Category Archives: Israel

What We Must Know About Palestinian Public Opinion

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Daniel Polisar

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

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

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

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

Here are the articles:

1). What Do Palestinians Want ?

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

It’s My Synagogue, But Count Me Out

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

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

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

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

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

Gay and anti-Israel; Why ?

The Homosexual Factor

Among the most vociferous and the most radical of the Jews who have declared themselves against Israel — think Noam Chomsky, think Judith Butler, think Glenn Greenwald, think Norman Finkelstein — a good proportion, say 50%, also declare themselves gay or lesbian. (In this abbreviated listing that would be Butler and Greenwald. ) So here is a kashe, as we say in Yiddish, a hard question. And not only is it a kashe, it’s considered absolutely impolite to even mention it (so much more reason to pose it) : Why are many of the publicly visible, radical anti-Israel Jews also publicly gay ? There does not appear to be any necessary or logical or indeed reasonable connection. And yet, I will argue, the connection is as observable as it is puzzling and it cries out for investigation.

 

When I was a young graduate student in New York in the 1950’s, I became interested in why so many Communists were Jewish, a question on which I wrote my PhD in 1956. The answer at which I arrived was basically historical, having to do with the traditional European political Left/Right alignments in which the Left supported, and the Right opposed, the emancipation of Jews. My dissertation work elicited a certain amount of pushback from people who feared that the airing of the question would enflame anti-Semitic prejudices. The editors of one influential journal of opinion (which exists to this day) accepted an article I wrote based on my dissertation, only to have its board members spike it. But overall, my work soon became accepted (and would today be considered just a piece of conventional wisdom).

 

Among the similarities to what I propose here, I never suggested that most Jews were Communists, only that a very disproportionate number of American Communists were Jews. That was simply a fact in that period. My work differed from the conventional views at the time in that I looked for explanations beyond the professed ideology of the people involved, the Jewish Communists. They of course insisted that the motives for their political commitment be found in the humanitarian professions of their movement. My explanation, in contrast, looked to non-professed factors, in this case the social position of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Similarly, I will argue here that the RJAI(Radical Jews Against Israel)-LGBT entanglement must be explained by factors beyond the professed views of the participants.

 

Now, back to the issue at hand, the RJAI movement of our day and its entanglement with the LGBT phenomenon. To begin, some disclaimers.

 

1) I do not say that all, or most, or even a disproportionate number of gay Jews are anti-Israel. The high proportion that I will describe is not an attribute of group JG (Jewish gays) but rather of group RAIJ (radical anti-Israel Jews). Of these, the RAIJ’s, a high proportion is (probably) gay.

 

2) While my main concern is with the radical group of anti-Israel folks, the line between radical and moderate is sometimes fluid. Moreover, radicalism sometimes (mis)represents itself as moderation.

 

3) The evidence that I will adduce is, on the whole, suggestive rather than conclusive. To put this another way, I would describe my case as one of a balance of probabilities rather than of a proof beyond reasonable doubt.

 

The most basic fact to keep in mind is the actually very low number of gay people in the population. The actual proportion seems to hover around two or three percent, depending on how the data are gathered and interpreted. But though low in numbers, and possibly because of this, homosexuality is widely noticed, and the impression is created that it is more common than it actually is. There is a German saying, bekannt sein wie ein bunter Hund, well-known like a rainbow-colored dog. Rainbow-colored dogs are not common, but (if and) when they occur, they arouse attention. An expression from Latin, rara avis, rare bird, carries the same meaning.

 

This actually very low incidence of homosexuality in the general population implies, of course, that the statistically expected number of homosexuals in any sub-group is also very low. But the empirical investigation of the question is made difficult by the fact that, generally, it is not publicly ascertainable who is and who is not gay. But in certain exceptional cases we do have figures that are reasonably reliable.

 

The great public interest in the personal lives of politicians has resulted in an apparently reliable counting of gays in the US Congress. It appears that of the 100 current members of the Senate, one is gay; of the 435 current members of the House, six are gay. So out of 535 members of Congress, seven, or 1.3%, are gay. This is somewhat lower than the expected proportion, but, given all the imprecisions of available data, well within expected margins.

 

The point to remember here is this: it is unusual to find more than, say, five percent in any group that is homosexual. As we saw, the percentage is exactly 1.3% among the leading American politicians who constitute the Congress, . A homosexual, statistically, is a rara avis in most social environments. And if we find a group or profession or movement in which the proportion of homosexuals is at all substantial, that circumstance requires attention and analysis.

 

In some ways similar to elected officials, pulpit rabbis commonly disclose their sexual orientation. And more to the point for our present purposes, their views on Israel are also generally known. In the city of New York, there are at least two pulpit rabbis who are harsh opponents of Israel. Both are lesbian.

 

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is the spiritual leader of Kolot Chayenu, an anti-Israel synagogue in Brooklyn. Her wife, Kathryn Conroy, is not Jewish but is called the “rebbetzin” of the congregation. She explains that she will not convert (to Judaism) because “I cannot convert to anything because I am already who I am and what I am going to continue to be.” As for the Rabbi herself, it would be tedious to enumerate all the anti-Israel declarations she has signed; here is one.

