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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: May 2010

So much has been written about Peter Beinart’s essay in the new issue of The New York Review of Books that I will not add to it.  The two best critiques of Beinart’s arguments are by Jamie Kirchick and Noah Pollak. You can read Kirchick’s  here and Pollak’s here. Many more have appeared since then, including a forum between eight different people in Foreign Policy, and a response by Beinart in The Daily Beast.

Peter Beinart is a proud liberal who grew up as a Jew. His parents were from apartheid South Africa. In a society where the majority of the white community was composed of the Afrikaners who created apartheid, the small Jewish community stood out in its opposition. One question must be asked.  If you were a Jew and a liberal opposed to apartheid, what member of your own community would you view as a hero?

I  believe the candidate for hero would most likely be the late Helen Suzman, who died at age 91 on New Year’s Day of 1999. Representing liberals in Parliament since 1959,  from 1961 to 1974, Suzman was the only member of parliament who day in and day out fought apartheid and defended the rights of the regime’s political prisoners. When a minister said she was asking questions that embarrassed South Africa, she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa. It is your answers.” She was the only candidate, the BBC obituary noted, “since the first South African parliament was established in 1910, to be elected by a white constituency on a platform that clearly rejected racial discrimination.” And she was a Jew in a parliament dominated by Calvinist Afrikaners who were the mainstay of the apartheid government.

Suzman became a major defender of Nelson Mandela, regularly visiting him in prison. When he was released and the new South African constitution was signed, Mandela invited her to the ceremony. He publicly thanked her for her outspoken defense of the opponents of apartheid, and for her decades-long campaign to overturn it. This is how tough she was. The BBC obit points out that as “the lone voice of real opposition in parliament, Mrs. Suzman spoke out against such measures as the 90-day detention law of 1963, which, she maintained, brought South Africa ‘further into the morass of a totalitarian state.’  At a public rally in Johannesburg in 1966, she condemned the use of arbitrary powers by the justice minister and excoriated the government as ‘narrow-minded, prejudiced-ridden bullies.’”

What is important is that Suzman was not afraid to speak her mind, even if she differed with the African National Congress. She opposed the worldwide campaign for sanctions, arguing that they would hurt poor  blacks.  “She was dismissive of the death threats she received by telephone and in the mail, and undaunted in her showdowns with the men she described as apartheid’s leading ‘bullies,’ who in turn dismissed her as a ‘dangerous subversive’ and a ‘sickly humanist.’”

I have spent so much time on Suzman to illustrate why someone who has a family connection to  South Africa like Beinart, and who calls himself a liberal, should have had her as a hero. She was not exactly invisible. That is why it is more than strange to find out who his hero is. He identified the person in a three-part interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. Here is Beinart’s answer after Goldberg asks him, “Do you consider yourself a Zionist?” and “What is the goal of your essay?” Beinart writes:

My hero growing up was Joe Slovo [emphasis added] who spoke only Yiddish until he was nine and upon moving to South Africa as a boy from Lithuania (we South Africans are almost all Litvaks, except my mom’s side, who are Sephardi) became the head of the military wing of the African National Congress. There are Slovos in every place Jews have gone, people who have devoted themselves as Jews (though I’ll admit Slovo was not as good a Jew as say, Abraham Joshua Heschel) to the fate of non-Jews. There’s a tension, but for me the value is in the tension, in loving Zionism and Judaism and also feeling that one’s love of who one is impels one towards moral universalism. I see that spirit powerfully in the Israeli left…

Who was Joe Slovo? Was he a liberal like Beinart or Suzman? No. He was not only the leader of the Stalinist South African Communist Party (SACP) whose top members made up the leadership of the African National Congress, but a man whose very concept of Judaism and views on Israel reveal him to be anything but liberal. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is true that Slovo suddenly became critical of Stalinism — in an effort to save South African communism from its critics on both the left and the right. But as one of his comrades, Pallo Jordan, explained at a memorial service for him:

In a world in which people, especially those involved in liberation politics, were compelled to choose sides, many found it very difficult to publicly voice their misgivings about the flaws of existing socialism. On both sides of that great divide, at the height of the Cold War, there was little room to accommodate critical supporters.

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Some conservatives have been criticizing Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan for her 1981 Princeton senior thesis in history titled “To The Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933.”  Not me.

