Category Archives: JStreet

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.

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 !

THE THREE POSTULATES OF PROGRESSIVE AMERICAN JUDAISM

The Three Postulates of Progressive American Judaism

Postulate:  something taken as self-evident or assumed without proof.

“Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse,” according to the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews. We live in an unprecedented environment of assimilation — Hellenization — of which political Progressive American Judaism is an important concomitant.  Perhaps a quarter of American Jews seem to embrace it to one extent or another.

Some preliminary definitions and disclaimers. 1)  When I say Progressives, I mean self-styled political Progressives.  2)  Not all Progressives conform in all particulars to my descriptions here.  I use the organization JStreet as an exemplar, and my descriptions relate most particularly to this group and to the individuals associated with it.  3) With this focus in mind, the folks I discuss are not exactly foes of israel — certainly not in their own mind — but neither are they exactly friends.  So while on one side they differ from radical enemies of Israel like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler (a small minority), they are also distinct from anyone, whether sometimes critical of Israel or not, who accepts and supports the idea of Israel as a Jewish state (the majority of American Jews).   So, to repeat, I speak of all those who see JStreet as, more or less, an expression of their own views.

A.  The Postulate of Israeli Guilt.

Mr. Peter Beinart, perhaps the most prominent writer associated with JStreet, opens his 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism with an anecdote that he has gleaned from a video.  It seems that an Arab was arrested for stealing water from a Jewish settlement;  the scene was captured on the video.  From this scene, but without any further investigation whatever, Beinart concludes that a grave injustice was done to the Palestinian.  Moreover, Beinart vows, as a result of the lesson that he has learned from the video, he will instruct his children “that unless American Jews help end the occupation that desecrates Israel’s founding ideals, this is what Zionism will become, a movement that fails the test of Jewish power.”

Absent an investigation of the circumstances that lead to the arrest of the Arab man, how does Mr. Beinart know that a grave injustice was done ?  Of course he does not, as Bret Stephens has pointed out in a trenchant review of the book. But even as a religious zealot never questions the postulates of his faith, it does not occur to Mr. Beinart to question the postulate of Israeli guilt.

Note here that the occupation, seen as undesirable by the Israeli government and the majority of the Jewish population of Israel, is presented here by Mr. Beinart as an Israeli crime.  Never mind that Israel has repeatedly, for instance through a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, tried to extricate itself from the burden of the occupation.  Except by those who accept the postulate of Israeli guilt, it is difficult to exculpate the Palestinian elites from responsibility for the stalemate on this question.

After the March re-election of Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel, Mr. Beinart suggested that the U.S. government should “punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government” for holding to its own policies.  One can discuss with people with whom one disagrees, but whom does one “punish,” as Mr. Beinart suggests ? Obviously those who are guilty.

The postulate of Israeli guilt has infected all statements on Israel by these Progressives.  I have seen it, for example, in statements by Progressive rabbis in response to the current intifada in Israel.  Following the lead of JStreet, these Progressives hold that the knifings, shootings, and other murders of Jews, by Palestinian Arabs, are as much the fault of the Israelis as of the Arabs. Go figure.

  Partners for Progressive Israel  (PPI) has gone further:  it suggests that the current violence is actually (mostly) Israel’s fault.  PPI is a small group of self-styled Progressive Jews who support the Meretz party in Israel. PPI’s membership overlaps largely with that of JStreet.

What are we to make of this postulate of Israeli guilt ?  Where does it come from ?  Similar to the question of anti-Semitism, to which it is related, it must remain a mystery to those who insist on seeing man as a rational actor.  And no, our Progressives are not rational.  This irrationality again comes into play when we consider the second of our postulates:

B.  The Postulate of an Immoral Right Wing

Here is a précis of some of the Basic Principles by which the Progressive Judaism of our time likes to define itself:  1)  We support the core democratic values among which there is the principle  of government by the people, as opposed to, for instance, government by an elite.  2) The world can be divided into the Left (good) and the Right Wing (bad).  3)  The Right Wing is, well, not Progressive.  It is, in fact, regressive.  It represent the interests of the billionaires (shades of Bernie Sanders !) and other bad actors.  4) The Israeli government is Right Wing and therefore reprehensible.

Now how do we know that the Israeli government is Right Wing ?  Neither Netanyahu nor the members of his coalition use the term to refer to themselves.  In fact, in the contexts in which our Progressives use the term, Right Wing is no more than an epithet, a term of abuse.  I have blogged on this topic before, here and here. It is of course true that in other contexts, more neutral observers, particularly the media, will refer to the Likud and allied parties as “right wing”  without an implication of moral judgement. But be that as it may, The Progressives’ syllogism — Right Wing is bad;  Likud is Right Wing; hence Likud is bad —  is seriously compromised  when tested by empirical data.

If, as Progressive doctrine holds, the Right represents the interests of privilege while the Left represents the interests of oppressed masses, it should follow, in accordance with the democratic principle that people must be trusted to know their own interests, that the less privileged in society will vote Left, more privileged Right.  But generally speaking, just about all over the world with some exceptions, the very opposite holds true.  Here is a representative study of Israeli voters in the 2003 elections, conducted by Michael Shalev and Gal Levy.  (The full study is available here.)

table

The most relevant line for our purpose here is the last, which gives the social-economic status of the average voter of the different political parties.  The authors report what they call standard scores, which are more commonly called z-scores, and which I will translate into the more common percentile scores.  So we learn that the average Shas  (“right-wing”) voter is in the 21st  percentile of the population;  the average Likudnik (also “right-wing”) in the 41st, the average Labor voter (moderate Left) in the 56th, and the average Meretz voter (Left, strongly approved by the American-Jewish Progressive PPI) is in the 72nd.  (The numbers for the centrist Shinui are 61,  69 for Russian olim.)  In other words, the electorate of the current governing parties come from the distinctly less advantaged while the splinter Meretz group, so beloved by American Progressive Judaism, attracts the over-privileged.

Of course our Progressives can reply, as Marxists sometimes do, that the poor, the downtrodden, the toiling masses do not know what is good for them.  Only we, the enlightened elite, we have the knowledge and the wisdom and the virtue.  Progressives can say that, but only at the expense of repudiating their profession of belief in democratic self-government.  You can’t have it both ways.

C.  The Postulate of Palestinian Innocence

One of the most striking experiences in reading Mr. Beinart and his comrades is their innocence — in the culpable meaning of that term — of any appreciation for the cultural context of the current Israeli-Arab conflict.  The hell that is today’s Syria, the millions of refugees from Muslim countries, the unspeakable violence, internal and exported, of radical Islamism, none of this finds its way into the Progressive media.  So the question that arises for non-Progressives — if Israel is the cause of violence by Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories, who is responsible for the even greater violence by Arabs and Islamists  in the rest of the world ? — never seems to faze our Progressives.