 

The other anti-Israel congregation in New York is Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, whose spiritual leader is the lesbian Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Unlike Rabbi Lippmann’s, Rabbi Kleinbaum’s partner, Randi Weingarten, is Jewish.   There is some question, as there is indeed also in the case of Lippmann, whether Kleinbaum’s anti-Israel positions are extreme or more moderate. My own take is that these positions are indeed extreme but are often veiled in moderate-sounding formulas. The issue is discussed in an article by Debra Kamin.

 

There are not many openly anti-Israel pulpit rabbis in North America, and some of these, for example Brant Rosen of Chicago and David Mivasair on Vancouver, are not homosexual. It may well be that homosexuals among the anti-Israel rabbis are a minority. But they are not the very small minority, as the homosexual proportions in the general population would lead us to expect. At the very least, they are a substantial minority.

 

Both Rabbi Lippmann and Rabbi Kleinbaum sit on the Rabbinic Council of the radically anti-Israel Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), together with at least two other lesbian rabbis (Nancy Wiener and Carrie Carter). That makes at least four lesbians on a board of sixteen.

 

As for JFREJ, I have written about the group in 2013 and again in 2015. Briefly, it is as radical an anti-Israel formation as is imaginable. At the same time, to quote from its own website:

 

(Question) I came to the Meyer Awards on the last night of Hanukkah and I noticed that there were a lot of queer Jews. JFREJ isn’t explicitly [gay] but it seems pretty queer. It seems to me that being a LGBTQ individual and JFREJ sort of go hand in hand.(Answer) JFREJ is not exclusively queer but we work within an explicit anti-oppression framework. Because of that JFREJ is safe place for LGBTQ people as well a place  to celebrate the LGTBQ community. We’re not explicitly queer but, yeah it can be pretty gay.

 

JFREJ is a New York organization. As I have shown on my blogs, its leadership overlaps to a large extent with the national Jewish Voices for Peace.   JVP, in turn, is recognized as the most vocal, the most aggressive, and the most visible of the (ostensibly) Jewish anti-Israel formations. Camera has given us a useful summary of the available information on this group.

 

To what extent is JVP gay or lesbian ? For obvious reasons there are no hard data, but the impression created by the overlap with known gay-related groups, such as JFREJ and Kolot Chayenu, is that there is a disproportionately high gay, especially lesbian component in JVP. When I looked at the group’s IRS disclosure form in 2010, I found that two of the five female board members were also active in lesbian causes.

 

Phyllis Chesler, in a revealing article some four years ago, has contributed some valuable first-hand observations of the obverse of our problem, what she calls the “Palestinization” of the radical lesbian movement; i. e. the fact that among the radical lesbians it is taken for granted that participants are also militant foes of the Jewish state.

 

In short, there is the inescapable conclusion of a sizable overlap between Jewish anti-Israel activism and the politicized section of the homosexual movement. Again, whether we speak of the absolutely rabid Max Blumenthal or the more moderate Tony Kushner, or the Trotskyist Sherry Wolf, we see a disproportionately high number of homosexuals among the Jewish foes of Israel. Of course there are counter-examples. Noam Chomsky is not gay, nor is Naomi Klein, nor are any number of others. But keeping in mind the demographics of homosexuality that I have stressed, anything higher than, say, five percent homosexuals among the RAIJ would be disproportionate. The actual percentage — impossible to state with precision — is likely to be ten times that or more. Another way of putting this is to observe that If the number of gays and lesbians in the RAIJ movement were proportionate to their representation in the general population, we would have to find between twenty and thirty straight RAIJ folks for every gay one. You will not find anything like that.

 

So here is the nexus: homosexuality/RJAI. That is not a hard thing to recognize. What is hard and possibly impossible to answer, the real kashe, is the why. Why is there this nexus ? What explains it ? What are the motives ? Why, in other words, controlling for the demographics, is it so much more likely for a homosexual to become RJAI than for a straight person ?

 

To begin, it is helpful to consider two questions separately: a. professed motivations, and b. the possibly non-professed motives behind the nexus.

 

If we were to ask a homosexual RJAI about his or her dual commitment, we might get a reply something like this: homosexuals belong to an oppressed group and they therefore have a natural affinity for other oppressed groups, in this case Palestinians. We Jewish LGBT people are the natural allies of all the disadvantaged and oppressed, and in particular favor the struggle against Zionism, against Islamophobia, against homophobia, against racism. I think that this is a fair restatement of the language found on RJAI pronouncements; the professed motivations are invariably couched in universalist humanitarian terms.

 

I will not belabor the illogic of this professed humanitarianism. The flaws have been pointed out many times, for instance by Cary Nelson with regard to Judith Butler, and are as familiar as they are disheartening. In a word: the self-professed humanitarian concern by RJAI for Palestinians is not matched by any comparable concern on their part for the gross human rights abuses in the Islamic world. The most striking hypocrisy of the LGBT-RJAI’s, of course, is their quietism — read implied approbation — of the persecution of gay and lesbian people by the militant Islamic regimes, most particularly in Gaza and Iran.

