Category Archives: Trotskyism

*** Why does Pierre Omidyar Finance the New Stalinism ? ***


When one of the richest men in the world, Pierre Omidyar, recently committed a quarter of a billion dollars to finance Glenn Greenwald’s propaganda operation Intercept, he provided a tremendous boost to a heretofore shadowy and uncertain resurrection of the Stalinist tradition in American culture.  And the new Stalinism has an entirely new twist:   it has  embraced a currently fashionable anti-Semitism, or what its adherents term “anti-Zionism.”

But in all his public pronouncements, Omidyar says that he acts only for the public benefit.  He stands for freedom of the press and all the other freedoms.  He stands for a better world.  True, he’s got a few dollars.  But he wants to share his fortune with the rest of us.  He wants us all to be happy.   As it happens, of course, the old Stalinists also said that they wanted a better world.  More of that later.

The new Stalinism has been with us for some years.  Using the veneer of concern for human rights, as did the old Stalinism, it wages an assault on democracy worldwide, as did the old Stalinism, and it gives aid and comfort to repressive regimes abroad, as did the old Stalinism.  But never before has it been able to establish itself as a major player, at least not financially. That is what the Omidyar money has  now changed.

As I have suggested, the old and the new Stalinisms are not identical, and we will need to pay attention to the differences as well as the similarities.

The Old Stalinism

Centered secretly around the Communist Party of the US [CPUSA], this movement exerted its influence primarily through its vast network of “front organizations,” most of which had no ostensible connection with the CP but were secretly controlled by it.  Here is a small sampling, as of 1949, taken from the list of sponsor organizations of the notorious “Waldorf Peace Conference:”

American Committee on Democracy and Intellectual Freedom

American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born

Civil Rights Congress


Greater New York Emergency Conference on Inalienable Rights

New York Conference for Inalienable Rights

In Defense of the Bill of Rights

National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners

National Federation for Constitutional Liberties

School for Democracy

Southern Conference for Human Welfare

Voice of Freedom Committee

This particular group of fronts carried professions of democratic commitment in their titles;  not all front groups did.  But the claim that they were “fighters” for peace and democracy and civil rights constituted the main public theme of the old Stalinist world.

During the very worst time of Stalinist repression in Russia, Stalin’s devoted follower in America, the  CP leader Earl Browder, assured his listeners that Communism is no more than “20th century Americanism.”  His followers, party members as well as fellow travelers in the front organizations, developed an unctuous self-righteousness.  The CP-organized “folk singers” specialized in the affectation and grimaces of song-as-struggle in which the staging of Communist propaganda songs was accompanied by facial mannerisms (comical to an outsider) to suggest heroic personal struggle.   Here is an example of the style, as presented by Pete Seeger and comrades. The book by Aileen Kraditor, Jimmy Higgins, is perhaps the best insider’s account of what it meant to be an American Communist in mid-twentieth century.

Actually the American Stalinism of the 20th century was more than the kumbaya of self-righteous “democratic struggle.”  Hidden far away from its public face in the Party and front organizations, there was the secret Stalinist work on behalf of the Soviet Union, most particularly espionage.  The literature on this aspect of the old Stalinism is now vast, as a quick Google search will confirm.

The central hypocrisy of this old Stalinism, then,  lay in its bountiful verbal affirmations of democracy on the one hand, and its total, uncritical support of the Stalinist dictatorship on the other.  As we shall see, a similar bifurcation underlies the neo-Stalinism of our day.

Stalinism Recidivus

The old CP — except as a ghost of a ghost on 23rd Street in Manhattan — is dead.  It had a slow, painful death, complete with various schisms and recriminations (we are talking Marxism here)  during the last decades of the twentieth century, and then all but gave up.  But there is a bit of an afterlife:   The Nation magazine, which exists to our day.  Financed in part by wealthy old-time Stalinists (so-called Nation Builders), this magazine has succeeded in creating a newer generation of bitter and resentful radical writers and readers.  Like the Stalinists of old, these newer “progressives”  are unhappy with American democracy. Unlike their forebears, they are also very unhappy about the existence of Israel, and happy, or happy enough, with contemporary Islamism.  The bulk of Omidyar’s team on Intercept have served in some capacity at The Nation.  There is also, overlapping with The Nation in personnel and  political orientation, the radio organization Democracy Now !, with Amy Goodman as its leading personality.