The major cultural factors of Palestinian society that impinge on the Israeli conflict may be summarized under four headings:

1) There is  an Islamic culture of violence.  A very recent, very thorough, very informative review of Palestinian opinion data by Daniel Polisar shows the deep-rooted nature of the problem.  The companion piece by Amir Taheri adds an important historical perspective.

2) There is a pervasive, quasi-unanimous hatred of Jews among the Palestinian masses, documented in the Polisar study.

3)  There is  a constant incitement to violence on the part of the Palestinian elites, documented by an ongoing basis by MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch.

4) The Palestinian school system, in particular, educates the young to hate the Jews, to reject Israel, and to embrace violence.  This too is documented by MEMRI and PMW.

All these cultural factors in Palestinian society are notorious to all — to all, that is, save our Progressives.  What makes them turn a blind eye ?  I suggest that it is their postulate, their unshakable,  irrational belief in a Palestinian people without agency, a people, in the condescending world of the Progressives, who are as innocent as the Israelis are guilty.

We come back to where we started.  The Hellenizing quarter, approximately,  of American Jews, ashamed as they may be of their pushy and over-assertive and over-sensitive co-religionists, seem to have embraced a fairly new stance of Progressivism.  This stance appears to them enlightened and universalist and humane — much more humane than thou. But these new Progressives have paid a great price for their considerable satisfaction with themselves.  And that price is the illogic and incoherence of dogmatic postulates that cannot stand the test of empirical reality.

  

“Right-Wing” as a Term of Vilification

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It is a commonplace of self-styled liberal and left-wing groups to speak of the Israeli government and all its supporters as “right-wing.”  I have shown this before in my posting concerning JStreet, see here.  In this respect JStreet is an altogether typical example of bien pensant opinion.

Offhand, “right wing” appears to be a neutral term of description. But here is the problem.  Neither Netanyahu, nor the Likud party, nor any of their supporters will refer to themselves as “right wing.” What other justification is there then for the usage ? Those who use the epithet presumably wish to convey  that their target is somehow less humane, less humanitarian, than they are themselves.  But a moment’s reflection reveals, given the nature of those who make it,  that this claim is difficult to support.  

Unlike “left wing,” “right wing” is not anything that anyone (generally) calls himself.  While the term “left” or “left wing” features in the names of numerous groups and parties, both in the United States and throughout the world, I could find “right” as a self-appellation in only one case in the post-war period, that of the short-lived German Deutsche Rechtspartei, which was extant from 1946 to 1950, and whose followers soon learned to drop “right wing” and found other labels (conservative, nationalist, etc.) to refer to themselves.  By contrast, there is now a large so-named Left party in Germany, and many groups in Europe as well as the United States proudly proclaim their adherence to “the Left.”

So if (almost) nobody describes himself as “right-wing,”  and since there are no objective criteria that are apparent, where is the justification for using the term ?  The fact is that there is no such justification, or rather there is no justification other than there may be for abusive language in general.

The history of the left-right terminology is generally traced to certain seating arrangements in the French National Assembly of 1789.  Since then, “left” (but not “right”) has been used as a self-description by numerous  Stalinist, socialist, and anarchist groups.  It is true that all such groups thought — and think — of themselves as more enlightened and more humane than anyone else, but their actual practice ranged from the most extreme repression (Stalinism) to the more or less benign social democracy of Scandinavia.

The use of “right-wing” or just “right” as a vituperative was energetically promoted by the Stalinists during the middle of the twentieth century.  The Moscow show trial of 1938 against the old Bolsheviks was branded, by Moscow, as directed against an “Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights [sic] and Trotskyites.”  The latter are  explained by the Great Stalin himself as follows:   “Contemporary Trotskyism is not a political tendency in the working class, but [rather] an unprincipled, ideal-less band of wreckers, saboteurs, agents, spies, murdereres [sic], a band of accursed enemies of the working class, acting for hire of intelligence organs of foreign governments.”

To sum up:  “right wing” has no descriptive value.  While superficially a neutral term of description, it is, upon examination,  no more than  a term of abuse.

"Guilt by Association"

very progressive journalist, and pioneering user of
the trope “guilt by association”
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All my adult life as a newspaperman I have been fighting, in defense of the Left and of a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history, character assassination, guilt by association and demonology.  I.F.Stone

A “new McCarthyism” is seen in the manner in which guilt by association has been pursued by the likes of Glenn Beck and “mainstream” GOP leadership (if there is such a thing).  Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association. And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with us all.  Jeremy Ben Ami, President, JStreet

 The tenuous “evidence”—later discredited—that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?  Naomi Klein

This is the story of a late-twentieth century invention, namely the ostensible moral and intellectual sin of accusations of “guilt by association.”

This trope, “guilt by association,” or GbA,  has a curious history and a curious present.  It has the following characteristics:

1) The trope user is almost invariably a self-described person of the “Left,” or, in somewhat more modern usage, a “progressive.”  The target is someone perceived as, or at least designated as someone opposed to the Left, a “right-winger.”

2) The trope has a surface resemblance to accusations of established errors of reasoning — fallacies — but in fact it is the user of the trope who is illogical and irrational.

3)  The accusation underlying the usage of the trope is as much moral as intellectual;  the trope user combines a disdain for the ethics and morality of the target (the ostensible bad faith of so-called right-wing McCarthites, for example) with an accusation of intellectual incompetence (failure to understand elementary logic).

4)  The trope enables its users, who are often devoted supporters of totalitarian and other hateful movements, to pose as moral and intellectual superiors.

Morris Raphael Cohen (1880-1947)
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Except when an author is involved in left-wing political polemics himself ( e.g. Fearnside and Holther in “Fallacy,” 1959),  books on formal logic do not discuss this trope;  despite the claims by its proponents, it is not one of the recognized “fallacies.”  But there is, or can be, some kernel of truth in the otherwise mindless GbA trope, namely that generalizations can be inappropriate.  Here is what that eminent American logician and long-term CCNY professor Morris Raphael Cohen (with Ernest Nagel) had to say in their Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (1934):

We have so far discussed the relation between premises and conclusion in case of rigorous proof.  But complete or conclusive evidence is not always available, and we generally have to rely on partial or incomplete evidence.  Suppose the issue is whether a certain individual, Baron X, was a militarist, and the fact that most aristocrats have been militarists is offered as evidence.  As a rigorous proof this is obviously inadequate.  It is clearly possible for the proposition Baron X was a militarist to be false even though the proposition offered as evidence is true.  But it would also be absurd to assert that the fact that most aristocrats are militarists is altogether irrelevant as evidence for Baron X having been one.  Obviously one who continues to make inferences of this type (Most Xs are Y’s, Z is an X, therefore Z is a Y) will in the long run be more often right than wrong.  An inference of this type, which from true premises gives us conclusions which are true in most cases, is call probable

Those who employ the GbA trope misconstrue statements of probability to make them appear to be statements of certainty.  For example, the Wikipedia article on GbA employs a Euler diagram to argue the obvious:  if some B is part of C, it does not follow that all of B is C.  But in the political discussions to which the GbA users address themselves, the arguments by the GbA targets are not arguments of certainty.   It is not (typically) claimed that all members of a Communist front organization were dedicated Stalinists.  Insofar as such arguments were at all serious, they were arguments of probability, not certainty.

