Category Archives: BDS

The Friends of Mr. Keith Ellison

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

1) CW Code White

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

2) CLG Code Light Grey

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

3) CDG Code Dark Grey

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

4) CB Code Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Quakers on Israel and China: A Study in Hypocrisy

So here he is, the Quaker gentleman.  What does he stand for ?  Peace, yes peace above all.  And justice.  And human rights, all over the world.  And did I mention love ?  Yes, love for all human beings.

The American Friends Service Committee is the foremost Quaker organization charged  with the Quaker mission to the world.  Here is its statement of the Quaker values, which, it says, inform everything it does:

AFSC values are grounded in Quaker experience and universal truths that are upheld by many faiths and that honor the light of the divine in each person.
We cherish the belief that there is that of God in each person, leading us to respect the worth, dignity, and equality of all.We regard no person as our enemy. While we often oppose specific actions and abuses of power, we seek to call forth the goodness and truth in each individual. We strive for integrity, simplicity, and practicality in our expressions and actions.We assert the transforming power of love and active nonviolence, as a challenge to injustice and violence and as a force for reconciliation.We work in partnership with people in communities around the world, respecting their wisdom about how to change their circumstances and offering our own insights with humility.We trust the power of the Spirit to guide the individual and collective search for truth and practical action.We accept our understandings of truth as incomplete and have faith that new perceptions of truth will continue to be revealed. 

So far so good.  If a bit abstract and perhaps lacking in specifics, surely these are high-minded ideals.

But there are also specifics in the AFSC.  When it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Arab elites, it endorses the latter without equivocation. This issue takes up much, if not most, of AFSC’s world-wide activities.  Most telling of all is AFSC’s endorsement of the Boycott-Israel movement (BDS);  together with BDS, AFSC endorses  a Palestinian “right of return.”  This latter phrase is generally understood as code for the destruction of the Jewish state.  There is no recognition anywhere in the AFSC’s literature of any legitimacy  whatever in Israeli views.  Nor is there criticism anywhere in AFSC’s material of violence, hatred, or incitement to violence on the part of Arab elites.  As for the Jews of Israel, as far as AFSC is concerned, there does not seem to be  “light of the divine in each person.”  Nor does the Jewish community of Israel seem to have “wisdom” that would be worthy of AFSC “respect.”

Well, you may say, according to AFSC’s “inner light,” it is the Jews (or, as they would put it euphemistically, the Israelis) who bear all of the blame for the plight of Palestinian Arabs, and so, by God, it is the Jews, I mean Israelis, who deserve all the blame.  (Who is to blame for the plight of Syrian Arabs ?  Never mind, this is not a topic that engages the AFSC).  Well, this inner light (a key Quaker concept) seems more than a little at variance with AFSC professions of an even-handed, loving, concerned, very humane and very enlightened universalism.

As readers of my blogs know, I have long been interested in Laogai, the Gulag of China.  Currently there seem to be 3.5 million people imprisoned in Chinese forced labor camps, many for political reasons. Many other political prisoners are in Chinese jails.  Some five thousand Chinese are executed annually by their government, many for political reasons.  In the United States, it is the Laogai Foundation, under the leadership of Harry Wu, to which we owe much of what is known. The US State Department, charged with annual reports on human rights violations throughout the world, paints a similarly bleak picture.

In terms of sheer magnitude of repression, the human rights situation in China should surely rank high on the list of concerns of would-be humanitarians. One would think so.  But insofar as the AFSC is concerned, there is no human rights problem in China at all, at least none worth mentioning in public.

As I searched AFSC materials, I repeatedly found the name of Joseph Gerson in connection with the AFSC’s interests in China.  A functionary of AFSC since 1976, he is currently the  Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the AFSC in New England. AFSC insistently refers to him as “Dr. Gerson.”  In effect, he received a Ph.D. from the shadowy Union Institute and College in 1995.  In any case, his interests seem propagandistic rather than scholarly;  according to his official biography,  “he focuses on challenging U.S. foreign, military and domestic doctrines designed to reinforce global hegemony and to replace them with commitments to common security.”  In 2008 and 2009, he organized reciprocal visits between the “US peace movement” and the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, an agency of the Chinese government.