 

The very extreme nature of the RJAI agitation against Israel is an important aspect of this movement. Greenwald and Blumenthal in particular (together with Chomsky) are rarely far from demanding the physical annihilation of Israeli Jews. In view of the sometimes extreme malice in this agitation it is often difficult to maintain detachment in discussing this topic.

 

Now, if the professed motives for the (militant) LGBT-RJAI nexus must be dismissed, there remains the set of non-professed, and perhaps non-conscious, and in any case illogical motivations. Here we enter a murky field of interpretation and speculation. The easy psychoanalytic social interpretations that served previous generations, having generally been found wanting in their explanatory value, are no longer available to us, tempting as they may seem.

 

I have read a fair amount of the self-explanations by LGBT-RJAI individuals, and I have encountered a fair number of such people, mostly young, in person. I will give my impressions with the proviso that I do not insist on them as the final word.

 

The LGBT-RJAI folks I have met and read are often angry in a very diffuse way.   Not only are they furious at Israel, they also tend to identify with the other political radicalisms of the day;  they like to think of themselves as in revolt against everything that the Left-du-jour  is against.  They often feel that their straight parents and the straight people of their parents’ generation do not understand them or their special needs and gifts. Most of all they are angry at what they conceive as (straight) conventional society and (straight) conventional values. The “establishment” is seen as a threat and an enemy. This “establishment,” also known as the One Percent, is supportive of Israel. And Israel, like any part of an establishment, can easily be shown to fall short of the absolute purity that is traditionally demanded by absolutist radicals of all persuasions. As Nelson writes of Judith Butler, there is “the deployment of an abstract, universalizing concept of ‘justice,'” but only, of course, when it comes to the domains controlled by the enemy.

 

In other words, LGBT-RJAI is angry, angry, angry. I do not think that anything that Israel could possibly do or say would reduce this anger, no more, indeed, than anything that the (straight) “establishment” could do or say. My suggestion here is that the professed ideology of the LGBT-RJAI movement — humanitarian idealism — is largely irrelevant to the actual motivations and energies and furies of these largely young people.

 

So, my answer to the kashe that I posed at the beginning is this: the relatively small cadre of gays and lesbians within the RJAI movement is driven by personal furies to energize and stimulate and mobilize a movement that is larger than they. Given the anti-Semitic implications of their work, these Jewish “militants” may very well live to regret the consequences of their activities.

 

Hat tip:  Rita Cohn, Richard Klagsbrun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard Sanders — Twenty-First Century Apostate

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After months of some ambiguity, Mr. Bernie Sanders, by his appointments of Cornel West and James Zogby to the Democratic Party’s platform committee,  has now declared his de facto, hostile apostasy from the community of Jews.

Hostile apostates are not new to the Jewish people.  Since antiquity there have been individuals who have left the Jewish community to defame and wage war against their erstwhile  own.  In previous times such actions were mostly under color of religious conversion — to Christianity or Islam — but for at least the last two hundred years apostasy from Judaism has been largely under color of some secular creed. (My friend Edward Alexander, among others, has devoted much of his recent work to describe these modern apostates.)

Early on in the current presidential campaign, Sanders has maintained a certain ambiguity in his relationship to Jews. Often stating that he is “for” Israel, he has also condemned the Israeli military as using “disproportionate” force.  Early last year he could not find time attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.  He also announced that he is “not a great fan of Netanyahu” (not stating what he may or may not think about any other foreign leader).  Earlier this year he could not find the time — unlike all the other presidential candidates — to attend the AIPAC conference to which he had been invited, and which was probably the year’s largest gathering of American Jews. On the other hand, he did find the time, in the midst of a crucial campaign for the New York primaries, to make a rather bizarre trip to the Vatican.  There he shook the Pope’s hand but apparently he did not ask the Pope to open the secret Vatican archives on the Church’s role during the Holocaust. (I had asked Mr. Sanders, in an open letter just before this trip, to make this very request on behalf of the world’s scholarly community.)

A month ago the Sanders campaign appointed Simone Zimmerman as its “Jewish outreach coordinator.”  Ms. Zimmerman was well known for her extreme anti-Israel views,  having written on her Facebook that “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative ass**** … F*** you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of Jews in this world.”  Zimmerman’s appointment was widely noticed in the Jewish community and caused concern even among Sanders’ supporters.  A day or so after the appointment, the Sanders campaign retreated and “suspended” Zimmerman, not apparently because of her views but because of the manner in which she had expressed them.

After months of more or less talking out of both sides of his mouth, Sanders suddenly and spectacularly  ended all ambiguity this week.   Not by anything he said but by what he did.

