendous impression on me, as it did on many others at the time. Nobody was aware of, or would have cared if aware, her strange love life as the mistress of Heidegger.

First and perhaps foremost, “Origins” boldly proclaimed an equivalence between Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. ( Since then specialists have pointed to the pitfalls in insisting on equivalence in history: two things are never exactly the same, and, it is now argued, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, while similar in many ways, were different in others.) To her great credit, Arendt went against the fashions of her time, a time when prevailing moods held the Soviet Union to be somehow on the Left and the Nazis on the Right. Of course, Arendt was neither the first nor the most incisive of the writers who insisted on the striking similarities between Soviet and Nazi domination.

The other noteworthy feature of Arendt’s book, it struck me then and still strikes me now, was her observation that neither of the totalitarian movements could be explained by the self-interest of its supporters. The Marxist “materialist” explanations needed to be exposed. She was foremost in describing these movements as irrational and, in that sense, selfless. (Recent research, of course, has shown both self-interest and selfless “idealism” in these movements.)

Beyond these enduring aperçus, the book was full of what seemed to me erudite references to historical events and movements. Huge sections of the book were devoted to British and French history, and, I was led to believe, all this detail showed how profoundly educated the writer was, how deep a thinker. Now, more than half a century of commentaries by specialists, it is obvious to one and all that much if not all of Arendt’s book place her into that category of know-all writers who start with having an idea (sometimes quite a good one) and then dress it up with whatever footnote references they can find to prove this idea. She had strong opinions, many of them valuable, but she had neither the inclination nor the scholarly habits to test these opinions.

A year or two after I studied her book, I enrolled in a graduate seminar with her at the New School. I thought then, and I think now, that she was the most arrogant person I ever met in my life, or at least tied for that position. She insisted that every one of her thoughts, no matter how fleeting or obviously ridiculous, be accepted as truth beyond any doubt.

Eleven years ago now, Walter Laqueur, in an indispensable article “The Arendt Cult: Hannah Arendt as Political Commentator,” shows many instances of a petulant narcissism in her personal and professional life, and also demonstrates the irrationality of the admiration that her writings have inspired since her death. He also shows how prone she was to anti-Jewish prejudices (being Jewish herself was no inhibition).

So what is new ? Plenty. The Times Literary Supplement of October 9, 2009, carries a lengthy article entitled “Blame the victim. Hannah Arendt among the Nazis: the historian and her sources,” by the distinguished historian Bernard Wasserstein (I have not been able to find an on-line version of this piece.) Much of Laqueur’s older criticism is amplified here, with much new detail of Arendt’s personal anti-Semitism, her haughty relations with others, the unscholarly nature of her “Origins of Totalitarianism:”

Her conception of the dynamics of historical change was confused, a mishmash of the structural, the social-psychological, and the conspiratorial. She was painfully ignorant of political economy, diplomacy, and military strategy and had little grasp or interest in the mechanics of the political process in the states about which she wrote. She snapped up unconsidered trifles of evidence and inflated them into richly coloured balloons of generalization.

But Wasserstein’s most telling criticism comes when he details Arendt’s ignorant use of anti-Semitic sources to reach her generalizations about the nature of the Jews. Sometimes she relies on such sources just carelessly, but more often she seems malicious. We all know, of course, that some years after writing her “Origins,” Arendt repeatedly insisted that groups of Jews, particularly those incarcerated by the Nazis, collaborated with Nazis in ways that, presumably, she herself never would. She didn’t much like Jews, and she didn’t seem to care that her personal tastes and prejudices, and not only about Jews, ruined her objectivity as a writer.

UPDATE, March 13, 2010: read “Where Hannah Arendt Went Wrong,” by the distinguished Israeli scholar Shlomo Avineri, in Haaretz Books of March 2010.

UPDATE, Nov. 11, 2013:  read Gertrude Ezorsky’s “Hannah Arendt Against the Facts.” (1963), and Michael Ezra’s “The Eichmann Polemics:  Hannah Arendt and Her Critics” (2007).

UPDATE, March 12, 2014:  David Nirenberg’s remarkable Anti-Judaism, The Western Tradition (2013) details (pp. 461-5 and 573)  how Arendt’s views, even in her Totalitarianism book, relies on traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes in her understanding of “the Jewish Question.”   When she reports the alleged high proportion of Jewish capitalists, she uses sources produced by Nazi propaganda.