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.)


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


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.

The Conceits of Social Justice

soc just jews plot

The Conceits of “Social Justice”

The year was 1940, and I began, a boy of fourteen summers, my career as a voyeur of fringe groups.

Sundays were a particular treat. In the afternoon the old Socialist Labor Party hosted lectures in an Eight Avenue hotel. There was much talk of industrial unionism and other forms of very democratic arrangement, even though the Party itself (now all but defunct) was ruled with an iron hand, for fifty-five years, by the apparatchik Arnold Petersen (1885-1976).

That meeting ended early in the afternoon, to the sound of the SLP’s own version of the Internationale. But no sooner was the Final Conflict concluded than I headed one block east, to Broadway in the fifties, where the Christian Front of Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was picketing radio station WMCA. The station styled itself “at the top of the dial,” but to Fr Coughlin’s folks it was “at the bottom of the pile.” It seems that the station had incurred the Father’s displeasure by banishing his anti-Semitic rants from its airways. I must say that I did enjoy this picketing show, more so than the staid SLP lectures to the west.

And I learned, for the first time, about Social Justice. This was Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic magazine until the Roosevelt administration, with the help of a friendly bishop, found ways of silencing the “radio priest.” Looking back now, I must say that I was never struck by the enormity of the conceit — the enormity of the falsehood — of presenting the Christian Front ideology as a call for justice, social or otherwise.

Now here we are, some seventy-five years later, and “social justice” (SJ) is once again what zealots say they are after. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Marxist slogans like “class struggle,” “socialist revolution,” “anti-Fascism,” etc., are much less frequent in the self-styled Left than the shrill self-righteous clamor for “social justice.”

It is now almost 30 years ago that the distinguished political scientist Guenter Lewy published his Peace and Revolution. The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism (1988) in which he traced the slide of pacifist groupings, more particularly the Quakers, from a principled pacifist refusal to taking sides in war to a shrill anti-Americanism and an equally shrill agitation against Israel. Today’s Quakers see grave violations of Palestinian human rights but cannot spare any sympathy for Jewish victims of Arab terror. They see human rights abuses in America but not in Communist China. This new stance, which had its beginnings roughly at the time of the Viet Nam war, is emblematic of “social justice” of our day. More than anything, it means enlistment in certain very selected “progressive causes” regardless of the moral context of this engagement. And at the same time, it means a determined blindness to basic humanitarian issues.

The prominent “social justice” causes of today include homosexual rights, “Black lives matter,” and the “boycott, divestment, sanction” (BDS) movement to delegitimize the state of Israel. What these movements all have in common is that they are movements of enmity; they are directed against selected target groups which are most generally labelled as “right wing.” In this these movements stand in stark contrast to efforts that seek to improve the human condition by, for instance, eliminating poverty and disease or, to give another example. efforts to promote the education of slum dwellers. Humanitarian efforts of this kind, insofar as they are not directed against “right wing” enemies, stand outside the purview of “social justice.”

The current SJ campaign for the legalization of homosexual marriage illustrates the irrationality of all the different strands of SJ. There is a rational case that can made for the legality of such marriages, based on the particular circumstances of homosexual couples. But it is unreasonable to stipulate an overall “human right” that demands “social justice” for such arrangements. If we were indeed obliged, on general moral or ethical grounds, to support the right of anyone to marry anyone, we would have to support, to give just one example, the “man-boy” arrangement which the German Green Party did indeed advocate some years ago. If “social justice” were a meaningful imperative in this area, what about such justice for polygamists, or, for that matter, for those whose tastes run to inter-species arrangements ? The self-righteousness of gay marriage advocates who see a general “social justice” on their side, but who resist, just like the rest of us, the demands of polygamists, pedophiles, incestors, etc. etc., points to the irrationality and inherent hypocrisy of the whole “social justice” enterprise.

The most prominent SJ movement of our day, perhaps, is the one self-styled as Black Lives Matter (BLM). I have analyzed this phenomenon in two previous postings, here and here. Very briefly, this movement protests certain well-publicized cases in which Black people were killed by police. But Black-on-Black homicide, which BLM pointedly ignores , is 1,127 times more frequent, in an average year. Moreover, a recent New York Times analysis shows that “eliminating the biases of all police officers would do little to materially reduce the total number of African-American killings.” In short, BLM, one of the preeminent SJ movements of our day, is simply not concerned with a very real and very pressing humanitarian crisis, i.e. the crushing disadvantages of life in the Black ghetto.

