Category Archives: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

The Friends of Mr. Keith Ellison

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

1) CW Code White

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

2) CLG Code Light Grey

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

3) CDG Code Dark Grey

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

4) CB Code Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay and anti-Israel; Why ?

The Homosexual Factor

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hat tip:  Rita Cohn, Richard Klagsbrun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 ?

 

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

There is no organization, none (except perhaps the Ku Klux Klan) that exceeds the New York-based  Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in its radical hatred of Israel.  But this hatred is veiled.  It is obviously known to JFREJ’s own cadre and to people who make the effort to dig behind the facade, but it is not apparent to the casual sympathizer whom the group seeks to entice to its orbit.

This hatred of Israel, in my view, is the core of JFREJ.  But before we get to this core, let us look at some of the outward appearances.

Much of the activity of JFREJ is reminiscent of the “cultural work” of the American Communist Party in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  (On which see Great Day Coming.  Folk Music and the American Left,1971,  by the late R. Serge Denisoff,)  Where the CP looked back on an American “folk music” tradition, which the CP misrepresented where it did not simply invent, JFREJ affects an interest in Yiddish culture and the Yiddish socialist movement, both of which, I believe,  are severely misrepresented by it.  Here is a small example:  JFREJ’s Yiddish phrases are invariably spoken or sung in the phonemes of American English.  And of course there is no contact whatever with the only living communities that speak Yiddish natively, viz. the Hasidim.

And perhaps worst of all,  JFREJ’s  misrepresentations of the Jewish Socialist Bund, a largely pre-WWI formation in Czarist Russia, would make the Bundist activists and leaders turn in their graves.  (For what I take to be the best history of the Bund, see Jonathan Frankel’s Prophecy and Politics, Socialism, Nationalism, &and the Russsian Jews, 1862-1917.) JFREJ seems to believe, or in any case seeks to make us believe, that there is some sort of kinship between them and the truly heroic figures of the Bund.  Yes, the theorists of the Bund polemicized against Zionism, advocating, instead, an autonomous Jewish culture in the pre-WWI pale of Jewish settlement.  That Yiddish-speaking community is gone, so how these old polemics could have relevance today is a mystery to me.  And no, none of the Bundists ever, ever, made common cause with those out to destroy the Jews.  And just wondering, dear JFREJ folks, have you as much as heard of the Bund leader Victor Alter, of Henryk Ehrlich ?  These were our people, not yours.  (For the Bundist position on Zionism, see Jack Jacobs, “Bundist Anti-Zionism in Interwar Poland”, Tel Aviver Jahrbuch fuer deutsche Geschichte, 33, 2005, pp. 239-259.)

Those active in the current very small movement of secular Yiddishism — with which I have a great deal of sympathy — overlap  to some extent with those active in anti-Israel agitation.  This has been going on for some decades, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me.  There are no logical grounds for this overlap, as far as I can see.   In much the same way, more than a few people active as Jewish Lesbians are also active in the anti-Israel movement.  Again, I can see no logical reason for this overlap.  Here is an interview with a JFREJ member on the subject:

(QuestionI 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 to celebrate the LGTBQ community.  We’re not explicitly queer but, yeah it can be pretty gay.

But these curious overlaps aside,  JFREJ appears to be unexceptional at first blush or even at second.  Who wouldn’t endorse justice, racial, economic, or any other kind ?  And even a casual look at the group’s website shows nothing very alarming.  They wish better pay for domestic workers in New York.  Who can argue with that ?  They don’t like the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy.  Well, some of my best friends feel the same way.

Things get slightly more dicey when, way up there on their very short list of priorities, JFREJ thunders against “Islamophobia.”  Of course any kind of phobia — “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion”  — is to be avoided whenever possible.  But is Islamophobia the only kind we need to worry about ?  Not Judeophobia, for example ?  No, not Judeophobia, not according to JFREJ. (US Government statistics show that, proportinately,  Jews are victimized by hate crimes  more than three times as often as Muslims.  See my analysis here.)

Furthermore, when the NYPD engages in  surveillance of suspected Muslim terrorists, that practice, according to JFREJ, constitutes Islamophobia and must be stopped, stat.  Well, perhaps JFREJ has a point and perhaps it hasn’t.  I am inclined to trust the professional judgement of the NYPD but I can see that errors in judgement are always possible. But  who can forget the case of Brooklyn’s own terrorist, the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman ?  Here is the indictment of this gentleman, and here is the judgement.  Is the NYPD being phobic, as JFREJ alleges,  when it keeps an eye on certain mosques, or is it a matter of being safe rather than sorry ?

Well, let’s move on.