Outside of The Nation and Goodman’s group,  there are a number of key individuals who have shaped the new Stalinism.  Perhaps first and foremost is Noam Chomsky about whom I have already said just about all I can in previous postings.  There are others in academia who have played supporting roles, like Judith Butler, winner of an incomprehensibility prize, and other academics like her.  Many of these latter-day Stalinists, but by no means all,  are also active in gay rights movements.  Some of the most prominent come from Jewish backgrounds and use this circumstance — no matter how tenuous — for propagandistic purposes.

Finally there is Glenn Greenwald, sometime lawyer and gay pornographer, prolific polemicist against the American government and the state of Israel, regular speaker for the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization,  now famous as possessor of the Snowden stolen government documents.   Greenwald, of course,  is the one chosen by Omidyar to run his Intercept.

The Crusade of Intercept 

Nominally, Intercept is part of Omidyar’s First Look Media.  But since there are (so far) no other such parts, these two entities are in fact one and the same. Now FLM, according to its website, is organized as a nonprofit 501c3 organization.  Why pay taxes, especially to a government that Omidyar and Greenwald despise ?  Of course the law requires that  501c3 organizations  restrict themselves to  IRS-approved nonprofit activities, viz. those that are  “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”  The IRS does not include anti-Semitic agitation as one of these.   As we shall see, Omidyar and Greenwald (who is a lawyer) would seem to be in violation of IRS regulations.  But that is only one of their problems.

Intercept first appeared online on February 10 of this year.  Since then it has published just over seventy items.

As I have shown elsewhere, whatever can be verified in these Intercept postings turns out to be false.  For instance, Greenwald cites Goebbels and Netanyahu (7/21/14), claiming the two are congruent, when, once the contexts of these citations are examined, the two turn out to be diametrically opposed.

In this same posting Greenwald pontificates on a point of law.  Citing no statute, no law case, no legal authority,  he states baldly that “in Anglo-American law” recklessness on the part of an accused in a murder case is the equivalent of proven intent to kill.  Since Greenwald had gone to law school, this is obviously a piece of intentional misrepresentation. Get a treatise on criminal law, any such treatise, and look up mens rea in murder cases.

The bulk of these Intercept postings contain claims and accusations that cannot be verified:  what it says are exposures of US government secrets.  Intercept claims that it has obtained these secrets largely from Edward Snowden, who, it says, turned them over to Greenwald.  Apparently there are many thousands of these alleged secret US documents in this Snowden trove, but so far Greenwald has published only a very small proportion — maybe one or two percent — of what he says he has.   He has repeatedly claimed that, as a member of the press, he has the unlimited right to publish any or all such documents, at his own sole discretion, at times and places of his choosing. And yes, he is a lawyer.

Of course the public has no independent access to these alleged secret documents, so the reader is asked, on Greenwald’s sole say-so, to believe that the documents that he “reveals” are indeed genuine US secrets;  that the texts have not been tampered with and/or misrepresented by him;  and finally that there is nothing in the trove as a whole that limits or vitiates the particular document that he publishes.  Even if his personal record for veracity were spotless, which it not exactly is, that would be a tall order.