I will not here dwell on the moral hypocrisy of the anti-Israel BDS movement; too much has been written on this topic for me to be able to offer new insights. Put briefly, BDS pounces on all violence emanating from the Jewish side, completely ignoring the violence and terror on the other. Moreover, BDS is absolutely silent on the humanitarian disaster of the Arab populations who live under Islamist rule.

The City of New York is replete with a number of self-styled social justicers. There are Jews Against Israel of various stripes. There are Quakers and Brooklyn-for-Peacers, Queers Against This or That … unlike the days when the old Communist Party ran all such shows, the zealot scene is now full of independent operators. Among the more exotic of these groups there is the Granny Peace Brigade, earnest old ladies (though, I must say, generally younger than I), who, very much like Quakers, see much criminality in the governments of the United States and Israel. Problems with Islamists ? Not that they have heard of. If you wish to test the earnestness of their humanitarian commitments, ask them about the girls kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram. No, if these ladies have heard of these girls at all, they are of no concern to Peace Grannies.

At the time of the bloody Bolshevik revolution with all its conceit of bettering the human condition, a critic remarked that one single nurse in a hospital accomplishes far more in that regard than does Lenin with all his Bolsheviks. And so, mutatis mutandis, there is much more humanitarian value in the work of those who strive for the elimination of hunger and poverty and ignorance than in all the “social justice” movements taken together. In any case, the former will do less harm than the latter.

Facts Matter ! Part 2


The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has found its lyricist in the person of Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of a just-out 42000-word remonstrance, Between the World and Me.  Its thesis is simple:  white America is out to destroy the black body;  what happened in Ferguson and on Staten Island is no more and no less than the same murderous path taken by white America since slavery, against the black body. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” (Emphasis in original.)  Moreover, the dust jacket of  Coates’ pamphlet, both in front and in back, contains an urgent recommendation by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison:  “This is required reading.”

As I have shown in my previous posting, there are roughly 1100 black-on-black murders, annually, for each case of police brutality alleged by BLM.  This is not a circumstance that Coates will acknowledge explicitly.  But he is enough of an honest autobiographer to describe the cultural factors surrounding what he describes as  his chronic fears as a young man:  the violence in the streets, the beatings he received from his father, the violence of black neighborhoods.  But he rejects any sort of agency on the part of the black community:  “To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Let’s see now.  Black men kill other black men, and that’s the fault of white America.  I am sure that there are Nobel laureates (in literature) who will be persuaded by this argument, but is it  coherent ?

In stark contrast to the Coates volume we have have another recent publication, The Cultural Matrix, by the distinguished Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson and his associates.  No Nobel prize winners, to my knowledge, have endorsed this one.  And while the Coates volume is a current Amazon best-seller, ranking #25 for all books and #1 for books on African Americans, the Patterson work ranks but #207,816 for all books and #810 for books on African Americans.  Not much worldly acclaim for this outstanding, comprehensive piece of scholarship.

Patterson and his team do not hesitate to examine all the “structural” constraints on the black population, the persisting racism, poverty, residential segregation, over-incarceration.  But neither do they shrink from exploring the “cultural” factors, the violence of a minority that endangers all in black neighborhoods, the unstable family structure that damages so much of black youth.  In short, the black population is not only victim but is also an agent of its own plight.

As it happens, the Patterson volume is also a bargain.  At a list price of $45 and with its hefty 555,000 words, the cost comes to 8¢ per 1000 words.  Compare this to the little Coates volume, at $24 for 4200 words, or fully 57¢ per 1000.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 2015

The New Yorker of Sept.14 has an absolutely brilliant article on this subject by Kelefa Sanneh, Body Count.

UPDATE, October 3, 2015

Here is another brilliant piece by Kelefa Sanneh, viz. a review of Patterson volume that I mention above.  See “Don’t Be Like That,” in the New Yorker of Feb. 9, 2005.

UPDATE October 25, 2015

Here is a New York Times analysis, dated October 16, Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say

Facts Matter !


The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), as propagated by many Black leaders but also by such mainstream publications as the New York Times, is grossly misleading.  For each case that BLM protests there are, as I shall show, 1127 cases that it will have us ignore.

BLM protests the death of 25 black people between June 16, 2010 and July 15, 2015, or about five per year.  The cases all involve fatalities of black individuals, mostly at the hands of white police officers.  In at least one case, that of Eric Garner on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, some of the police officers were black.  More to the point,  several hundred black and white people die every year during interaction with the police, a fact not mentioned by the BLM movement.