The “guilt” in the GbA trope is also telling.  “Guilt” is a term most frequently used in the criminal law, where the standard of proof is much higher  — “beyond a reasonable doubt” —  than in the everyday world of political discussion.  The judgements we make in ordinary scholarship and in ordinary life  rely on what seems more probable, not on what seems probably beyond a reasonable doubt.   During the lifetime of the late Paul Robeson, for instance, both he and the Communist Party always insisted that he was not a Communist at all, just a very progressive person.  (After he died, the CP revealed that he had been a secret Communist all along).  But in his lifetime, given all the various associations of Robeson, it was reasonable to hold, by a balance of probabilities, that Robeson was a Communist, even absent proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Moreover, the trope “guilt by association” is ambiguous in its very nature.  It is regularly applied to the following types of statement, among others:

1)  A was once seen in a certain bar in which the notorious gangster B was also seen.  Therefore A is a gangster.

2) A is a member of five groups that were dominated by the Communist Party.  Therefore there is a certain probability — whether high or low needs to be established by all the other circumstances — that A is also a Communist.

It is the gravamen of GbA proponents that the truth-value of propositions 1) and 2) is exactly the same, namely nil.  That is of course preposterous on its face.  Pace these progressive writers and activists, associations among men are varied.  Sometimes negative inferences can be drawn from them to a greater or lesser degree of probability.  In some instances, as for example in those designated by the law of conspiracy, association may indeed give rise to valid findings of criminality.  In other cases association may be totally harmless.  Most generally, human associations are relevant without being conclusive in a great many of the judgements that we are called upon to make.    The proponents of the GbA trope must know this as well as we all do;  in the course of their daily lives they must know, just as the rest of us do, how to chose their spouses, their friends, their business associates,  their merchants, all on the basis of some sort of “guilt by association” judgements.  But when it comes to politics, these progressive GbA proponents declare that all evidence of human association is ultra vires, inadmissible for discussion in the market place of political ideas.

The origins of the GbA are not altogether clear.  The usage seems to have arisen in the post-WWII era, most specifically in the nineteen fifties.  The country was faced, on the one hand, with a Stalinist conspiracy, both through an elaborate network of Communist front organizations and Soviet espionage.  On the other hand, there were demagogic politicians, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy, who sought to use the Soviet conspiracy for his own purposes by making exaggerated claims of Communist penetration of the US government.  But there were indeed many Communists in places of influence, for example in the trade unions, who by and large attempted to rid themselves of Communist domination.  The trope “guilt by association” seems to have arisen in this atmosphere as a defense mechanism by Communists and their fellow travelers.  I. F. Stone, quoted above, was one of the most prominent users of the trope.  The logic was always this:  true, some members of the front organizations are Communists, some may even be Communist spies.  But this has no relevance, no relevance whatever, to the nature of the “progressive” (read front-organization) movement.  Not a few of these progressives had been students at CCNY during the tenure of Morris Raphael Cohen;  their ears had obviously been deaf to his teaching.

Today, the trope seems to be used in two specific efforts by the progressives.  The first is to criticize (and to misconstrue) the public’s concern over Islamist terrorism.  This concern is termed “Islamophobia,” a fairly new addition to the progressive polemical armamentarium.  The GbA argument runs as follows:  a) it is true that some Muslims are terrorists;  b) not all Muslims are terrorists; therefore, c), it is unjust, it is “guilt by association,”  to be more concerned over activities of American Muslims than over those of American Christians and Jews.  The fallacy of the trope, of course, is to construe the heightened concern by the public as holding that “all Muslims are terrorists.”  This latter proposition is not advanced by anyone in public life who is at all serious.  Were it to be encountered, it would of course be both false and malicious.

The second GbA effort concerns the overlap of self-described “leftists” and “progressives” on the one hand with the organized anti-Israel movement on the other. As I have shown in a previous posting, the progressive group JStreet contains a sizable number of aggressive opponents of Israel.  Those of us who point to this association are regularly accused of using “guilt by association.”  The logic, or rather the illogic of this accusation takes the same form as that of the other GbA accusations that we have seen.

I recently reported my finding that six of the nine identified top leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement were also active in the anti-Israel movement.  One reader, an ordained rabbi no less, wrote to complain that I was engaging in a “guilt-by-association” argument.  I wrote back, explaining, among other things, that I made no accusation of “guilt” but I also insisted that surely, to a thinking man, there would be something of interest in this finding.  “Nothing of interest at all,” replied the rabbi,   “what you say is a red herring.”  Red herring ?  Here is another left-wing trope from the fifties. My curiosity was aroused.  “Rabbi,” I wrote back, “indulge  my curiosity:  do you personally support the boycott movement against Israel ? ”  “I will not answer this question;  it has no relevance to our discussion,”  replied the good rabbi.  Well there you have it:  an I. F. Stone of our time, bearer, unlike his predecessor, of the nice Jewish name of his birth.

JStreet’s Mr. Ben-Ami is being "straightforward", but I have a better explanation

The Background

My previous posting concerning JStreet showed that, for the only fiscal year that is documented (2008-9),  eighty-seven percent of the group’s finances came from just twenty-one sources.  Three of these are members of the Soros family, who together provided $ 245,000.  Nobody else gave anything near that much — except for a mysterious payment of $ 811,697 from a mysterious donor named Consolacion Esdicul, resident of Hong Kong.

Now various reporters and bloggers have wondered:  how and why would a lady in far-off Hong Kong, hitherto completely unknown to one and all, how and why would this shadowy person step forward and send close to a million dollars to a cause that is not, in any obvious way, her own ? People pay to play, generally.  What is her game here ?

Well, to Mr. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the self-appointed leader and spokesman for JStreet, there is a “straightforward” explanation for  this apparent mystery:

Some press reports have … noted a large contribution on our return from a resident of Hong Kong named Consolacion Esdicul. The explanation for this is straightforward. Bill Benter, a philanthropist and political activist from Pittsburgh, is a major supporter of and contributor to J Street. He is a generous donor to a range of causes related to his hometown, national politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a passionate advocate for peace.  

