Category Archives: Jewish Voice for Peace

The Friends of Mr. Keith Ellison

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

1) CW Code White

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

2) CLG Code Light Grey

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

3) CDG Code Dark Grey

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

4) CB Code Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay and anti-Israel; Why ?

The Homosexual Factor

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hat tip:  Rita Cohn, Richard Klagsbrun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”

 

 

THE TWO SIDES OF JFREJ

 

THE TWO SIDES OF JFREF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rise of the Schivone Jews

Mr. Gabriel Matthew Schivone is one of the very few people in human history whose very name appears destined to become a description of a phenomenon, in this case the Schivone Jew.  Previous examples of persons who have given their names to phenomena include Vidkun Quisling, the Earl of Sandwich, and only very few others.

If you google Mr. Schivone, very little of his distinction will appear.  You will find him described as a proud Jewish member of the Gaza flotilla, as an interviewer of Noam Chomsky, even as a poet;  in short, just another one of those very very righteous Jews who battle on behalf of the oppressed Palestinians.  Nothing outstanding there.

Here, for example, he explains why, particularly as a Jew, his conscience led him to resist “U.S. – Israeli aggression.”

Well, so far so good.  The only problem is that Mr. Schivone is not Jewish.  He has had a distant Jewish relative, but no, no Jewish parent, no conversion to Judaism.  On the other hand he feels strongly about the Palestinians and suggests that such feelings qualify him as a Jew;   as he put it, you work with what you have.

These little bits of his biography have just emerged from two letters published in Haaretz, to which he had contributed one of his anti-Israel rants.  Here is the first of these letters:

In response to “A moment before the next flotilla,” Week’s End, June 24.

 In his editorial about joining the flotilla to Gaza, Gabriel Schivone represented himself as a Jewish college student. I feel I must point out that this not his true identity, but one he has created in order to generate insider credibility, shield himself from accusations of anti-Semitism, and resonate with a target audience.

I met Gabriel in 2004 while attending the University of Arizona, where we became very close friends. I am a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights and agree with Gabriel that the blockade of Gaza has caused great humanitarian suffering. However, readers have a right to know the facts and reach their own informed conclusions.

 Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity. He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that “you use what you have.”            

In all the time I’ve known him, he has never expressed feeling morally conflicted about Israel, nor has he succumbed to pressure to be “silent.” The editorial’s narrative is not Gabriel’s story, but one crafted to lend moral and emotional weight to his argument while appealing to the young, college-aged Jews whose participation is so vital to the pro-Palestinian movement.

The aim of this letter is not to discredit that movement or the flotilla, or to take a political side, but to alert readers to specific distortions in this editorial. It is a shame that the war of narratives so readily eclipses and manipulates the truth.


Valerie Saturen  
Tacoma, Wash.

And here is Mr. Schivone’s response:

I’m astonished by the bizarre charges about my most cherished sense of personal identity made by a person I haven’t seen, nor corresponded with, in years. It is precisely through my work organizing for Palestinian human rights with other Jews that I evolved to become deeply proud of my identity as a Chicano Jew. 

This is not an uncommon story. Many of us find, after years in the wilderness, that this work has brought us closer to our Jewish roots because we found a community of other Jews who believed as we did and who commit themselves, with every ounce of their being, to full equality for all people, especially Palestinians. 

Petty attempts at personal defamation of this sort act as distractions from the urgent task that should concern us all: to expose, and resist, U.S.-Israeli policies of closure and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian life under occupation. 

Gabriel Matthew Schivone
Athens, Greece        

What are we to make of the Schivone Jews ?  Gabriel here is the purest form:  no Jewish background whatever, but this lack compensated by a strong desire to work against Israel.  The old joke was about the fervent anti-Communist being some-sort-of Communist, so, why not, by that logic the anti-Jew surely has claim to being, at the very least, a some-sort-of Jew.  This pure form of being a Schivone Jew may be rare, it is the Schivone Jew in the strong sense.

Much less rare is the Schivone Jew in a weaker sense.

