Category Archives: Chomsky

My New Website

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

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

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

So here is the link:  wernercohn.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

  

*** 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 ?

Chomsky’s Followers: A Cult of Rancor

chomsky copy When I recently caught up on my pile of unread copies of the Times Literary Supplement,  I came across a piece of ill-natured polemic in the ostensibly technical field of linguistics.  Professor Kenneth Wexler of MIT, writing in the Letters columns of TLS (10/19/2012),  opined that a distinguished scholar with whom he disagrees  “lives in an alternative universe to the truth.”  The truth, according to Wexler, is the one established by Noam Chomsky, viz. that there is a Universal Grammar underlying all human language.

Concerning the scientific standing or otherwise of Chomskyan linguistics, see the recent work by Christina Behme, here and here.  Unlike Behme, I have not studied these issues in depth and can hardly claim to have an informed opinion.  But, as any Google search will readily confirm, I have a long-term interest in Chomsky’s hostility to Israel (and, I would say, to the Jewish people), and, when I once caught him in an outrageous lie,  I even had the honor of being labelled a “pathological liar” by him.

So it occurred to me that Wexler may be bound to Chomsky by more than theoretical linguistics.  Could it be that he also shares the animus toward Israel ?  We cannot know what is in a man’s heart, but, in these days of Google, we can know what he has chosen to put into the public record about his political commitments.  And, indeed, Professor Wexler is on record as an adversary of the State of Israel.  (See below).

Wexler’s dual ties to Chomskyanism, in and of itself, would not be greatly interesting.  But, as it happens, a check of the best-known linguistic supporters of Chomsky yields at least seven others, for a total of eight,  with such dual ties.  Here is the list:

John Collins, U. of East Anglia, 1/15/09

Norbert Hornstein, U. of Md. 2/24/09

Richard Kayne, NYU, 11/14/11 

David Pesetsky, MIT, 5/7/02

Luigi Rizzi, Siena, 11/14/11 

Tom Roeper, U. of Mass., 11/14/11 

Neil Smith, Univ. Coll., London, 1/15/09

Kenneth Wexler, MIT, 5/7/02

In each case, the date represent links to where the anti-Israel statements can be found.  Not all the statements are equally vitriolic or hostile, but the one of 1/15/09 gives an idea of the tenor of most of them:

Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

There are at least some linguists associated with the Chomsky school who are not on record  against Israel, and, of course, there are many non-linguist academics who are.  On the other hand, not everyone who feels rancor and resentment against Israel will go on public record.  So my list is an indication of the very minimum of those so aligned.  Moreover, I  have not found a single case of a Chomsky-aligned linguist who is on record as supportive of Israel.  (My internet search was not exhaustive.)

All in all, these materials give  persuasive anecdotal grounds for believing that the Chomsky cult, in both linguistics and politics, is at least in part based on grounds that are neither rational nor scientific.  Neither reason nor science can account for the striking circumstance that so many who are committed to Universal Grammar also happen to be committed to opposition to Israel.

Addendum, Aug. 13, 2016

Here are two more Chomsky-supporting linguists who are also on record as opposed to Israel:

David Lightfoot

Marc D. Hauser

READ ALSO:  “The Marketing of Noam Chomsky,” by Jean-Charles Chebat. (In French.) 

 

Who Loves Edward Snowden ?

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”  Like all proverbs, this one has its limits, and is not, in any case, an infallible guide.  Who does not have, in his circle of friendly acquaintances, someone whose wisdom and/or probity is open to question ?

But with all that, the collection of Edward Snowden admirers is striking.  Snowden, it will be remembered, is a former employee of the US National Scurity Agency who stole US secret documents and took them to his current residence in Moscow, where he is a fugitive from US law enforcement.

I have previously reported on the politics of Glenn Greenwald, the London Guardian columnist who is largely responsible for much of  Snowden’s publicity in the West.  (And in the same place I reported on the mutual admiration between Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky.)  Today I wish to point primarily to the extraordinary approbation of Snowden by the neo-Nazis in Germany.

The most conspicuous German supporter of Snowden is not a neo-Nazi but the Green Party Bundestag deputy Christian Ströbele.  Ströbele travelled to Moscow to interview Snowden and praises him as one of his heroes.  Ströbele, in the far left wing of his party, is also known as the lawyer for the terrorist RAF Baader-Meinhof gang,  Visiting Israel in 1991, Ströbele declared in an interview that the Iraqi Scuds that were employed against Israel at the time were thoroughly justified in view of Israel’s repressive policies. And last year, Herr Ströbele demanded that the German prohibition against brother-sister marriage be revoked for the sake of much needed sexual freedom.

Snowden no doubt appreciates friends like Ströbele.  But does he also appreciate the admiration and friendship of Chairman Holger Apfel of the neo-Nazi National Democrat Party (NPD) ?

Last month Apfel created a disturbance in the legislature of Saxony in which he represents his party.  He interrupted proceedings by demanding that Germany give asylum to his hero, Edward Snowden, in line with the NPD position that the US, together with Israel, represents an absolute evil, and that, ergo, anything that hurts the US deserves his, Apfel’s, enthusiastic support.  When the chairman of the chamber pointed out that asylum is a federal and not a provincial matter, and that Apfel’s motion is therefore out of order in the provincial legislature, Apfel refused to yield the floor and had to be banned from the legislature for the session.  (He had previously been banned from the legislature on a number of occasions for making anti-Semitic statements on the house floor.) For those who understand German, here is a report with video of Apfel’s tantrum in the Saxon legislature.