As we were launching J Street, Bill committed to contribute and to help raise substantial funds for the effort should we get it off the ground. One contribution he helped raise was from Ms. Esdicul, a business associate from Hong Kong, where he lives for part of the year and has business holdings.

So here we have it.  The friend of a friend sends $ 800,000, just like that.  What could be more natural, more “straightforward” ?  Actually, we know as little about “Bill” Benter (not Jewish either, apparently) as we do about Ms. Esdicul.  What are their motives ?  Remember, this Esdicul sum of money is substantially larger than the contribution of any of the other presumed billionaires who make up the rest of JS’s twenty-one angels.   In fact, the Esdicul money constitutes one half of everything received by JStreet in the only documented accounting that we have of the group.

Ben-Ami is not consistent in his “straightforward” explanation.  In another version, sent to a supporter of his in New York, he writes that “Bill Benter is the source of the donation which came through the account of his business associate in Hong Kong….” So what before was strictly Ms. Esdicul’s money is now Mr. Benter’s.  Which is it now, Mr. Ben-Ami ?  Liars should have good memories.

Either way, Mr. Ben-Ami is obviously not straightforward at all.  His explanation(s) cannot be taken seriously;  they defy all credulity on their very face,  So here I offer my own surmise of what is behind the “Esdicul” money:

My Surmise

Some time in 2008 a meeting took place somewhere in Pakistan on the subject of the oppressed Palestinian brothers.  A number of sheikhs attended, with one of them presiding, let’s call this one Sheikh O.B.L.   A visitor from Palestine came to the meeting with a request for $ 1,000,000 to be spent in a very particular way.  This is what the brother said:

Everyone here knows that the dwarf Zionist entity would vanish from the face of the earth without the criminal support it receives from America, may Allah punish it.   But how do the Zionists get America to support this ugly dwarf so consistently ?  Investigative reporters, some of them Jews themselves, have told the story:  it’s the Jew-Zionist lobby, called AIPAC, that  keeps the American government in line on behalf of the Zionists, primarily through the enormous bribes that it dispenses.   Ergo, without AIPAC, no American support to the Zionist entity;  without American support, no Zionist entity. And, Sheikh, we now have it our power to destroy AIPAC, and therewith the dwarf entity !

Now, praise to Allah, the Jews are a race that has no sense of solidarity, no more than the apes and the pigs from which it arose.  A Jew has now appeared in Washington — he calls himself Ben-Ami, ‘Son of the Jews’ —  who has taken it upon himself to destroy AIPAC, and we must help him do this !  This Son of the Jews has started a group called “Jew Street,” with the following program:  a)  force the Zionist entity to make concessions that will, in fact, destroy it, and b), as a first step, destroy AIPAC.   Now we have investigated this Son of the Jews, who says that he does not like us but who, in fact, is more valuable to us than a thousand of our own martyrs.  His father before him, though calling himself a Zionist, was already valuable to the cause of our people.  This was in the time of Ben-Gurion, the founder of the Zionist entity.  This father was a follower of a European Jew called Jabotinsky, whose group was effective in creating mayhem,  violence,  and confusion among the Zionists.  Just an example:  the Jabotinsky group executed one of the most dangerous Zionists of the time, one Chaim Arlosoroff, in 1933.  Praise to Allah, the Jews are their own worst enemies, and we must be smart enough to take advantage of that.

Now, with just a million American dollars — a drop in the bucket — we can help this “Jew Street” outfit get really started.  Obviously, discretion is required.  But I have secured some trusted intermediaries — among them a female infidel in China — to handle the transaction.  The infidels wanted a twenty percent commission, but I was able to jew them down to nineteen percent.  In other words, of your million, a full $811,697 will go to this  “Jew Street” group, which, with the help of Allah,  can destroy Satan’s AIPAC and Satan’s Zionist entity …

Now, dear reader, I leave it up to you.  Which explanation do you find more plausible, that of Mr. Ben-Ami, or my own surmise ?

 

 

My postings regarding JStreet:

JSTREET’S MR. BEN-AMI IS BEING “STRAIGHTFORWARD”, BUT I HAVE A BETTER EXPLANATION

OCTOBER 17, 2011

THE INNER AND THE OUTER LAYERS OF JSTREET

OCTOBER 13, 2011

A JSTREET “RABBI” ENDORSES HAMAS BOMBARDING OF SDEROT

JULY 11, 2011

JSTREET: THE GENTLE FACADE AND WHAT’S BEHIND IT

MAY 31, 2011

 

The Inner and the Outer Layers of JStreet

Ms. Consolacion Esdicul of Hong Kong
Exactly half of JStreet’s 2008 money came from her
[This posting depends in part on details I have previously presented here and here.]

Quite often what you see is what you get.  Sometimes this is not quite true, and sometimes it is not true at all.  At JStreet it is not true at all. In this it resembles certain other shadowy movements  —  the old Communist Party comes to mind, as does the Church of Scientology, and (this is for connoisseurs only) the Lambertistes of France.

Hannah Arendt observed that the Communist movement of her time resembled an onion;  there were layers upon layers of outward appearances that concealed the inner core.  The outer layers were designed to appeal to a great many people who would shrink from the outlandish doctrines and practices of the inner core of the movement.   Even Albert Einstein, among many other men of fame, was ensnared to give his good name to the now-infamous Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, which Moscow organized for their “useful innocents” at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in March of 1949.  Very few of the attending fellow-travelers would have approved of the Gulag, which of course was never mentioned.  The talk was all about peace and justice and a better world.

The outside of the onion
The outer layer of JStreet consists of its professed, ostensible policies:  We are for Israel and we are for peace.  We want two states living side by side in peace.  We want the good life for one and all.  We want democracy there and elsewhere.  We stand for the open society.  Etc.
Such aims are tirelessly enunciated by JStreet’s Leader Maximo, a Mr. Jeremy Ben-Ami, among whose main qualifications, according to himself, is the fact that his late father had been a follower of Jabotinsky.  Go figure.  Who appointed Mr. Ben-Ami to this position ?  Nobody I have talked to quite knows.  And who determines JS’s policies ?  Nobody has a clear answer.  The one thing that is known is that, notwithstanding all the professions of democratic values, ordinary JS members have no vote on such matters.  
But even here, on the outside, JS’s policies can sometimes be seen as hostile to Israel.  As Representative Gary Ackerman noted in January, announcing his break with JS:
The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council, is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out. America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.

On the whole, however, many of the formal policy pronouncements seem acceptable, or at any rate harmless, to supporters of Israel.  That is the outside of the onion.  Once we penetrate a layer past that, the picture changes dramatically.