As a historian who has read widely in socialist and communist history, and written about the topic, I found her thesis to be academically first rate, based on a wide-ranging use of primary and secondary source material, with a thoughtful analysis and sound conclusions that derive from the evidence.

In her senior thesis, Kagan looked into the broader question of why socialism never took hold in America through a case study of New York City.  For a time in the 1900s, socialism appeared to be taking root and to have a bright future in New York, as it did in the rest of the country. What was it in their approach to politics that caused socialists to fail, despite their strong militancy and commitment to the rights of workers — especially those in what was called then the needle trades, i.e., the garment industry in New York City?

Kagan found her answer in the warfare between the socialists and communists, and the emerging split in the union movement, especially among garment workers, in the period when the Communist Party sought to create a “dual union” and then to change tactics and attempt to move into the existing garment union and take it over.  Kagan concludes that the communists were loyal not to American workers, but to the Soviet Union and its leadership. She writes:

The U.S. communists frequently requested the Soviet Union to settle their internal disputes, allowed The Third International to hand-pick their leaders, regarded the U.S.S.R. as their native country. In effect, the American communists’ political and psychological identification with the Bolsheviks strengthened in the same measure as their own sense of accomplishment decreased. Small, divided and isolated, the communist parties had to live vicariously.

The above, we might say, is sound anti-communist history, not at all sympathetic to the strategy, tactics and orientation of those labor activists who were influenced most by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.  Indeed, when she writes about the “civil war” in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), she reveals the duplicity of the tactics used by the communists. Kagan calls it a fight between “constructive and revolutionary socialism,” the constructivists being those who knew they lived in a country where working for trade unionism was a worthy goal in and of itself, and the revolutionaries who favored the Bolshevik path for America.

Kagan discusses the stealth tactics by which the American communists sought to take over the shop delegates’ movement, and how a “small group” worked to form a bloc, control votes at meetings, and then force the union in a direction favored by the Soviet Union. They used this control, she writes, “to connect the leagues to the Trade Union Educational League, a CP organization designed to carry out the Third International’s union policies by directing and coordinating the activities of party members within established labor organizations.” The communists, she adds, “began an all-out drive for control of the ILGWU.”

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Since writing my critique of Claire Berlinski’s article in The City Journal, she has responded at their website. I agree with her that at present, when the main challenge to the West is the rise of radical Islam, much of our dispute is about past history. But there are other implications to be considered as well. These have been raised by Jonathan Brent, in his letter to Berlinski, which can be read here.   I am in strong agreement with the concluding point Brent makes in his letter:

How or why the Cold War ground to a halt–the crimes of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and their predecessors are matters of great historical importance, but the intellectual inertness of the West in the face of the recurrence of precisely those evils that gave rise to those crimes in the first place is incomprehensible to me. I speak of the revival of Stalin’s image in Russia on the one hand and the revival of nationalistic, crypto-Nazi movements across Eastern Europe on the other. What this signifies must be taken seriously in the West, but so few people are able to take it seriously because it is so rarely put into the proper historical/political context and the facts of it get muddled in political agendas that slyly redirect attention from criminality and responsibility to victimhood. This to me is the great story unfolding in Europe at present and one Americans ought to know more about.

Many of the issues raised by Berlinski about the archival collection of both Bukovsky and Stroilov are technical. For this reason, a detailed and precise analysis has been made in answer to Berlinski’s article by Mark Kramer, editor of The Journal of Cold War History at Harvard University. Here is Kramer’s response in full:

“To preclude further confusion, I need to explain the background.  In late 1991 and 1992, more than 3,000 documents were gathered for a trial of the Soviet Communist Party before the Russian Constitutional Court.  The trial made little headway and soon ground to a halt.  Bukovsky was on an official commission that reviewed these documents, and, using a handheld scanner, he copied around 900 of them, which, to his great credit, he made fully available on-line in the late 1990s.  At the time he scanned the documents, there was no guarantee that the Russian government would ever make any of the items accessible, and he therefore admirably wanted to have copies of them in case the collection was subsequently sealed.  But as it turned out, the Russian government did make photocopies of nearly all of the formerly secret documents available to the public, starting in late 1992.  Some 3,000 declassified documents are stored in Fond 89 of the Russian State Archive of Recent History (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii, or RGANI), covering the whole Soviet period.  In addition to the items declassified for the trial, photocopies of a small number of other documents (mostly ones turned over by the Russian authorities to foreign leaders during state visits) were subsequently added to Fond 89.  Because the various items were released in batches, they were arranged and initially catalogued somewhat haphazardly, with only sporadic attempts at thematic coherence and chronological order.  But fortunately in 1995 an excellent item-level finding aid appeared in Russian, organized chronologically and extensively cross-indexed.  The finding aid covered nearly 80 percent of Fond 89, and the remaining 20 percent was covered in a comprehensive English-language finding aid compiled by Lora Soroka of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in the late 1990s.  The Fond 89 holdings were microfilmed in the mid-1990s by the British publisher Chadwyck-Healey (which has since been taken over by the ProQuest Information and Learning Company) with funding and support from the Hoover Institution.  The 25 reels of microfilmed Fond 89 documents were then made available for purchase in the West and have been acquired by numerous university and public libraries.

Given the common provenance of the Bukovsky collection and Fond 89, it is hardly surprising that there is a very high degree of overlap between them.  The large majority of documents in the Bukovsky collection are also in Fond 89, as anyone who has used the two collections can attest.  To give a quick example:  The Bukovsky collection contains 31 documents about Poland in 1980-1982 and 42 documents pertaining to the Soviet war in Afghanistan.  All of these documents appear in Fond 89.  The Bukovsky collection does contain some documents (especially about repression of dissidents) that are not in Fond 89, but only a relatively small number, whereas Fond 89 contains a large number of documents (more than 2,000) that are not in the Bukovsky collection.  It is good to have both collections, but the reason that scholars and students primarily use Fond 89 is that the collection is far more extensive and has very useful finding aids.  (I should note, however, that Berlinski’s description of the Bukovsky collection as “unorganized” is incorrect.  In fact, the collection is organized both topically and chronologically.)

Berlinski claims that the documents in Fond 89 (she is referring to the Bukovsky collection, but, as I noted, there is a very high degree of overlap) “are largely unknown, undiscussed, and ignored by the media” and says that “they have certainly not been translated in full.”  In fact, many documents in Fond 89/Bukovsky have been described and analyzed by journalists over the past 18 years.  Among others, Michael Dobbs in The Washington Post and Serge Schmemann in The New York Times published numerous articles discussing items in Fond 89/Bukovsky.  Many documents have been discussed in the British and German and French press as well.  The collection has by no means been “ignored by the media.”  It is true that the documents have “not been translated in full,” but Berlinski fails to mention (and apparently is unaware) that a vast number of translations of Fond 89 documents have been published over the past 18 years by the Cold War International History Project (CIWHP) in its Bulletins and Working Papers and on its website.  Many translations have also been made available by the National Security Archive and by other organizations.  To cite an example, let me return to the Poland and Afghanistan documents in the Bukovsky collection.  All of these, every single one, were translated in the 1990s and published by the CWIHP.  I know for sure because I was the one who translated them, but much the same could be said about other parts of the collection.  The CWIHP and the National Security Archive have done invaluable work in making translations of Russian documents available (including many hundreds of documents in addition to those in Fond 89), but Berlinksi seems unaware of what has been done.  To be sure, both the CWIHP and my own program at Harvard and the NSArchive would welcome having all of the documents translated, but translation entails expense and priorities have to be set.  Bear in mind that many scholars who use these materials are apt to use the originals instead of translations.  Rather than complain that the Fond 89 documents have “not been translated in full,” Berlinski might consider helping the CWIHP and NSArchive obtain the funding to translate all of the documents.

Regarding the Stroilov documents, I mentioned before that based on what I had seen thus far, there is nothing in them that is not readily available to researchers at the Gorbachev Foundation Archive.  I can judge only by what Stroilov has chosen to release thus far.  Last September he made available to Michael Binyon of the London Times some documents pertaining to Margaret Thatcher’s position on German unification and Soviet policy toward Germany, especially notes from a conversation that Thatcher had with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow on 23 September 1989.  Binyon published an article in The Times on 11 September 2009 describing the record of Thatcher’s comments as “explosive” and “likely to cause [an] uproar.”  The Times on its website posted translations of this document and of some other documents provided by Stroilov regarding Soviet policy toward Germany.  When I checked these, I found that I had copies of them from Opis’ 2 of Fond 2 at the Gorbachev Foundation Archive.  I also found that Svetlana Savranskaya of the National Security Archive had already put out translations of most of the documents, including the full record of the Gorbachev-Thatcher conversation on 23 September 1989.  In addition, I found that Thatcher herself, on p. 792 of her Downing Street Years memoir (published in 1993), had accurately recounted this meeting, including the points that Binyon deemed to be “explosive.”  I came away from all this with a degree of skepticism about Stroilov’s claims to have obtained documents that are not available to any other researchers.