In a pre-convention agreement with the Clinton campaign, Sanders was allowed to name five people (to Clinton’s six) to the Democratic Party’s convention platform committee.  Platforms of the two parties are neither binding nor enforceable in any way, but fights over platforms attract media attention and the outcomes have some symbolic significance.  The five people named by Sanders are 1) Cornel West, a well-known Black professor/agitator,  2) James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, 3) Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Black Muslim, 4) Bill McKiben, a writer and environmentalist, and 5) Deborah Parker, a Native American activist. Both West and Zogby are vigorous proponents of the BDS movement against Israel.  There are no Jews in this group of Sanders appointees, nor is there anyone who is identified with either pro-Israel views or with Jewish aspirations.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Sander’s appointment of West must be taken as signaling his final break with the Jewish people.

West’s resume, at first glance, suggests that he is an absolute genius.  He has degrees from the most prestigious institutions in the world and he has held the very highest academic rank at both Harvard and Princeton.  Can a man with these (paper) credentials be as ignorant, as pretentious, as hateful and as anti-Semitic as his detractors will have him be ?

You be the judge.  You may first like to read an essay by Leon Wieseltier, who finds that the many books and articles by West are “almost completely worthless.”  Or you may look at an article by David Horowitz, who details West’s close collaboration with just about all the radical Black anti-Semites of our day.  If that isn’t enough, you might like to explore West’s behavior after he had a disagreement with Harvard”s Larry Summers.  West referred to Summers, with obvious anti-Semitic intent, as “the Ariel Sharon of American higher education.” Five Princeton professors, in a letter to the New York Times, tried to call West to order on this. “Such an analogy carries innuendoes and implications regarding both President Summers and Prime Minister Sharon that many on the Princeton faculty find highly inappropriate, indeed repugnant and intolerable,” they wrote.

Now it is true that West’s malice is not restricted to Jews.  As reported by Chez Pazienza (in an article entitled “Colonel West Does Not Deserve a Say in the Democratic Party Platform”) West has been on a scurrilous warfare against Barak Obama:

During a live appearance on CNN, West claimed Obama had been “niggerized,” with the exact quote being, “The first black president has become the first niggerized black president.” When pressed by an obviously aghast Poppy Harlow, West elaborated: “A niggerized black person is a black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy.” … West’s personal obsession with Barack Obama had finally truly overwhelmed any good judgment he happened to have left.

Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist” although neither his philosophy nor his procedures resemble very much the socialism of traditional socialist organizations.

To begin, Sanders is not affiliated with a socialist party, nor is he in any way bound to collaborative activity with other self-described socialists. He is pretty much a solo player, which has led even people who are generally sympathetic to him to doubt his effectiveness.   Nor are there any of the usual appurtenances of socialist political work.  The International is not intoned by him or his co-workers.  Nobody is a “comrade.”

Sanders appears to have had only fleeting connections to other socialists of the past.  In no way can he fairly be called a Stalinist, nor, to listen to his speeches, does he seem to rely on the teachings of Karl Marx.  Aside from some pie-in-the-sky demands like free college for all,   his rhetoric is one of fairly simple-minded resentment and envy:  the “millionaires and the billionaires” are at fault, as is, in his idiolect, “Wall Shtreet.”  But there are more than a few echoes of totalitarian proclivities;  in his past as in his present, he has found much to admire in the Stalinist dictatorships of Cuba and Central America.   In brief, the creed by which Sanders has marked his opposition to the Jewish community is not so much the socialism of the twentieth century but rather a fairly idiosyncratic doctrine of strong resentments and naked class envy.  (His favorite villains tend to be rich or famous Jews:  Benjamin Netanyahu, Henry Kissinger, Sheldon Adelson.)

While Sanders has apparently had two Jewish parents, he seems to have no meaningful personal connections to the Jewish community.  He had a number of wives and domestic partners, but none of these, as far as I could gather, have been Jewish, nor, apparently, are any of his children. He says that he spent some months as a youngster on an (unnamed) Israeli kibbutz, and he also says that he has (unnamed) relatives in Israel.  But such Jewish ties seem to play little role in his life.   There is no information of his ever having been associated with a synagogue or other Jewish organization. Does he observe any Jewish rituals or holidays ?  Does Judaism play a role in his life as a husband or father ? Not very likely.

A person who has had Jewish parents is conventionally thought of as Jewish, especially if he has not formally embraced a non-Jewish religious faith.  In Sanders’ case, I think this identification is misleading.  I think that it is more descriptively correct to think of him as an apostate from Judaism.

There are no doubt many individuals in America today who, born Jewish, have drifted out of Judaism by way of their practices and associations.  If we can call all such persons apostates, the case of Sanders is still somewhat different insofar as he actively hostile to the Jewish community, i.e. he is not just an apostate  but a hostile apostate. Others, indeed, fall into this category, most prominently Noam Chomsky, whose enmities are of course much sharper than those of Sanders.  But Sanders  plays a role no other hostile Jewish apostate has played in the course of American history:  he has achieved a public prominence and a public influence that is entirely unprecedented.