The middle layers


The first signs of trouble become apparent when one examines the makeup of JS’s “Rabbinic Cabinet.”  It seems that some 80 out of 600 members of this Cabinet are identified with groups of the anti-Israel extreme left wing.  One notable Cabinet member was David Mivasair, not only a rabbi but also, simultaneously, a Christian clergyman in Vancouver.  This Rev. Mivasair went on YouTube to declare that the Hamas missiles directed at Sderot were perfectly appropriate, given the (presumed) fact that some of those firing such missiles were (probably) displaced Palestinians from Sderot.  After these pronouncements by the  Reverend Mivasair received publicity on this and other blogs, he withdrew the YouTube video, and also, now, can no longer be found as a Cabinet member of JStreet.

There are close relations between JStreet and the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement that wishes to punish Israel.  The last JS Conference organized a special session to discuss the issue, inviting the BDS leaders to explain themselves.  It seems that a good portion, perhaps a majority, of the JS delegates approved of BDS.  NGO-Monitor has provided a comprehensive analysis of JS’s ties to the anti-Israel Left.

I have an acquaintance who strongly supports JS, but supports also, he says, the security of Israel.  I asked him why, if JS is so much for Israel, it attracts so many foes of Israel as members and Rabbinical Cabinet dignitaries.  “Well,” he opined, “those people — with whom I in no way agree — see JS as the place where the action is.”  And just what kind of action would that be ?  My friend here gave voice to more than he realized.

Whatever the relationship between its anti-Israel wing and the leadership of JS, it is revealing how the cynical Rabbi David Saperstein, speaking for the JS leadership, explained  its refusal to endorse BDS: “Successful strategy and tactics need to consider not only the theoretical decisions you take but the practical impact of those you choose.”  In other words:  I agree with you folks, but, come on, don’t scare away the useful innocents.   The rabbi would have been right at home at the Waldorf conference of 1949.

The inner layer:  where the money is

The world knew nothing about the inner core of JStreet until last September, when Eli Lake of the Washington Times published figures that he obtained from a leaked Schedule B, IRS Form 990 that covers contributions to JStreet for the fiscal year 7/1/08 to 6/30/09.  (The actual forms — extremely important — were first put on the internet by Ben Smith)   These figures are the only reliable information about JStreet’s money.  JS’s website gives other figures from time to time, partial at best, but there is no way to verify these;  in the matter of moneys received from George Soros, for example, JS’s representations have been shown to be outright lies.

Now, in the only fiscal year for which we have reliable data, JS reported to the IRS that it received a total of $1,616,311 in contributions.  Of this total, $1,405,197, or 87%, was contributed by 21 persons, each responsible for a contribution of at least $5000.  The remainder, viz. $ 211,114, was donated in sums each less than $5000.  Ben-Ami has said that JS has 10,000 contributors, which, if true, would mean that the average contribution, from the average JS supporter and not counting the top twenty-one,  amounted to just $21.16.

Just who are these twenty-one angels of JStreet ?   Are they the average, well-meaning, liberal American Jews that JS claims to represent ?  Not quite.  Not by a longshot.

As it turns out, the family of George Soros, the international currency manipulator and convicted insider-trader, is responsible for a total of $245,000, or just over 15% of JS’s income.  JS has consistently lied about its Soros money (see link three paragraphs above).  But at least the world knows a little something about Mr. Soros.  He doesn’t approve of Israel very much, but he has never called for its destruction.  The same cannot  be said with any certainty about that outsized elephant in this room:  Ms. Consolacion Esdicul, citizen of Hong Kong apparently of Philippine background, who was kind enough to contribute $811,697, fully fifty percent of JS’s income in this particular year.

Here is the list of the twenty-one large JS contributors in the sequence shown on  Schedule B:

1.  ALAN SAGNER, PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL     $ 75,000.
2,  DAVIDI GILO, LOS GATOS, CA   $ 55,000.
3.  GEORGE SOROS, NEW YORK, NY   $ 145,000 
4.  ANDREA SOROS, NEW YORK, NY  $ 50,000.
5. JONATHAN SOROS,  NEW YORK, NY    $ 50,000
6. DAVID RICHARDS, SANTA MONI CA , CA  $ 30,000.
7. ROBERT ARNOW, NEW YORK, NY  $ 25,000
8. RICHARD GOODWIN, SNOWMASS VILLAGE, CO  $ 25,000. 
9. MARTIN BUNZL,  LA JOLLA, CA     $ 25,000.
10. GENEVIEVE LYNCH, NEW YORK, NY  $ 25,000
11. S. DANIEL ABRAHAM, PALM BEACH, FL  $ 25,000.
12. ALAN SOLOMONT, NEWTON, MA    $ 10,000
13. ALBERT DWOSKIN, FAIRFAX, VA   $ 10,000.
14. GEORGE VRADENBURG, WASHINGTON, DC   $ 10,000
15. ELAINE ATTIAS BEVERLY HILLS, CA  $ 8,500.
16. KATHLEEN PERATIS, NEW YORK, NY  $ 5,000.
17) GAIL FURMAN, NEW YORK, NY $ 5,000.
18) JERRY HIRSCH, PHOENIX, AZ   $ 5,000.
19) MONICA AND PHIL ROSENTHAL, LOS ANGELES, CA   $ 5,000.
20) ABBY SHER, SANTA MONI CA , CA   $ 5,000.
21) CONSOLACION ESDICUL,  HAPPY VALLEY, HONG KONG,  $ 811,697.

Nothing at all is publicly known about Ms. Esdicul or her motives.  The explanation offered by JStreet is laughable on its face:  Ms. E. is a friend of a friend of JStreet.  (Nobody in that chain is said to be Jewish).   The suggestion that it is Arab or Iranian money that is being transmitted here from Hong Kong has, at the very least, the virtue of believability.  It is the Islamist world, after all, that has an interest in trying to sabotage the overwhelming solidarity of American Jews with Israel.

In any case,  he who pays the piper calls the tune. So whoever or whatever lurks behind Ms. Esdicul determines what this group does and why.   Those well-meaning American Jewish liberals who get invoked by Mr. Ben-Ami, even though they may pay $21.16 a shot for a piece of the action, can be no more than the useful innocents in this shadowy movement.

Snake Oil for Sale: The Charlatans of Jewish Public Opinion Research

Two well-known Jewish organizations with contrasting attitudes toward Israel have recently claimed to have plumbed American Jewish attitudes in this subject.   Each group has claimed that its own political stance is the one actually favored by the Jewish community as a whole.  But since neither of these groups — JStreet on the one hand, the Committee for Accuracy in Media (CAMERA) on the other — has used scientific methods of public opinion research,  neither’s claim can be said to be supported.

I have recently written an article in which I summarized my objections to JStreet’s methods, including its polling, so I will not repeat this material here.  My objections to CAMERA’s polling materials will become clearer presently.