But because I have not seen Stroilov’s full collection, I cannot offer a final judgment about it.  If Stroilov wants his collection thoroughly used and appraised, he should provide it to the CWIHP or National Security Archive so that it can be made available in full to experts, who can then compare it with the materials they have acquired from the Gorbachev Foundation Archive.  Short of that, his claims have to be assessed on the basis of the selective items he has made available thus far.

Let me turn finally to Berlinski’s contention that there is “a dangerous indifference to the history and horrors of Communism.”  This is an accurate characterization of large parts of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia, but it is certainly not an accurate assessment of the situation in the United States, which is what Berlinski is talking about.  When I published The Black Book of Communism in the late 1990s, I looked on it as a work that built on a good deal of top-notch scholarship that was being done in the 1990s.  In the eleven years since The Black Book appeared, an immense amount of first-rate scholarship has been published on almost every aspect of the atrocities and crimes of Soviet Communism — the wanton destruction of peasants, the bloodshed and mass famines caused by forced collectivization, the purges, the mass terror (including the so-called mass operations), the deportations of entire nationalities, the Gulag, and numerous other topics.  Other scholarship of this sort is in the pipeline, such as Norman Naimark’s book Stalin’s Genocides, which is due out soon from Princeton University Press.  Berlinski says nothing about any of this work, nor does she mention Yale University Press’s Annals of Communism series, which has made available large numbers of translations of documents pertaining to these topics and numerous others.  Fortunately, future generations of students will have no problem learning about the horrors and crimes of the Soviet regime.  There is ample room for more to be done (and indeed more is being done), but what has been produced thus far is worthy of praise, not a blithe condemnation.”

Finally, another scholar, Mikhail Tsypkin, of the Naval Postgraduate School, has prepared his own comment, which follows  on the next page.

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A few days ago, City Journal posted an important article on its website. It was written by Claire Berlinski, an American journalist who lives in Istanbul, and titled “A Hidden History of Evil: Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives?” We all know that since the fall of Communism, the world’s response to Soviet totalitarianism was quite different than that which occurred after the end of Nazism in 1945. The Nuremberg trials put the leaders of the defunct Third Reich on trial for war crimes, and in so doing, told the world the extent of how the entire Hitler regime was based on illegality, murder, genocide, and criminal behavior.  Berlinski writes:

In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

There is nothing exceptional about this argument.  Indeed, these points are the entire basis of the famous The Black Book of Communism published in 1997 in France and two years later in the United States, and the major book by the late Francois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion:The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, a best seller in France that was translated into thirteen languages and published in our country in 2000.  And in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gulag:A History, Anne Applebaum addresses herself to the very issue of why the Soviet camps did not make the same impact on the West as those which killed the Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. The message of these three books and others like it may not be “widely acknowledged” by some on the Left, but enough has been written to leave few others with any excuses by now not to know the truth.

Communism saw no Nuremberg trials, and the world Left continued to argue that there was an essential difference between Communism and Nazism: the former supposedly emerged from Enlightenment philosophy and a well-meaning search for a more humanitarian and equal social order for the people of the world; the latter emerged from volkish ideology, espousal of war as a philosophy, and the espousal of evil and extermination of the Jewish people as a necessary basis for a new Aryan order. One could argue that in fact, Communism and its leaders killed more people numerically than Hitler’s fascist order. But no matter, the Left believes that anti-fascism was essential for progress, while anti-Communism was morally and politically wrong.

Berlinski  addresses the issue of what she says are “unread [and by implication unknown] Soviet archives,” compiled in London by one Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile living in London, and yet another archive put together by the famed Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who possesses “a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” On the Stroilov archive, Berlinski claims that the originals remain classified in Russian archives.