While the reader, as I say, cannot independently check the content of Greenwald’s trove, there are reasons to be suspicious.   In all its alleged revelations of government secrets, Intercept claims to have learned  that the US invariably acts in a deeply malevolent manner.  To believe Intercept, these ostensible secret documents never show that the US government acts benevolently or that it is any way even able to act in good faith.  Never ever does the US government act to help the poor, or to alleviate distress, or to promote education, or to promote democracy.  To believe Greenwald here, you have to be like the Stalinist of old, who could believe only the worst about the US and only the best of the Soviet Union.  As Greenwald has explained in numerous publications and Youtube talks, he sees the US government as a vast conspiracy for evil, while, at the same time, he sees no reason to complain about Islamist behavior anywhere in the world.

And now we come to what may indeed be the darkest aspect of the Omidyar-Greenwald enterprise:  its anti-Semitism.  As Robert Wistrich (e.g. in From Ambivalence to Betrayal) and other scholars have explained, the current version of anti-Semitism takes the following form:  carefully collect all real or imagined shortcomings of the Israeli government, carefully ignore all human rights abuses in the Islamic world, and then loudly denounce Israel as a war criminal.

In the period from July 14 to August 11 of this year, Intercept published five separate strident pieces against Israel.  To summarize its position:  Israel is deeply and criminally at fault in Gaza;  Hamas is completely, innocently victimized.  In the same period some of the worst human rights abuses in history took place: in Syria, to which Intercept turned a blind eye;  in Nigeria, a country which does not exist in the world of Intercept;  in Iraq, involving the Yaziti, which Intercept apparently has heard of, because it denounced the American aid there.  So Israel (and, incidentally  America) is criminal, nobody else’s actions deserve even the slightest criticism.  Which is what defines the modern anti-Semitism.

Those of us who have followed Mr. Greenwald’s public agitation before he became Snowden-famous, particularly his work with the Trotskyist Independent Socialist Organization over the years,  cannot be surprised by his deep animus against the Jewish people.  But what has moved Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire overprivileged of the overprivileged, to finance this disreputable war against decency ?