When I spoke with him on the phone on March 12, he mentioned to me that our conversation is “between one Jew and another.” (As far as I can determine from sources on the internet, his religious affiliation has been liberal Christian, at least for some decades.) He told me that when he was in China in 2008 or 2009, he insisted that he talk with human rights activists there.  When I asked him why there has not been any public criticism by the AFSC concerning human rights in China, he said that AFSC believes in quiet diplomacy.  When I pointed out that AFSC is anything but quiet about Israel, he explained that Hannah Arendt had been critical of Israel, as has been a former Israeli official whom he had known.  That was the extent of his explanation for his own vociferous opposition to Israel.   I asked him repeatedly to explain what I perceive to be AFSC hypocrisy:  “quiet diplomacy” concerning China, harsh enmity toward Israel.  So far he has been mum, but, who knows, perhaps I will still hear from him, in which case I will promptly report his explanation.

UPDATE, December 8, 2013:

Read:    When Did the Quakers Stop Being Friends, by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe

Read:  an Australian pro-Palestinian “peace activist” is mugged by reality

Dystopia on Bedford Avenue — Ct’d

(For an earlier installment of this series, see my 2011 blog on the subject)
It gets worse at Brooklyn College.  The Political Science Department is now a political action group against Israel, and City Hall is complicit.  This became clear last week when Poli Sci officially sponsored an agi-prop event at the  College with the connivance of the College’s president and also that of the Mayor of the City of New York, 
For a description of the “BDS” event at Brooklyn College, see the ADL statement.

For a description of the “BDS” movement, see this video
Those of us (including most elected officials in Brooklyn) who criticized PoliSci’s endorsement  stressed that we do not oppose the BDS event on campus;  what we oppose is the official imprimatur that the College, through its Political Science Department, has conferred on the event.  The situation is analogous to that of the Constitutional separation of church and state.  A public university may teach about religion, and it may allow student groups to practice religion on campus, but it may not officially sponsor or endorse sectarian religious practice.
Here are some documents on the controversy at Brooklyn College.

Many of us wrote to various officials at the College, stating each time that we do not oppose the event but do not want the College to sponsor it, and each time we got the same answer:  we must have freedom of speech, and therefore the Department’s sponsorship must stand.  Therefore ? How and why is official College sponsorship necessary for freedom of speech, or any other kind of freedom ? The College officials act as if they hadn’t heard the question;  they remain mum.  That isn’t very smart, but it gets worse at City Hall.  
And indeed, the most zany performance was that of the Mayor of the City, Michael Bloomberg.  Here he explains why, in his view, Brooklyn College must be allowed to officially sponsor BDS:

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

Now our good mayor owns many homes in various parts of the world but apparently none in North Korea, so perhaps this gap in his holdings explains his opinion here. But with all that, is it plausible that the mayor, in the privacy of his own conscience, fails to appreciate the illogic of his pronouncement ?

Obviously, the College officials and the Mayor know the difference between freedom of speech, to which even the most hateful of groups are entitled, and official sponsorship, to which they are not. So when these officials play dumb, when they make believe that they cannot see any distinction, well, bad faith is the inescapable conclusion.

While College officials and the Mayor (and also the editorialists of the New York Times) all lend their complaisance to the hate-Israel movement, the same cannot be said of the learned professoriate  of the Political Science Department.  Here it is not a matter of complaisance or even mere complicity but one of activism in a political cause.

Let me say at the outset here that things could be even worse.  Some time ago I looked into a somewhat similar situation at an affiliate school of the University of Toronto, viz. the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  As I reported in a number of postings then, one of the departments there was so politicized that many of the MA theses produced in it were crude and ugly pieces of propaganda.

The same cannot be said of Poli Sci, at least insofar as I was able to determine.

Unlike the situation at OISE, for which all theses are freely available on the internet, Brooklyn College makes it difficult for outsiders to consult the products of its graduate programs.  BC theses are not available on the internet, nor are they even cataloged.  They are kept at the Brooklyn College Library Archives, to which, in principle, the public is not admitted.  However, upon application by e-mail, I was granted permission to inspect MA theses and, I must say, was given every courtesy by the librarians.  I looked at all the PolySci theses completed within the last two years, and I am satisfied that they were, by and large, free of undue political bias.

Notwithstanding its apparently satisfactory MA program, the Department has acted in the manner of a political combat group rather than as an academic department, and not only in this particular incident.

1.  I have googled all the 17 current members of the Department to get an impression  of the extent of political activism of these professors.  None of these people were identified as active on behalf of Jewish, Zionist, or pro-Israel causes.  None were identified on the internet as political conservatives.  On the other side, at least two had been signers of anti-Israel statements in the past.  Another one is identified as a former member of the Maoist Communist Workers Party, now defunct.  A further one is identified as active on the Far Left.  If there is diversity of viewpoint in this Department, it is not apparent to the naked eye.