As far as I know, neither Snowden nor Greenwald has commented on these efforts by their German supporters.  Nor has Mr. Pierre Omidyar, Greenwald’s billionaire sponsor.

Grumblings in the Chomsky Cult

Misunderstood by his Master, unjustly rebuked for heresy by him, wrongfully scolded by him for disloyalty, what is the Disciple to do ?  This one tells us:  “I almost lost the will to live.”

Who is this disciple ?  Is it perhaps one of the twelve whom Jesus rebuked in Mark 8:18 (“Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?”) ?  Or is it perhaps Rudolf Hess, whose peace trip to England was so brutally condemned by his adored Führer ?  No, none of these.  It is rather one of Noam Chomsky’s faithful followers, the Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot, who reports this crushing experience in his relationship to Chomsky.  And another of Chomsky’s disciples, the journalist Ben Cohen, upon hearing that Monbiot almost lost the will to live, chimes in:  “as a huge fan of Noam Chomsky, I almost did too”.

The background to this bit of crisis in the Chomsky cult is the following:  Edward Herman and David Peterson, not only Disciples but actually Apostles in the Chomsky cult, published a book “The Politics of Genocide” in 2010.  The salient thesis of this book is that the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened;  that, if anybody, it is the Hutu who were the victims;  that, moreover, it is US imperialism that is at fault in the history of all true genocides (Vietnam, Korea, American Indians, etc.); and that the ostensible genocide of Tutsi is a story concocted by these self-same US imperialists.  Chomsky wrote an endorsing foreword to this book (as, indeed, he had contributed a preface to a book by the Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson) and it is Chomsky’s name that appears, together with the authors’, in the same font and size, on the cover of this Herman-Peterson volume.  There are two thorough reviews of this book:  one by Gerald Caplan, the other by Martin Shaw.  Both agree in their description of the book, as follows (in Caplan’s words):

Why they want to create such gratuitous hurt for the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda is impossible to fathom,  but their egregious views relegate them squarely to the lunatic fringe.

Now Monbiot, Chomsky’s loyal follower up to this point, happens to be an expert on Africa, and, loyalty to Chomsky notwithstanding, cares about the Tutsi.   He wrote to Chomsky repeatedly but respectfully, even obsequiously,  asking the Master to distance himself from this lunatic-fringe view of the Rwandan tragedy.  (Monbiot published this correspondence here.)  But Chomsky would not budge.  In fact,  he sees fit to shower his erstwhile disciple with sarcasm and personal nastiness.  So now, it would seem, Monbiot is banished from the cult.

There is a bit of a moral here.  To be an accepted Disciple in the Chomsky cult, shed all vestiges of humanitarian concern. And never, ever, cross the Master.

See also

How Smart is Noam Chomsky ?

How Smart is Noam Chomsky ? II

Professor Chomsky’s Veracity Problems

Tom Bartlett on the Chomsky cult in linguistics

Nicholas Evans and Stephen Levinson: The Myth of Language Universals
(a thorough debunking of Chomskyan linguistics)

Partners in Hate. Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers

Here is a link to my essay:

Partners in Hate.  Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers

And here are links to related writings:

Why am I providing these links ?
The Google search engine, for reasons that are not clear, yields only Chinese characters as a link to my Chomsky pamphlet.  

How smart is Noam Chomsky ? — II

Chomsky says that Ron Paul is absolutely correct when he blames the US for 9/11.

How does Chomsky know this ? Because rich Muslims, when polled by the Wall Street Journal, have said so. For Noam Chomsky that is proof positive.

One problem remains:  Has Chomsky lost it altogether ?

And as I asked some time ago — his claque of admirers notwithstanding — just how smart, really, is Noam Chomsky ?

See also my earlier take on Chomsky’s genius.

READ ALSO
Paul Bogdanor,  The Top 200 Chomsky Lies
 

RIP: Eugene Nida, 1914-2011

He was not literally my teacher.  I never met him, and I certainly never sat in a class that he taught.  But I have learned from colleagues who had learned from him.  Two of his great books are on my shelf and I still refer to them from time to time:  God’s Word in Man’s Language (1952), and Bible Translating (1961).  Despite the fact that I have never had a direct interest in Bible translating, these books had a lot to teach me and indeed all social scientists.  Nida, together with a few others, was a giant in the social science of linguistics.  (Those were the days when linguistics was still a social science and not the speculative game it became later). Now he died, aged 96.

Here is a rare video of Nida as an old man, still teaching:

and here, a bit of comic relief, is an attack on Nida’s scholarly approach to translation by a fundamentalist who thinks that the Bible needs to be translated one word at a time:

Of course the Chomskyans, who do not believe that language should be studied empirically any more than this misguided religious fundamentalist, could no doubt make an equally ludicrous anti-Nida video.  Maybe they already have.

Not to be missed:  the fine obit in the NYT by Margalit Fox.