Most of the few active anti-Israel Jews that I have known fall into this category.  Usually there was a Jewish parent (whether mother or father, in this context, matters little) but a life totally apart from any other Jewish entanglement.  The spouse (or, more often, the “partner”) would not be Jewish, and, of course, there would not be synagogue membership, except when that involves, as it sometimes does, anti-Israel activism.  In short, the self-identification as “Jewish” comes up for one and only one purpose:  a life devoted to fighting against Israel.  Which brings us to a definition of the Schivone Jew:  someone of little or no Jewish background who, nevertheless, petulantly claims a Jewish identify for the sole purpose of agitating against Israel as an aggrieved Jew.

As it happens, Schivone Jews seem to predominate in the major self-styled “Jewish” groups that oppose  Israel.  This is certainly true of Jewish Voice for Peace (of which Gabriel Schivone is a member and reports “many non-Jewish Americans” as members) and perhaps also of Michael Lerner’s Tikkun (which acknowledges that 40% of its readership is non-Jewish).

Chapeau:  Paul Bogdanor

read more details on Mr. Schivone by Benjamin Weinthal of the Jerusalem Post

UPDATE, July 2012
It appears that another Schivone  Jew (i.e. a non-Jewish anti-Israel activist, claiming to be Jewish) has appeared in Germany, a Ms. Irena Wachendorff.  Here is the Jerusalem Post report.

Chapeau:  Richard Klagsbrun

UPDATE, May 2015

Schivone still claims to be 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”

 

The "Rabbis" of the "Jewish" Voice for "Peace"

4/1/1933. Nazis inaugurate the Holocaust by putting on a Day of Boycott: “Don’t Buy from the Jews”

OK, you hate Israel. You want to punish Israel, to boycott Israel, even as the Nazis began their war against the Jews by a “boycott” of Jewish enterprise back in 1932. Boycott, divestment, sanction. Punish the Jews !

But how can you contribute to this cause in a novel way ? As a beginning, call your campaign one of “peace.” The word “hate” has a bad reputation, so look, call it “peace.”

Second, hey, here is a new concept. Call your group “Jewish.” Why not ? Is there a law against calling yourself Jewish ? Besides, so many of your friends are Jewish. And come to think of it, there was this old aunt ….

Now we’re on to something. Just one more thing: can we get a Rabbinical Council of some sort to make it all legit ? Great. The Jewish Voice for Peace is born, Rabbinical Council and all, to demand the dismantlement of Israel, pronto.

I know, all this sounds like a joke, but in fact it’s dead serious. So serious that the Anti-Defamation League has just named this “Jewish Voice for Peace” as one of the top ten anti-Israel groups in America. Click here for the ADL report on the group. And click here for Adam Holland’s earlier report.

This JVP, how many members does it have ? Holland thinks there may be about a thousand, but there is no way of telling for sure. And of these, how many are Jewish by some reasonable definition ? I do not know, but the group itself, on its website, says that it includes “many non-Jewish Americans.” Ah, “many,’ that great flexible adjective so beloved by the evasive. “Many” can mean anything from ‘quite a few,’ to ‘the majority,’ to ‘almost all.’ Which is it, JVP ?
I will not guess. But there is no need to guess about the “rabbis” who are listed by JVP as members of its “New Rabbinical Council.” As we shall see, sixteen out of these twenty-seven Rabbinical Council members, or sixty percent, cannot, by any reasonable definition, be called Jewish rabbis.

Here are some excerpts from the website of one of these, whom I shall call X., which, broadly speaking, illustrates the problem:

Rabbi X. received סמיכה (Smichah, Ordination) in 1977. In keeping with the ancient Talmudic and early Hassidic traditions, he did not attend Yeshivah (Seminary); rather, in 1970, he attached himself as a student to Rabbi Y. of New York and studied under the direction of Rabbi Z. and Rabbis A. ז”ל and B. for some seven years. Finally, in 1977, when his teachers determined that he was ready, they ordained him a rabbi.

In the early 1980s, Rabbi X. served for two years as the spiritual leader of Temple C., a Reform congregation in D.. He has also led less formal fellowship groups (havurot) in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He served for eight years as a hospital and hospice chaplain, with a specialty in Mental Health Chaplaincy.