2. Some two years ago,  the Department hired as adjunct instructor a person who was still in the midst of graduate studies, but, apparently by way of compensating for the lack of a Ph.D., was known for his strongly anti-Israel views.  (For a description of this incident, see here.)  The vote of the Department, we are told, was unanimous.  With some seventeen voting members, and in view of the fact that this particular appointment was so contentious on campus and in the community,  it is remarkable to find such unanimity.

3. When the current matter of BDS sponsorship came up for Department decision,  there again was a vote, but we are not told whether there was dissent.  The press tried to ascertain how the vote went but no member of the Department has so far been willing to divulge the numbers.  In any case, no member of the Department has come out to speak publicly against the sponsorship.  Again, there is a baffling wall of unanimity on a matter of great public contention.

4. When the chair of the Department was pushed for a statement on the BDS affair, his language was both combative and ambiguous:

A student group at Brooklyn College has organized a panel discussion regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict. On college campuses around the country and across the world, this issue is being discussed. Brooklyn College should be no different. The department of political science has thus decided to co-sponsor this event. We encourage students and members of the community to attend, pose their questions, and air their views.  (See my collection of documents

Read by an apologist for the Department, the statement might be interpreted to mean that the Department merely wishes to present BDS views without endorsing them.  But to anyone else, the phrase “a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict” clearly signals support to the BDS movement.

5. Corey Robin, an Associate Professor in the Department (whose anti-Israel traces can be found on the internet), sent an e-mail to students and staff in January:

From Professor Corey Robin: URGENT: Hi everyone. I need you all to stop what you’re doing and make a phone call or write an email to the administration of Brooklyn College. A few weeks ago, my department (political science) voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion, featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel. In the last week, we’ve gotten a lot of pressure and pushback from the media, students, alumni, and now Alan Dershowitz (who’s been trying to track down our chair to “talk” to him). So far, the administration has held firm, but the pressure is only building and they are starting to ask us whether we endorse these views or are merely seeking to air them (to which we responded: “Was the Brooklyn College administration endorsing the pro-torture and pro-Israel views of Alan Dershowitz when it decided to award him an honorary degree?”) Anyway, I need you guys now to send an email or make a phone call encouraging the administration to stand by the department and to stand for the principle that a university should be a place for the airing of views, ESPECIALLY views that are heterodox and that challenge the dominant assumptions of society. Please contact: President Karen Gould ….; Provost William Tramontano ….; and Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson ….. Please be polite and respectful, but please be firm on the principle. Right now, they’re only hearing from one side, so it’s imperative they hear from many others.

(See my collection of documents)

Robin’s reference to Alan Dershowitz is particularly telling:   A) Robin indulges in defamation of Dershowitz (“pro-torture,” etc.) that is currently common in the Far Left but is totally without foundation.  For example, Dershowitz has never spoken at Brooklyn College on any contentious issue, let alone on Israel or the Palestinians.  See Dershowitz’s own refutation of these attacks against him here. B) When Robin speaks about alleged appearances of Dershowitz  on the BC campus as justification for the BDS rally, his argument is of course tu quoque and not actually worthy of an Associate Professor of any discipline whatever.

In any case: is this the letter of an educator or of an agitator ?

6.  The following is a list of the sponsoring organizations for the BDS events (See my collection of documents)

Adalah NY
Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
American Muslims for Palestine
The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College Student Union
Brooklyn For Peace
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Association at 
Brooklyn College (LGBTA BC) – Upholding freedom of speech
Critical Palestine Studies Association at the CUNY GRAD Center
CUNY School of Law National Lawyers Guild Chapter
Existence is Resistance
Hunter SJP
International Socialist Organization
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews say No!
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
John Jay SJP
Columbia SJP
Muslim American Society Chapter – MAS on Campus
New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
The Occupy Wall St Social Justice Working Group
Students for Justice at NYU
Labor for Palestine
New York City Labor Against the War

Each of the groups other than the Poly Sci Department  is well known as overtly and unabashedly anti-Israel, some more so than others.  The Independent Socialist Organization, about which I have written elsewhere, is perhaps the most radical in this respect, demanding continuing intifada and the complete destruction of the Jewish state.

Why is an ostensibly neutral academic department in this list ?

Conclusion

If this were a church/state issue, the endorsement by a public, taxpayer entity of a sectarian cause would by clearly unconstitutional (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963).  Mutatis mutandis, the sample principle should apply here.  New York’s Jewish community and the elected officials of Brooklyn are right in demanding that Brooklyn College adopt more politically-neutral policies in the future.

UPDATE, February 15

Jonathan Marks, in an article “Department of Excuses,” throws more light on the affair.  For instance, we now know that the Political Science Department attempted to secure the collaboration of other departments for its endorsement of BDS but was decisively rebuffed in all cases.