I dare say that American Jews and the Jews of the world will survive Mr. Bernie Sanders;  we have survived far worse.  But that is not to say that the Sanders phenomenon is either benign or harmless.

Inequality in Israel: Propaganda vs. Analysis

Those of us who are concerned for the quality of Israeli democracy are often challenged by statistical findings that, on the surface, appear to present a bleak picture. Along these lines, Rabbi Samuel Weintraub of the synagogue to which I belong, Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, recently came back from a trip to Israel and sent a communication to his congregation as follows:

[The] Biblical principles of social responsibility and unity … guided the modern
nation of Israel in its early decades.

Sadly, that tradition has been drastically weakened. … In Israel, as in the United
States, the economic fault line also intersects with other social fault lines, in its case
the divides between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews, between Jewish and Palestinian
Arab Israelis, and between residents of the country’s center and its geographic
periphery. For examples, Arab primary and high school students receive one fifth
the governmental budgetary allotment as their Jewish peers.
….

The Rabbi gives no source for these figures, so the reader has no way of checking on the methodology and indeed the veracity underlying such findings, so skepticism must be advised. And skepticism must increase in view of the simple bi-variate model that we are asked to accept: one single variable — ethnicity — is posited as the cause of the inequality variables.

Students of social inequality have learned to study the phenomenon within a nexus of other variables, among them educational level, age, and cultural factors such as occupational preferences. As it happens, the eminent Israeli social scientist Steven Plaut has undertaken a thorough multi-variate examination of ethnic inequality in Israel, and has been able to demonstrate that the observed income differences between Arabs and Jews vanish when controlled by educational, age, and cultural factors.

Of course, not everyone can be a social scientist. But is it too much to ask that those who publish ostensible social data consult the work of experts before venturing to express an opinion ?

UPDATE, January 2017

We now have a brilliant article by Professor Cary Nelson, full of fact and documentation, which in effect refutes the false statements by Rabbi Weintraub.

UPDATE, January 23 2017

On Jan. 21 I sent the following letter to Lisa Smith, President of the Kane Street Synagogue:

Dear Lisa,

One year ago the Synagogue published an article, signed by the Rabbi, that contains unsubstantiated allegations against Israel.  For example the article claims that  “Arab primary and high school students receive one fifth the governmental budgetary allotment as their Jewish peers.”  In the year since this publication I have approached the Rabbi about half a dozen times, asking him on each occasion to supply sources for his allegation.  He has never responded to these requests.  After my last approach to him, about two weeks ago, his only reply was “happy New Year.”

I am now asking that the Board publish the evidential sources, if such exist,  for the assertions made in the posting.  Absent such documentation, I am asking that the Board withdraw the posting.  We know that in the law of defamation a publisher is liable for the defamatory statements of an individual writer.  Surely KSS as a teaching  institution — especially as it teaches the young —  will not want to publish statements that are egregiously false.

I am writing, first and foremost, as a long-time, concerned member of KSS.  However, I am also a professional sociologist, with experience in the reporting and analysis of social data. I think that this circumstance should have been an added reason for the Rabbi to at least respond to my concerns.  (You will find a list of my professional writings here.)  Nonetheless, over a period of a full year, I have not been able to elicit a reply from the Rabbi to my repeated question:  how do you know what you say you know.

I understand and endorse the idea that the Rabbi, as mara d’atra, is entitled to our respect and deference on matters of Jewish law and religion.  But this obviously cannot extend to such other matters as  the sociological analysis of social data.  I also understand and support the proposition that  a Rabbi is entitled to freedom of expression on matters that are not narrowly religious.   But like all such freedoms, this one cannot be absolute.  Surely, especially when speaking officially as spiritual leader and teacher, and teacher of the young, freedom of the pulpit cannot overrule the requirements of veracity.  As the old saying has it, we are all entitled to our own opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts.

Coming now to the substance of the Rabbi’s charges of an alleged anti-Arab discrimination in the educational system of Israel, such charges have been made at much greater length by proponents of the BDS movement, especially, lately, within the Modern Language Association.  Replying to such charges, Professor Carie Nelson has recently written as follows (the whole article may be seen here):

The confusion about education in Israel [among BDS proponents] is compounded by the authors’ [of the BDS proposal] flawed account of rigidly separate elementary and secondary systems for Arab and Jewish students. In fact, no one forces an Arab Israeli to attend an Arab-speaking school. Local demographics determine which schools are nearby. In cities with large mixed populations there are public schools with both Arab and Jewish students. A number of schools are bilingual, among them the six run by Hand in Hand. If an Arab Israeli lives in a predominantly Hebrew-speaking neighbourhood, he or she would go to a Hebrew-speaking school unless the parents choose otherwise. That said, there are underfunded Arab Israeli schools that require more resources. Indeed the Israeli Ministry of Justice has ruled against any such unequal funding practices. Israeli universities have done their part by instituting Arab Israeli student recruitment and retention programmes, not an obvious boycott-worthy offense. But it would be a mistake to assume every Arab school is inferior. The high school that won first place in a 2015 competition was an Arab high school from the Galilee area in the north. In terms of raw numbers, Ministry of Education data shows that the number of Arab students attending kindergarten increased 33 per cent from 2004-5 to 2016, and the number attending high school increased by 59 per cent in the same time period.