The 25 cases urged upon us by BLM all involve some ambiguity concerning culpability of officers and victims.  I do not doubt that in many of these cases there was substantial negligence and perhaps racial bias on the part of the police.  But in no instance is there a convincing case for premeditated murder.

On the other hand, there is no doubt whatever that black people are much more frequently the victims of murder than white people.  In 2013, 6261 black people were murdered in the US, compared to 5537 white people.  These raw figures are more bleak than they appear  when you consider  that only 13% of the total population is black and 78% white.  In other words, the white victimization rate for murder is 22.5 per million,  that of the black population is 149 per million.  Black people are almost seven times more often victims, proportionately, than white people.  But BLM, wholly preoccupied with 25 cases in five years, does not seem to concern itself, at all, with the over 6000 black people killed annually. (All my figures are derived from the FBI’s Crime in the United States.)

But while black people are much more frequently the victims of homicide, they are also much more often perpetrators.  In 2013, again, we had 4396 white murderers, or 17.9 per million of the white population, compared to 5375 black murderers, or a rate of 128 per million of the black population.  The black/white murder ratio, viz. 7.15, has been stable for many decades.

When it comes to the question of which race kills which, our data are restricted to cases in which there was but a single victim and a single offender.  In these cases there were 3005 white victims, whose killers were white 83% of the time and black 14%.  These data also show 2491 black victims of these one-on-one crimes, with white offenders accounting for 7.5%  and black offenders for 90%. So, if the one-on-one incidents are typical of homicide, we can conclude that fully 90% of black victims are victims of black-on-black crime.  In other words, there would seem to be, roughly, 5600 black-on-black victims, annually.  That is a figure one thousand one hundred and twenty-seven times higher than that of the five cases, annually, that BLM has us grieve.

Do facts matter ?  No, apparently not to Black Lives Matter.

In a future blog I will discuss two recent books on the BLM topic, “Between The World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The Cultural Matrix,” by Orlando Patterson, et al.

The Sandbox Philosophers


The Sandbox Philosophers

Young children, in the view of scholars like Piaget,  do not engage in logical thinking while conducting their sandbox polemics.  And young children are also prone to employ crude expletives.  As any parent knows, this pre-logical behavior is part of every childhood.  But sometimes, alas, we encounter it among adults, at which point it becomes noteworthy.

The prodigiously-financed website Intercept, conducted by Glenn Greenwald but moneyed  by the billionaire Pierre Omidyar, has been a frequent topic on this blog and others, for its blatant anti-Americanism, its virulent anti-Semitism, and its multiple violations of journalistic ethics.  My purpose today is different:  I now wish to point to its astounding mental primitivism, truly rare, I believe, among adults.

In a posting dated June 21, 2014, Greenwald quotes Netanyahu out of context, then quotes Goebbels out of context, and suggests thereby that Israel is akin to Nazism.  I have already discussed this posting by Greenwald here.  What I have failed to do before, however, is cite Greenwald’s reasoning, if it can be called that, of the logic of making such comparisons:

To compare aspects of A and B is not to posit that A and B are identical (e.g., to observe that Bermuda and Bosnia are both countries beginning with the letter “B” is not to depict them as the same, just as observing that both the U.S. in 2003 and Germany in 1938 launched aggressive wars in direct violation of what were to become the Nuremberg Principles is not to equate the two countries).

Just how smart is that ?  The similarity between Bermuda and Bosnia, their common initial letter, is significant ?  Of course Goebbels and Greenwald also share a common initial letter … oh never mind.

Sandbox logic is also prominent in a posting of October 22, 2014, again signed by Greenwald, that blames Canadian foreign policy for an Islamist attack in Ottawa last fall.  Defending himself against criticism that he justifies terrorism, Greenwald writes:

One more time: the difference between “causation” and “justification” is so obvious that it should require no explanation. If one observes that someone who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day can expect to develop emphysema, that’s an observation about causation, not a celebration of the person’s illness. Only a willful desire to distort, or some deep confusion, can account for a failure to process this most basic point.

But how does one establish causation to begin with ?  Greenwald won’t say.  The “causation” that he alleges for the Ottawa attacks is established by his simple say-so, together with a sandbox-level (false) analogy.

Here is a very recent sandboxism in the Intercept of June 24, 2015, signed Greenwald and Josh Begley, which maintains that the number of victims of Islamist terror in the US is very low compared to other hazards.  The posting has an elaborate graphic which states that, among other things, there were 48 people killed by right-wing extremists in the United States since 9/11, but only 26 people killed by Muslim extremists since 9/11.  All that may very well be true, but nowhere on this posting are we told that on 9/11, 2,996 people were killed by Muslim extremists, including 19 perpetrators, right here in the US.  Who but a three-year old will be impressed by this sleight of hand ?

