Israel The Political Animal

A Misguided Argument About Anti-Semitism

This is not class warfare.
This is not class warfare.

(This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on February 11, 2014.)

In the Wall Street Journal of February 3, Harvard’s Ruth R. Wisse published an Op-Ed titled “The Dark Side of the War on ‘the One Percent.” In the article, Wisse argues for a “structural” connection between “anti-Semitism and American class conflict.” First tracing the rise of nineteenth century European anti-Semitism in the accusation that Jews took “unfair advantage of the emerging democratic order in Europe, with its promise of individual rights and competition, in order to dominate the fields of finance, culture and social ideas,” Wisse proceeds to find like grounds for potential anti-Semitic outbreak in President Obama’s and American progressives’ “sallies against Wall Street and the ‘one percent.’” She warns, therefore, against “[s]toking class envy” in a “politics of grievance directed against ‘the rich’” for fear of igniting a “politics of blame directed specifically at Jews.”

Wisse’s argument is both grievously mistaken and dangerously misguided. It is mistaken because it mischaracterizes the connection between anti-Semitism and class conflict, and it is misguided because the argument is, contrary to its concern, actually detrimental to Jewish interests.

First, when Wisse speaks of a “structural connection between a politics of blame directed specifically at Jews and a politics of grievance directed against “the rich,” she is mistaken in her use of the word “structural.” What is structural isinherent, part of the makeup of a thing. To claim that aggrieved attention to any perceived excess accumulation of wealth in a society will inevitably lead to Jews and an outbreak of anti-Semitism is oddly, inadvertently, actually to accept the anti-Semitic formulation of Jews and wealth. In any contemporary Western society, attention to wealth will at least as likely, in far greater numbers, lead the attentive to Christians, atheists and many other groups. The choice of the anti-Semitic to focus on Jews only or particularly is thus selective, not structural, a development contingent on the genuine social and psychological causes of anti-Semitism, not on a true measure of Jewish wealth and power.

Ironically, Wisse is herself selective, seemingly constructing a necessary entailment of reasons and conclusions, leading from progressive concern with gross income and wealth inequality to the incitement of anti-Semitism. Yet, just as Wisse shapes her argument by her choice of the word “structural,” so does she by her use of phraseology such as “class envy,” a “war on the one percent,” and a “politics of grievance.” The problem might well be otherwise expressed and the argument, then, otherwise viewed. Ever did those people with consider any peep of objection from those people without to be an unseemly display of envy and resentment. The Bourbons of France and the Romanovs of Russia also thought themselves set upon and, like Tom Perkins, the victims of “class warfare.”

The Bourbons and the Romanovs themselves, however, were engaged in no class warfare: they were just a feature of nature, like the course of the sun, the divine-right hand of God, or the invisible hand of the free market. (See for this last the recently passed Farm Bill.) It is not “class warfare” or envy that is stoked when state governors, like that of Wisconsin, funded by two of the wealthiest brothers in the United States, campaign (to invoke more military vocabulary) to revoke the labor rights of public employees and to set private employees with their dwindling 401k’s enviously against public-sector employees, who often enjoy the genuine pensions the resentful should wish for themselves and not seek to take from their fellows in a “politics of grievance.”

The language shapes everything. It molds the argument the writer develops. It directs the understanding of the reader to whom the argument is made. If we speak, with less bile, as I did, not of envy and grievance but of “concern with gross income and wealth inequality,” perhaps we invoke less frightening ill will. If we recall James Madison, from Federalist No. 10, who advised that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property” and that the “regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation,” then perhaps we sound less alarmingly revolutionary, or at least revolutionary in a reassuring and founding American way.

Yet while Wisse is mistaken in the language she employs, and her argument misshapen by that language, she is also misguided in the implications to which she leads by this argument.

The force of Wisse’s argument is to drive American Jews self-interestedly away from “progressivism.” This would be, to echo Wisse, a “dangerous” development. To clarify how, we must briefly attend to language again.

The term “progressive” like so much political nomenclature, opens a broad umbrella. It may, depending on individual usage, cover everyone on the left from moderate Democrats to full-out liberals to socialists to postcolonial culture warriors to recalcitrant Marxists. The farthest left of these, like the far right, have ugly histories with Jews. In the anti-Zionism of some today, they are no friends to Jews now. But among those who was also called progressive was the Republican President Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was the trust busting conservationist who dramatically expanded the national parks and signed into law the first federal food and drug legislation. In that spirit, it is American progressivism that gave birth over the twentieth century to the full range of labor and economic and social safety net protections on which Americans have come to rely almost as if they are – to choose a word – structural features of reality, though, of course, they are not. They are social enlightenments born not of envy and grievance, but of the progressive belief that the quality of a life – the inherent value of it – should not be measured by the quantification only of what that one life can earn for itself in the free market. It is American progressivism that brought us the civil rights era, with its continuing and expanding benefit in access and human dignity to so many different minorities, including Jews, for it is only that era that brought to a close, for instance, the Jewish quota at Wisse’s Harvard, and ensured, similarly, that I might be admitted to graduate school at Columbia University on merit and not denied entry by reason of my Jewish birth because of longstanding quotas there.

Progressivism made the America in which Jews may feel so secure. To think that American Jews should fear progressive interest in economic justice, progressive belief in what Madison gave us as the proper “regulation of these various and interfering interests” that arise from and expand “the various and unequal distribution of property” is to counsel Jews most unwisely against their own interests. For an America committed in belief and in policy to serving equity and justice will remain for Jews a secure home.

More strategically, with regard to the profound American-Jewish interest in Israel, Wisse’s misidentification would only exacerbate a problem that has indeed developed in the farther left reaches of Western progressivism. It is visible for all to see that Marxist-inspired post-nationalism has joined with postcolonial analyses of culture and power to fixate perversely on Israel and Jewish nationalism as the exemplars of what they oppose. The true current danger is that this irrational, though fashionable misunderstanding is leaking toward more moderate quarters of progressivism. We see this in the growing attention in academia, for instance, to the BDS campaign.

This growing tendency requires a response. It needs to be combated. One way to do that is to clarify both what true progressivism is and what Israel is, which is, in the latter case, despite the pressures of seven decades of conflict and of internal theocratic forces, a nation that has been from the start and remains, socially, astonishingly progressive. Israel’s enemies are enemies of all that is progressive. They are among the most retrograde and increasingly regressive societies in the world, and true progressives should be among Israel’s most natural allies.

But it is true, too, that the political desire to moderate, rather than amplify, systematically arising economic inequities will remain a defining feature of progressive political philosophy. Grossly mistaking and mischaracterizing that profoundly moral commitment as a danger to Jews would work to drive a wedge where one already needs to be removed. Israel and Jews need to work to maintain and recover allies whose sympathies should naturally be theirs, not to sever those ties by declaring those allies’ highest ideals a danger to Jewish interests.

That misguidance would be the danger to Jews.


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A Second Look: What About Chas Freeman?


Whenever they become topically relevant, I am going to offer a scond look at some older pieces still worth reading. Yesterday, the anti-semitic Mondoweiss blog reposted a recent speech by Chas Freeman at A National Interest discussion about “Israel’s fraying image.” I do not link to Mondoweiss, but you can find Freeman’s comments at his own site, here. My interest is less in these particular comments of Freeman, of a piece with longstanding attitudes toward Israel, than in his decision to permit them to be published on Mondoweiss. The fact that Mondoweiss has an inexcusable respectability in some left quarters diminishes not at all its true and readily apparent nature or the disgrace of affording it that respectability. No doubt, however, it is that cover that comforts Freeman in emerging that much further out of the dark recesses, in the manner of “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer.” In this context, I think it worth revisiting how Chas Freeman, long a foreign policy establishment hand, first came brightly into the public view, and how, and the many ways, he revealed himself, not just on Israel, but in the context of the Arab world and, very significantly, China. This post first appeared on May 16, 2009.

What About Chas Freeman?

Maybe the most bitter inside Washington fight of the year was little known to the general public because it received scant attention from the mainstream media. However, while newspapers and television news nearly ignored ex ambassador to Saudi Arabia and China hand Charles Freeman – put forward by Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence as President Obama’s choice for Director of the National Intelligence Council – Washington insiders and the blogosphere fought another Mid-East war over him.

Supporters were many, in government and also in the  journalistic ranks, including The Atlantic’s James Fallows, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein (Jewish, as were some other supporters) freeman-chas-saudi-arabiaand top blogger Andrew Sullivan. The primary argument in favor of Freeman was that he is a “contrarian” – an outspoken proponent of ideas that challenge those of the foreign policy establishment, including, most prominently, wouldn’t you know, those of the “Jewish lobby” and its supporters. It is crucial, the argument went, in moving past the Bush years, that the U.S. break free of its “lock-step support” of Israeli policy and “return” to a position of “even handedness” that it is purported the U.S. held prior to the Bush years and the ascension of the neo-conservatives.

Opponents were many, too, perhaps most prominently Senator Charles Schumer of New York, but also Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a range of human rights supporters – supporters of Israel and the NGO Human Rights Watch as well. Supporters of Israel pointed to Freeman’s cozy relationship with Arab despots, his one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his suggestions – against all evidence – that 9/11 had been a response to U.S. support of Israel. Pelosi, Human Rights Watch and others focused on comments about the Tiananmen Square massacre that were critical of the protesters and strikingly sympathetic to China’s rulers.

However, many supporters – Sullivan for instance – were determined to make the issue the always subterranean influence of the “Jewish lobby,” and they scoffed at any argument against Freeman that, in their view, pretended that the “campaign” against Freeman was anything other than an attempt to maintain Jewish influence over American foreign policy judgments. Sullivan, who won this past year’s Weblog award as the Web’s top blogger – and previously generally sympathetic to Israel – has chosen, post Gaza, to beat his drum of pernicious Jewish influence over U.S. foreign policy like a new toy, and would see nothing but that influence in the Freeman controversy.


Ultimately, Freeman withdrew from consideration for the post, but not without releasing a broadside demonstrating the kind of reckless extremity of view that worried his opponents from the start. “The tactics of the Israel Lobby,” he charged, “plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.” He went on to further lambaste “a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government” rather than those of the United States, raising the specter of a Fifth Column.

wrote briefly about the imbroglio at the time and was spurred to some further comment yesterday by the surprising news of former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang’s smuggled memoir of Tiananmen and his fall from power. Zhao’s perspective offered such a striking contrast to that of Freeman. A reader replied (see the comments section at right) suggesting I didn’t know what I was talking about: “You might want to be a little more inquisitive about the quotes attributed to Charles Freeman about Tiananmen.” He also offered the standard defense of all those who explore their mouths with their feet (but never of those whose words have been praised) that they are the victim of misquotation and “inaccuracies.”

This is all part of the divergent post-mortems of the affair competing with each other to survive and evolve into history. Some points, then, about Freeman are worth making. First, if a major part of the opposition to Freeman came from supporters of Israel, nothing about his exit from the scene gave the lie to their concerns. It is one thing to disagree with Israeli policies, as I have always opposed Israel’s settlement policy; it is another to evince obvious hostility of the kind that those who rail against the “Jewish Lobby” almost always do. It is another, also, to express sentiments so peculiarly deranged that the radar of anyone about whose people the words were spoken is bound to blare “Danger, Will Robinson!” while supporters of the vocalist are compelled to contort themselves in order to achieve a position of defense.

In my April 6 post I cited Freeman’s Jewish Daily Forward phone interview of March 25, 2009 in which he said of Israel:

It’s a foreign country, and while maybe 40 years ago many of its values were convergent with ours, I think there’s been a divergence of values.

How very bizarre. I mean – aren’t they all foreign countries? Why apply this adjective particularly to Israel? Yet here “foreign” does seem to suggest something more fundamentally “gut” in nature for Freeman, as in something “alien,” something to which one uncomfortably cannot relate. More foreign than Saudi Arabia? Than China? Than Iran? Israel, whatever its flaws, is a democracy, a nation governed by the constitutional rule of law, with universal suffrage, equal rights for women and, like the U.S., expanding gay rights. It is fully a product – politically, culturally, and socially – of Western civilization, just as is the United States. But somehow in contrast to those nations just mentioned, and score of others, it is from Israel that we have experienced a “divergence of values”? Asked in the clearest and most direct way possible – What the fuck is Charles Freeman talking about?

A careful reader can’t help but wonder – what or who over the history of Western civilization has been so much of that civilization, yet cast repeatedly as somehow antithetically alien to it, “foreign” in it, divergent in values? Really. Again.


Nonetheless, and despite the desire of Freeman supporters to make the matter all about Israel, the other criticisms of Freeman – and an essential one fundamentally ignored – are just as cogent.

Supporters everywhere praised the “contrarian” in Freeman, which, once the range of his views and expression became known, felt a little bit like grasping for the warm milk to help the castor oil of crackpot loose cannon go down. However, when you get past the contrarian veneer and the anti-Israeli bias in almost every sentence that, for many, the “contrarian” garb was meant to dress up (yes, so he credits the remarkable talents of the “European” founders of Israel – and Shaquille O’Neal is very tall), what you find, in truth, is a man temperamentally aligned to the preservation and exercise of state power. It is one thing to possess the practical virtue of being able to see circumstances through the eyes of a contestant or adversary – a quality for which Freeman was much praised; it is another, Stockholm-style, to begin to see things, in fact, as does the adversary.

In Freeman’s much discussed 2006 US-Arab Policymakers Conference speech, the Palestinians are barely mentioned. Israel, alone, for good or ill, always ill, is considered the determining actor in events. Who else, we might ask, sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in that way? And in the same speech, Freeman uses, with apparent naturalness and ease, the word “rulers” when referring to the heads of the GCC states rather than “leaders” or “heads of state” or some other, republican or democratic nomenclature that might come more readily to the tongue were these individuals anything other than, in fact, despotic rulers. But this fact does not restrain Freeman’s encomiums or the intimacy of his wise counsel, as the essential democratic nature of Israeli society, in contrast to the nature of the Arab states or the Palestinian parties, shows no influence on his judgment making.

The equally much discussed remarks about the Tiananmen Square massacre reveal the same temperamental affiliation with state control and order. The “unforgiveable mistake” of the Chinese rulers was that they had been too cautious. This phrase is couched in terms of a description of the “dominant view” in China, but it is clear that Freeman agrees with it and he terms it a “very plausible” view. (Read the entire email for yourself here.) However, “For myself, I side on this — if not on numerous other issues — with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be” [emphasis added].

To be clear, it is Freeman’s historical judgment that the Hoover-MacArthur directed attack on the 1932 “Bonus Army” – hardly the U.S. government’s proudest hour – was correct, and a model for future government action by a democratic government toward aggrieved and protesting citizens. The Chinese leadership, he says, had engaged in “dilatory tactics of appeasement” with the protesters. The protesters’ aspiration to liberty he characterizes as “propaganda.” And, to the point, it is not “acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government” – that is, Freeman makes no distinctions as to a government’s inherent right to rule. The United States in 1932, China in 1989, a democracy, monarchy, authoritarian regime – it makes no difference in the consideration of a government’s legitimacy in opposing and crushing the incipient popular will of its people.

“I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China.” Note that it is Freemancharacterizing  Ziyang’s restraint as “ill-conceived.”

What Freeman pretends is a “realist’s” descriptive analysis of events is easily detected as a belief in the state’s – any state’s – imperative and right to maintain civil order, i.e. the condition for its continuance in power, regardless of the nature of the state or its rule and without any consideration to the political program of those who might oppose that state. The protesters at Tiananmen are reduced to, and belittled as, “exuberantly rebellious kids,” and Freeman is “aware of no evidence that Chinese currently consider their government less ‘legitimate’ or worthy of support than Americans do ours.” (Read this full email here.) This claim about general popular acquiescence to the rule of the existing government undoubtedly applied at the time of every native rebellion against the British Crown, as well as that by the American colonists, and the uprising against Louis VI. By Freeman’s “realist” and “contrarian” lights there would have been no Magna Carta and no American and French Revolutions.