When Comrade Glenn Greenwald Meets Mr. Pierre Omidyar

Crackpot + $8,5 Billion = Potential for Mischief

When Comrade Glenn Greenwald Meets Mr. Pierre Omidyar
Dramatis Personae
I  The Main Characters
Leon Trotsky
Pierre M. Omidyar
Glenn Greenwald 
Edward Snowden
Julian Assange
II The Supporting Characters
Laura Poitras
Jeremy Scahill
III Walk-Ons
Sherry Wolf
Chorus:  International Socialist Organization
“If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men [but now I am very important]” wrote the anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti (of Sacco and Vanzetti fame) after  what he considered his unjust conviction for murder in 1927.  Similar words could today be written  by the (London) Guardian’s columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Up to now, Greenwald’s message was hardly newsworthy.  It proclaims that Snowden, Assange, Noam Chomsky, and yes, Leon Trotsky are the great heroes of modern times.  And it holds that  America and Israel are the greatest villains ever.  Concerning Russia, China, Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad:  no complaints there.  In other words, cranky views hardly distinguishable from those of so many others in little fringe groups and fringe publications. Like Julian Assange of “Wikileaks,” Greenwald obtained a certain amount of notoriety for himself by retailing the leaks of secret US government documents that were provided by Edward Snowden and Private Bradley (now Chelsea Elizabeth) Manning.  Notoriety yes, but no real influence.
If it took a death sentence to propel Sacco and Vanzetti to popular attention, Greenwald’s leap from mere notoriety to a potentially major nuisance came as a result of an unexpected financial coup: the decision by the super-rich  Pierre Omidyar (net worth = $8.5 billion) to bankroll him.
Born of Iranian parents in France, educated in the US, founder of eBay, Mr. Omidyar has announced that he is committing about $250 million to a new online publication to be run by Greenwald and like-minded publicists Lauro Poitras and Jeremy Scahill.  Why would a multi-billionaire who owes so much to his adopted country bankroll a cranky malcontent who sees no greater evil than Uncle Sam ?  Search me.
The major newspapers have reported the plans for the Omidyar-Greenwald enterprise in some detail, and have also given some of the background of the two protagonists.  But with regard to Greenwald, the media have pulled their punches.  There is an under-reported story of Greenwald’s work in a pornographic enterprise, revealed by the Daily News but ignored everywhere else,  to which Greenwald has taken umbrage.  (Not all secrets should be revealed, it seems.)
And speaking of secrets that should not be revealed, it must be said that neither Greenwald nor Snowden nor Assange has ever broached the problem of Chinese or Russian, or, for that matter, Ecuadorian secret spying activities.  These fearless fact-revealers blow their whistles only against the United States (and, of course, Israel).
But back to what the papers have failed to tell us about Greenwald.  All the information that I am about to mention is freely available on the internet.  It does take a certain amount of willingness to dig.
For at least three years now Greenwald has been a featured speaker at the annual “Socialism” conference of the International Socialist Organization.  At these events he invariably stresses his solidarity with the ISO.  To understand the wellspring of Greenwald’s project we must look at this group.
The ISO is the most active and energetic of the remaining Trotskyist grouplets in the United States.  Its ideology follows one particular stream of the Trotskyist movement,  that initiated by Tony Cliff (Yigael Gluckstein) of Britain, which holds, contrary to its Trotskyist rivals, that the Soviet Union was not a “degenerated workers state” but rather a kind of “state capitalism.”  The dogmatists of the various Trotskyist grouplets still dispute one another on this and similar fine points.  (Of course all Trotskyists agree on the wonderful achievements of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, on the need for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, on the “imperialist” nature of American capitalism, and on other axioms of contemporary revolutionary Marxism.)  In any case, the American ISO holds an annual get-together to thrash out fine points;   such concerns are called “Marxist theory” and, the ISO tells us, “Marxism matters.”
But theory spinning is far from the only thing that happens.  These annual meetings are also occasions for hyperventilating in noisy chantings of what the group considers its most important slogans of the day.  Some of the recent slogans, chanted for amazingly long periods at the meeting, include “Intifada! Intifada!”, “Free Abortion on Demand !,” “Disarm the Police !,”  “Free Palestine, From the River to the Sea.”  I have included some materials on ISO agitation in a previous blog.
As I have said, Glenn Greenwald has addressed annual ISO meetings for at least three years.  These addresses are available on Youtube;  the last one, in 2013, is shown here.

It is quite a spectacle to watch.  There is the ISO agitator Sherry Wolf (described by Wikipedia as  “an American socialist, Jewish anti-Zionist, independent journalist and author …. openly lesbian …”) to introduce the proceedings.  Then Jeremy Scahill, The Nation writer and collaborator of Greenwald in the new Omidyar enterprise, introduces the featured speaker, Greenwald, who speaks to the conference by Skype from London.  Greenwald, as he has done at other Socialism conferences, stresses his complete solidarity with the ISO.  He shows, with the chorus of the ISO as backdrop, where he stands, what his mission is.  This stance — aiding all those who would subvert and overthrow democratic society — is not in any way hidden.  As I mentioned, it is there for anyone to discover on the internet. (For Greenwald’s use of anti-Semitic tropes, see this important article by Jeffrey Goldberg. For the ideological background of Greenwald’s antipathy toward Jews, see my article on Trotskyism and the Jews.)

Now what about Pierre Omidyar ? Why would he bankroll Greenwald ?  Omidyar has signed the “Giving Pledge” initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a non-binding commitment by billionaires to give most of their fortunes to charity. But in the meantime he has committed a big chunk of his wealth to the cause of malice. Why would he do this ? Who can explain ?  Does he really wish to go down in history as the Henry Ford of the 21st century ?  As a bow to Ford’s  Dearborn Independent, will Omidyar’s new enterprise be dubbed the Honolulu Independent ?

Addendum 10/27/13

Greenwald on Chomsky and vice versa:  a mutual admiration society.  All you need to know about them is right here.