The Bukovsky collection, copied by the dissident illegally during the short lived trial of the Communist Party in the early years of the Yeltsin post-Soviet government, was also potentially quite explosive, since his documents, as do Stroilov’s material,  reveal much of Soviet activity in the regime’s waning years that casts Mikhail Gorbachev in “a darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded.”  Berlinski proceeds to give examples from both collections.

The documents, she argues, also reflect badly on Western and U.S. leaders, all anxious to achieve détente with the Soviets and hence willing to get “far too close to the USSR for comfort.” She points to material that compromise Kenneth Coates, a British member of the European Parliament whom she says “sought to extend Soviet influence in Europe”; Spain’s Francisco Fernandez Ordonez, who sought “success of the socialist revolution in contemporary conditions” in Europe; and France’s Premier Mitterand, who sought along with Gorbachev to get Germany united as a “neutral, socialist entity under a Franco-Soviet condominium.” And Britain’s Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, she writes, sought to end Britain’s Trident nuclear missile program with Gorbachev’s help.

Her own essay, however, acknowledges that in fact these documents were available, and that  political figures did address their implications.  For example, she writes that one Gerard Batten, a British political figure, publicly wrote that if true, it meant that Kinnock had approached “one of Britain’s enemies” to gain approval for Labour’s defense policy.  So if they were buried, how did Batten know about them? How was he able to tell this to the European Parliament in a speech given last year? Berlinski never answers that question.

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As the weekend approaches, I can think of no better service than to alert readers of my blog to one of the most important articles to appear anywhere in a long time: the lengthy review essay   of Michael Scammel’s biography of Arthur Koestler, Koestler:The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth Century Skeptic.  It is written by Paul Berman, and it appears in The New Republic

Berman’s essay, as his readers have come to expect, is much more than a simple review. He uses the Scammell biography as a take-off point to make many salient observations about the times in which Koestler lived, and the lessons of his life that may be applicable today. Talking about what he calls the Promethean myth, Berman ruminates about the “mythical whiff” that Karl Marx absorbed and which transformed the movement he created “from a sober, progressive-minded, social-science action campaign into a movement of religious inebriates. A religious frenzy had produced a hubris. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks, hubris led to despotism. And to crime—to the deliberate setting aside of moral considerations. To the dehumanization of humanism.”  He talks of “a Promethean heroism stripped of its moral bearings and rendered ugly, not to mention counterproductive.”

Berman continues in his essay to pull together different intellectual strands, from Edmund Wilson to Koestler to Sidney Hook and Max Eastman, to the Jewish anarchists in Russia and New York, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, and to the trade union movement in the New York garment industry, and its dedication to a firm principled anti-Communism. Finally, he moves into our modern times in the era of the ascendency of radical Islamist thought. His writing is a tour d ‘force, an elegant, brilliant and necessary discussion of social thought in the past century, with lessons that some have forgotten, or perhaps never learned in the first placeBerman talks about the “prison culture” that bred both Bolshevism and that today seems to breed radical Islam—a different “utopian” solution, but one that too comes from repressive regimes that imprison its dissenters, and that help mold them into adherents of fanaticism.

As he moves along, taking up different themes, Berman notes that the great Russian anarchist, Kropotkin, advised Lenin that if he really wanted a free society, he should eschew centralized tyranny and allow freedom of thought and a truly free economic and political system. Indeed, he believes that towards the end of his life, Kropotkin moved towards the realization that liberalism was perhaps the genuine alternative to the kind of revolution he once advocated. Berman writes: “Kropotkin even advised Lenin to emulate a few virtues of the United States of America, and not to go on assuming, as Lenin did, that America’s wealth and strength were merely the booty of imperialist violence—a clear indication that, by the end of his life, Kropotkin’s version of the anarchist doctrine was tilting in liberal directions.”

As for today, Berman remarks how strange it is that we do not have the equivalent of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, the Cold War intellectual alliance of the labor movement, socialist and conservative intellectuals from Europe and America, that joined together to oppose the Bolshevik mentality and Communism.  He puts it this way:

A tremendous intellectual debate is taking place right now across huge portions of the world, with the Islamists on one side and a variety of anti-totalitarian liberals, Muslim and non-Muslim, on the other. But the kinds of liberal congresses and campaigns that Scammell describes have never taken place in our day, not on a grand scale anyway. We have human rights organizations, but we do not have sustained campaigns on behalf of the persecuted liberals in countries where organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood wield a lot of influence. We do not even have the kinds of congresses or conferences that would allow liberal-minded writers from different countries and speaking different languages to meet each other and discuss their respective experiences and thoughts. Nor do we have any kind of sustained and coordinated effort to translate books and essays from one language to another—not on a truly large scale. On matters such as these, Hook, the old socialists of the American labor movement, Koestler, his comrade Manès Sperber in France, and their various colleagues of the 1940s were way ahead of us.