Given this political alignment to power and “realist” disregard for the apparatus of democracy, it is no wonder that Freeman so easily operates without consideration to the essential difference in political nature between Israel and its enemies. “Even-handedness” that willfully ignores the differences between the adversarial parties has become again a fashion of the day – as in the foolish argumentative cry heard far too often after 9/11 that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter – and this is a fashion that suits Freeman’s amorality perfectly. But contrarian perspectives are one matter; consistently unsound judgment contrary to the spirit of democracy is another.


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The Political Animal

The Boston Marathon Bombing and The Faith Privilege

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner on April 23, 2013.  You can read the follow up there now: “A Campaign of Willful Blindness on Terrorism.”

The Boston Marathon bombing provoked enactment of what has emerged, since 9/11, as a ritual of political theater refined even beyond its long history of performance. Even while law enforcement authorities were still early in the search for unknown and unfathomed wreakers  of violent and deadly terror, the players were scripting the drama to play out as they preferred instead to witness it.

There are, then, of course, those who inflame every developing circumstance and wage jihad against jihad. Just as extreme and inflammatory, just as adept at playing to a contrary animus, yet offered by many a greater grant of legitimacy, there are those who write,

As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge.

Among the more foolish and widely discussed reactions to the bombing, in the midst still of the search for its perpetrators, was that of David Sirota at bidding, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Sirota’s hope arose from his recognition of the reality of white privilege. Among its features, according to Sirota,

There is a double standard: White terrorists are dealt with as lone wolves, Islamists are existential threats.

Now, one can recognize very real truth in the notion of white privilege and still see that it is a finer insight than the dull blade Sirota wields, beginning with the recognition that unemployed factory workers and low-wage Wal-Mart “associates” enjoy it rather less than white people like, say, David Sirota. Or, for another instance, the person from whom Sirota drew his argument, Tim Wise, the self-advertised “Anti-racist educator, author and educator.” Offered Sirota, from Wise,

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

Before we turn momentarily to Wise himself, we do have to take note of the lack of integrity in this argument so far. However one may wish to challenge components or all of the post 9/11 so-named War on Terror, if Wise has evidence that any corn fields or mountain towns anywhere in the world have been bombed “just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas,” he is welcome by all, I am sure, to present it. So far he has not.

One observes, too, that while they were Saudi nationals who led the 9/11 attacks, the United States did not bomb Riyadh. Many terrorists have received training and direction in Pakistan; the U.S. has not yet bombed Islamabad. I believe the Italian-American analogy Wise invokes should more properly lead to the bombing of Rome, but, of course, he seeks to slip in a Western white religious preference in the substitution of the Vatican, so, no, please note, the U.S. has never bombed Mecca either.

At Wise’s own website, he attempts to bolster his case, which purports selective focus and generalization about Islamist terrorism, by offering an exhausting if not exhaustive list of white (presumably non-Muslim) American terrorists. He ends it with everyone’s favorite fallback to colloquial snark, “Ya know, just to name a few.”

A curious thing about the list if one, ya know, actually examines it is how very quickly it begins linking to accounts of crimes dating back not only to the pre 9/11 1990s, but even church bombings from the 1960’s civil rights era and lone bombers from the 1940s and 50s. How very quickly one may find on it, reportedly, mentally unstable people with long criminal records who can only be described as, you should pardon the expression, lone wolves.

Those who argue as Wise does are those who attempt to turn the subject to that of whiteness as a correlative to Islamic faith. With the one hand they grasp at greater historical culpability on the part of white people – white privilege – while with the other hand, they swat away any suggestion of greater contemporary culpability on the part of Islam. They do this by equating an acquired system of belief with an inherent physical characteristic while claiming any imbalance of greater criticism toward either as a bigotry.

What we have here is someone committed to making a case, just not the case itself. The necessity is to understand what the real nature of this commitment to the case is, commitment even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

On Friday, the political comic everyone loves to disdain when he is bluntly, often crudely hammering shibboleths too close to home – Bill Maher – received as his first guest on his Real Time show the California State University San Bernardino professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism. When, at the start of the interview, Maher focused his attention on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Islamic extremism, Levin was moved to interrupt in order to object.

Could I just interject? Look, it’s not like people who are Muslim who do wacky things have a monopoly on it. We have hypocrites across faiths, Jewish, Christian who say they’re out for God and end up doing not so nice things.

Maher called this “liberal bullshit” and tried to focus, again, on contemporary extremist and violent currents in the world. Levin’s immediate response was to tar Maher with a likeness to Pamela Geller and the implication of “Islamaphobia.” That is, any attempt on Maher’s part to argue that all is not one and the same, but that there are historical and empirical distinctions to be made was met not by critical argument, but by critical ad hominem.

LEVIN: Here’s my difficulty with your premise here, Bill, and that is look at how religions over history have had things done in their name that have been terrible.

MAHER: Absolutely. But we’re not in history. We’re in 2013.

For several hundred years, Christianity, after playing its role as equal participant in the God is notlove follies of the Crusades, was ideological support for the trans-continental genocidal terror committed against much of the world’s indigenous populations. White Christian Europe engineered the centuries-long barbarity of the African slave trade. “Anti-racists” like Wise, Sirota, and Levin encounter no mental bar to perceiving those empirical distinctions. When challenged, however, by contemporary empirical reality, Levin can only smear Maher.

LEVIN: If I may, though. You are making an error in that Islam has over 1.4 billion adherents. There’s a heterogeneity to it. Are there extremists who are horrible people who would slit your throats? Yes. But there are also folks that are fine, upstanding people.

MAHER: Of course.

LEVIN: And I’m very worried you have a national audience where we’re promoting Islamic hatred.

But the anti-racists are not, by their own focus on white racism and disallowance of other sources of bigotry and hate, promoting white or Christian hatred by managing to distinguish only the identifiable crimes of European and Christian civilization? Or are only whites and Christians capable of distinguishable levels of social and political deviance? And if one were to claim as much as that, would that not be a kind of racist assertion to be made by an anti-racist? (Can one be anti-racist without the professional label? Let’s hope.)

Maher was a remarkably better thinker in this argument than the professor. He clearly and fundamentally distinguished between analysis of a subject over time, with historical periods and phenomenon perhaps of little relevance and application to current circumstance, and certainly not representing  it, and analysis of the current situation. Levin, a purported expert in the study of hate and extremism was readily empirical in labeling types of, and motivations for, hateful extremism, but he suffered under an intellectual disability to apply the conceptual – ideas derived under the aegis of empirical observation and analysis – back, in turn, in any applied manner to empirical circumstance. According to him, the best we can achieve from the study of hate and violence is the insight that all people and peoples are capable of it, a feckless product of research that would seem to justify any arch anti-federalist’s desire to cut federal funding of the academy.

What we face in this weak-mindedness is an ideologically determined humanistic commitment to opposing group hatred that disables objective consideration of the evidence. Boston University professor Richard Landes has identified the complex of intellectual constructs that manifest this disability, from “liberal cognitive egocentrism” to “masochistic omnipotence syndrome” to “human rights complex.” There is, too, a nexus of action and reaction that further enacts the disability. Hateful rightwing extremists like Geller, and countless of her type on social media, quickly, objectionably express themselves immediately upon the occurrence of an event like the marathon bombing, and a certain type of leftwing voice finds it more important to establish the Gellers as mistaken and beyond the pale than to respond directly and with clarity to the primary offense.

That is one source of the commitment to the case that diverts any lucid analysis of the case. A second source is the faith fallacy.

The faith fallacy exhibits itself in the pious profession that people’s faiths, even if they are not shared, should at least be respected. The faith fallacy is committed on the basis of granting the faith privilege.

The faith privilege is granted on the basis of the meta-level faith-teaching that affirms that all faiths, whatever their historical, theological, or doctrinal differences, are expressions of our deep need for connection with God and God’s love. Since most people consider these needs definitive of the human experience, and since we acknowledge the spiritual and emotional commitment of our faiths to be among the dearest and most necessary human beings may make, we grant a privilege to faith, an acceptance of the notion that all faiths are to be respected.

However, this privilege is granted not only from our common regard for fundamental human need and expression; in liberal democracies, it arises, too, from principles and traditions of tolerance. Liberal democracies seek to accommodate, as a definitive expression of their own systems, the multiplicity of what are actually, on close inspection, mutually exclusive faith doctrines.

What you believe is not what I believe, but you believe it piously, profoundly, and in love and devotion. I honor that. I bow down, not in my belief, but in respectful recognition of your piety.

That is the idea. That is the privilege. From that is committed the fallacy. One way to challenge the privilege is through aggressive assertion of the truth of one’s own faith and objection to the truth of another, but this is the disagreeable history humanity seeks to overcome. The other way to make the challenge is from the standpoint of agnosticism if not atheism. One must be able to disengage from the conviction of faith in order to acknowledge a faith doctrine as just another system of ideas subject to intellectual evaluation no less than any other.

Most of the current challenge to the faith privilege comes from what are sometimes called the new atheists. The late Christopher Hitchens was one. Sam Harris is another. Richard Dawkins is, too. A characteristic of the new atheism is that it is assertively so. It is not simply a personal determination as to the nature of the universe and spiritual being, but a determination to influence others and to oppose the influence of faith in the world. One may share the new atheism’s criticisms of faith while still recognizing that its aggressive proselytizing and unimaginative response to human spiritual nature provocatively engenders its own response.

One thing these new atheists have not shied from doing is what Bill Maher, a fellow atheist and an admirer, did, which is to assert that while all theisms are objectionable to them, at this time in history, one, Islam, plays a more problematic role on the world scene than do others. Very recently, with Hitchens now deceased, it is Harris and Dawkins who have been attacked from the same precincts on the left as were our focus earlier. Because Harris and Dawkins, not unlike Hitchens, are provocative, they lay themselves open in the manner that those who do not traffic in agreeable pieties will. Harris was recently roundly attacked by Glenn Greenwald, author of our initial quotation above. Various articles have been written now attacking the new atheists as flirting with Islamaphobia or for being already, perhaps, Islamaphobic.

In England, where domestic Islamic radicalism is more prominent than in the U.S., Landes’s  human rights complex has been more vocally reactive, and recent pronouncements, including on Twitter, by the abrasive Dawkins have generated a particular response from those who cry Islamaphobia. Harris has offered a longer refresher on the integrity of his reasoned arguments against the systems of ideas called faiths and shorter responses to the name calling against him from Greenwald.

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

It requires only slight capacity for empathy to imagine that the past nearly twelve years have composed the lives of good people of Islamic faith in the United States with difficulty, uncertainty, and even self-consciousness. Americans have felt reasonable apprehensions, apprehension does not reason, and there are low, mean elements who will draw out the greater darkness loitering in any shadow. But to argue that those conditions, rather than the current problematic stage in the development of Islam, is the danger we face presents a case of willful blindness.

As it happens, whatever David Sirota wished, the people behind the Boston Marathon bombing do appear to have been motivated, apart from sheer human dysfunction, by the kind of Islamist extremism that robs its adherents of the most fundamental human sympathy.

As it also happens, there was an interfaith service held last week to salve the wounds of the Boston community. President Obama attended. The Imam originally invited to participate, representing Islam, from The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, was later disinvited when Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick was reminded of the center’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood founded Muslim-American Society, which has a record of anti-Semitic statements and statements advocating jihad.

This also happens to be recorded, in the FBI’s 2012 report on hate crimes in America. For 2011, the tenth year after 9/11, the FBI recorded 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses. Of those, 18.2 % were religiously-based. Of the religiously-based hate crimes recorded in the United States in 2011, 13.3 % were against Muslims. In the nation outside of Israel widely judged to be the most welcoming to Jews of any in the world, 62.2% of recorded anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews.

We can all judge, amid the general human capacity for bias and hate, what is the state of any Islamaphobia in the United States. You might judge it, with me, all things considered – and in contrast to the Jewish record of terrorism over the past decade – remarkably low.

The first sentence of the second paragraph of the U.S.  Declaration of Independence begins,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

How many single sentences have ever contained such wisdom? Still, there are many who have and will misconstrue it. During battles over the civil rights derived from human equality, there have always been those who point out the unequal apportionment of ability amongst human beings, mistaking the equality of human dignity and worth – regardless of physical difference – for human capacity. The “pursuit of happiness” is a wondrous and open phrase, coming right after liberty, expressing all of the existential uncertainty and freedom of a life to make of itself what it can. All of the specifically enumerated rights of the U.S. Constitution have one general purpose – to support that pursuit of happiness, over and over again in every individual life. Every individual holder of a life gets to choose, how he or she will, for good or ill, the ideas that will motivate and direct that life toward happiness, however the holder may perceive it – ideas including those of faith. The all men are created equalphrase – equal whether white or black or yellow or red, tall or small, brilliant or dull, swift or slow – is not an all ideas are created equal phrase. Neither the U.S. Declaration of Independence nor human reason self-evidently affirms that equality.

Call it a doctrine, a philosophy, a theory, a dialectic, an enlightenment, an ideology or a faith – it is a set of ideas, which may be the basis of acts in the world, subject to reason and evaluation, to acceptance, indifference, or rejection. No one who rejects a set of ideas on a reasoned basis, including a faith, should be calumnized as a bigot or hater the way we would condemn those who hate because of nature. Those who do simply fail to make their case in every way. They name call instead of reason. They substitute smugness for the product of reason.

Typical of the convention, the piety, the privilege, President Obama, the day the manhunt was brought to a close, praised the nation as one in which “we welcome people from all around the world — people of every faith, every ethnicity, from every corner of the globe.” Well, this is true and good, but once again it grants the privilege; it lumps ethnicity, an immutable state of nature, with faith, a voluntary state of mind. We should welcome the people, but we need not welcome the ideas. Each of us is free to pursue happiness holding to whatever set of non-threatening ideas may please; each of us is free to tell the other that he is wrong and to tell him how and why.

No faith, as a system of belief and a practice of living, is automatically deserving of respect just because others commit their lives and pray to it. Ideas, whatever label we affix to them, including that of faith, must earn our respect and not be granted the privilege of unthinking and uncritical acceptance.

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Lessons from Brooklyn College BDS, Barghouti, and Butler


This commentary originally appeared in the Algemeiner on February 22, 2013.

Reader and correspondent David Lurie has directed me to some not well-publicized revelations about the Brooklyn College BDS event. To begin, the campus BDS chapter defended itselfagainst various accusations of selective and prejudicial admission to the event and other claims, including the discriminatory eviction of four Jewish students. On the face of it, the account of circumstances surrounding admission is conceivable. One can easily imagine the organizers having become overwhelmed by the notoriety and numbers drawn by the event. One can imagine, but since there is no video record of events, we have only the current claims and counter claims.

Why is there no video record of events, which would help clarify the circumstances of the eviction of the four students, confirming or disconfirming different accounts?

Initially, BC-SJP decided not to allow the event to be videotaped by media, at the request of one of the speakers whose remarks were to be published online in The Nation magazine the same day.

While Brooklyn BDS curiously declines to name the speaker who requested the videotape ban, we know that this was Judith Butler, since they were her remarks that were published in The Nation. This is the Butler who opened her remarks by praising the idea of academic freedom and its preservation (!) in the successful holding of the BDS event.

It is not difficult to see why Butler sought the ban on videotaping. It was just last summer, during the controversy over her award of the Adorno Prize, whenvideotape of a 2006 UC Berkeley event revealed her praise of Hamas and Hezbollah as progressive organizations and her advocacy of engagement with them. During the summer controversy, she sought to misrepresent by the written word only what she had actually said, but the videotape exposed the truth. This time, Butler ensured there would be only her official statement. Without a videotape of her delivered remarks, we cannot even know for sure that what The Nation printed is even a completely accurate account of what Butler actually said.

Next, in a telephone interview with The Jewish Week, Carlos Guzman, one of the BDS event organizers, provided an account of the student evictions that contradicts public statements even by Brooklyn College.

The organizer of this month’s controversial forum at Brooklyn College who ordered four pro-Israel students ousted from the event said he acted because the students “didn’t belong” in the room, despite having been escorted there by a vice president of the school.

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Carlos Guzman said he also acted because it seemed to him that the students “were preparing” to circulate flyers to others in the room — not because they were doing so, as a college spokesman previously alleged.


Guzman later told The Jewish Week that college administrators “broke the rules. … They basically snuck them in without our knowledge, into the room.”