As soon as I became aware of Professor Nelson’s article, I sent the link to Rabbi Weintraub, asking for his reaction and reconsideration of his own charges in view of this new material.  Rabbi Weintraub has not responded to this any more than he has responded to my earlier requests for proof of his allegations.

Lisa, I will be 91 in a few weeks, im yirtse haShem, and, as you can imagine, it gives me no pleasure to be in discord with my Rabbi and my Congregation.  But I do feel an obligation to speak out, and I know you will respect that.  Again:  I ask that the Board either publish the grounds for the Rabbi’s allegations if any there be,  or, if none can be found, to withdraw these allegations.

All the best

Werner Cohn

UPDATE Jan. 27, 2017

Rabbi Weintraub has now informed me that he no longer has the notes that he took when he learned about the alleged inequality of financing education in Israel, and that, therefore, he will delete this particular sentence.  I replied that I appreciate his response.

Writing “As a Jew” ?

 

What to Think When Someone Writes “As a Jew….” 

“… joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance, “ St. Luke teaches us (15:7).  And so those who hate Israel and/or the Jews have always been joyful to present us with a Jew to give witness against his own.  “Why, even a Jew admits …”  Of course sometimes the “Jew” in question, upon closer inspection, may not really be as Jewish as he is claimed to be.  But never mind that for now.

As we have seen quite a bit on this blog, Mr. Pierre Omidyar of Hawaii runs an online publication, Intercept,  that regularly, about twice a month, rants against the state of Israel.  Just what moves Mr. O in this direction is a matter of conjecture.  It has been believed that the politics of Intercept are mostly determined by Glenn Greenwald, its reputed, well, brain, with Mr. O just writing the checks.  But then there was the case of an Omidyar grant (through the Roshan Institute) to attack alleged Israeli “pink washing,” quite independently, at least apparently, of any Greenwald involvement.

Now we have, and here we get back to St. Luke, an entirely separate Omidyar publication, the Civil Beat of Hawaii, joining in with Mr. O’s anti-Israel campaign.

This Civil Beat is generally a strictly Hawaiian affair, dealing with matters of that state, and publishing a Community Voice feature — a series of op-eds — also dealing with matters of Hawaii.  But this local focus was broken recently by the publication of a viciously anti-Israel comment by a Mr. Jon Letman of Kauai, Hawaii.  The gist:  Netanyahu is a war monger;  Iran is peaceful;  Israel is an apartheid state;  etc. etc.  If the Iranians have called for “death to America, death to Israel,” Mr. Letman ignores that or perhaps has never heard of it.

Of course Mr. Letman has a right to his opinions, as Mr. Omidyar has the right to publish them.  On the other hand, Mr. O, who repeatedly proclaims that all he does is strictly in the public interest, might be expected to allow his readers to read more than one point of view.  But that is not how Mr. O treats the subject of Israel and Jews.  But be that as it may, there is something curious about Mr. Letman’s little essay.  It begins with the assertion that he speaks “as a Jew,” an assertion made once again at the very end.  The argument of rational people should stand on its merits, not on the identity of the arguer.  But in this case Mr. Letman insists on the ad hominem;  his views, he indicates, gain weight because of his identity as a Jew.  This identity is presented to us as a qualification in the same way a physician might mention his medical expertise when speaking on medical subjects.

Of course it is questionable that the Jews of Hawaii are better equipped to opine on Israel than non-Jews.  But if we assume, arguendo, that Jewishness is indeed a qualification here, the question arises of how to verify a claim to Jewishness even as we have learned to verify medical credentials in this age of quackery.  We know that many who write “As a Jew I oppose Israel” turn out to be only questionably  Jewish.  Some belong to a Christian church or have otherwise abandoned their Jewish identity, some may have a Jewish relative but no more than that, some,like Mr. Gabriel Schivone,  have no claim to  Jewish credentials whatsoever, .

With these problems in mind, I wrote to Mr. Letman, explaining my concerns.  Yes, I did get a prompt reply, a very courteous one at that.  But no, Mr. Letman did not feel that he wants to explain just in what sense he is Jewish.  We both, he suggested, have more important things to worry about.

In the meantime, I consulted Mr. Letman’s website, and learned the following:

Jon Letman is an independent freelance journalist and photographer on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  His articles on conservation, the environment, politics and the Asia-Pacific region have been published in Al Jazeera English, Truthout, Inter Press Service, Christian Science Monitor, CNN Traveller, as well as publications in Finland, Iceland, Russia, Japan, Canada, the UK and across the US.

Not much Jewish background in this description ?  But look at the connection to Al Jazeera — and, after all, aren’t the Arabs cousins to the Jews ?  Practically Jewish ?

My Writings on “Partial Jews”

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

The Partial Jews in Nazi Germany

What About the Partial Jews ?