Thanks to Paul Berman, one of the preeminent intellectuals of our own age, perhaps such a movement and organization can arise again. Read his article, and then go out and buy his new very important book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. You can read Ron Rosenbaum’s review of it here.

And now, some apologies long overdue:

We all make mistakes and judgments we have come to regret. A few months ago, Marty Peretz used his blog to apologize to Michael Ledeen, whom Peretz graciously acknowledged was right about so many things about which he, Peretz, was wrong. Peretz had been estranged from Ledeen for many years, although when he bought The New Republic decades ago, he had hired Ledeen to be its foreign affairs editor. Such apologies are unusual and hard to make. Peretz showed himself to be courageous in publicly admitting that on critical issues, he had been wrong, and had unfairly slighted Ledeen.

Taking a cue from Peretz’s action, I wish to do something of the same. First, I too owe an apology to Paul Berman, about whom I write today. Years ago, Berman and I had some serious quarrels over issues now long forgotten by many. Our old mutual friend, the late brave Lincoln Brigade dissident vet, Bill Herrick, could never understand our fight. He would say: “This must have something to do with the atmosphere of New York City (where Berman and I then both lived) and being Jewish intellectuals.”

Writing about Berman in my autobiography, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, I falsely attributed an incident to him, in which he was not involved. Over the years, it has been brought up on the internet more than a few times by people who have spotted it, and have used it to condemn Berman. I wrote that Berman, along with the late Manny Geltman, had been involved in trying to force me off the editorial board of Dissent magazine, the social-democratic journal founded by Irving Howe, because of my strong anti-Sandinista views. That sentence thus made Berman appear as a would-be totalitarian, a man who would not countenance dissent and argument if it differed with his own viewpoint.

I deeply regret having written those words. They are not only false, but contrary to what Berman himself believed at the time, since he was emerging as a strong critic of left-wing totalitarianism and a fierce critic of the Sandinistas. Indeed, when he wrote an article critical of them for the left-wing magazine Mother Jones, its then editor Michael Moore (yes- that Michael Moore) refused to publish it. Moreover, although Berman later joined the board of the journal, I do not believe that he was a member of it at the time I was, and he joined its ranks much later. And if there was one thing that always was constant with Berman, it is his solid belief in the importance of free speech, debate and dissent. Such an action is completely out of his character.  As for myself, I suspect I put it in without thinking much, because of anger I had towards him due to the ferocity of our battles at the time. I hope this belated apology serves to prevent others from ever using this again as ammunition meant to harm Berman in the present.

Second, I also owe an apology to the distinguished journalist and writer Anne Applebaum. Months ago in one of my blogs, I criticized one of her articles in The Washington Post- actually I think a blog she wrote on the paper’s website and not even a column-and I made known by disagreement in very strong improper terms. I still do not agree with her argument in that particular blog. The problem is that my ill chosen words- which I will not repeat here or link to- made it appear that I believed  this one argument she made cast doubt on her integrity, brilliance and intellect. My disagreement should never have been made in such a strident and unfair way, and I was foolish to let my words appear to mean that I had lost all respect for her, when the opposite is actually the case.

I have come to learn through more than one source that my words have been thrown in her face and used over and over by her opponents, as reason to ignore her arguments and to dismiss her work entirely. Nothing upsets me more than learning this. I consider Applebaum one of our major writers and thinkers. Her justly won Pulitzer Prize for the magisterial work Gulag:A History, is one of the essential books of our time. Her analysis of foreign affairs, which appear regularly in The Washington Post and Slate, are among the most informative and nuanced that appear.  I always look forward to reading her work and learning from her, and I look forward immensely to the book she is now working on, a history of the imposition of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War.

So I thank Marty Peretz for setting the example. I, and other writers, must strive to be more careful and judicious when we write. This is especially the case in  blogs, when it is easy to get carried away and forget that words have effect, and when editors are not advising us closely and getting us to pause before our thoughts are set down for others to see. I will strive to try my best to avoid such a practice in the future. And I hope my compatriots on the internet and in the media do so as well.