Amid the declarations of commitment to academic freedom and free inquiry, we see a contradictory pattern. Butler closed her remarks with a moral imperative.

We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.

This is a characteristic, though unusually lucid example of the mystico-poetic theory-talk that emerged from the influence of Martin Heidegger. The notion of “dwelling” is particularly Heideggerian. Heidegger, in his profound considerations of the nature and function of language, distinguished between the practical use of language, in order to do things, and language that seeks deeper meaning, which gives rise to the poetic. Heidegger, we came to learn, failed drastically himself at managing the intersection of these two roles. Many of his linguistic children actually use a version of the poetic – specialized language like “dwell” – united with more generally impenetrable prose to obscure what they advocate doing (what they might call praxis) in the high fashion garb of intellectual mere rumination: I come to consider, not to act. Or in the reverse rhetorical ploy, seeking the same obscurity of action behind the act of speech, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Butler could more simply have said, in order to promote model democratic behavior, “We need to listen and speak freely and openly with each other, even when we disagree.” Instead, promoting a kind of realm of transformed being, she declares we must “dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.” In such a formulation strong disagreement is not merely a democratic difficulty we need to accommodate; it is fractiousness itself that is as much a feature as a bug of this elevated state of dwelling in free inquiry.

That’s the talk. What’s the praxis?

Butler bans cameras and publishes an official statement, which may or may not represent what she actually said, in a house organ – just as would any common polwho has placed into the Congressional “Record” remarks he later amends, or never actually delivered on a congressional floor. Or some Commissar erecting a verbal Potemkin Village of an occurrence. She does not, by any account, speak up to protest when the Brooklyn BDS modus operandi, according to one of the event’s own organizers was clearly not to “dwellcriticallyfractiously, and freely in political discourse together.”

It is a phenomenon always to be observed how a certain kind of missionary critic will become, by backward projection, that which she, or he, critiques. Witness Julian Assange’s efforts to protect his own secrets.

A truth about BDS that it seeks to obscure, and about many fervid opponents of Israel, is that much like the verbal show of intellectual liberty belied by performance above, they mask their fuller intentions under a cloak of civil rights or, here, academic freedom. In the West today, there are many Islamic fundamentalists who will decry any apparent violation of their rights – which in a democracy they should indeed be entitled to do – while, as advocates of Sharia, they do actually believe in those rights at all. During the McCarthy era, those who appeared resistantly before congressional committees commonly stood on either their Fifth or First Amendment rights. They did have rights to do either, but which choice they made – to refuse to disclose their beliefs in self-protection or to assert freely their right to those beliefs – could reveal much about the integrity of the person’s acts and position.

Fundamental to Brooklyn College and its political science department’s defense in sponsoring the BDS event was the claim that sponsorship did not signal endorsement of BDS as a policy. I have already discussed the greater complexity of implication in the sponsorship than such simple disclaimers acknowledge. It appears that every other academic department on the Brooklyn College campus recognized this complexity, too, when all 33 that political science chair Paisley Currah contacted amid the controversy, that they might ratify the political science department in co-sponsorship, declined to do so. Brooklyn College English professor and well-known progressive voice Eric Altermanexplained this refusal.

No doubt many if not most of the supporters of BDS are the naïve, idealistic types of people who were attracted to Communism in the thirties, the Black Panthers in the sixtiess, the Nader campaign in 2000 and who knows what will comes next. In certain respects, once upon a time, I was this kind of person myself. But their innocence—and the abuse that results from opposing them—does not excuse our responsibility to condemn the intellectual masquerade in which BDS engages and the destructive consequences it supports.

BDS leader Omar Barghouti has openly, yet disingenuously stated,

While I firmly advocate nonviolent forms of struggle such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions to attain Palestinian goals, I just as decisively, though on a separate track, support a unitary state based on freedom, justice, and comprehensive equality as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict.

This is an intellectually preposterous notion, tapping into both the deceitful and self-deceptive etymology of the fallacious. BDS promotes the most aggressively delegitimizing view of Israel’s position, policies, and practices in response to over sixty years of rejection and aggression against it from the Arab world. To advocate for the moral imperative of BDS is to reject Israel’s claims to its history, both ancient and modern, and the legitimacy of its efforts to survive as a Jewish state. Barghouti, in fact, advocates the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. These are not different tracks: the perspective on Israel and the effective goal are the same. The claim of a “separate track” is a declarative shell game so poor and detectable that one can see the ball rolling on the table as it shifts from shell to shell.

More openly, Judith Butler, without the aid of rhetorical railroad switches, openly opposes the existence of Israel.

Despite its claims, what the Brooklyn College political science department sponsored was more than an educational exercise in academic freedom, a demonstration of the free inquiry that is the defining activity of a university. If what the department did was no more than place its imprimatur on the BDS event as one presenting an idea worthy of intellectual consideration and debate, then what the department so offered moral standing to is the idea that Israel, in its historic self-defense, is an outlaw state, an idea promoted by two people who believe that Israel should cease to exist and who are committed to promoting that end. The wild and ludicrous arrogance of all those involved in fulfilling this role lies in the smug sense of entitlement to so threaten the legitimacy and future of a whole nation, the fulfillment of a people’s millennial dream of deliverance, and receive no strong and assertive reaction in response. The burlesque of this academic variety review is to pretend that BDS is mere formulas on a chalkboard, the oscillating multi-verse versus a terminal Big Bang, a symposium on Adam Smith and Karl Marx – when instead it is an activist political campaign against one party to an intractable and existential conflict. And supporters of that party, Israel, are supposed to light their pipes and polish their elbow patches and admire the scholarship.

One truth may be that some academics are so accustomed to the flatulent stink of their own quickly dissipating rhetoric – like Butler’s commitment to dwelling in something or other – that they believe they can engage in political activism in the guise of academic inquiry and receive a free pass from those they act against. They think they get to play pied piper, then claim that all they are doing is putting on a concert. A marked case in point is CUNY doctoral student Kristofer Petersen-Overton, the focus of controversy at Brooklyn College himself two years ago, when he was hired, then unhired, then rehired to teach a grad course on the Middle East.

Writing in the Huffington Post to criticize those who opposed the Brooklyn College BDS event, Petersen-Overton offered the standard disingenuous deceptions, claiming of opponents that they had

managed to transform a standard panel discussion on a controversial issue into a cause for pious outrage.

standard panel discussion of two, not discussants, but advocates. But why quibble over nomenclature. It’s just talk, right?

Petersen-Overton also took issue with Alan Dershowitz, whom he termed a

longtime scourge and chief prosecutor of insufficiently pro-Israel academics everywhere.

Yes, that is it, isn’t it – one draws interest from Dershowitz by being “insufficiently pro.”

Curiously, Paisley Currah, in his defense of his political science department – the department that did, ultimately, by unanimous vote rehire Petersen-Overton to teach – a defense that offered that familiar refrain about the non-meaning of the BDS event sponsorship (also conveyed unanimously – not veryfractious that Poly Sci department, are they), not only vigorously contested Dershowitz’s arguments, but characterized him, in his objections, to start, as one of “the usual suspects.”

Interesting phrase. Usual suspects? In what?

Currah specializes in queer and transgender issues, but Dershowitz is a full-throated advocate of gay rights, so he can’t be suspect in that area. Dershowitz is also a noted advocate of civil liberties, so in that cannot reside the suspicion.

Is it Israel? Is Dershowitz a “usual suspect” in regard to Israel? In what? In his ardent defense of the nation? Suspect?

What leanings does this glib phrase betray? Oh, and Petersen-Overton, about whom the issue of contention two years ago was his capacity for academic objectivity, against his record of Palestinianadvocacy, and a similar body of published work? Writing about BDS just this past October, he said,

In this essay, I take it for granted that Israel’s behavior in the occupied Palestinian territories is characterized by extreme violence and racism, defining qualities of all military occupations. We may or not agree as to the particular details of a desirable settlement, but for those of us uninfluenced by either dogmatic messianism or unrepentant sadism, the occupation must come to an end sooner or later. As activists and scholars who take an interest in human rights, we should be willing to consider the ethical and strategic desirability of all forms of resistance. No discussion should be off-limits.

Here’s to the academic life. And its freedoms.


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Response to Judith Butler at Brooklyn College


This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on February 15. 

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti

The ironic and the disingenuous are kin. Their commonality resides in a gap, which is the distance between what is said and something else. With the ironic, the distance is between what one says and what one means. With the disingenuous, the distance is between what one says and what one has reason to recognize as true.

Judith Butler is not an ironist – not intentionally so, or perhaps only once, when she opened her remarks at Brooklyn College by referring to the controversy surrounding her appearance with Omar Barghouti at the Students for Justice in Palestine BDS event as a Megillah: “What a Megillah!” By these words Butler sought to wrap her appearance and the destructive impetus of BDS in the comfort of traditional Jewish experience – a tedium, like the tedium of all that Jewish disputation over the millennia, but by that fact merely a part of Jewish experience, just oystaynenzikh over coffee and some rugelach, and not thereby an outlier, something to fear or be rejected. No more than a variation on the time-honored tendency to hakn a tshaynik among the mishpucha.

Butler knew, however,that what she is about is not a comfort, that it would unravel the wrap, and that the arguments against her are so far from a tedium that she would spend all her words to misrepresent and seek to counter them.

Butler closed her remarks – it is the next to last sentence – so:

We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.

She had opened her remarks by saying,

I would like personally to thank all those who took this opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of academic freedom.

This of an event that was closed to the general public, to which the press was barred, and from which voices presumed to be dissenting were ejected.

What an ironist. How disingenuous.

Academic Freedom: What We’re Talking About

The Brooklyn College political science department claimed that to sponsor the event was not necessarily to endorse it. Much of the controversy surrounding the event has hung on this point even while missing it. It is a fine point still lacking – from the Brooklyn College political science department and anyone else who has written on the matter – an effective distinction.

To sponsor is to take responsibility for or to financially underwrite. To endorse is to express support or approval. To take responsibility for is one form of support. To financially underwrite is also a form of support. When the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine sought co “sponsorship”of the event by the political science department, SJP did not, according to department chair Paisley Currah, seek and receive financial support for the event. Financial support raises other issues, but since there was none, they need not in this instance be addressed. Without funding from the department, what could the meaning of “sponsorship” be? Other than the college’s stating what it claims sponsorship is not – endorsement – what is it?

With no other practical purpose, sponsorship can only signal some form of endorsement.

But endorsement of what?

A university can stand in three relations to an idea. One is to agree with and promote it. Most people would argue that this is not the role of a university, but obviously, when one considers it, universities do agree with and promote the idea of free inquiry – academic freedom – and, arguably, a liberal education.

A university may represent ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. This is its primary role. In political philosophy, students learn of utilitarianism, Marxism, liberal democracy, anarcho-syndicalism, Plato’s enlightened autocracy. The university will serve as advocate for none of them, but moderate, instead, students’ encounter and engagement with these ideas.

A university will not represent all ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. It will not so represent Nazism or racism (not just the behavior, but a belief in racial superiority) or pederasty as an acceptable model of adolescent development. It is the precise role of the university, however, to acknowledge, in the appropriate context, all ideas and clarify them for educational purposes. In the appropriate classes, students will and should learn about Nazism, what it advocated and what it was. One can imagine the wavering commitment of many, though, were a branch of the Ku Klux Klan to establish a student group on the Brooklyn College Campus and invite David Duke (both a racist and anti-Semite) to speak, while also seeking the “sponsorship” of the political science department.

If Brooklyn College’s sponsorship was not fully of BDS as a position, an advocacy of it, the sponsorship was at least, then, of BDS as a morally respectable idea, so that a university would be fulfilling its proper role not only in acknowledging the idea’s existence and clarifying it for educational purposes, but actually in promoting the idea as worthy of our consideration and our moral intellectual regard and not beyond the pale.

However, when one rejects bias and discrimination and corrupt historical revisionism, such as Holocaust denial, one does not only reject them as supportable practices, but as ideas worthy of our serious engagement. The role of the university is to permit students who are led to engage an objectionable idea to so engage it, even, where appropriate, to educate them in its nature. In that is the academic freedom. Academic freedom does not require that the institution place an imprimatur of sponsorship upon an extra-mural event, an imprimatur that has no other, practical meaning but the symbolism of the sponsorship. The choice to provide such an imprimatur can only reasonably be interpreted as a signal that the ideas to be presented at the event are worthy of consideration. This Brooklyn College, in mischaracterizing the nature and responsibilities of academic freedom, disingenuously fails to acknowledge, as does Judith Butler, who actually does endorse BDS.

An Unreliable Narrator

“That there is no final or adequate narrative reconstruction of the prehistory of the speaking ‘I’ does not mean we cannot narrate it; it only means that at the moment when we narrate we become speculative philosophers or fiction writers.”

Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself

Still prefatory to her actual attention to Israel, Butler felt compelled to acknowledge the Brooklyn College event’s most vocal and high profile critic, stating that it had been asserted that

no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor, but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

No doubt, the audience was amused by this deflationary poke. Of course the gibe was at Alan Dershowitz, who it is my understanding is capable of offering his own defenses, but we learn something from the specific claim of the criticism. Here is what Dershowitiz actually said to this point:

The event shouldn’t be cancelled, but the political science department should withdraw it’s [sic] support, or alternatively the political science department should invite me or someone else that represents an opposing point of view and give equal endorsement.

Dershowitz’s focus, we see, was on the political science department’s sponsorship of the event, and he considered it sufficient merely for the sponsorship to be withdrawn. Alternatively, he offered himself or anyone else who could represent the opposing view to participate in the sponsored event.

If Butler cannot accurately represent in a single sentence the content and the rather simple alternative proposal of one single other sentence, how may she be trusted to offer an account of matters so complex and profound as the history and nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In the same paragraph, Butler had asserted,

If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech.

She attempts to refute the two proposed claims – Dershowitiz must speak and BDS is hate speech – by presenting them as contradictory.

So in the [case of hate speech], it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech), but in the [other] instance, it is a viewpoint, presumably singular, but cannot be allowed to be heard without an immediate refutation. The contradiction is clear, but when people engage in a quick succession of contradictory claims such as these, it is usually because they are looking for whatever artillery they have at their disposal to stop something from happening.

In the two quotations above, Butler makes three additional misstatements. First, it may be that in the rhetoric department at U.C. Berkeley hate speech is not protected speech, but in the United States of America, it is protected. It is also, wherever it may direct its hate, a viewpoint. It may be an ugly, emotion laden viewpoint, but it takes a view, and it has a point, and not infrequently in our contentious activist world, movements are constructed around those points.

A ” quick succession of contradictory claims” is surely inimical to informed discussion and debate. So, too, is the inability to accurately describe reality in even a single sentence.

Butler sets next on refuting claims that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. She asks,

[W]hy would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic?… [W]hy would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic?

She introduces her summation of this rhetorical display, with

For those who say that exercising internationally recognized rights is anti-Semitic….

The level of disingenuousness in these loaded questions and distorted characterization is truly remarkable. It is the first demonstration of a fair and critical mind, capable of stepping outside the frame of its own narrative, to be able to represent its interlocutor’s argument in the opponent’s own terms. The challenge then is to refute the terms of the opponent’s argument and offer one’s one own terms in rebuttal. Yet when Butler, a believer in narratives, calls in her closing for us all to “dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together,” she is so opaque to herself that even when she assumes the rhetorical stance of stating her opponent’s position, she cannot, even to the level of a lone introductory phrase, represent it honestly, so as to attempt the refutation honestly.

All the preceding is sufficient to demonstrate Butler’s level of reliability as an interlocutor in debate. (There is far more of this kind of inaccuracy and mischaracterization in her five thousand words than is accounted for here.) At Brooklyn College she had two major points to make about Jews, and the first continued this pattern of misrepresentation, but at this stage, in the critical matter of Butler’s own special concerns, more subtly.

Only if we accept the proposition that the state of Israel is the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people would a movement calling for divestment, sanctions and boycott against that state be understood as directed against the Jewish people as a whole. Israel would then be understood as co-extensive with the Jewish people.