Rise of the Schivone Jews

What to Think When Someone Writes “Speaking as a Jew, I am against Israel”

 

 

*** 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 ?

Mr. Greenwald Promises Transparency But Delivers Opaqueness

 

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  Wikipedia

Some four years ago I had the occasion to visit the northern German city of Lübeck, home to Thomas Mann and setting of his Buddenbrooks, where  I joined a sightseeing groups of German-speaking tourists.  Our guide explained various periods of the city’s history.  For WWII, he found only one event worth mentioning:  what he described as the barbarity of bombings by the RAF.  Indeed, it occurred to me while listening, the people of Lübeck had suffered.  But I also recalled something the guide did not mention, i.e. the Holocaust that had occurred  some kilometers further east.

Fast forward four years.  Within the last three weeks Mr. Glenn Greenwald and his Omidyar-financed website Intercept have thundered against Israel and Israel’s various putative barbarities in Gaza.  I found not one word, not a single one, that could be construed as criticism or even reservation concerning the actions of Hamas.  (I have blogged about one of these recent Greenwald anti-Israel broadsides.)

So one of Glenn Greenwald’s offenses against intellectual integrity — and there are a number of these  is cherry picking, as defined in my quotation above.  But the problem with the Omidyar-Greenwald website is actually much more extreme because it is not just some ordinary  propagandistic one-sidedness  that  can be detected by the observant reader.  I would call it a higher cherry picking, consisting of the total suppression of any information  that does not fit into the author’s ideology.

It is no secret that Greenwald has obtained the vast trove of US government secrets that were stoled by Edward Snowden.  Now, more than a year later, Greenwald and his collaborators dip into this trove and other stolen government documents from time to time, pick from them whatever they want to pick,  and present the result as a truthful representation of what the world is all about.  Since nobody outside of the Greenwald organization has access to these materials there is no way for Greenwald’s readers to know whether a) the particular document now “revealed” actually comes from US government sources;  whether b) if indeed it does, it is presented in its entirety;  and finally whether c) if it is, there are other documents in the collection that limit or contradict it.  In other words, a reader must accept, on faith alone, that the document exists and that it means what Greenwald says it means.

A typical example of the Greenwald method is his posting, just three days ago, of an article “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance:  the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack.”  The piece purports to tell a story, using Snowden documents, of secret US military, financial, and intelligence support of “Israel’s military assaults — such as the one in Gaza.”

First of all, there are publicly available materials that US assistance of this kind is routinely given to Arab countries as well, something Greenwald does not mention.  We know, for instance, that the US has provided Qatar, the ally of Hamas, with such cooperation. Moreover, as Cliff Kincaid has reported,  ” [Greenwald’s] own reporting [inadvertently] discloses that the NSA and the Israeli signals intelligence unit (ISNU) have shared information with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.”

So much for Greenwald’s cherry picking, which, indeed, can be detected by diligent googling.  But there is the more insidious “higher cherry picking,” which consists of citing wholly opaque sources (the Snowden papers), not accessible to anyone but Greenwald himself, and which Greenwald expects his readers to accept on his sole say-so.

So here is my question to all those who see some value in Greenwald’s journalism:  since there is no way of verifying his assertions, and since, moreover, his record for veracity has never been established, what possible grounds can there be for defending his work ? Mr. Greenwald says that he favors “transparency” of government, but what he practices is total opaqueness.

 

Greenwald’s War Against Israel

 

Mr. Glenn Greenwald, author, columnist, and self-described journalist, has become well-known for his collaborations with Edward Snowden.  Several months ago Mr. Greenwald obtained substantial funding from the billionaire Pierre Obidyar to establish an online publication Intercept, part of Obidyar’s First Look Media.

Now, several months forward, Intercept, as it promised it would, devotes space to Snowden’s cause.  But that is not the only cause  which it supports.  Another one, to which it has given substantial space as well, is that of Israel-bashing.

About a week ago, Greenwald ran a particularly untruthful, hateful, shameful attack on Israel:  Netanyahu’s ‘Telegenically Dead’ Comment Is Grotesque but Not Original .  Greenwald’s assertion is that Israel behaves like Nazis in Gaza.

Greenwald begins by what he says is a quotation from Netanyahu, which he presents as follows:

“They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”

Next, he gives what he says is a quotation from Joseph Goebbels, as follows:

“The Jews gradually are having to depend more and more on themselves, and have recently found a new trick. They knew the good-natured German Michael in us, always ready to shed sentimental tears for the injustice done to them. One suddenly has the impression that the Berlin Jewish population consists only of little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies. The Jews send out the pitiable. They may confuse some harmless souls for a while, but not us. We know exactly what the situation is.”

The emphasis, in both cases, is of course supplied by Mr. Greenwald.

I have taken the trouble to look at the context of both of these quotations.  That by Netanyahu is also reported by the Forward, but together with a clarifying statement by Netanyahu:

“Israel regrets every injury to civilians,” the prime minister said. “I call on the residents of Gaza: Don’t stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.”