Rabbi X. has taught classes and led workshops and seminars at churches, synagogues, and other spiritual centers throughout the United States and Canada. His subjects have included Kabbalah (the Jewish metaphysical tradition and the foundation of all Western mysticism), Self-Esteem, Prosperity, Forgiveness, the Metaphysical Interpretation of Scripture, Spiritual Tales of Many Traditions, the Divine Commandment of Non-Violence, the Unity of Religious Traditions, and many related areas. His audiences have included synagogue groups, Silva Mind Control Centers, Vedanta Centers, and Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Unity, Religious Science, Science of Mind, and Divine Science churches in twenty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces.

When asked about his approach to Kabbalah, Rabbi X. asserts that, while Kabbalah is clearly and unmistakably the Jewish mystical tradition, it is also much more than that. Unlike many other religious traditions, whose mystical elements are hidden or consigned to the status of an additional or peripheral aspect, Judaism’s mystical aspect is its heart and soul, its essence, its very life-force. Furthermore, Kabbalah, in addition to being the heart of Judaism, is also, as Rabbi X. puts it, “a body of ancient and universal mystical wisdom which, while preserved in a Jewish form, is applicable to every religious tradition.”

In describing his own theological orientation, Rabbi X. declares, “I am a Jewish practitioner of generic religion. As a G*d-worshipper, I believe, I ought to be at home any place G*d is worshipped. At home, not just a visitor.” Religion — all religion — is intended to be a force to bring people together — together with each other and together with G*d — and not to drive them apart. All our many Names for G*d do not divide G*d and should not be permitted to divide us. Separations and divisions are inherently irreligious acts.

So much for “Rabbi” X. Of the twenty-seven of JVP’s Rabbinical Council, eight are identified as rabbinical students, and another Council member is said to be a cantor. That leaves eighteen who are said to be rabbis. Of these eighteen there are three who appear to have had a standard Reform Jewish ordination, but one of these three, now aged 89, is long retired. In addition to these three with apparently traditional rabbinical training, there are eight who seem to have received training and ordination at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. These eleven — three Reform and eight Reconstructionist — would all seem to have some claim to be considered Jewish rabbis.

The distribution of these JVP rabbis along denominational lines, then, is as follows: Reform: 36%; Reconstruction: 73%; Conservative: 0%; Orthodox: 0%. We can compare this distribution to that of synagogue-affiliated American Jews, who, according to the 2002 American Jewish Population Study, are 33% Reform, 3% Reconstruction, 21% Orthodox, 33% Conservative, and 4% other.

Seven of the members of the JVP Rabbinical Council, or 39% of those for whom there is a claim of rabbininal ordination, were privately ordained — essentially self-ordained, like Mr. X above.

Self-ordination is of course a general feature of the less savory aspects of American public life. Politicians and others sometimes refer to themselves as the Rev. This or the Rev. That, often with little more justification than that of Mr. X., pardon me, Rabbi X. There seems to be no law to prevent this silly self-aggrandizement, and often little harm is done; few are seriously misled. But here, in the case of the “Jewish Voice for Peace,” something much more sinister is involved: an audacious, very energetic, very well financed initiative by enemies of the Jews to create an appearance of substantial Jewish support to them. I do not believe that there is such a substantial support. If there were, the JVP would have had no need to fabricate one.

Finally, there are other indications that the JVP leadership is highly unrepresentative of Jewish life. The group’s IRS Form 990, showing its board members and other interesting information, lists five women among its trustees. Of these, two are also identified on the Internet as involved with Lesbian causes. But none, as far I can see, are concerned with such humanitarian issues as hunger, oppression, or disease in Africa or other parts of the Third World. I cannot tell all the possible areas of private compassion of these JVP leaders, but as far as the public record is concerned, none of their compassion is expended for Jewish targets of Islamic terror, for example, or indeed for anyone at all except Palestinians.

Read CAMERA’s report on JVP

Read Frontpagemag’s report on JVP