The second point, to repeat, is that the Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated

This argument is both obtuse and a straw man. No significant party, if any, claims that Israel is “the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people” that Israel is “co-extensive with the Jewish people,” or rejects the manifest reality that the “Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and … Zionism.” No more than is France the exclusive representative of the French people or Russia of the Russian people. People of French ethnic origin, like any other, may, and do, live in other nations, may engage French cultural practice, may feel a sense of French identification even while preferring to live elsewhere, may criticize French society or government, may even give up their citizenship for another, while remaining ethnically and even recognizably “French.”

Of course, Jewishness, serving as both ethnicity and religious faith offers conceptual complications for nationality. So does all of human history. The French pied-noir of colonial North Africa found themselves after Algerian independence no longer acceptably Algerian and not comfortably French. Unlike most other nations, nationality in the United States has nothing to do with ethnicity. In contrast, no one expatriating to Russia and gaining Russian citizenship would ever, nonetheless, be considered “Russian.” Those of Irish descent in the U.S. frequently feel very strong identification with Ireland, as during the long conflict in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, they remained American in citizenship and in equally strong identification. They criticized one side or another in Ireland, yet if a grandparent was born in Ireland, are automatically eligible for Irish citizenship. These complexities of social organization are the rule. The question is whether we generously accommodate them – in honor of the impulse toward affective association that leads all peoples, Palestinians, too, to wish to dwell together in commonality –  or we choose one anomaly among others as the reason for prejudicial exception against Israel and Jews, under the pretense that there is any kind of categorical consistency to nationality.

One atypical feature that Butler exploits regarding Israel is the apparent lexical distinction, in English, between the words “Israel” and “Jew.” This is unlike the obvious relation of “France” to “French” and “Russia” to ”Russian.” The apparent verbal separation seems to provide an opening for making just that argument of separation between Israel and Jews. On the contrary of course, etymologically, Israel, or Yisrael in Hebrew are the descendents of Jacob, who have struggled with God, the Hebrew people – Jews.

Why are not citizens of the United States called United Statesians? What crisis of authority in representation– if voluntarily accepted – does this present? Would the likeness to other national identifications be easier to recognize if Israel changed its name, to suit the modern lingua franca, to Jewland?

Or would such an alteration only highlight all the more the true issue at the core – the objection by Butler that there be a land for the Jews?

Before Butler got to that central conviction, however – her objection to the existence of a land for the Jews – there was one more logical stumble to make on the way to her lurching conclusion. It is easier to dispense with Israel if one can argue that Israel deserves to be dispensed with.

If Israel is to be considered a democracy, the non-Jewish population deserves equal rights under the law.

Now certainly all true democrats will acknowledge that every proclaimed democracy faces the moral compulsion to pursue complete and perfect democracy. The United States pursues that so far elusive goal too. But the “if/(then)” conditional Butler puts forward commits the “all or nothing” variation on the fallacy of false dilemma. In full context, she is claiming that Israel is discriminatory toward its non-Jewish citizens. (Butler chooses to say “population” rather than citizens, perhaps because that in itself would speak well of Israel and would raise the inevitable contrast with Lebanon and Jordan, where Palestinians citizenship and rights have been dramatically and increasingly problematic.) Her all or nothing claim is that if Israel has deficiencies in its equal extension of rights to all of its citizens, then, by dint of that imperfection, it is not a democracy at all, and is clearly a deserving target of its critics. We would find by this fallacious logic that probably nary a democracy in the world is actually a democracy, including certainly the United States during the long period of African slavery, the longer period of female and Indian disenfranchisement, and even until today, when LGBT Americans do not enjoy fully equal rights.

Butler’s continuous forays into illogic are not ultimately a difficulty in her arguments against Israel, though, since Israel should not exist to begin.

The Exile of the Jews

The essential argument against BDS that Butler sought to refute is that it is discriminatory, hateful, anti-Semitic, even destructive.

I am only seeking to make the case that BDS is not a destructive or hateful movement.

Butler claimed that she does not agree with all expressions of the BDS movement, yet she chose to appear with Omar Barghouti. Omar Barghouti expressly seeks the end – the destruction – of  Israel and of a Jewish state.

While I firmly advocate nonviolent forms of struggle such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions to attain Palestinian goals, I just as decisively, though on a separate track, support a unitary state based on freedom, justice, and comprehensive equality as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict.

Butler also offered a risible protest against the abuse of Holocaust and Nazi analogies by defenders of Israel, when anyone conversant with the contemporary contours of this debate knows that such comparisons, of Israel to Nazi Germany, in word and in image, have become a nearly daily commonplace from foes of Israel – even from Omar Barghouti.

Avishai D. Don, writing for the Harvard Crimson almost exactly a year ago on the subject of BDS and Barghouti’s book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, said,

But the BDS movement hides its ultimate goal of dismantling the Jewish state behind its public rhetoric.


Utilizing the vocabulary of international norms, the movement actually systematically attempts to undermine the international consensus that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

This is what Butler did disingenuously at Brooklyn College, first, by appearing with Bhargouti, and second, by failing to acknowledge at that college, that educational setting, that she, too, does not merely seek to correct Israeli policy, but actively opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. She did hint at her position, though.

When Zionism becomes co-extensive with Jewishness, Jewishness is pitted against the diversity that defines democracy, and if I may say so, betrays one of the most important ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.

Butler does not explain why the Frenchness of France or the Japaneseness of Japan are not so “pitted against the diversity that defines democracy” that the existence of their states, too, need be opposed. However, she does manage to misrepresent the truth in yet another sentence. Butler refers to one of the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.” What shall we say of thinking that characterizes as an ethical obligation what was actually an existential necessity, a necessity that met its ultimate failure in the Holocaust – a failure that should have served irrefutably for all as the irresistible historical peroration of the necessity of the Jewish state? But Butler has stated on more than one occasion that she does not, in her public utterance and advocacy, feel compelled to seek accordance with reality.

It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.

Butler wrote those words in Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, and it is in that work that she fully makes the case for the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition.” Alan Johnson sums the argument in his Fathom review of the book.

Dispersion, for Butler, must be thought ‘not only as a geographical situation but also as an ethical modality.’ By returning to the diasporic experience we find a ‘Jewish route to the insight that equality must be secured for a population regardless of religious affiliation’ and a means to effect ‘a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.’

Words on a page, their reception by the eyes, the scanned processing in rapid succession, for immediate comprehension, of the ideas of a text may not always deliver their full effect. Sometimes what has been said needs to settle, to descend deeper into comprehension with the full weight of meaning and implication, and in some cases, the effrontery of its claim upon the world. Butler argues not only that Jews drew from the Diaspora, their long exile in often and ultimately almost always hostile foreign lands, the experience and insights of an expanded and deeper moral nature. Butler is arguing, too, that this exilic nature has finally actually become the Jews: consigned to exile, Jews should now be condemned to it, for clearly there are millions of Jews who do not wish it. This is of no concern to Butler, for whom impossibility is no bar to reason, like labeling as a “solution” the kind of proposal that millions would fight and even die to prevent.

Jews, for Judith Butler, are to become the symbolic sacrifice on the ideational alter of post-nationalism, for their renewed exile will represent “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.” The God of Abraham and of Moses would let his people go. Cyrus the Great would release the Jews from captivity in Babylon. But Judith Butler will exile them forever.

Who today would theorize that the African Diaspora, having been stolen from their homes and submerged in the depths of servitude had actually – look at the riches of culture they have produced out of their pain and endurance in so many nations – found their true and greater natures in an ethic of selfless service, to which perhaps they should return? Who would philosophize that the indigenous populations of the world – those whom Butler and her allies continue to abuse by co-opting the vocabulary of their cause as a weapon against not Israel, but Jews – who would argue that in their centuries of conquest, abuse, and loss, their alienation from spiritual relation to their lands, indigenous peoples have been transformed by history into a moral exemplar, and that only through their continued disconnection and their yearning for reconnection can they serve to lead us away from materialism and back to a purer relation to the earth?

But Jews should be returned to exile from the land that was, and is again, their own in order to model “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.”

Butler  finds difficulty with the term ant-Semitic. She argued repeatedly at Brooklyn College against its use and applicability to the selective and discriminatory policies she promotes. It has become, to her mind, a term subject to “radical misuse.” Here is another term, then, to describe her convolution of Jewishness, perhaps fresher and more forceful to her mind. It is an obscenity.


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Israel The Political Animal

Glenn Greenwald criticizes Bibi AND Obama’s “policies” of intentionally killing innocent Muslims


Cross posted from Cif Watch by its managing editor, Adam Levick.

Every person has their own definition of terrorism.” –Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald makes characteristically hysterical claims about Israel and the US in his latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece titled Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza‘:

Here are the most egregious examples:

1. He claims that “overwhelming Israeli force slaughters innocent Palestinians, including children”.

There’s nothing new here in Greenwald’s use of the most unserious hyperbole to impute the most violent and malevolent motives to Israel. Greenwald ignores the fact that Israel uses unprecedented restraint in targeting only Hamas leaders and terror targets, which would explain that the death toll in two days of fierce fighting is 19 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

2. According to Greenwald, Israeli attacks on Palestinians “are preceded (and followed) by far more limited rocket attacks into Israel which kill a much smaller number, rocket attacks which are triggered by various forms of Israeli provocations.”

It’s unclear which Israeli provocations Greenwald is referring to, but Hamas’s main grievance against Israel, per the words of their leaders and their very founding charter (which, evidently Greenwald hasn’t bothered to read), has been the Jewish state’s stubborn desire to exist.

3. Greenwald claims that”most US media outlets are petrified of straying too far from pro-Israel orthodoxies….US criticism of Israel is impossible for all the usual domestic political reasons.”

I’ve documented numerous examples of Greenwald advancing the most bigoted rhetoric about US Jews’ supposed control of the US government and media, and this latest charge is nothing new.  Indeed it is relatively mild compared to his previous smears, such as his warning about the “absolute”, “suffocating” “Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy” by the Jewish lobby.

4. Greenwald writes: “Provocations from the Israelis were geared toward disrupting an imminent peace deal with Hamas.”

Greenwald is referring to a temporary truce  – which was being brokered in the days following an attack (with an anti-tank missile) which injured four Israelis – motivated by Hamas’s concern regarding the damage IDF attacks was inflicting on their military capacity. More broadly, however, it takes either extreme naiveté, a considerable degree of hostility towards Israel, or a cynical indifference to historical reality to make the serious argument that Hamas is, or could ever be, a peace seeking movement.

5.  Greenwald argues that the Obama administration “supported the Israeli“ attack on Hamas terror chief Ahmed Jabari, as it represented the model of “extra-judicial assassination[s] – accompanied by the wanton killing of whatever civilians happen to be near the target, often including children – which is a staple of the Obama presidency.” ”Obama…could not possibly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza without indicting himself…Extra-judicial assassinations, once roundly condemned by US officials, are now a symbol of the Obama presidency”.  ”There is now a virtually complete convergence between US and Israeli aggression”

This later paragraph is where the convergence between Greenwald’s anti-Americanism and his anti-Zionism is most clear.

Greenwald is defined by his opposition to the policy of killing Islamist terrorists (who are planning terror attacks against American civilians) in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but his commentary also suggests that President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of killing innocent civilians in these regions.  According to Greenwald, Obama is muted in his response to Israel’s violent acts because he lacks the moral authority to issue a credible condemnation.

To understand the extent of Greenwald’s obsession with “Obama’s” drone war, it would be helpful to review a piece he wrote before joining ‘Comment is Free’, published at, titled “US again bombs mourners”.

If you find that title a bit overblown, or something out of PressTV, you need to also read the strap line.

The Obama policy of attacking rescuers and grieving rituals continues this weekend in Pakistan

Just the work of an editor, you think?


Here are some quotes from Greenwald’s essay on June 4, 2012.

“In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals.” [emphasis added]

“On Sunday, June 3, the US targeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike.”

Killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President.”

“The US is a country which targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn.”

“That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.”

However, the main source Greenwald provided to back up his claim is the discredited “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” (BIJ), the organization which fed the BBC information pertaining to the Newsnight story falsely alleging “a senior Thatcher-era Tory” was a paedophile.

Moreover, the specific link Greenwald cites as proof that the US  targets innocent civilians in Muslim countries – rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn – does not back up his claim at all.

The link to a nearly 2500 word BIJ report (which cited a more detailed BIJ report) on the drone war in Pakistan includes a claim in the headline that the CIA “targets rescuers and funerals” but failed to support  the dramatic claim in the subsequent story.

Typical are passages like this:

“A team of local researchers…found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of the reported attacks on rescuers.”

But, there was this one passages which claimed intent:

“More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

However, there was nothing in piece, nor the longer report, which even attempts to corroborate the claim (largely anecdotal evidence by unidentified Pakistanis) that the strikes against innocent civilians represented deliberate US policy.  Further, not considered by either BIJ or Greenwald is the possibility that the “mourners” weren’t actually mourners at all, but, rather, additional terrorists.

Most telling in the BIJ report was this passage:

“Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers.” [emphasis added]

It is unclear to whom these “credible reports” are attributed, but their admission would suggest that it is difficult, at best, for US drones to distinguish between Taliban terrorists and those unaffiliated with the murderous terror group.

The assertion by BIJ that there is a CIA “policy” of killing innocent mourners and rescuers is not supported by the reports cited. Greenwald’s even more unhinged claim that President Obama’s “policy” is to kill such innocent rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn” is not supported by the facts, and parrots the most unserious anti-American propaganda repeated by extremists on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Greenwald’s June post at contained a hideous smear of the US President, suggesting that Obama personally is an advocate of killing innocent Muslims.

Interestingly, a New York Times report on February 5th, ‘U.S. Drone Strikes Are Said to Target Rescuers“, citing the same BIJ report, interestingly, was much more sober, and included the following:

“American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims [that innocent civilians are targeted], asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation.”

“…most other studies of drone strikes have relied on sketchy and often contradictory news reports from Pakistan.”

“A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation.” [emphasis added]


Greenwald seems to really believe the most unserious, hateful anti-American propaganda – what you’d typically find in PressTV or Arab media outlets – about American and Israeli villainy.

In fact, in a Sept. 14 CiF piece, Greenwald summed it up clearly:

 ”…the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children.”

Finally, there’s this quote from Greenwald’s post referenced above:

“If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today.”

In Glenn Greenwald’s world, Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists – reactionary, racist, antisemitic, misogynist and extremely homophobic political forces – seem to get a moral pass, but democratic Israel stands accused of slaughtering innocent Palestinians and Barack Obama is an inhumane and villainous figure who murders Muslim children.

The convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism is truly a work of art.  For Greenwald, and his leftist followers, it is a given that Islamist terrorists are feared by the West not because they threaten the democratic world, but because of racism against Muslims.

For Greenwald, as with Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne and other Guardian Left commentators, Israel and the U.S. are the greatest imperialists threats to world peace, and so the reflexive anti-Zionist stance they take simply represents a logical extension of  their broader anti-imperialist, post-colonialist politics.

Finally, supporters of Obama should pay close attention to Greenwald, as the leftist ideology which his views on Israel and the US inspire  represent crude, ugly caricatures of the President which often go far beyond even those of the far right.

Glenn Greenwald would never, ever falsely “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim as some of his right wing opponents shamefully do.

Greenwald’s demonization of the President, however, is much worse, advancing the hysterical charge that he personally orders (or at least approves policies sanctioning) the murdering of innocent Muslims throughout the world.

The anti-Zionist, antisemitic and anti-American rhetoric advanced by Greenwald represents a classic example of Guardian Left ideology.

Those within the mainstream American Left who don’t succumb to the false moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists and Western democracies, and who don’t buy into the defamatory suggestion that Obama is engaged in a war against Islam, should begin to view him as, at the very least, a crank – a shrill and vitriolic anti-Obama extremist.

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Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Writing Paradise


I learned at an early adult age, with only minor but memorable pain, not to hero-worship. When we lionize people, we tend to forget the natural inclination of the lion to consume the person. I prefer admiration. Admiration works from the muck up. While hero worship sets up the faithful for a fall, admiration begins in the recognition of human failings and appreciates a person’s achievement in rising above them. Fewer disappointments that way, more genuine appreciation of the distinction in the ascent.