If Mr. Greenwald’s reporting on Netanyahu is grossly misleading, the same must be said of his reporting on Goebbels.

The passage from Goebbels in question (dated November 16, 1941)  can be seen here in the original German and here in an English translation.    The article is quite long,  approximately 1600 words, and is entitled “Die Juden sind schuld !,”  (“The Jews are at  fault !).    It makes the following points:  Every Jew is our enemy.  There is no such thing as a good Jew and a bad Jew.  Every Jew is evil.  Judaism must be destroyed. 

Has Mr. Greenwald even read this German-language article, either in the original or in translation, or does he depend on some tendentious report by a third party ?  In either case, the paragraph translated and presented by Mr. Greenwald is in no way representative of the gist of Goebbels’s piece, and, in fact, grossly distorts it.

 Whether he cites Goebbels or Netanyahu, Mr. Greenwald  misleads his readers.  Read in relevant context, Netanyahu asserts, as does his government, that Israel is deeply concerned over loss of life, whether Jew or Arab.  And when read its entirety, Goebbels is seen to advocate the destruction of all Jews.  When Greenwald tells us that these two positions are the same,  he tells us more about his own integrity — or rather lack thereof — than he tells us about the ostensible subject of his rantings.

Obviously, Mr. Greenwald’s publisher, Pierre Obidyar, must share in   the moral responsibility for what is published under his imprint,  First Look Media.

As it happens, there is indeed a Nazi connection to be found in this topic of Israel vs. Hamas.  And pace Mr. Greenwald, the Nazi connection is on the side of Hamas.   The Hamas Charter, available freely on the Internet and elsewhere, calls for the destruction of Israel and the  killing  of all Jews and cites, with great approval, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a veritable bible of the Nazi movement.  But on this topic, the Hamas Charter, Mr. Greenwald is strangely quiet.

READ ALSO:  my earlier posting on Comrade Greenwald and Mr. Pierre Obidyar

The Brouhaha about the Anti-Boycott Law in Israel

Two days ago two events took place in Israel: 1) the Israeli Knesset passed a law that provides for civil penalties for those who organize boycotts against Israel, and 2), at about the same time, Hamas resumed the firing of Qasam missiles into Israel. And guess what: all the self-described friends of peace in the Middle East — the New Israel Fund, the Americans for Peace Now, and their allies — are outraged, absolutely outraged at event number one, but considerably less so at event number two. In fact, these great friends of peace, to judge by their websites, have not at all noticed event number two. Peace, to these peaceniks, is not at all endangered by Hamas bombardments.

(It seems that Jewish organizations across the political spectrum have expressed criticism of the the anti-boycott law, but the hysteria about it is restricted to the self-styled Left. NGO Monitor has published a very good analysis of the law, including an English translation of its text.)

It may very well be, as NGO Monitor maintains, that this new law is objectionable on a number of grounds, and it also may very well be that it will be overturned by the courts. But in the meantime here are some factors that got lost in the brouhaha:

1) Israel finds itself in an existential crisis. The loftiest of advice is of questionable value when it comes from people far away, who, moreover, do not have to face the consequences of their admonitions. A beau mentir qui vient de loin.

2) Freedom of expression is a vacuous formulation if considered without context. For example, there is no jurisdiction on earth, or imaginable, without limitations to freedom. There are the obvious prohibitions about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater; about libel and slander; about false advertising; and many others. What the limits should be in a given circumstance can only be determined by a close consideration of its particulars. In the case of the anti-boycott law, it is important to recognize the evil to which this law is addressed: the agitation by a number of well financed groups, with the bulk of the money coming from abroad, to delegitemize the state of Israel. That is a problem to which the Knesset obviously had to react. Perhaps the law in this first version is overreaching or otherwise inappropriate, and it seems that amendments to it are under consideration. But to criticize the law without at all recognizing the underlying problem is mindless.

3) The right to organize boycotts, pace the opinion of the hysterics who are discussing this law from afar, is not one of those rock-bottom democratic rights like freedom of the press. It is not a tool of rational discussion but rather a tool of coercion: do as I say or I will try to take away your livelihood. In the United States there are limits to the right to organize boycotts. Unions may boycott employers with whom they have a dispute, but they cannot engage in “secondary boycotts,” i.e. boycott those who do business with these employers. And it is also illegal, in the United States, to collude in boycotts organized by foreign governments. It is similarly illegal to orchestrate boycotts against racial or religious groups where public accommodations are in play. In brief, public policy recognizes that the freedom to engage in public actions must stop where the freedom of others is encroached.

4) The left-leaning groups who are so enraged at what they think is an unjustifiable limitation of freedom here never criticized the Knesset, as far as I can remember, when it banned Kahane’s Kach party in 1988. It seems that these great defenders of absolute freedom are quite happy when it is their opponents who are banned.

In the end, many people in this world, including many diaspora Jews and not only those on the Left, are quite eager to see a mote in Israel’s eye while missing the beam elsewhere.