I have been called a lot of names in my life, especially since breaking with the political left of which I once was a part. Usually the accusations come with words such as “counter-revolutionary,” “renegade,”  “traitor to the left,” “he went over to the right-wing to get their money,”  “FBI or CIA agent,” etc. etc. etc. But Andrew Sullivan today comes up with a new charge: “pro-Israel fanatic.” Faced with a choice between all of those I list, I think I’ll live with this one. To be called this by Sullivan, who previously referred to those who defend Israel as a bunch of “Likudniks,” is a badge to wear proudly, especially when it appears on his own Hamasnik blog.

When he accuses me and others of engaging in the politics of “personal smear,” however, he misses our major point.  It is a quite simple one, which Sullivan and some of those who have posted comments hostile to my blog post yesterday do not understand. We are not trying to “stifle debate” on the Middle East. Calling attention to the still rather unknown record of Justice Richard Goldstone as an apartheid era judge who ruled in favor of the Afrikaner state is not a smear; it speaks to Goldstone’s very credibility of his pose as a moral exemplar whose report critical of Israel is supposed to be taken seriously.

Moreover, in my case, I was not depending for my view on the newspaper investigation that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, but particularly on the report I linked to in a few of my blogs, the one written by a South African who knew Goldstone well in those days, Ayal Rosenberg. He documents how Goldstone had what he calls “an illustrious career in the service of apartheid.” My blog readers and Sullivan and anyone else can read this report themselves. I find it most instructive that to date, he and others have failed to comment on and analyze the very scrupulous and newsworthy analysis that Rosenberg gives in what he calls a “Critique of Self-Apotheosis.” He notes that Goldstone’s career dovetailed with the years of the worst repression, during the reign of P.W.Botha. He gives chapter and verse on how Goldstone portrayed himself as a defender and supporter of Both, his government, and the system of lawlessness known as apartheid.

That is why the comments in the other critique offered today, that by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor of Foreign Affairs, also fail to address the issue. Writing on the Huffington Post website, Polakow-Suransky argues that it does not matter whether or not Goldstone served apartheid, since those accusing him support Israel, which was in fact “the most significant arms supplier to that regime throughout the 1980s.” To criticize the Goldstone Report is one thing, he argues; to smear Goldstone is however a case of “character assassination.” And that, he argues, is “hypocritical.”

Really? Think a moment. We are talking about the role of an individual, who in a time of moral crisis voluntarily chose not to oppose the evil apartheid system of his own country, not even to simply live as a citizen privately opposed but not doing anything to strengthen the regime — but who chose to enforce its laws and to create “justice” by judging as if they were legal and right. As Ayal Rosenberg argues in his critique, this is what the Nuremburg trials were all about — judges ruling as if the regime they served was legal and constitutional, and ruling in order to justify legally and enforce its barbaric edicts.

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A controversy has broken out over an investigation of the Goldstone Report published last week in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The main revelation was that Justice Richard  Goldstone, as a judge during the height of the apartheid regime, approved sending 28 black defendants to the gallows. As the newspaper noted, Goldstone should “look long and hard in the mirror and to do some soul-searching before he rushes to criticize others.”  Goldstone, the investigation claimed, took part in some of the most indefensible actions of what it called “one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th Century.”

Readers of this blog know that PJM previously reported, as Jennifer Rubin noted at Commentary’s “Contentions” blog, that we spotted  “Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.” If you follow the link to her citation, you will find my old column and the link to documented reports that show more evidence of Goldstone’s actions in support of apartheid. In particular, the lengthy article by Ayal Rosenberg, who knew Goldstone, contains further revelations about his sorry record as a judge.

Goldstone’s record should be harder to ignore now that one of Israel’s major papers has spoken out. So far, there have been two kinds of takes on this. Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic is among those who believe the new information compromises Goldstone’s record.  Goldberg responded:  “Obviously, [Goldstone] was comfortable enforcing the death penalty — and torture penalties — on behalf of a racist state. Perhaps he reformed the system in ways he has not explained, but I’m reasonably sure the four men he ordered whipped did not think of him as a great reformer.” And Alan Dershowitz forcefully hit Goldstone head on with his column:

Goldstone was — quite literally — a hanging judge. He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have escaped the noose. And he affirmed sentences of physical torture — euphemistically called “flogging” — for other blacks. He also enforced miscegenation and other racist laws with nary a word of criticism or dissent. He was an important part of the machinery of death, torture and racial subjugation that characterized Apartheid South Africa. His robe and gavel lent an air of legitimacy to an entirely illegitimate and barbaric regime.