I was asked the other day, after tweeting of his death, about my thoughts on Russell Means. Not that I have any special standing to speak about him. Very soon after, I was informed of what I had not known, not having bothered to read the schedule – that Russell Means was on the schedule to speak at the coincidentally named and meretricious Russell Tribunal, and prevented from appearing only, near his end, by the cancer that killed him.

Russell Means was a controversial figure even among the Native peoples he championed, but that is almost a commonplace. Strong people who play leading roles in resistance movements usually are controversial. There is not a palliative manner in which to challenge oppressive power and seek to overthrow a structure of domination. One can hardly come closer to such an ideal – if that it be – than Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and look how they were reviled by those they opposed and by some who contended with them for influence. See how they were dealt with in the end.

Means, from what I know, came up bad. It was a rough life, a poor one. Some of the violence of his life in the 1970s was as much an outburst of rage and wild destructive frustration as it was a plan of resistance. But in the 1970s, Russell Means was one of the people who stuffed in the face of a smug, amnesiac America a defining truth of its origins that it still does not acknowledge. One can argue that the conquest of Indigenous America, with its long falling action in diminishment and despair, only ended, at last, in the 1970s, with the rise of the American Indian Movement. There are those who say that all of Indigenous rights movements of the Americas – stronger, actually, in some countries than they are in the U.S. – have their origin in the rebirth of pride marked by the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead. That the achievement of Evo Morales, the indigenous Aymara President of Bolivia has its origin in the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead.

For the rest of his life, whatever directions Means took, including his Hollywood career, he never acquiesced in his mind to the brute reality.

The brute reality is that while the victims of prejudice and discrimination may ultimately be relieved of those afflictions, and the descendents of slaves live free themselves of enslavement, American Indians and all the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas will not be unconquered. They are not another minority in any kind of melting pot, but a conquered people compelled to live within a conquering culture that ignores and disregards them, refusing even to recognize the nature of the act it committed against them. (As one neat symbol, consider the head of Metacomet, displayed on a stake at the Plymouth Colony for two decades after the colonial victory in King Philip’s War.)

None among us who is not Indigenous can know the interior landscape of the wisdom it takes not to live a life in blind fury. If I imagine myself a Native American, I can imagine myself Russell Means.

As it turns out, because the well of ideological depravity is as deep as the field of human barbarity is wide, the abuse of Indigenous Peoples comes from every direction. Whereas once reactionary national and religious institutions pretended to seek for Indigenous Peoples their civilization and salvation, now it is left, international pretenders to peace and justice who claim to champion their liberation. Once again Indigenous Peoples are used and abused, if only, this time, conceptually.

It makes only superficial but surely apparent and satisfying sense to connect the historical conquest and the current disempowerment of Indigenous Peoples to the general postcolonial critique of imperial power. And what do the activists of any political movement wish for but a handy Rosetta stone of historical understanding to share with the people? But using power and its imbalances as the homogenizing agent that substitutes for specific historical and political analysis renders thought as unchallenging and pleasing at one end of the political spectrum as does a mantra like American Exceptionalism at the other. Yet for an indigenous person steeped in the overwhelming history of the West’s annihilation of Native cultures, the inclination to disambiguate any particular power imbalance in the world must be very slight indeed.

So there it is. The Dutch, French, German, and English in Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America. The English, French, and Spanish in North America. The French (and Japanese, while we’re at it) in Southeast Asia. Jews in Judea. All the same.

If I had ever met Russell Means, I would have wished to talk with him – as I do so many Native leaders, as I will on the Omaha reservation next month – about all in his life and career that challenges human imagination and compassion. I might, too, have asked him about Sioux warfare against the Pawnee and encroachment on Pawnee land, how the Pawnee were powerless against the much larger and more aggressive tribe. I might have mentioned how after the Ponca Indians were ethnically cleansed and removed from the Nebraska territory to Oklahoma, in order to open the way for white settlement, some Ponca made their way by foot back to Nebraska; how when they arrived ill and starving, the Omaha Indians welcomed them on their own land in Nebraska and supported the Ponca in their request to return home.

I might have reminded Means of what he always reminded others, how the Black Hills of South Dakota were taken from the Sioux by the United States in violation of the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. I might have asked him how many years the Sioux might remain exiled from that land, those sacred hills – more than 140 years now, but even one thousand, two thousand – before he would claim they had lost their indigenous, historic, moral right to return.

I cannot ask him that now. And on the record of his life is included now, too, his intent to speak before a miscreant panel of the hateful and slanderous who rhetorically style themselves champions of the “indigenous” (Palestinians) only for the purpose of wielding that concept as a club against Israel and Jews.

How, then, to feel?

A couple of weeks ago, I suffered briefly through a foolish, facile attack by a Jewish voice on President Obama. The writer employed the trope of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” against Obama, and concluded by declaring his stance with Eliot against Obama. I reminded the writer of Eliot’s anti-Semitism and of the occasion when the English Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff, upbraided Eliot in verse in the master’s presence, before an admiring crowd. Litvinoff, as I, as any reader of English poetry, was an admirer of Eliot.

Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound, “Il miglior fabbro,” was more famously anti-Semitic, with greater pronouncement. Any student of Modernism is an admirer of Pound. Yet even at the end of his worst travails, before his long silence unto death, when Pound condemned the anti-Semitism of his fascist support, he dismissed it, still inadequately reflective, as a “suburban prejudice,” reducing to an aesthetic error, in bohemian condescension, what is a great moral failing.

Still, the cover photo on my Facebook page is this.

The currents of the very aged Pound locked in a gaze with the statue of his long-dead peer James Joyce – a man contemptuous of political engagement and passion – those are currents of thought that will invite me to swim for a very long time.

On the home page of an online literature course I teach I have placed this photo of Pound.

The great poet standing in his library, literary and exotic, with his forebears – see Joseph Conrad? – gazing over him. It sets a tone for the students, richer for them in memory years from now when they may know more than presently. What they also know not now is any reason why I superimposed over the photo Pound’s “Notes for Canto CXX,” the last addition to the great craftsman’s lifelong, impossible poetic project.

I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
      Let the wind speak
        that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I
        have made
Let those I love try to forgive
        what I have made.


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The Political Animal

Reason and Rationalization


Happy day when theory can be considered in the light of immediate actual events. Let’s consider, shall we? First the theory.

At The New York Times’ The Stone, philosophers Gary Gutting and Michael P. Lynch responded separately to psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Righteous Mind, in which Haidt argues for the primacy of intuition over reason in the formation, particularly, of our moral judgments. Gutting and Lynch argue that Haidt slights reason. Haidt responded that “Reasons Matter (When Intuitions Don’t Object).” All really agree on the general contours of the intuition-reason landscape, so the debate is mostly over emphasis, of where and to what extent reason might play a genuine role in persuasion – influencing people to change their minds.

My difficulty with Haidt’s argument (in the essay – I haven’t read the book) is fundamental – what I find a confused use of the key term, intuition. Haidt urges that

we be realistic about reasoning and recognize that reasons persuade others on moral and political issues only under very special circumstances.

He further argues that

two basic kinds of cognitive events are “seeing-that” and “reasoning-why.” … We effortlessly and intuitively “see that” something is true, and then we work to find justifications, or “reasons why,” which we can give to others.  Both processes are crucial for understanding belief and persuasion.

There are already a couple of confusions developing here. One is in the very concern with the subject of truth. Philosophy has been ever focused on the actuality of it, that is, with truth itself. Haidt, as a psychologist, is concerned instead with what people consider to be true, their convictions of truth, i.e. their beliefs. Merriam-Webster begins by telling us that intuition is “quick and ready insight; immediate apprehension or cognition.” It goes on to fudge the distinction between knowledge and belief, as the use of the word “intuition” will, but in philosophy intuition commonly refers to a priori knowledge. Psychology, by its different nature, is interested not in truth or knowledge, but in the (in this case, intuitive) processes by which people arrive at what they take to be truth or knowledge.

If we understand intuition as insight, we presume that there is something being seen and that it is not an illusion, so there is the suggestion, by common usage, of actual knowledge. If we understand intuition as merely a quick, immediate un-reasoned sense of conviction, this is a very different animal, with no necessary suggestion of sight or knowledge at all, just automatic belief. Writes Haidt,

Intuition is what most matters for belief. Yet a moral argument generally consists of round after round of reasoning.… Therefore, if your opponent succeeds in defeating your reasons, you are unlikely to change your judgment.


This, I suggest, is how moral arguments proceed when people have strong intuitions anchoring their beliefs. And intuitions are rarely stronger than when they are part of our partisan identities. So I’m not saying that reasons “play no role in moral judgment.” …Most of what’s going on during an argument is reasoning. Rather, I’m saying that reason is far less powerful than intuition, so if you’re arguing (or deliberating) with a partner who lives on the other side of the political spectrum from you, and you approach issues such as abortion, gay marriage or income inequality with powerfully different intuitive reactions, you are unlikely to effect any persuasion no matter how good your arguments and no matter how much time you give your opponent to reflect upon your logic.

In some instances, we might call all this “intuition” because the defender of a challenged position may find himself falling back inarticulately on a deeply held conviction, though without the reasoned argument to defend it. Speaking philosophically, this is not intuition. It is an emotive claim based on learned, but not reasoned conviction. Speaking philosophically, we are precisely nowhere if we do not distinguish between “We hold these truths to be self-evident” and “homosexuality is an abomination before God.”

Arguments based on emotional conviction, learned belief, or reliance upon divine origin are not intuitions; they are rationalizations. Rationalizations are, properly speaking, exactly what Haidt says people do when challenged to defend beliefs they hold according to what he calls intuition. “Therefore,” I have already quoted Haidt as stating, “if your opponent succeeds in defeating your reasons, you are unlikely to change your judgment.” True. You are likely to start rationalizing. Reason, ideally, construes a conclusion forward from its premises. Rationalization constructs the premises backwards from the conclusion. And Haidt is right – it’s damned common, and in values arguments, difficult to overcome not just because people cling to their automatic and learned beliefs, but because a conviction about abortion does not reside in the individual in isolation, but is part of an entire complex of moral values, a world view. Altering a moral value means tilting that world view off its axis – a job, nearly, for Superman. But is it quite as unlikely as Haidt argues?

Says Haidt,

Reasons matter, reasons produce movement on the epistemological map, but only at the right time, when countervailing intuitions have been turned off.


This is why there has been such rapid movement on gay marriage and gay rights. It’s not because good arguments have suddenly appeared, which nobody thought of in the 1990s. The polling data show a clear demographic transition. Older people, who grew up in an environment where homosexuality was hidden and shameful, often still feel a visceral disgust at the thought of it. But younger people, who grew up knowing gay people and seeing gay couples on television, have no such disgust. For them, the arguments are much more persuasive.

Among the great difficulties in reasoning and philosophizing is that we do them with language, and carrying ideas in words is a little like transporting liquid in a sieve. It leaks. Above, in “when countervailing intuitions have been turned off,” what exactly does “turned off” mean? How precisely did the intuitions get turned off? What turned them off? Haidt contrasts older people with more traditional views about homosexuality with younger people with more tolerant, accepting, even embracing attitudes. Were these younger people born with them? How exactly did they acquire those socially altered views? Haidt says the young people grew up “seeing gay couples on television.” Well, how did they get there? Was it some of those at least slightly older people who put them there because their views, rather than abruptly changed, were changing? What was the process of their changing? What, gradually, for over forty years now, has been turning off what Haidt calls intuition and I call automatic thinking? I claim it is various forms of reason.

But enough of theory. Now, quickly to the actual. Last week, Greta Berlin a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement was found to have posted to Twitter and Facebook a couple of truly vile anti-Semitic videos. There are many accounts of the ongoing story, but no better place to go to learn all about it than Avi Mayer, who broke the story. This manifest evidence of what always should have been recognized as the anti-Semitism of Berlin and her movement is not my focus here. What interest me in the context of this discussion are two responses to it.

One surprising response – surprising, I think to most if not all – was that of Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian and cofounder of The Electronic Intifada, who might have been expected to join in the ideological solidarity that led many to accept Berlin’s obvious lies about how the two videos came to be posted. Neither Abunimah nor Electronic Intifada has changed in their ideological orientation toward Israel, the tortuous nature of which I examined here. Still, there was this break with what is for many an easy, internal ideological coherence.

In contrast, consider Naomi Klein. Klein, who is Jewish, was one of a number of well-known people listed as serving on the advisory board of Free Gaza. Quickly after the controversy came to light, some people – including your humble scribe, no doubt decisively – began challenging Klein and these others about their connection to such an organization and person. Klein, who is not much of a tweeter, in one of her only two tweets on October 3, retweeted Hawaida Arraf in accepting Berlin’s explanation and apology. Two days later, the controversy growing and Berlin’s account of events ever less defensible, Klein did resign as an advisory board member of Free Gaza. In her tweet announcing the resignation, Klein did two notable things – again, in the context of this discussion – which is not bad for 140 characters. In the end, she states that the leadership of Free Gaza has changed since she signed up. This is a clear misstatement of fact, since the controversy surrounds a person who is – one thinks Klein would have to know – a cofounder of the organization. Just before that misstatement, Klein obviously felt compelled to affirm that she still supports the mission of Free Gaza. What we get, then, from Klein, is a resignation without any condemnation or even characterization of the events leading to it, a misstatement of the conditions leading to the resignation, and a defensive assertion that despite the resignation her beliefs are unaltered.

I am prepared to reason against Klein’s beliefs, and I do not think that a set of poorly defended beliefs that shrink before the reasons against them are properly described, merely because they are inarticulate and stubbornly unalterable, as intuition. Intuition deserves better.


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Playing Politics with Jews


This post previously appeared in the Algemeiner on August 1, 2012.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in his best Captain Renault form – which includes being entirely insincere and unconvincing – is shocked, shocked to discover that there is politics going on in the U.S. of A. Never played any of that sort of thing himself.

Though, actually, feigning shock at the discovery of politics going on right there in the city of the Casa Blanca is, well (cover the children’s ears) an act of playing politics.

Reported The Hill (and everyone else covering the jerk-my-chain political beat), Cantor,

said in a statement Sunday that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion Jewish voters were “being exploited” was “deeply insulting” and “patronizing.”

Cantor, who is Jewish, was responding to comments Pelosi made during an interview during which the Democratic leader suggested Republicans were trying to unfairly depict President Obama as having a strained relationship with Israel to further their domestic agenda.

“It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything,” Cantor said. “Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”

Oh, dear. That Cantor, such a sensitive one.

Politics – that’s politics, not policy – is about wrangling votes. Everyone knows this. That is, all but those whom the politicians – excuse me, policy makers – believe are innocent or ignorant enough not to know. The electorate is made up of constituencies, economic, ethnic, racial, geographic, religious, and interest-based constituencies to which it is the task of politicians to appeal. Go for the gun owners, appeal to the farmers, empathize with Hispanics, curry favor with Jews. That’s the way it is done, and this is why we write and read without pause about who has what percentage of one group or another in the polls.

Professional campaign managers and communications directors seek every advantage and develop every opportunity to increase an old or gain a new voting bloc. Speak Spanish even though your party opposes any policy but deportation for illegal immigrants? Habla, amigo, y rápido. Think many Jews, who vote overwhelming Democratic, care about nothing more than the certainty of the U.S. commitment to Israel? Think there may be an opening? Then it’s time to recall that old joke from the 1980 presidential campaign:

“What’s flat and glows in the dark?”

“Iran after Reagan takes office.”

(Turned out to be very far from the truth, too.)

The far left and some liberals are sadly misguided in relation to Israel and Obama made some diplomatic errors right from the start. The Israeli left collapsed and Likud governs in Israel. So, increasingly, support for Israel is identified with political conservatism. That is, then, a political opportunity. Tell the children Republicans don’t seek to exploit it. Don’t say that to the adults. In contrary circumstances, so, too, would the Democrats.

However, only one definition of exploit is “to take selfish or unfair advantage.” The other meaning is to “use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.” We exploit natural resources, and we should. To make good productive use of a thing is to exploit it as well.

The task for the knowledgeable, the sophisticated voter in any instance is to determine which kind of exploitation is taking place. Pelosi made her case:

But [Republican Jews] have to know the facts. And the fact is that President Obama has been the strongest person in terms of sanctions on Iran, which is important to Israel. He’s been the strongest person on whether it’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, any of these weapons systems and initiatives that relate to Israel. He has been there over and over again.