*****

Some thirty or forty years ago my colleague Tony and I were sipping a little something in the Faculty Club, and this is the amusing tale he told:

It seems that a couple of decades before this, a man who later became quite important as “an intellectual” — let’s call him X — crossed the US-Canada border from Detroit to Windsor to spend a half hour  of “observation” in Ontario.  He carefully took note of the automobiles that passed him in the street of Windsor, noting the manufacturer of each.  Upon returning to Michigan, he penned a report to his nephew.   Canadians, X averred, favor the Ford automobile over any other make, by a margin of about ten to one.  That “observation,” I believe, later became enshrined in the X’s published oeuvre.

But snake oil sold as social-science wisdom is not always so charmingly harmless.  During the presidential election campaign of 1936, the Literary Digest polled ten million Americans (of whom about 2.5 million responded) and concluded that Ralph Landon, the Republican, would be an easy winner.  In November, as we all know, it was the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt who won, overwhelmingly, carrying 46 out of 48 states.

What went wrong ?  And what went wrong with the current polling of American Jews that I am so concerned about here ?

When properly done, the science of public opinion polling can accomplish remarkable feats of understanding.  By consulting about two thousand people — an appropriate random sample of about this number — it is possible to gain insight into the opinions and attitudes of millions.  The theory of  this sampling (i.e. probability theory) has been understood by mathematicians for hundreds of years, but it has been the social science of the twentieth century that has developed the techniques to accomplish adequate public opinion polling.  But recent times have also brought to the fore a host of charlatans in this area.  How can we tell the genuine from the specious ?  The genuine from the grey-area operator ?

The principles are clear enough.  On the one hand there is a “population” or “universe,” too large or otherwise impractical to study directly, on the other hand there is the random sample which, to a known degree of accuracy, “represents” this population.  How can this sample be obtained ?  The most basic requirement is that each member of the population has an equal chance to be drawn for the sample.  So, in principle, we must have a complete listing of the members of the population, and then a mechanism, such as a lottery cylinder, to draw individuals by strict random methods.

In practice, the strict adherence to random principles is generally impossible, not least because a complete enumeration of the underlying population does not exist.  If American Jewry is postulated as the population, there is also the additional problem of definition:  who is a Jew, exactly;  is synagogue affiliation either a necessary or sufficient attribute ? Jewish parents ?  If so, how many ?  And so forth.  Also, as I have shown elsewhere, there are inherent problems of a sample of American Jews if it is based on a random sample of all Americans,  primarily because American Jews are not distributed randomly in the American population, so that such samples systematically under-sample areas of Jewish concentration.  All such problems have reasonable solutions, but these are scientifically complex, and also generally more expensive than certain “pollsters” will want to consider. The  National Jewish Population Survey, on the other hand,  furnishes an example of responsible scientific work.

For the use of public opinion polls in general, the New York Times has published its own very sensible standards.  What can the reader do when faced with reported “public opinion data” of unknown quality ?  Responsible, high quality social science in this area is not always easy to verify, since there are so many variables:  the selection of a scientific sample (obviously the first necessity), the formulation of the questions (sometimes inadequate, sometimes biased), the overall scientific quality of the various steps in the research process.  On the other hand, there is a telltale of absolutely unacceptable work:  failure of the researcher to disclose the details of his work.  When, as is the case of both JStreet and CAMERA here, the researcher fails to specify how his sample was obtained, the research, if for no other reason, is unacceptable.

As it happens, I have in the past corresponded with the executives of CAMERA, and so felt free, especially in view of my overall support of the work of that group, to express my suggestions in regard to their use of polling data.  I wrote to two of these people, for a total of three times, without ever once receiving a reply.  Here is the text of one of my messages:

Dear   , 

It would appear that the Luntz poll, which CAMERA sent around in its latest Alert, is not a scientific poll.  If I am right on this, it should be labelled non-scientific, to be accepted, if at all,  with caution. 

I am particularly interested in this problem because I recently had to criticize the polling practices of JStreet….It would appear that my methodological points here apply to Luntz as much as to  Gerstein (JS’s pollster). The problem is the following:  it is very difficult (read expensive) to have a valid sample of the American Jewish population.  As I point out in my blog, the National Jewish Population Survey does a very good scientific job of surveying the Jewish population, but, as far as I can tell, nobody else does.  I wrote to JS’s Gerstein to voice these concerns, but never received an answer. 

Yesterday I wrote to Luntz, as follows: 

Would it be possible to get details on how your sample was selected ?
My interest in the matter is detailed here:
http://www.fringegroups.com/2011/05/jstreet-gentle-facade-and-whats-behind.html
thanks for your help
Werner Cohn 

to which I received the following reply: 

Thank you for contacting us.  We appreciate your thoughts, suggestions and time it took you to write us. 

You MUST register ON OUR WEBSITE to be eligible for one of our focus groups or nationwide surveys.   You can sign-up on our website at http://www.theworddoctors.com/  Sorry, but requesting to sign you up by emailing us will not work. 

Due to the high volume of emails we receive, we cannot guarantee a response to your email. 

Remember: it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. 

Sincerely, 

Dr. Frank Luntz & The Word Doctors Team
*Become a fan on Facebook* http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Frank-Luntz/249263279310

The report of the Luntz survey, to which CAMERA links, contains no information on how the sample was selected.  When this information is missing, no knowledgeable  reader can accept the results as scientific.  I think that you should press Luntz to explain his methodology publicly.  If he does not provide this information, and/or if, as I suspect, his methods prove to be less than scientific, there needs to be a disclaimer on your website, IMHO. 

No doubt you will appreciate the position of CAMERA supporters like myself when we criticize JStreet’s various obfuscations.  If, as I hope it will, CAMERA comes out for truth in polling, our criticisms of JStreet  can gain significant additional force.

IN MEMORIAM:  John Gray Peatman (1904-1997), my first statistics professor at CCNY, ca. 1949

UPDATE, MARCH 2013

The organization Workmen’s Circle has an old and proud history in the American Jewish community.  Formed by Eastern European immigrants in the early 20th century,  it had connections with the anti-Stalinist Jewish socialist movement.  It gained many members through its “fraternal benefits,” i.e. funeral arrangements.  I myself belonged to it for a short while.

But lately, partly through its emphasis on its Yiddish-speaking heritage, it has largely fallen prey to a new type of membership:  militantly secularist, allied to anti-Israel causes.  Its old-time membership, people in their eighties, seem bewildered and outgunned.