Sandboxisms abound in the Orwellian world of Omidyar-Greenwald, and my posting here can make no claim for a complete survey of the site.  But one additional topic must be mentioned because it is so common in the O/G publication:  name-calling, a form of ad hominem abuse.    Neocon,” which Greenwald uses mainly to describe Jews whom he does not like, occurs frequently as a derogatory epithet.  Or, when Greenwald discusses Christian groups favorable to Israel, these groups are described as “religious fanatics.”  (For comparison, those interested in the use of name-calling in the actual sandboxes may wish to consult the old article by David J. Winslow, “Children’s Derogatory Epithets,” Journal of American Folklore, vol. 82 (1969), pp. 255-63.)

The Omidyar-Greenwald style of personal vilification closely resembles that of Greenwald’s ally and co-conspirator,  Noam Chomsky.  Greenwald has falsely claimed that “far from being some sort of brutal, domineering, and angry ‘alpha-male’ savage, Chomsky – no matter your views of him – is one of the most soft-spoken and unfailingly civil and polite political advocates on the planet. ”  The fact is that Chomsky’s juvenile name-calling is legendary.  Here is his correspondence with me, in which he calls me a “liar,” a “coward,” a “liitle Fascist.”  No, not exactly “unfailingly civil and polite.”

One questions remains.  Both Omidyar and Greenwald are college educated, and since the kind of logic displayed on Intercept would cause one to flunk out of high school, let alone college, their sandboxism must be  a ruse rather than an authentic mental condition.  But why the ruse ?

As it happens, even the most primitive agitators of the Nazi era generally had perfectly conventional higher education, but yet, in their public agitational work, they relied on non-logical tropes, epithets, and hate speech.  The truth seems to be that the rules of logical thinking, useful for rational discourse, are not very useful in the emotional appeals of hate politics.

Omidyar and Greenwald may not have much influence in mainstream America, but it is obvious — from reading the comments on their site and other indicators — that they have a certain following on the hate-prone fringes of this country.  These fringes look for the flames of hate speech rather than the light of rational discussion.  I see this style as a mobilizing tool for the haters of this world.

So —  do Omidyar and Greenwald know what they are doing with their sand box philosophizing ?  I think they do.


Writing “As a Jew” ?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Writings on “Partial Jews”

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

The Partial Jews in Nazi Germany

What About the Partial Jews ?

Rise of the Schivone Jews

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



What About the Partial Jews ?

Some of us think of ourselves as Jews without question.  Others think of themselves, or are thought to be, “half Jews,” or in some other way only partially Jewish.

In this essay, which I have just posted on my website, I

1) take up the question of how to define “Jewish” and point to the deficiencies of the conventional religious definition;

2) propose a multivariate definition of Jewishness, borrowing from the statistical notion of factor analysis

3) note that those Gestapo agents that the literature describes as “Jewish” were, apparently, mostly partial Jews

4) explore the role of partial Jews in the self-described “Jewish” anti-Israel movement in the United States

Once again, here is the link to this essay



The Secret Codicil to the Iran-US Agreement: The White House Saves the Day

white house

As the world learned only much later, the Stalin-Hitler Pact of 1939 contained a now-famous Secret Protocol that divided Eastern Europe into German and Russian “spheres of influence.”  This blog has now learned that the Obama-Khamenei “Framework Agreement” signed in Lausanne today similarly contains a Secret Protocol.

While not all details of this Secret Protocol could be verified, certain features of it have been confirmed by usually reliable sources.

First and foremost:  the numbers.  It seems that the Iranians had always insisted on a round million while the American side would not hear of anything above 100,000.  Some circles close to the White House, for example a high-ranking US Senator from New York, is said to have insisted on an absolute maximum of 10,000. The White House is also said to have actively sought advice from academic circles.  A very senior retired professor at MIT is said to have weighed in with a figure of about 50,000.

In the end, eager to come to an agreement, the White House is said to have  confronted the Iranians:  no more than 500,000 or we walk.  Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif is said to have made a special appeal to the Ayatollah, who agreed to accept the half-million figure, though with considerable reluctance.

And so, it can be said that President Obama will be credited, in the end, with having saved the lives of half a million Jews.  Oh yes, all these numbers have to do with how many Jews the Iranians may kill with their atomic weapons.






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Occasional Writings by Werner Cohn,