Addendum, February 2014
These documents reveal that
1) the group is smaller than I had assumed, apparently having no more than about 500 active members.
2) These five hundred comrades quarrel among themselves endlessly, rarely bothering with politeness.  Hence,
3) They do not seem to have realistic prospects of ever achieving much influence.
Hat tip:  Leslie Evans
Addendum, June 10, 2014
1)  As he has in years past, Greenwald will again address the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization this year.  Here is the ISO announcement.
2)  Greenwald’s No Place to Hide has received scathing criticisms in the press.  The one I recommend the most is by George Packer, and can be seen here.

The Enmity Movements

Dr. Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
German Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda
One of man’s most persistent traits is hate.  Is it an “instinct” and absolutely universal in the human species, or is but a response to frustration, as the “frustration-aggression” theorists would have it ?  While varying in degree and type among cultures and individuals, one would be hard put to find humans altogether without it.

It also seems clear that certain groups and individuals seem to have more than their share.  In fact — and this is the subject of this blog posting — there are organized movements that specialize in the theory and practice of fostering enmity and hate.  The historical examples are of course clear:  pre-eminent among them are the totalitarian movements of the last century.  But I will not focus on these here.  Instead, I propose to turn attention to some examples in contemporary America.First, some preliminary observations.

World literature has some outstanding haters, and it would seem that the enmity groups of today have been inspired by these, at least in part.  (I have looked in vain for something like a history of vituperation among the famous writers of the past, but,  as far as I can detect, a book like that is no more than a desideratum.) Some of the great haters of the past include, at a minimum, Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Adolf Hitler.

Hatred against Jews is prominent among historical hatreds, but it is not the only such enmity that is captured in the great literature of the past.  Be that as it may, in the case of Luther and Marx (and of course Hitler), it plays an outstanding role.

As to Luther, according to Wikipedia:

Luther describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage,circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”[1] Luther wrote that they are “full of the devil‘s feces … which they wallow in like swine,”[2] and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut”.[3]

And here is Karl Marx:

Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew – not the Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew.
Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.
What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.

Most of the descriptive literature of these classic haters mentions their violent, vituperative, vitriolic polemical style.  But this style is usually considered as no more than an aspect of the particular issues of the time.  I think that it deserves a treatment all of its own.  I think that this style, in its radical disregard of the personhood of its targets, often seeks no less than the physical annihilation of enemies.  Wishing the death of opponents, and the attempted and sometimes accomplished murder, are fairly common features of the hate groups, as we shall see.

When we come to enmity groups in contemporary America, it would seem that certain religious and political sects give us the most conspicuous examples.  None of these groups are very large, but neither are they, in their totality, too insignificant to deserve attention.  (There are also enmity groups that cannot easily be described as either religious or political — e.g. Scientology and the Larouche cult — for which there are ample descriptions on the internet.)

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka is perhaps the most extreme example that one can find of an enmity group.   Their in-the-face hate picketing in various parts of the country — “God Hates America,” “God Hates Israel,” “Fags Eat Poop,” — give the impression of parody, but that does not seem to be the intention.  Their latest antic was to declare that “God Sent the Shooter” at the funeral of Sandy Hook victims.

Not all groups that start out as hate groups remain so forever.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses of the 1930’s certainly promoted enmity.  Their favorite slogan — “Religion is a Snare and a Racket” — was used by them to shock Catholics.  On one occasion, June 25, 1939, there was a bloody brawl between JW members and those of another hate group, Charles Coughlin’s  Christian Front.  These combative years of the Witnesses seem to have been confined to those of J. F. Rutherford undisputed leadership (1917-1942).

A number of other religious sects have enmity practices that are mostly internal:  one faction opposes another, using extreme verbal violence that sometimes becomes physical assault.  We have such reports regarding Satmar Hasidim and occasionally other Hasidic groupings.  And back in 1933, the American-Armenian Archbishop Leon Tourian was assassinated in New York by members of an opposing Armenian faction.  And so forth.