A reader’s first strong indication of JFREJ’s inner core comes in its recent declaration in support of the official sponsorship by Brooklyn College of the BDS movement.  No, “JFREJ has not taken an organizational position regarding BDS because it falls outside our focus area,” it says. On the other hand, JFREJ holds, BDS must be given freedom of speech at Brooklyn College.   Freedom of speech ?  Somehow JFREJ forgets that nobody ever tried to prevent BDS from holding its meeting at the College.   The controversy arose because Jewish students objected to official College endorsement of the event, of using public resources to promote the BDS hate speech.  (I have here written about the incident.)  So it would seem that more than freedom of speech here is what JFREJ is after.

Now consider this statement:  “JFREJ has not taken an organizational position regarding BDS because it falls outside our focus area.”  Brilliant, isn’t it.  On the one hand, no, we have not endorsed BDS, so all you right-wingers are liars if you say we have.  On the other hand, wink wink, you know where we stand, don’t you.  I suppose this is what lawyers call the need for deniability.

Moving right along …

Marjorie Dove Kent is the current Executive Director of JFREJ.  She has concluded what she calls a study of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, entitled  What Happened Before That. The booklet mentions Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, a number of times.  But there is no mention at all of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, onetime Mufti of Jerusalem and arguably the founder of the modern Palestinian nationalist movement.  Al-Husayni  of course gets airbrushed out of this kind of literature, for obvious reasons. Nor is there mention, at all, of the 1929 Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were killed, and which left an indelible memory in the Jewish people.

Of the many howlers in her opus, this one, in particular, caught my attention:

Something that gets left out of this history all the time: During the “conquest of labor” stage, Jews were imported from Yemen by Zionists in Palestine to perform unskilled labor in the place of Palestinian Arabs. 

Though they were Jewish, they were not included in the Kibbutz settlements. These were exclusively Eastern-European institutions. Remember – Zionism developed during the same time as modern racism and embodied racist ideology in many forms. The deliberate exclusion of Mizrahi Jews from the economic opportunities arising for other Jews created inequalities that still play out in Israeli life today.

True, there are not many Yemenite Jews on kibbutzim.  But the one kibbutz where I once spent six months had Yemenite members.  If Ms. Kent had ever talked to a single Yemenite Jew she would have been quickly disabused of her notions of the Yemenite aliyah.  It would be tedious for me to talk about what is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the matter.  As for Misrachi and Sephardic Jews, here is a partial listing of the many political, military, academic, and business leaders of Israel who have come from this background.

And here is Ms. Kent’s conclusion to her study:

The occupation of Palestine is inherently linked to the violence between India and Pakistan, the genocide of Native Americans, and the poverty of Sub-Saharan Africa. All are manifestations of the same systems of oppression. When we fail to attack the systems, we unfailingly attack each other. This is not the way towards liberation. Let us instead mourn the violence we have perpetrated against each other, and seek new systems for real collective liberation 

No doubt scholars will disagree about the degree of perspicacity in these lines, but they do bring us further in our search for the core of JFREJ.

This core is actually found in whom JFREJ has chosen to honor over the years.  These 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.

Some years before this award, Scharzschild had resigned from the board of a Jewish publication Sh’ma, with the following explanation:

I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.  I retain, of course, the same deep concern for its inhabitants, Jewish, Arab, and other, that I hold for all humankind. …

 If those be the places where the State of Israel chooses to stand, I cannot stand with it.  I therefore resign all connections with Jewish political and public institutions that will not radically oppose the State and its claim to Jewish legitimacy.  Sh’ma is one of those.

Scharzschild resigned from Sh’ma but was happy to stand with JFREJ.  In this, he defines the core meaning of this group.

 

UPDATE, Nov. 2014:

Here is a video of Marjorie Dove Kent, Executive Director of JFREJ, as she is hosting an anti-Israel meeting in New York in November of 2014.  JFREJ here is in “partnership” with Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the most virulent anti-Israel groups in the US.  (See the ADL description of JVP here.)  The video is long and boring but should prove enlightening  to those who still think that JFREJ is in some sense benign.  Anyone who supports Israel, so JFREJ here, is ipso facto an “Islamophobe.” Spoiler warning:  Mayor de Blasio is revealed as  a Zionist stooge.

UPDATE, Jan. 12, 1015

Ms. M. D. Kent, now as before Executive Director of JFREJ, co-signs a hate-Israel statement, together with members of Jews Say No and Jewish Voice for Peace.

UPDATE, Feb. 18, 2015

Please read my additional posting, The Two Sides of JFREJ, written in response to the organization’s infiltration of mainline synagogues.