Now this latter-day WC published what it calls a poll of American Jewish opinion, arriving at conclusions that purport to show that American Jews actually care little about Israel.  And how did the pollsters of the WC learn all this ?  Here is their description of their sampling method:

The poll was commissioned by the Workmen’s Circle / Arbeter Ring. For more information on the organization, go to:www.circle.org.
Principal investigators were Professor Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and Professor Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College and Stanford University.
The Washington office of IPSOS, under the direction of Dr. Alan Roschwalb, fielded the survey. Respondents included 1,000 American Jews, by Internet, who had previously agreed to participate in social research conducted by IPSOS. Survey was conducted April 19 – May 3, 2012.
The results were weighted to reflect the American Jewish population with respect to age, gender, regional distribution, educational attainment, marital status, intermarriage status, and Jewish parentage (none, one, two parents). They were also weighted to reflect registered voters

The participants in this “poll” were, it would seem, self-selected.  All were internet users, which of course automatically eliminates Haredi Jews.  The procedure seems, as if by design, to evade all scientific understanding of sampling.

Or did I perhaps miss something ?  Can something be said by way of reasonable scholarly explanation of this poll ?  I sent polite separate e-mails to Professor Cohen and Abrams, as well as to IPSOS and even the WC itself, asking for more details on the sampling method used in the poll.   Not one of these bothered to answer my  questions.

A JStreet "rabbi" endorses Hamas bombarding of Sderot

David Mivasair of Vancouver, who calls himself a rabbi but is also listed as Chaplain of the First United Church of Vancouver, is a member of the “rabbinic cabinet” of the Soros-financed pressure group JStreet.

Here he is on a street corner in Vancouver, explaining why he supports the Hamas bombardments of Israeli civilians at Sderot

hat tip: Richard Klagsbrun

UPDATE Sept. 5, 2011:  Mivasair has removed this video from Youtube.  With people like that, you must be grateful when they don’t have the courage of their convictions.

UPDATE, July 30, 2013:  Here, compliments of FresnoZionism, are Mivasair’s words as uttered on the video that he has removed:

Whenever we read about … I have to say about a puny, ineffective rocket fired into some place like Sderot, something to think about is very likely that very likely the people firing it are the children or grandchildren of people who perhaps once lived in Sderot. But it wasn’t Sderot, it was a Palestinian village that had existed there for centuries that had several hundred people who were forcibly expelled at gunpoint and when the place was empty, then Jews moved in and built a town…


UPDATE Jan. 2, 2013
Here he is, in a street-corner appearance in Vancouver on Nov. 18, 2012, declaring his support to Hamas and his enmity to Israel:


see my previous posting on JStreet

More than eighty of JStreet’s rabbis are active against Israel

JStreet: the Gentle Facade and What’s Behind it


Not since the days of the Communist Party — the quarter century that began about 1930 — has there been a comparable spectacle of methodical disingenuousness in American political life. The communists, smack in the days of Stalin and the Moscow Trials, proclaimed to one at all: Communism is the most American doctrine of them all; it is, in fact, “twentieth Century Americanism.” The American communist contingent to the Spanish Civil War was dubbed the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” The Communist night school on 16th Street and Sixth Avenue in New York, where the works of Marx and Stalin were taught, was called the “Jefferson School.” And certain secret members of the Party, like Paul Robeson, denied to the end of their lives that they even were communists. Robeson was corrected on this after his death by the comrades themselves. (I have told this story here and here).

But all the time that the communists were explicit in their lip-service to democratic values, they strictly averted their eyes from the Gulag. Their facade of being gentle democrats (“peace” was a major slogan, until the Soviet Union was attacked in 1941) hid an ugly engagement for Stalinism.

As was the case of the Daily Worker, circa 1940, you can read the “policy statements” of JStreet and find little on the surface that is amiss; things are, by and large, American as apple pie, Jewish as chicken soup. There is talk of being “pro-Israel, pro peace,” and, indeed, much of what is said seems unexceptional. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. Yes, Hamas is violent, and must be criticized. What is really bad, so JStreet, are the “occupation” and the “settlements.” Even here there is no hateful language, and the sentiments, by themselves, are not far from mine. Nobody likes the occupation, and there is general Israeli and Jewish consensus that much of the Jewish settlement in the West Bank is dispensable. We do not need JStreet to tell us that. What is exceptional, and exceptionable, is JStreet’s essential one-sidedness, portraying Israel as the major barrier to peace. JStreet’s scattershot agitation — relentless but not always explicit — goes as follows: 1) failure to achieve peace has been the fault of Israel, essentially only of Israel; 2) dismantling all West Bank settlements will bring lasting peace. (I will not here dwell on what happened each time that Israel unilaterally did withdraw its army and its settlements, in Gaza, for instance). It is in these unilateral demands by JStreet on Israel — radical, mindless — that the facade of cheerful peacefulness becomes pierced.

Take the punitive campaign for boycotting Israel that we hear from left and right-wing fringe groups. What does JStreet say ? There is an official answer: we do not participate in that. But there is also an unofficial answer, expressed more in action than in explicit words. At the last JStreet conference in Washington, one session was devoted to the question: shall we participate in boycotts of Israel ? The session was off record, but according to bloggers who attended ( see here and here), it seems that much of the membership is in favor; one observation was that the membership is to the “left” of the leadership. At the very least, the punitive boycott of Israel is an option very much alive in the corridors of JStreet. Moreover, five rabbinic supporters of the boycott organization  are members of JStreet’s “Rabbinic Cabinet”: Rebecca Alpert, Michael David, Lynn Gottlieb, David Mivasair, and Bryan Wall. In short, the boycott movement is in fact supported, or at least partly supported, or at least supported by many who are active in JStreet. And this does not even take account of Michael Lerner, another adornment of JStreet’s Rabbinic Cabinet.

Speaking of this Cabinet: what exactly is it ? The term suggests a leadership or policy-making or “spiritual guidance” function. None of this seems applicable. As I read the invitation to join, it would appear that anyone who says he or she is a rabbi or a cantor can sign up and be in the “cabinet.” In at least several instances in what is claimed to be a membership of 600, individuals appear to be self-ordained. In any case, the “cabinet” is far from being representative of American rabbis. Of the first ten names in the list, seven are women, only three are men; eight appear to be graduates of a Reform seminary, one is Reconstructionist, and one, well, let us say she is “other.” There are no Orthodox rabbis in this small sample of the “cabinet,” although there may well be a sprinkling in the whole group.

In a word, the “Rabbinic Cabinet” is a piece of puffery. It seems to be almost exclusively Reform and Reconstructionist, largely female, in an American rabbinate that is overwhelmingly Conservative and Orthodox and male. Like the old-time functionaries of the Communist International, JStreet here presents a facade of benign normalcy, seeking to hide a reality that is much more marginal.

The financing of JStreet seems to flow largely from a number of billionaires, not all of whom are Jewish. The secret contributions from George Soros were at first denied by the group but were then shamefacedly admitted when a leaked document surfaced. The story has been widely-reported; one article about it can be found in the Washington Post. It does not seem likely that JStreet could at all exist — certainly not in its present lavish form — without these millions pumped into it by wealthy “angels.” It is a glaring example of how the ultra-wealthy in this country, if possessed with enough will to impose their views, can distort ordinary democratic process.