One religious enmity group, or rather a set of such groupings, are known as the Closed Brethren divisions of the larger Plymouth Brethren movement.  These Closed Brethren, best described by the late Bryan R. Wilson in a series of publications, have now been with us for almost two hundred years.  Their history is one of holier-than-thou and mutually antagonistic grouplets, marked by excommunications, shunning, and extremely hateful language toward one another.  The fact that their numerous antagonisms concern mainly their inner politics, and also the fact that — as far as I know — there have been no reported cases of physical violence, would explain why these people have not generally attracted the attention of mainline media.

Coming now to the more political enmity groups, there are of course the classic haters like the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis, etc.  Their hatreds are well documented and obvious, and need no more discussion here.

The old American Communist Party, on the other hand, is not conventionally classed as a hate group.  And perhaps, if it were not for the excellent writings of some ex-Communists, most of us would simply not know about the culture of enmity in the old CP, i.e. in the years of its virulence, roughly from 1930 to 1960.  (The Party today is of course but a pale shadow of its past, and I do not discuss its current situation here.)

The historian Aileen S. Kraditor, having spent about a decade in the CP beginning in 1947, published her remarkable book “‘Jimmy Higgins’, The Mental World of the American Rank – and – File Communist” in 1988.  No other work, to my knowledge, has given us as much detailed and insightful information about the Party’s internal atmosphere of hatred, which was directed as much against perceived “renegades” as against the ostensible main enemy, capitalism. Kraditor devotes her fourth chapter specifically to “the rationale of hate” in the Party, a hatred which, from time to time, explicitly called for the death of opponents.   And she quotes from a 1937 article in a party journal:

It is from Marx we inherit the quality of fierce partisanship rising from objective historic analysis ;  his writings live today not as disembodied , cold philosophy, but, because of their intensive scientific objectivity, bright with the fires of hatred for the oppressors, which is but the other aspect of love for the working class and its vanguard.

The old CP is dead, more or less, but Marxist-Leninist enmity promotion still lives in America. It seems most virulent today in a group that had been a prime target of Stalinist hatreds, the Trotskyists.

Now as ever, Trotskyism is divided into numerous quarreling little sects, much like the Esclusive Brethren mentioned above.  Many of these groupuscules have been around for years, others arise and fall because of splits and mergers, and some seem to die due to pure exhaustion.  But there is one group, the International Socialist Organization, that, more than any of the others, seems to show signs of energy at the moment.

The ISO is “Cliffite,” e.g. it adheres to that branch of Trotskyism that was founded by the late Tony Cliff of the British Socialist Workers Party.  Unlike most of the other Trotskyist groups, the Cliffites did not defend the Soviet Union as a “workers state,” insisting, instead, that it was marked by “state capitalism.”  But while it was thus more reasonable in regard to Stalinism, Cliffism has been,  at some distance, the most rejectionist about Israel in this overall anti-Israel group of organizations:  for the Cliffite groups that there is no right of Israel to exist, no matter how tiny its borders. The issue is discussed here by one of the SWP”s Trotskyist rivals in Britain, Workers Liberty.

The verbal violence of the ISO is remarkable, certainly for a post-Stalinist organization.  Here is a video of an ISO meeting last year in Chicago


ISO’s Comrade Sherry Wolf tells us that she wants to “piss on Reagan’s grave” (see below at 33:24)

Over in England, the Cliffites have a friend and collaborator in the House of Commons, the Honourable Gentleman from Bradford West,  Mr. George Galloway.  Here he appears at a debate at Oxford, February, 2013

Finally, we have a talk on the website of the New York ISO branch that features Ms. Lannis Deek, an Arab-American lawyer and supporter of Hamas,  in which she claims that “Zionists” like David Ben Gurion have advocated and practiced the cold-blooded, indiscriminate murder of Palestinians:

Comrade Deek purports to cite Ben Gurion.  I have been unable to receive a reply from her when I inquired about the source of this alleged quotation.  The text is, however, listed in a compendium of false “Zionist” quotations that has been made available by CAMERA.  Comrade Deek is a member of the NY State Bar, whose Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 8.4(c)) prohibit a lawyer, ISO member or not, from  “[engaging] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” She may wish to review these Rules.