It is regularly repeated in U.S. and Israeli security circles that despite diplomatic missteps and the lack of rapport between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the security relationship between the two nations has never been closer or stronger. Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just two days ago?

But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

It is in response to this reality that Mitt Romney and his supporters are forced to ever newer and higher levels of bellicosity. Soon, the only place to go in addition to denying the actual record will be a call to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors yesterday.

Let us, for clarity, examine the example par excellence of just the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. Let’s look at the Emergency Committee for Israel. Exploitation often begins with alarmist language.

Emergency, indeed. Is it 1948, 67, 73?

Sound good, though. Draws the blood up.

The Emergency Committee for Israel is just two years old, 2010 being, apparently, when the emergency arose, and it exists for one reason, to defeat Barack Obama. William Kristol, a founding board member, says it was inspired by J Street. By their models, viewed even in the mirror, ye shall know them. Even AIPAC, for Kristol, is too moderate. Why? Because it cooperates with the Obama administration. Which sounds like a good thing to do if what one is interested in is aiding Israel, and to judge by Ehud Barak doing a pretty fair job of it. But not if one’s greater, more immediate interest is the domestic political one of unelecting Barack Obama. However, that would be exploiting Jewish concerns for political ends, and that would be, according to Eric Cantor, insulting and patronizing even to allege, never mind actually do.

The ECI website is sparse. There is an Issues page: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, all very relevant to concern for Israel. Click on their links: nothing. There are, in fact, only two items on the Issues page – the most recent eighteen months old. Return to the Home page, though, and the raison d’etre for the ECI is quickly apparent. There is one item opposing Ron Paul by board member Gary Bauer – most recently found defending Chick-Fil-A’s anti-Gay advocacy in a very un-Israeli-like fashion. All of the remaining nine items are anti-Obama.

Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Gary Bauer says the Obama administration is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

Whom to listen to. Tough choice.

Tellingly, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, ECI produced a putrid and cynical video ad, the purpose of which was not to dispute the beliefs or claims of Occupy protesters or respond to any, um – emergency – for Israel. ECI scraped up, from months of demonstration footage, seconds of video of only two different people making anti-Semitic remarks and edited the footage to make the bigoted speech appear more plentiful. ECI did this not even to take a stand against OWS, but in order to try, then, to connect the anti-Semitism to OWS and OWS to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and thus, by clear implication – well, need I?

As I wrote then, in “’Emergency’ Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue,”

the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS (sic), which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

That is the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. And, at the same time, it is “deeply insulting” and “patronizing,” as Eric Cantor chose the terms for unbecoming behavior toward Jews. They form together a kind of trifecta in crass political opportunism.

I have no doubt Eric Cantor is outraged.

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The Political Animal

Alexander Cockburn: Remembering the Dead

Alexander Cockburn. Photo: screenshot via cspan.

Cross posted at the Algemeiner.

It really is the ultimate sentimentality.

That concern with how we will be remembered, or how those for whom we care will be treated in the minds of others, or who is saying what about whom now gone. It is too obvious to say we will never know the reputations we will have: that we project, we project. Every thought about the future outside of the most simple heavenly fantasies is a projection. We cast our wishes into the coming times and imagine that a reality that will not be ours is one that can make a difference to us. Good people have had their heads cut off, noble people been tortured in and into obscurity, infants murdered. What matter if some people think you a philanderer, a schnorrer, a charitable woman, a nice guy when you are gone? You know you take a secret self with you. They are anyway bound to get you wrong; for sure, not entirely right.

Certainly we would prefer not to leave a foul or evil reputation, at least for the benefit of those we care about, still living. There was a Greek fall not just for Oedipus and Joe Paterno, but for their families, too. Still, the big falls, the little ones, we can’t control them. Maybe Donald Trump has no idea how quickly his name will fade, even from the building facades that bear it, a name that will stand for grandiose buffoonery the way a doctor’s name was Mudd.

Still, we try to project our egos into the after-here. We are not, no we aren’t, wholly rational creatures. Strange, then, the effort of Alexander Cockburn, or for him, of some who claim to admire him. Cockburn died on Friday, and now the first final assessment begins. As for any person, there are those who loved him and who thought him good, and more. There are others – plenty – of radical left and contrarian temperaments, who think his journalism was groundbreaking and worthwhile.

"The Politics of Anti-Semitism" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. Photo: AK Press.Many others, in contrast, will point out as long as necessary that Cockburn made a career of trafficking in every bitter, unsubtle and self-defeating excess of far left thought, to which he later added the same from the right. More, he was one of the voices on the Western left who introduced the incoherence of promoting oneself as “anti-racist” while simultaneously mocking and scorning the oldest grounds for anti-racism our woebegone civilization has produced: anti-Semitism.

It is inconceivable, of course, that any form of racism could prevail in any culture, nation, or region of the earth without the proper focus of unremitting attention, labeling, and combat from the left. With a modest swell of anti-Muslim feeling in the United States since 9/11, the left has joined with those combating anti-immigrant sentiment and the long-presiding, even institutionalized racism against African-Americans. Yet with the entire Middle East region and much of the Islamic world steeped in the vilest manifestations of anti-Semitism, the labeling of that racism has become just that ground for rejection and mockery that Alexander Cockburn helped establish.

You will not hear a voice on the left – as you will from the right – deride accusations of racism against Blacks. You will not encounter on the library shelves, books by longstanding writers of The Nation entitled The Politics of Racism, though Cockburn, who was that Nation contributor, did co-author and co-edit The Politics of Anti-Semitism, with such contributors as Cynthia McKinney, Robert Fisk, and Norman Finkelstein. If the calculations of justice and the moral equation in the Middle East, and for Jews, became garbled in only the second thirty years after the Holocaust, producing garbage, Alexander Cockburn was a journalist who played a prominent role in that outcome.

Given an easy opportunity to provide evidence of an unprejudiced mind – a typically bilious column piling on the mean, small-tongued Don Imus when the broadcaster finally went too far on his radio program – Cockburn found words to name every group-victim of Imus’s sewered mind but Jews.

Said Marc Cooper, once a colleague of Cockburn’s, “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.”

At best, I say. But others will say differently. Jeffrey St. Clair, the longtime colleague and friend who co-edited with Cockburn the journal CounterPunch, which Cooper saw as a “rhetorical and intellectual dead end,” plans in that publication a series of “tributes to Alex from his friends and colleagues,” so there will be that effort to determine how Cockburn is remembered. But as I suggested, St. Clair made a strange choice to begin with.

In the two sentence paragraph lede, St. Clair announced over the weekend:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

The effort at memory setting begins in the next paragraph:

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done.

Among the notable features of Cockburn’s life was his earlier friendship and later falling out – politically and personally – with Christopher Hitchens. Connor Simpson at the Atlantic rather overstates the case when he writes that:

most of all, [Cockburn] will likely be remembered as Christopher Hitchens’ foil.

Though maybe not, in light of that odd swipe, from grave to grave, at the manner in which Hitchens lived his final days and did his own last work. It is hard to imagine, under the circumstances, that Cockburn would not have discussed with St. Clair the manner in which the former’s death would be announced in his own publication. Cockburn did write his own unsparing epitaph for Hitchens on the occasion of that death. Either way, the rancor, among the first words in memory after Cockburn’s passing, marks a petty and graceless public, if not private, exit. Let the remembering begin.



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The State Solution: Yes, for South Sudan; No, for Israel

Hedar Sela has an incisive piece at The Propagandist that sharply zeroes in on the true nature of the so-called “one-state solution.” (H/T CiFWatch).

Readers of political commentary on the Middle East will frequently see reference to the ‘one-state solution’ in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. What perhaps is often not sufficiently clear is what lies behind that particular political ethos, exactly who is promoting it and why.

Advocates of the ‘one state solution’ are, by definition, opposed to the two-state solution – i.e. the creation, as a result of negotiations between the relevant parties, of a Palestinian State which will exist side by side – hopefully in peace and good neighbourly relations – with the Jewish State of Israel.  This has been the premise behind the entire peace process since 1993. It is the basis upon which the Oslo Accords and later the Roadmap were built. It was the logic behind Israel’s agreeing to the PLO being allowed to establish the Palestinian Authority and Israeli concessions on areas A and B. It is also the concept upon which all diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region have been – and still are – based.

That’s by way of introduction, and though it is a longer essay, with much relevant detail, here is the essential point, about the nature of the Hamas rejection of the two-state solution and unacknowledged but unavoidably fundamental alignment between Hamas and other – so-called, again – human rights advocates of the one-state idea.

Many in the West (though by no means all) are able to recognise the rejectionist Hamas stance for what it is because the religious rhetoric and medieval-style language employed by its leaders to state the Hamas case is easy to identify as being rooted in Islamist theology and little attempt is made to hide the anti-Semitic attitudes behind the political-theological stance according to which, Jews must not be permitted to have their own state in the Middle East.

Less easy for many Westerners to understand is the similarity between the Hamas stance and that of advocates of the ‘one state solution’. One reason for that is because its advocates steer clear of religious rhetoric; instead they present their case clothed in the language of human rights; making reference to international law, justice, democracy, secularism and equality – all concepts with which it is significantly easier for the Western mind to connect and empathise.

However, the bottom line of the one-state proposal in fact differs little from that of the Hamas ‘solution’ to the problems of the Middle East in that both see the eradication of the Jewish State as the answer to the conflict.

Curiously, enough, in contemporary contrast, few seem to have any philosophical difficulty with the recent creation of South Sudan. Marxist-inspired and other partisans of consigning nationalism to the trash bin of history – and who appear to find the creation of Israel alone anathema, among the scores of nations created since World War II – have not found their voice over South Sudan. There is no call, among differing and violently antagonistic ethnic and religious groups, for a counter-intuitive one-state solution to Sudanese conflict. Perhaps because we all know how well such a solution worked in the former Yugoslavia, or how, after over seventy years of being yoked together, the ethnically diverse republics of the former Soviet Union longed still to be one people.

I did, above, say curiously, though. For one party has spoken out against the creation of South Sudan (H/T Rubin Reports):

PA official Abd Al-Rahman, Director General of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ office, accused Israel of being involved in a conspiracy to divide Sudan, saying that “there are other conspiracies which the occupation (i.e., Israel) plans so as to cause a decrease [in attention] to the Palestinian cause and to turn it into a secondary matter with no priority, such as… the division of Sudan.”

[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 4, 2011]

But, then, much as secular proponents of the end of Israel make common cause with the anti-Semitic terrorist organization Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, in its illiberalism, comfortably aligns itself with actual perpetrators of genocide.

In a letter to President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, who is accused of responsibility for the genocide in Darfur, Abbas expressed his support for the President and stated that the Palestinian people and leadership “have complete faith in the wisdom of President Omar Al-Bashir” and that they “support the unity of the land of Sudan and its people.”

[PA TV (Fatah), Nov. 28, 2010

The PA is at least consistent – consistent in what, we may conclude from the above. And those who make common cause with Hamas for the end of Israel – what are they?


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Israel, Iran, “Social Activists” & the World We Live In

The event occurred in September. The video first hit YouTube in October. Over the past week it has been appearing on various blogs, though generally speaking only blogs with a dedicated or regular focus on Israel and Jewish issues. There is an old lesson in that, right there. My hat tip goes to Z World Blog, where I first saw the video, though several blogs I read, and others, have now reported on it.

Big news? No. Essential news? Yes. An Israeli weightlifter, Sergio Britva, wins first place at the World Masters Weightlifting Championships in Poland. The Iranian competitor, Hossein Khodadadi, takes second place. On the awards stand Khodadadi refuses Britva’s offered hand of sportsman-like congratulations. The moment the playing of the Israel national anthem ends, Khodadadi turns his back and steps off the podium.

We do not know if Khodadadi’s personal feelings played any role in his actions. Subsequent events show us – as if we should need at this point to be shown – that he had reason to fear the consequences, whatever his personal feelings, of any fellowship with an Israeli. Street Journalist informs us

Mir Rasool Raisi, Head of Delegation to Iran’s Weightlifting Team, and Hossein Khodadadi, a veteran weightlifting champion, have been banned from all sport activities for life. Mr. Khodadadi appeared on the platform beside an Israeli weight champion during the Poland competitions.

Jalal Yahya-Zadeh, head of Physical Education Committee for Youth Committee announced this news and and added: “The fact that an Iranian weightlifting veteran has competed against an Israeli during the worldwide competitions and has stood beside him during the distribution of medal is unjustifiable.”

In addition,

Mr Raisi has stressed the accompanying members of the Iranian expeditionary team  had destroyed all CDs and photos and did not expect happening of such matter.

Physical Education and Youth Committee has stated the Cultural Commissioners have been informed and the president has also been warned of such matter.

Mr. Yahia-zadeh has recommended to the safeguard organization of the Physical Education Committee to prevent such matters from happening.

Ben Cohen at Z Word offered,

I don’t know whether the Polish producers of the broadcast understood the enormous historical resonance here, but it really has to be seen.

What resonance? Well, to fully appreciate, the third place finisher was a German, who shook the Israeli’s hand. The event and incident transpired in Poland. An Israeli Jew stood in athletic victory, in Poland, beside a German who congratulated him and stood by his side as the Israeli national anthem played, while an Iranian, as a matter of state policy, spurned the Israeli in the latest iteration of historical anti-Semitism.

While some on the international scene sincerely congratulate themselves, and others cynically so, on perceived historical advances of the world political order, this pathetic (yet, also, complexly, quite glorious) scene transpires to little subsequent attention. There are nations in the world – whole national cultures – driven by anti-Semitic animus? Well, there are typhoons and earthquakes, too, no?

At more or less the same time, now, we have the affair of the anti-consumerist Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine, produced by the Canadian Adbusters Media Foundation, which describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” Hat off to Ben on this one too:

Jonathon Narvey of The Propagandist has written a compelling, if sadly nauseating, series on the effort by Adbusters – a Vancouver-based alternative media network – to associate the State of Israel with the crimes of Nazi Germany through a photo essay comparing Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto. Sounds like that would win some awards in Tehran, at least. Read Jonathon here, here and then here.

Follow Ben’s links to Narvey. The tell the whole repulsive, unfolding story. You will get along the way a video of Warsaw ghetto life and one of little reported Gaza life. There is also this priceless comment from an emailer to Adbusters Editor Kalle Lasn, who is currently crying censorship because the Shoppers chain of stores in Canada has removed Adbusters from its shelves. Wrote one Michael Ross,

Free speech also means allowing others to hold your views in the contempt they deserve and to heap scorn on your ahistorical and one-sided obsession with the Jews.

You have to laugh at the hypocricy of a lefty magazine editor who cries over the loss of corporate sponsorship. You are nothing, if not the author of your own satire.

I would alter “lefty” to “bogus social activist,” but otherwise, as Narvy comments, that’s it “precisely.”

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Mind Games IV: Cause and Defect

Remember all those soul searching headlines?

Why Do They Hate Us?

Question: who is “they” and who is “us”? And do we mean I-want-to-cut-your-head-off hate or how-do-I-get-a-green-card hate?

The Pew Research Center’s latest polling results, “Mixed Views of Hamas and Hezbollah in Largely Muslim Nations: Little Enthusiasm for Many Muslim Leaders,” supports some compelling perspectives. Despite a bare majority of favorability in Jordan and Egypt, Hamas is viewed mostly unfavorably by Palestinians, especially those actually governed by Hamas in Gaza. The popular narrative, of course, is that the various social and humanitarian services offered by Hamas blinds those it destructively governs to its flaws. Apparently not.

Turkey, subject of another recent, popular, and lengthening narrative – that its Muslim roots are reemerging in dominance over its more modern Western aspirations – shows only a 5% favorable response to Hamas, and 69% unfavorable. It does seem apparent that Turkish PM Recep Erdoğan, with his Islamist leanings, wishes to pursue a more orthodox, and, recently, anti-Israeli course, but at least in some respects, the Turkish people do not appear to be following along.