One of the most striking aspects of JStreet’s propaganda is its regular and repeated dismissal of criticism as “right wing.” Here are some instances, from its website:

Since our founding, accusations about J Street and our leadership have morphed from whispered lies to stated fact in attacks on J Street in various right-leaning publications, organizations, and blogs. Right-wing bloggers continue to assert J Street is somehow “tied” to Saudi Arabia…

Some right-wing bloggers and opposition researchers engaged in a fear-and-smear campaign attempt to tarnish J Street because – among its thousands of donors are a small handful who have worked in some capacity with Arab countries or are themselves Arab Americans….

Far right-wing blogs have accused “J Street co-founder” of saying Israel’s creation was an “act that was wrong”…

Right-wing blog claims that Daniel said that “Israel really ain’t a very good idea” are debunked here by Jonathan Chait…

Despite a false report in the right-wing Washington Times, J Street did not set up meetings for Judge Goldstone on Capitol Hill, as JTA reports….

If and when critics are wrong about JStreet, of course they need to be answered. But why this persistent label of “right wing” ? How does JStreet, in its wisdom, determine who is right wing and who is not ? Or does disagreement with JStreet, by itself, make a critic right-wing ? And even if all the critics of JStreet were right-wingers in some sense, would that make their arguments wrong ? Here again, by its persistent use of argument by vilification, JStreet resembles the CP operatives of former years. And, if I may say so, it doesn’t sit well for a group whose constant complaint is that it is being “smeared” by nasties on the “right.”

Finally, there is an issue that I find particularly galling. JStreet publishes polls of American Jews, which, it says, prove that American Jews have opinions similar to those of itself. Briefly put, these polls are essentially fraudulent.

Noah Pollak of Commentary magazine has pointed out that the ostensible JStreet independent pollster, Jim Gerstein, is actually JStreet’s vice president, thus suggesting that the polling results are slanted to suit the organization. But since the technical sampling faults in these polls are so glaring, it hardly matters whether the questions were deliberately worded so as to yield a biased response.

In response to Pollak, JStreet has stated that, whatever Gerstein’s affiliation, his scholarship is exemplary and beyond criticism, and that, moreover, he has fully disclosed the methodology of his study. And indeed, there is a disclosure from Gerstein of sorts, which reads as follows:

Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications designed the questionnaire for this survey of 803 self-identified adult American Jews, conducted March 17-19, 2010. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent; the margin of error in the split samples is +/- 4.9 percent. Gerstein | Agne contracted the research company Mountain West Research Center and Opinion Outpost to administer the survey by email invitation to its web-based panel, which is regularly updated and consists of nearly 900,000 Americans. 


For anyone interested in polling, this disclosure is worse than useless. The problem of adequate sampling in polling research includes the following issues, at the least:

a) What is the operational definition of the universe, in this case the whole of the American Jewish community ? Ideally a universe is a list of names that can be sampled. Since there is not and cannot be a total list of all the Jews in America, some reasonable facsimile needs to be fashioned. This is not easy, and certainly not cheap. But responsible polling scholars, for instance the National Jewish Population Survey, have successfully grappled with this problem. A perusal of the NJPS methodological discussion makes it clear that JStreet-Gerstein is totally innocent of any scientific approach to the problem of the Jewish universe, at least insofar as Gerstein has deigned to disclose his methods.

b) Once we have defined the universe, we need to find a scientific, i.e. a random way of sampling it. Again, this is not easy, and certainly not cheap. Again, according to Gerstein’s descriptions, it is obvious that the JStreet surveys fall far short of scientific standards. Moreover, Gerstein’s talk about “margin of error” is worthless because no such statistic can be calculated for non-scientific samples.

Regarding a), the problem of universe, it appears that JStreet has employed some definition of the total American population, rather than of the Jewish population. As I have shown elsewhere, this procedure is much cheaper and is used by some news organizations, but it leads to gross distortions of Jewish opinion. In particular, it under-represents Jews who live in relatively dense Jewish population centers, and it over-represents Jews who live in relative isolation from other Jews. It cannot give a valid picture of American Jewish opinion as such.

Regarding b), the sampling problem, it appears that there were “email invitations to a web-based panel.” So those who accepted such “invitations” were asked questions by the good folks of JStreet. How were people chosen to be invited ? And of those invited to serve on these “panels,” how many accepted ? And how do we know that those who accepted are typical of all those who were invited, let alone of the universe from which they were ostensibly drawn ? We do not know, not from Gerstein’s explanations. What we end up with is a group of essentially self-chosen respondents, drawn from a list that is biased in favor of individuals who live outside of major Jewish population centers.

All this is a text-book example of polling malfeasance. It is an insult to an intelligent reader to be told that he is presented with a valid report on Jewish public opinion. The New York Times has published its own (useful) standards concerning public opinion polls. JS’s Mr. Gerstein violates just about every one of these.

To sum up. JStreet’s facade is one of a gentle, peace-loving, rational, honest, intelligent bunch that wishes to make the world a little better. Behind the facade there is a determined propaganda to endanger Israel, using techniques that include misrepresentation, secret money, vilification of opponents, puffery, and, in the case of its opinion polling, something akin to outright fraud.

Read also Ron Radosh, on how JStreet’s David Saperstein teaches his followers to speak with a forked tongue.

UPDATE June 5:

The closer one examines JS’s “Rabbinic Cabinet,” the more curious this body seems. The Rabbi David Mivasair who is listed as resident of State College, Pa., is listed in other online sites, many of them anti-Israel, as having a congregation in Vancouver, Canada, and another one in Seattle, Wash. But he also is pleased to list himself not only as a rabbi of these congregations but also as a clergyman of the (Christian) First United Church of Vancouver. Well, after all, why can’t this person be part of a Rabbinic Cabinet ? In the reign of Tammany Hall, lists of eligible voters included dogs, children, and the dead. As for State College, Pa., the congregation there tells us that Mivasair left them in 1996.

Concerning the opinion polling, so-called, conducted for JS by their vice president and ostensible polling expert Jim Gerstein — I sent him my analysis of what I consider his faulty polling methods (see above). Who knows — perhaps I was mistaken in my take on his work ? I wrote to him some days ago, requesting his comments. If I was in error, either of fact or interpretation, I would certainly like to make amends. Well, Mr. Gerstein has not responded at all. Does this mean that he is happy with what I had to say ?

A JStreet “rabbi” supports Hamas bombings of Sderot

More than eighty of JStreet’s rabbis are active against Israel

Read Alana Goodman’s revealing reportage of the 2011 JStreet meeting