The history of enemy groups — which I have tried to sketch from Martin Luther to, if you will excuse me, Lannis Deek — is obviously part of our tradition, and is unlikely to end in our times.  I offer these comments in the hope that a greater understanding of such groups will help to mitigate the harm that they do.

See also

The Language of Hate: Animal Attributions

The Trotskyist Movement’s Changing Positions on Israel

Trotskyism, Chicago, 2012

The International Socialist Organization, one of the Trotskyist splinter groups and apparently the only one to have youthful members, finds that socialism as of 2012 means three things:  a disarmed police, death to Israel, and free abortion on demand.  But especially death to Israel:  intifada, intifada !

hat tip:  EAG

Doc Martyn, on another site, has suggested a companion piece (from the movie Cabaret):

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan ?

Some five hundred years ago François Villon (1431-1463) wrote his Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis about important women, who, alas, were no longer. At the end of each such evocation he concluded with the wistful mais où sont les neiges d’antan ?, ‘ where are the snows of yesteryear ?’ This line, frequently quoted in the original even by speakers of other languages, may well be the best loved in all of French poetry.

Now fast forward a few hundred years. Back in the 1940’s I was part of the Trotskyist movement in America, some decades before this movement turned more or less anti-Semitic (for an account of this development, see my old essay on this). While in this movement, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the friendship of an exceptional group of people, all, I was sure, brilliant like me, all able to see the unspeakable evil and ignorance of the non-Trotskyist world.

Now and then, the Internet being informative about the famous and obscure alike, I get glimpses of these erstwhile comrades. Some seem to be as smart as before (i.e. they evolved their thinking as I have), but about some there is a cloud of uncertainty. In this latter group there is X, who had been, as a girl, really, but really smart. In those days of our youth, that is to say the 1940’s, X had known all about the pretense and phoniness (a favorite term then) of conventional big shots. But I did hear, over the years, that perhaps X turned into a bit of a pretentious windbag herself. Could it be ? What is she like today ?

Recently I was involved in a project that led me into some collaborative work with Y, a long-term colleague of X at an institution of higher learning. I asked Y: you know X as a colleague. What is she like today ? I understand that X may have political opinions that differ from ours (Y and I are together in our work now), but, surely, beyond that, and remembering her from days of old, she is still a very decent human being ?

So here is Y’s report, which I have every reason to trust completely:

I doubt that I knew X. in the days of which you speak. She should live and be well, but she very much hates me, and I have to admire her capacity to hate lastingly. Not many civilians have it. Has she gone all the way to Chomsky? That is far.

So here is the lesson about the snows of yesteryear, as I see it: those snows that looked so bright and white probably never were what they seemed; as is the case with so much that glitters clean and white, they more than likely always had plenty of dirty mud just below the surface.

Anthony Julius: "Trials of the Diaspora"

Anthony Julius

When I was a boy in Berlin in the early years of the Nazi regime, some five or ten years before the Holocaust, a young rabbi broke the conventions of rabbinical discourse and managed to bring solace and spiritual strength to the Jews of the city. He created a sensation. Jews who would never enter a synagogue otherwise made their way to hear him. This rabbi’s name was Joachim Prinz (in due course he became a leader of American Jewry). In the early 1930’s he held the rapt attention of his people in Berlin, speaking approximately as follows from the pulpit of several Berlin synagogues:

“Everywhere you read and hear that you are ugly and hateful. Right now, look at the person next to you: is he hateful ? Is he ugly ? “

Joachim Prinz (1902-1988)

And suddenly Rabbi Prinz’s listeners, cowed as they had been by the incessant propaganda of the haters, could see the truth: no, the Nazis were not right. They could see the irrationality of all that hatred. They could see, and they knew that they should have seen all the time, that it was not they who were the ugly and the hateful.