We find similar results for Hezbollah, most favored by Palestinians again, whose cause Hezbollah purports to advance by it adversarial position with Israel, but, contrary to the Hamas case, Palestinians do not live under Hezbollah rule. Lebanese, who do live under Hezbollah’s destructive influence on their nation, like most others but more so, do not favor Hezbollah. Once again, most unfavorable are the Turks. Once again, the only other favorable constituency, as with Hamas, is the Jordanians.

Hmn.  The Arab nation with the best human rights record and, since the ascension of King Abdullah, booming under the most liberal economic policies, i.e. the Arab population the daily life of which may be least affected by the strident anti-Semitic, anti-Western, and anti-Modern terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda, is home to the population most sympathetic to those forces. Curious, no? Not truly to know religious totalitarians and terrorists, apparently, is to love them, or at least rationalize them.

Did I mention al Qaeda? I did mention al Qaeda.

As mentioned previously, ratings for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden have generally declined in recent years, and he receives little support among most Muslim publics. However, about half (51%) of Palestinians express confidence in him and in Nigeria, a 54%-majority of the country’s Muslim population say they are confident in bin Laden’s leadership. In Pakistan, where many believe bin Laden is now hiding, only 18% express confidence in him, although 35% do not offer an opinion. Very few Turks (3%) or Lebanese (2%) express support for the terrorist leader.

Again the Turks stand out. Again the Lebanese – who if only they could live free of Hezbollah and their de facto Syrian overlord. Nigeria is a nation heading nowhere fast. And Pakistan, ah Pakistan: remarkably only 18% “confidence” in Osama Bin Laden, and, maybe more interestingly, a cautious 35% with, gulp, will this be on television,? “no opinion.”

So much for Osama. What about Obama?

U.S. President Barack Obama received positive reviews, although this was less true in predominantly Muslim countries. Even so, his ratings were consistently higher than those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and in some cases higher than for the Muslim leaders included on the survey. For example, only 33% in Turkey have confidence in Obama, but this is still more support than Abbas, Nasrallah, Abdullah, Ahmadinejad or Karzai receive. And the American president is quite popular among some largely Muslim publics, especially in Indonesia, where he spent several years as a child: 71% of Indonesians voice confidence in him. Obama is also popular among Nigerian Muslims (81%), Israeli Arabs (69%), and Lebanese Sunnis (65%).

What’s more

There is a widespread perception among Muslims that conflict between Sunnis and Shia is not limited to Iraq’s borders. In nine nations, Muslim respondents were asked whether the tensions between Sunnis and Shia are limited to Iraq or are a growing problem in the Muslim world more generally, and in seven of those nations, a majority of Muslims say it is a broader problem.

You might say, in the vernacular – and maybe to the surprise of many – that in large numbers, Muslim and Arab populations do, in fact, know what’s happen’, what’s goin’ on.

No? Still doubtful?

  Many Muslims are convinced that there is a struggle in their country between groups who want to modernize the nation and Islamic fundamentalists. More are convinced of the existence of such a struggle in Lebanon (55%), Turkey (54%) and the Palestinian territories (53%) than elsewhere.

  Muslim publics overwhelmingly support educating girls and boys equally. More than eight-in-ten in Lebanon (96%), Israel (93%), Indonesia (93%), Turkey (89%), Pakistan (87%) and the Palestinian territories (85%) say that it is equally important to educate girls and boys.

And while this is certainly discouraging

In Arab nations, attitudes toward Jews remain extremely negative. More than 90% of Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Palestinians express unfavorable views toward Jews

this is telling

Only 35% of Israeli Arabs, however, express a negative opinion.

In other words, the Arabs who actually live with Jews and who share a liberating (to choose a word) free-breathing democracy with Jews, free of anti-Semitic indoctrination, are the Arabs with the most positive opinion of them.


What tentative, though not timid, conclusions might be drawn?

Richard Landes has described the cognitive egocentrism that can afflict civil societies, which project their “own mentality or “way of seeing the world” onto others.” Among the

basic political principles of civil societies [are] “I’ll give up trying to dominate and trust you to give it up as well,” [and] “if I’m nice to you, you will be nice in return,” [which] assume positive-sum attitudes in their opponents (the “other”). The current situation testifies to a dangerous mis-apprehension that works to the distinct disadvantage to civil society.

From 9/12 until, I think, five minutes from now, we have heard the warnings from some quarters that American self-defense, even aggressive offense, against its enemies – those anti-modern, anti-democratic, anti-Western, anti-Semitic adherents of human submission and terror – would result in only more terror and violence against us. Oddly, FDR did not conceive of this inhibition in warding off the Japanese and German threats to the nation. Think whatever you wish of George W. Bush – and to have been a passionate and dispirited opponent of nearly all his presidency represented was an easily reasoned position at which to arrive – the aggressive policy he pursued against these terrorist forces (even with the unconscionable, systematic torture) did not produce the billion-strong Islamo-Arab army the cognitively egocentric predicted. We did not cause the terror against us, defending ourselves did not create more enemies, and overall, Muslims and Arabs seem to be deciding that all things considered they’d rather have a virgin in this world – maybe even, some generation to come, a college-educated divorcee.

And Obama? Seems his outstretched hand and empathetic expressions – joined with an expanded drone campaign in Pakistan and a surge in Afghanistan – have also done no harm. One reasonable interpretation of these poll results is that there is, long-term, not an extreme left, or neocon, or even straight-con, but a truly liberal approach to FKATWOT that might succeed. It is an approach committed, in justified self-regard, to vigorously meeting real-world requirements for national security and self-defense, even as it champions, in respect and with equally vigorous diplomatic practice, the range of human rights, human needs, and human expressions.



The Convergence of the Twain – A Mind Game’s Post

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

Thomas Hardy, “The Convergence of the Twain”

Judeosphere has only been back to blogging a few weeks, but he is quickly making his mark again with very sharp and important posts. A couple of days ago he posted on Ernest Sternberg’s new article in Orbis, “Purifying the World: What the New Radical Ideology Stands For.” From Judeosphere, Sternberg, with Judeosphere commenting in the midst:

Though it’s a mouthful, world purificationism would do well in expressing what the movement wants. It wants to achieve a grand historical vision: the anticipated defeat of imperial capitalist power in favor of a global network of beneficent culture-communities, which will empower themselves through grassroots participatory democracy, and maintain consistency across movements through the rectifying power of NGOs, thereby bringing into being a new era of global social justice and sustainable development, in which the diverse communities can harmoniously share an earth that has been saved from destruction and remade pristine.

According to this doctrine, the world is divided between the empowered global system, which is the purveyor of toxicity and disempowered communities that suffer its consequences. The world system that perpetuates oppression is known as Empire. It exercises domination through corporate tentacles, media manipulation, state power, and military prowess. It is selfish, greedy, ruthless, racist, and exploitative, and heedlessly pollutes the earth. It imposes its media-saturated culture, dehumanizing technologies, and exploitative production systems on subject peoples.

Sternberg further argues that this perspective explains the doctrine’s inherent hostility toward Israel—a vulnerable nemesis that acts as a unifying cause:

Anti-Zionism pops up in the most unlikely places and in remarkably virulent forms. At the World Social Forum meeting at the mouth of the Amazon, five thousand miles from Jerusalem, packed with over 100,000 purifiers from around the world, demonstrations against Israel count as one of the three foremost accomplishments. In Durban, South Africa, hundreds of governmental groups and NGOs meet allegedly to fight racism, but ignore its genocidal manifestations in Africa, and can agree only to condemn Israel. In America, the Green party has condemnation of Israel as its sole foreign policy. In Britain, unionized academics vote each year to boycott Israel, and never any other place. In Toronto, a demonstration for equal wages displays anti-Israel placards. And in France, so does a demonstration against the loss of appellation for Roquefort cheese.

Why Israel? The clue is in the variety….[of] the new movement: Islamists, Arab Nationalists, post-Christian humanitarians, third-worldists, and anti-globalizers of various stripes. That’s the movement’s ticklish problem: how to keep so much diversity in check. If Empire is too abstract as a nemesis, and America seems too formidable, what’s needed is a scapegoat manageable enough in size that it just might be defeated, and devilish enough in popular imagination that it will elicit the requisite loathing.

Enter Israel, the only Western nation under long enough threat that it has had to fight ongoing wars to survive. Stripped of all context, Israel’s actions can be made to fit the needed image of aggressor. And even if, for some haters of Israel, hatred of mere Jews is not the motive, it’s still all the better that Israel is Jewish, since there is a rich anti-Semitic tradition to draw on….purifiers have rediscovered that old enemy of humanity, the satanic cosmopolitan. He is the globalized Goldberg against whom transnational movements can build solidarity through execration.

Next, yesterday, in Diseased Minds, Judeosphere reported on anit-Western, anti-Semitic vaccination conspiracy theories:

Seven years ago, the Nigerian government halted polio vaccinations after rumors emerged that vaccines were instruments of a Western and Zionist plot to sterilize Muslim women and to hasten the spread of AIDS. (As a result, the disease spread into neighboring Niger, then headed east to Chad and Sudan and also appeared in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia.)

Now, similar rumors are emerging in Pakistan. According to MEMRI, an article published by an Urdu-language magazine for women in Pakistan has called the international polio eradication campaign a Jewish conspiracy being furthered by various international organizations.

The article declares:

“The Jews, who dream of ruling the world, have invented different types of vaccines, drugs, and injections in an organized way to weaken Muslims in their beliefs on spiritual, practical, and moral levels, and make their bodies contaminated. The oral polio vaccine campaign is being run under a worldwide conspiracy—except in the Zionist countries. Its total focus is now on South Asian countries— India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The U.S. has already marked this area as an extremely strategic region.”

Since their very beginning, anti-vaccination movements have been rife with conspiracy theories. In her book, The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby notes that anti-vaccination rhetoric has traditionally tapped into the Right’s distrust of government and the Left’s distrust of traditional medicine. And, quelle surprise, throughout history, anti-vaccination movements have sometimes been tinged with anti-semitism. The fact that Jonas Salk was Jewish prompted one U.S. group to print pamphlets claiming the polio vaccine represented the “forces of the anti-Christ” in an effort to “violate and contaminate” the bodies of millions of innocent children.

But the emergence of widespread, anti-semitic, vaccine conspiracy theories in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East seems to be a (relatively) recent development. Reading through articles, reports, and online chat groups, it’s a phenomenon that appears to have gathered momentum in just the last ten years.

Judeosphere then quotes the Pakistani article’s recitation of the various world health organizations administering the vaccination programs and its insistence that “[a]ll these organizations are known to work openly of the interest of Zionism.”

It’s a vicious cycle of paranoia: The growing activism of NGOs and multilateral institutions provokes resentment against foreign meddling; these organizations are believed to serve the U.S. agenda—and that agenda is, of course, controlled by you-know-who.

My point in bringing these two posts together? The impulse to purify, as Sternberg terms it, should always frighten. Anti-Semitism has always been framed in terms of purification. Most prominently, see Hitler, A. On the extreme, Utopian left, Mao and Pol Pot sought to purify the masses of their bourgeois tendencies, and society of the counter-revolutionary stain of intellectuals. Stalin’s own purifying purges were a little less ideologically pure, but no less pleasing to his gut. Internationally, the radical left tendencies of which Sternberg writes end up, often, these days, aligning themselves in reactionary sympathy with the Iraqi insurgency, Islamic totalitarians, and rank genocidal racists such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the current Iranian regime. Nothing brings these two noxious extremes together more precisely in twenty-first century international politics than anti-Westernism and anti-Zionism. Find one and you’ll tend to find the other, at either end of the spectrum.

The import for American liberals is this – these are unions of ideas, and identifications, that will not serve to the credit of liberals anymore than have past misconceptions, such as of the various Marxist murderers so often excused in the past. In the meantime, there are low, anti-intellectual, conservative forces at work in U.S. politics, rightist populists championing anti-intellectualism and ignorance and who reject most of the important historical, political, and humanist insights of the twentieth century. When liberals make even casual alliance with, and excuse for, the purifying left extremes that bump hips with hate, they weaken their ability to fight the sordid rejectionists we have seen on the right since the day Obama took office.



Antisemitism: Let’s get it Right

Just when I’m out gettin’ a tooth drilled, Shrinkwrapped goes and adds (I guess it kinda makes sense) an addendum to his post trying to pin anti-Semitism, historically, on the left, stating “For roughly two centuries now, antisemitism has, throughout the Western world, been principally associated with Leftism.” He even trots out a quote from the Karl-man. He does it all “For those who have difficulty understanding the provenance of modern anti-Semitism and its intimate relationship with the Left.”

Since only one other presumed liberal commented on his original post, I’m gonna presume this was more or less directed at me. (It is all about me, isn’t it? Doc?)

Keep in mind, I had already acknowledged the current, growing scourge of left anti-Semitism, but I like to revise history only in the direction of the truth, not in conformance with

I'll buy that!
I'll buy that!

absolutist ideological demonization of political adversaries.

The entire history of active American anti-Semitism, which we all know – but you can’t count on any agreed truths anymore – has been slight in comparison to the histories of the European, Arab, and Muslim cultures, is on the right, from the KKK and the John Birch Society, to the American Nazi party and skinheads, to the country-club, institutional, and residential anti-Semitism of mid-century Republican WASP power centers. In Europe, over several centuries, the entire establishment of the Pale of Settlement, the ghettos, the Tsarist May laws, were the creation of illiberal, anti-democratic aristocracies, supported by the pogroms and daily, petty anti-Semitism of culturally conservative, parochial and chauvinistic elements in a myriad of national settings. Even amid the growth of left-oriented anti-Semitism, a recently as 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the firmly established anti-Semitic, right wing extremist in France gained nearly 18% of the vote in the runoff Presidential election.

This need to demonize the other side by distorting history – why, it’s downright Soviet in nature. Their commies, these conservatives.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, of North Carolina, claims, “We were the people who passed the civil rights bills back in the 60s.”

Could you die? Could you just die?

Republican revisionism on civil rights is not a new campaign. Foxx’s insult to the American electorate’s intelligence grows out of the Republican argument that a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act than did Democrats. Never mind that many of the Dems who voted against it were Southern conservatives (not liberals) who were soon enough Republicans, and that many of the Republicans who voted for it couldn’t today go unpilloried by the Palinized ‘publicans. Never mind the full history of civil rights and Republican distortion: click that link above.

Next thing you know they’ll be claiming it was a Republican who freed the slaves…

I love it when they embrace Lincoln. Like he might ever be a Republican today.

You ever hear that old Cold War joke about an auto race just between a U.S. built car and a Soviet model? The Kremlin press release reported that the Soviets came in second and the U.S. next to last?

So now the Heady one claims, “For roughly two centuries now, antisemitism has, throughout the Western world, been principally associated with Leftism (including the socialist Hitler).” That’s my emphasis added. And that’s right – the socialist Hitler. Well, it was, right, the National Socialist Party?

Just like, in the North, it’s the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Can’t argue with the label. They wouldn’t kid us, would they?

Never mind (there’s a lot of “never-minding” having to go on) that Hitler was firmly anticommunist and pro private property, and that the mix of his ever changing economic policiesturkey_leg is probably overall best described in the end as state capitalism. And otherwise, clearly, an all round liberal fellow.

I wouldn’t have to add that last if it weren’t for the fact that there seems this tendency on SW’s part to run liberal and left and Marxist all together. Or that he and his crew of cheery conservative commenters, when they’re supposedly arguing with me, choose to argue against “liberals.”

I’m not liberals. I’m a liberal. I speak for myself only. I’ll presume SW does the same. So you won’t find me linking, for support, as SW did, to the liberal likes of John Ray, who makes this his blog header:

It’s the shared hatred of the rest of us that unites Islamists and the Left. American liberals don’t love America. They despise it. All they love is their own fantasy of what America could become. They are false patriots. The Democratic Party: Con-men elected by the ignorant and the arrogant

And having to explain if that’s what I think. By their blog referrals shall ye know them.

Okay. That should have gotten some juices flowing for the resumption of main ring action after the holiday. Unless Shrink decides to throw a pulka at me tomorrow. If he does, I’m sure it will be very tasty. He’s actually, in private, a very cool guy.

I mean, he used to drive a Karmann Ghia. How cool is that?