This book by Anthony Julius performs something of the same function for us today that Rabbi Prinz performed for the Jews in the 1930’s. All around us “enlightened” people tell us of the perfidy of the Jews (nowadays called Zionists). If only Israel (read, the Jews) behaved better, all would be well. In the meantime, it is important to punish the “Zionists.” Boycott them ! Divest from Israeli investments ! Sanction them !

On the notion of boycott, as on many other issues, Julius is particularly revealing, showing the ancient, irrational hatreds that move people to call for boycotts of Israel, the only country so singled out.

There are scores and maybe hundreds of books on the modern anti-Semitism. I am familiar with many of them. But Julius has historical material (mostly from England) and thoughtful analyses that break absolutely new ground. The book will not and cannot change the mind of anyone who is infected with anti-Semitism, but it will greatly inform the rest of us. And yes, it will confirm that which in theory needs no confirmation: there is no reason, no excuse, nothing whatever acceptable in the anti-Semitic hatreds of our day.

There are several features of this book that set it apart from other treatments of the subject. First, and most obviously, is the close reading of anti-Semitic “tropes” in high-culture British literature: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, and others. (That word “trope” is found throughout the book; it is a fitting term for the handed-down formulas and assumptions in the anti-Jewish tradition of the British isles.) I find this literary discussion revealing, but of course it is the literary scholars who will need to debate its strengths and possible weaknesses as an approach to English literature.

Then there is the detailed and close examination of the anti-Semitic component of contemporary anti-Israelism, including that of certain well-known Jews. Tony Judt, for instance, is quoted here as he relies on the ancient anti-Semitic trope of a Jewish conspiracy when he delivers his attack on his fellow Jews.

With regard to these Jewish opponents of Israel, Julius is quite right in rejecting the notion that they are “self-hating.” On the contrary, these men and women think very highly of themselves. What they hate is other Jews, not themselves.

Julius is also good on the details of British anti-Israel parties and institutions, including those of the left wing, and including, most particularly, the working alliances between Muslim and Trotskyist formations.

There is not, to my mind, sufficient attention given to an analysis of the extent to which anti-Semitic tropes are accepted by the larger public. We do learn, in connection with the Jewish contingent of anti-Semitism, that roughly 80% of Britain’s Jews identify with Israel, so we can deduce that the anti-Israel Zeitgeist, as the author calls it, has made little headway among the Jews. But in the English public as a whole ? To be sure, the anti-Semitic and partially anti-Semitic (“fellow-traveling”) voices are conspicuous in some of the media — the Independent, the Guardian, the BBC, etc. — but to me it seems that there is reason to remain hopeful that good sense still prevails in the public opinion as a whole.

Despite its truly abhorrent subject matter, this book is a pleasure to read. The pleasure is intellectual. It arises from the wealth of new knowledge and new insights that, I dare say, is in store for even the best informed of readers.

The French Left and Islamist Anti-Semitism: A Dilemma

Olivier Besancenot: Mail Carrier, Recent Candidate for the French Presidency, Leader of the (Trotskyist) New Anti-Capitalist Party, and Anti-Israel Activist

For the Left in France, both traditional and new, there is a bit of a dilemma: one the one hand, its politics have historically been defined by a strict secularism (religion being the opiate of the people, and all that). But on the other hand, at least since 1967, the Left (except perhaps for some groups within the Socialist Party) has also been pledged to work against Israel. Now the most anti-Israel political force of them all is that of the religious, militant Islamists. What is there for a poor leftist do: make common cause with the Islamists and be considered soft on secularism ? Or denounce the militant Islamists and be considered soft on Zionism ?

Obviously, this being a French matter, and more particularly a matter for the much-fissured French Left, there have been a number of ways in which the dilemma has been faced. A very revealing article by Jean-Yves Camus, The French Left and Political Islam: Secularism Versus the Temptation of an Alliance, surveys the field.