Whose Left on the Right of Antisemitism

It has been only the convergence of many demands – including the work of return home to Los Angeles – that has so long delayed the the next installment of “The Open Mind” debates, what The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have called – well, they haven’t actually called them anything yet. But just you wait.

The next real entry in the series appears next Monday, as a digestif for your Thanksgiving overload. As a cocktail, here is today’s post from Shrinkwrapped, with my deft and definitive rejoinder in his comments section available beneath it.

Jews, the Left and Anti-Semitism

In the last election 75% of American Jews voted for Barack Obama, primarily because he had the most liberal voting record in the Senate and was a minority.  In opposition to his support among the American Jewish population were the less well emphasized points, that he had a long history of closeness with minimally disguised and often overt anti-Semites, and that his inner circle was populated by people with longstanding positions inimical to Israel.  None of this is news.  Jews have been among the most reliably liberal voting blocs at least since the 1960s and there has been a significant delinkage of interests between secular American Jews and Israel over the last 30-40 years.  However, the marriage of Judaism and liberal politics is coming under increasing pressure.  It is quite possible that American Jews will be forced to choose between their liberalism and their Jewish identities in the not too distant future.

[I strongly suspect that most Jewish liberalism is a matter of temperament and emotion rather than any particularly well refined political philosophy.  Jews, out of a mix of their history with their envy, fears of evoking envy, and a while host of other affective experiences, identify with those who can be seen as victims.  Even the most secular Jew grows up in a culture in which Tikkun Olum, ie improving the world, is an implicit substrate.  When combined with the post-baby boom narcissism that comes with ease and material success in America, such feelings collide and a stance supportive of using government to improve the lot of the less fortunate comes naturally.  Most liberal Jews are much more comfortable paying higher taxes than actually living among the less fortunate.  (This is why houses in Scarsdale, am almost wholly white suburban town cost a multiple of similar homes in New Rochelle, an integrated town complete with projects.)

However, I don’t mean this to be an explication of Jewish liberalism, John Podhoretz (Why Are Jews Liberals?) has already given a fair amount of thought to the question and I hope to review his book at some future time.]

Anti-Semitism and Leftism are inextricably linked.  Every generation Jewish leftists find this out anew’ every generation Jews are surprised at the intensity and persistence of Left wing anti-Semitism.

In many ways, the left must be anti-Semitic, just as they must be anti-American.  After all, part of their core philosophy is that in the perfect state of society under any particular iteration of left ideology, people will naturally all fall within a fairly narrow range of outcomes.  Whether explicit under communism (“from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) to the watered down versions of ensuring equal outcomes under liberal affirmative action, those on the left by philosophy or temperament are uncomfortable or antagonistic toward those who range too far from the mean.

For reasons not worth entertaining now, Jews have historically been successful wherever they have resided.  When Jews are visibly over-represented in the media, Hollywood, government, finance, etc, it is hard to miss.  (As a bonus, when Jews predominate in the media they tend to skew the attention of the media to those “newsworthy” items that are of interest to them and those who are like them.  If Israel were a normal country, the attention paid to it would be minimal.  After all, there were far worse atrocities committed in Chechnya by the Russians than anything Israel did in Gaza, yet the world’s attention was riveted by the Israeli incursion into Gaza.)

Beyond the ideological problems with a visible group that is highly successfully (and the covert implication that any group thus successful must be taking advantage of either unfair advantages or must be leveraging their success over the failures and efforts of those they have oppressed) there is the historical, and always available, anti-Semitism that is easily exploited by those who need scapegoats for their own failures.

And this leads to the inevitable clash for the Jew and the Left.  Once allied with a left wing tribe, such as the Democratic party, tribal feelings become powerful perceptual screens.  In other words, once allied with a party (tribe) anything that the party supports is first perceived through the filter of the party line and only then can any critical thought take place.  Thus, for those who do not pay close attention, the party line that Israeli settlements is the major obstacle to peace in the Mideast is uncritically accepted since it so easily passes through the tribal filter.  It then requires affirmative work to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved.  At the moment most American Jews are continuing to go along with the Obama Democratic party position.  This can only hold as long as the majority of American Jews remain ignorant of the depths of anti-Semitism on the Left and at the core of their party.

The conflict is currently appearing in statu nascendi for my blog friend and rival Jay Adler*.  He is correctly horrified by the vilification of Israel that is a prominent feature of the international community and press.  (He does not want to close his eyes to The Faces of Evil and wonders Who Will Watch the Watchers II.)  What is particularly troubling, and should trouble Jay is that 20% of the Democrats in Congress not only want to close their eyes but refuse to recognize injustice when it seems obvious:

What a difference 35 years make

In an October 1974 cable to Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, following passage of his legislation helping Soviet Jews emigrate, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yigal Allon wrote that “your efforts in this matter manifest once again your deep understanding of our needs and your constant support of the cause of Israel.” What a difference 35 years make.

Nowadays, liberal members of Jackson’s party routinely cast votes against Israel, while the leftist commentators supporting them relish vilifying the Jewish state. Whether it’s blasting the settlements, criticizing Israel’s Lebanon or Gaza conflicts, or deferring sanctions on Iran, the American Left is more unified than ever in its opposition to Israel and its policies.

Nowhere has this disturbing trend emerged more clearly than in the recent debate in the US House of Representatives over a resolution calling on the president to “oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora.”

The resolution chastises the UN Human Rights Council for “one-sidedly mandating the ‘fact-finding mission'” by Justice Richard Goldstone to focus only on supposed Israeli wrongdoing while “mak[ing] no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks…by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel.” It recites in painstaking detail the myriad factual, inferential, and legal errors that readers of this page well know render Goldstone’s report fatally flawed.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, earned an overwhelming 344 votes. But 36 members of Congress, all but three of them Democrats, voted against the resolution, while another 20 members voted “present,” or abstained; thus, more than 20% of Democrats refused to support the bill.

SO WHAT’S motivating these Democrats, almost all of them from the party’s liberal wing, to stand up for the Goldstone Report?

Being a little anti-Semitic is like being a little pregnant.  Unless the monstrous fetus of anti-Semitism is terminated, it will one day turn upon and devour its parents (including those Jews who have aided and abetted its germination.)  Anti-Semitism is already deeply embedded in many of our institutions:

Columbia and Rutgers funded by Iran-controlled group

An Islamic charity alleged to be a front for the Iranian regime has been funding anti-Israel and pro-Iran professors at Columbia and Rutgers Universities, the New York Post reported on Monday.

The Manhattan-based Alavi Foundation, which promotes Islamic charity and Persian education, has been accused by the American government of funneling money to U.S. schools supported by Iran and to a ring of Iranian spies in Europe, says The Post.

According to the report, the foundation has also given thousands of dollars to Columbia and Rutgers to fund its Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, told The Post.

The Post reported that the Alavi Foundation gave Columbia $100,000 in 2007, after the university agreed to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Columbia University spokesman Robert Hornsby told The Post that the money it received ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit was the largest single gift it had received from the foundation. He also told The Post that the university had been unaware that the charity was directly linked to the Iranian government.

In addition, says the report, the foundation gave $351,600 to Rutgers from 2005-2007 to fund its Persian Studies Program. That allegation was corroborated by a spokesman for the university, but no other comment was offered on the matter.

U.S. agents have begun confiscating as much as $650 million in assets from the foundation, according to the report.

Right wing anti-Semitism in American (the KKK, John Birch Society)  long ago led to American Jews alienation from the Right, an alienation which, for too many, continues to this day.  Many Jews, despite the foreign experience of anti-Semitism being prevalent on the Left, have never imagined left wing anti-Semitism to exist.  Many will continue to close their eyes to the phenomenon.  There are those ideologically committed Jewish leftists who will continue to support the anti-Semites on the left in America.  However, those who refuse to remain blinkered will find it increasingly difficult to deny that at the core of the Left, and in many ways in the core of the current Democratic party, the rot of anti-Semitism has taken hold.

*My advice to Jay Adler is to continue our series of discussions (and I in no way equate his delay in returning to the fray to a paucity of decent arguments; that is tongue in cheek, Jay), continue your series of investigations into that particularly virulent form of oppression known as anti-Semitism, and remember that those of us who are on the Libertarian Right, aka Classical Liberals, will always welcome you whenever you are ready.

Anyway, SW, thanks for the links. You see I’ve added another. Your shekels are on the way. Hit you all up next week with a resumption of The Open Mind. I know I’ve been missed.

November 23, 2009 at 12:36 PM | Permalink


Judge Crater said…
“Anti-Semitism and Leftism are inextricably linked.”

That statement is taking me farther through the looking glass than I want to go. I guess if you go far enough down the rabbit hole names like Marx, Engels, Trotsky, David Ben-Gurion, Saul Alinsky, and dozens more have disappeared along with the Smoking Caterpillar.

Israel, the Jewish homeland, was conceived, created, and supported by Jewish leftists. It’s still a socialist state by any modern measure – certainly as socialist as France.

If history means anything, and maybe in right-wing wonderland is doesn’t, Jews, to their enduring credit, have been at the forefront of “leftist” philosophy and action. The fact that three-quarters of American Jews vote Democratic, and that there are ten Jewish Democratic members of the Senate and 25 in the House, is a bitter pill for Dr. Shrinkwrapped to swallow is regrettable.

But, believing fifty impossible things before breakfast, isn’t going to change it.

AJA said…

I’m sorry to dash (not I’m not) my “blog friend and rival’s” fantasy of my nascent recognition of bias against Israel and my slow walk across the Bridge of Spies, but my position on this subject (and the greater one of undemocratic forces in the world in general) is very longstanding and in no way (weep not, my friend) inimical to the essence of liberalism. I won’t reply at too great length because then we might as well share “open minds” on the subject (and perhaps we shall) – and Judge Crater has already recoiled with appropriate disbelief and fact-based summation at the fantasticality of “Anti-Semitism and Leftism are inextricably linked.”

Of course, there is a significant and growing problem with Antisemitism on the left, and its origins are not as simple as that basement lab conservative bromide. Over the twentieth century and beyond, depending upon the locale, it has partaken of various measures of Marxist transnationalism, postcolonial ideology, and deeply embedded cultural histories of Antisemitism. Over much longer history, however, Antisemitism everywhere has demonstrably been the sentiment and activity of nationalistic, conservative and reactionary forces in a society. That doesn’t alter the reality of the new threat, though.

I must add that I think Shrink is too quick to label reflexive and historically uninformed anti-Israeli political sentiments as Antisemitism. I do not hesitate drop a brickload on anti-Semites, but I do not think too readily conjoining the two is beneficial.

Finally, it’s curious how we are prone to filter reality through our predispositions. (Doesn’t SW sorta specialize in that phenomenon?) In any other consideration, an 80%-20% imbalance in a vote, on an issue, would be considered quite overwhelming. If you got that kind of vote for President you could be king, but by this calculus it’s a grip on “the core of the Democratic Party.” Now let me see, what percentage of Republican legislators were willing to state when asked that they rejected birtherism…?


Sweden: the Face of Anti-Semitism Today

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, the largest circulation newspaper in Nordic Europe, produces a prima facie instance of anti-Semitic slander – an article by Donald Boström headlined “They plunder the organs of our sons.” Offering no evidence, the article reports the accusation of a Palestinian family that Israeli Defense Forces are engaged in organ harvesting from Palestinians and demands an international inquiry. Rival paper Sydsvenskan fiercely condemns the obvious, virulent anti-Semitism. Swedish ambassador to Israel Elisabet Borsiin blood libelcondemns the article. What does the Swedish government do? It disavows the ambassador’s comments and despite calls for a statement of denunciation, from Israel and others, refuses, claiming respect for freedom of speech.

The blood libel lives, in the modern world, propagated not only in the form of fearful Palestinians nurtured in conditions of direct conflict with Israel to demonize their enemy, but still in the cultural institutions and the more “enlightened” modern political ideologies of a supposedly transformed post World War II Europe. Aftonbladet identifies itself as Social Democratic in leanings and it is partly owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, a confederation founded by the Swedish Social Democratic Party. While far right anti-Semitism never disappears, the hatred is a growth industry on the radical left, particularly in Europe, but in the U.S. too. Today, it frequently masquerades as criticism of Israel, but the engine of it, working in tandem with the age-old unreason of primal hatred, is leftist ideologies and cultural analyses of power.

Regarding Phillip Weiss and the Mondoweiss blog, a perpetual anti-Semitic screed under the guise of a pro-Palestinian action-journalism center, a reader, Andrew Michael W. wrote

The saddest thing is that Phil thinks about the same things neo-nazis think about – Jewish power. They project a sentiment onto the Jews – tribalism, where the Jews compete against whites and others for power. But it is really just neo-nazis who are tribal for no logical reason. Phil views Zionism as the tribalism the neo-nazis see. Zionism empowered Jews and because he sees it as an overall negative since the Palestinians suffered, he believes everything power related involving Jews is ill gotten.

This is very astute. Weiss is not just anti-Israel, i.e. an opponent of the state’s existence. He is a committed assimilationist, frequently arguing that Jews have reached such an ascendency of power in the U.S., become so embedded in the establishment, that the need for a distinct (tribal) identity – one that requires care and protection – is no more. Of course, this feeds nativist, far right anti-Semitic tendencies, the kind that have always begun, in ideation, with Jewish clandestine power and subterranean activities – like draining and using the blood of Christian children – and progressed to clarion calls to counter a rising threat. But established Jewish power engenders no greater comfort on the radical left.

In fact, distortions of post-colonial analyses provide the ground for opposing not subterranean, but state Jewish power. At the end of the spectrum where Jews once found their natural political defenders and advocates, their rise to organized power in the U.S. – the bogeyman “lobby” – and their creation of a state that has thus far prevailed over its enemies, rising in ascendency over a group preferred by the radical, “other” worshipping left for its powerlessness: all this has alienated the nation-aspirant Jew – the Israeli, the Israel supporting Jew – from ideological favor. Once more, in new ways, the Jew cannot be integrated unless, as Weiss would have it, the Jew cease to be a Jew. So we get the intellectual monstrosity of the leftist heirs of a centuries-old regime of European anti-Semitism and half a millennium of colonial conquest and genocide viciously condemning as colonial racists and Nazified perpetrators of genocide the victims of the greatest organized genocide of them all, who for that entire history didn’t have a country, never mind a colony.

For the modern European left, the ascendant Jew is as disturbing as was the ostracized Jew for the old European right. Once more, a weak-willed Europe that repeatedly demonstrates an unwillingness to bear the burdens of its own defense, and intellectually debilitated by self-regard for its (underwritten) secular, social achievements, is troubled by the Jew, the Israeli, who, in contrast, will – must – do the dirty work of defending himself. So now it is not the secretive, submissive Jew draining blood; it is the secretive, oppressive Jew harvesting organs.

But Sweden believes in the right of free speech. The right of the anti-Semite to slander. But not the government’s own right – no, its responsibility – to say, “This is wrong.”


More Mondoweiss Anti-Semitism

Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss is not only anti-Zionist. As I indicated in my last post, he is deeply troubled by his Jewishness – by Jews. This post from yesterday, in which the pretense of his own inclusion in the consideration is the usual fraud, and the only element that would distinguish it, could easily be found in the pages of a neo-Nazi or KKK official organ. Read the comments too. You’ll especially love this one: “The Romans apparently dealt with the problem of the Jewish egregore through de-centralization — by scattering the Jews to the winds.”

Perusing the blog is actually a creepy experience, leading to a desire for bath water. And he thinks he’s walking in the light.


The Political Animal

The World’s a Funny Place

Yaacov Lozowick points out that today is both Holocaust Commemoration Day in Israel and Adolf Hitler’s birthday. It is also the first day of the incipiently anti-Semitic U.N anti-racism Conference, informally known as Durban II, follow up to the notoriously anti-Semitic Durban I. The world is nothing if not an ironic jokester.

Lozowick also provides this must-see video (if you wish to know the nature of one of the parties to this conflict) of Ziad Abu Alhaj on Hamas television on April 3, 2009 providing a sermon on how Jews (not merely Israelis) are inherently evil and must be exterminated. And he doesn’t just incoroporate the infamous anti-Semitic forgery of the Czarist secret police, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he retitles it The Protocols of the Imbeciles of Zion.

The world is nothing if not an ironic jokester.