Dershowitz also points out that Goldstone consciously hid his past from colleagues. He writes:

I recall him at the lunch and dinner tables in Cambridge describing himself as a heroic part of the struggle against Apartheid.  Now it turns out he was the ugly face of Apartheid, covering its sins and crimes with a judicial robe. How differently we would have looked at him if we knew that he had climbed the judicial ladder on whipped backs and hanged bodies.

Others, like Jonathan Chait at the New Republic, don’t think the verdict is so clear cut. Chait writes that “it’s morally murky territory — the ultimate question is whether and to what degree a white South African could take a position such as a judge for a regime that had such despicable laws. I don’t think the answer is clear.” He adds a few days later that many human rights groups “attract a lot of individuals who take a deeply unfriendly view of Israel. Thus the Goldstone Report, while raising some very valid criticisms of Israel’s misguided assault on Gaza, also makes a lot of misleading claims.”   On the other hand, Goldstone’s defenders have reacted in predictable ways.

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For years, the American left was known for its continuing commitment to refusing to tell the truth about the repression of human rights by Fidel and Raul Castro and their prison “socialist” regime run out of Havana. The truth was there for all to see, but the standard response of those on the political left was the expected one: First, the reports are false ones spread by the enemies of socialism. Two, even if their claims were true, (of course, they argued they were false) they served only to give aid to the enemies of socialism and those who care about the “option of serving the poor,” the goal of the Communist government in Cuba.

There used to be a variant of the above when the Soviet Union still existed, and its funneling of millions of dollars yearly to Cuba was the lifeline allowing the Cuban government to continue to exist. For those who dissented- for example, by condemning the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968-it was said that to do that would hurt the very regime that was keeping the valiant Cuban Revolution alive. Those who persisted, as Christopher Hitchens writes in his new memoir Hitch-22, were immediately branded “counter-revolutionaries” by their comrades.

It has taken many many years, but finally major journals of opinion on the left are beginning to tell the truth about Cuba. The latest example is from the pages of The New York Review of Books, which if any publication represents the left intelligentsia in America, can claim the mantle. In “Cuba-A Way Forward,” Daniel Wilkinson and Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch give readers a riveting example of what they found when traveling through the island surreptitiously, without government approval and on tourist passports, in 2009.  The authors write:

Piece by piece, the evidence stacked up. The human rights treaties had not been ratified or carried out. The “open” forums to discuss government policies were governed by strict rules that prohibited any talk of reforming the single-party system. More than one hundred political prisoners locked up under Fidel remained behind bars, and Raúl’s government had used sham trials to lock away scores more. These new prisoners included more than forty dissidents whom Raúl had imprisoned for “dangerousness.” The most Orwellian provision of Cuba’s criminal code, this charge allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. Their “dangerous” activities included failing to attend pro-government rallies, not belonging to official party organizations, and simply being unemployed.

I imagine that many readers of the NYRB and The Nation will still be shocked to learn this, although anyone who reads Jay Nordlinger’s many blogs about repression in Cuba- Jay has been a one-man band regularly highlighting what others prefer to forget about-will be gratified that others are finally learning what conservatives have long known.

Steinberg and Wilkonson write that they “ obtained reports of alleged government abuses from several unauthorized human rights groups in Cuba, whose leaders have persevered over the years despite tapped phone lines, restricted mobility, frequent police raids, and periods in jail, relying on a few committed volunteers to compile lists of political prisoners and testimony about violations.”  With persistence and dedication,  they found and relate how many brave Cubans seek non-violently to protest the continued abuse of human rights. The result, as they relate individual cases, are the loss of jobs, imprisonment, roughing up by government gangs, and even more. One shoemaker, they write, was indicted and aside from his own brave work of documenting repression, was condemned for “thinking he is handsome.” Anything, in Cuba, can evidently be considered criminal activity.

Those who refuse reeducation, the fiendish term for forced confession after prison, “were thrown into solitary confinement cells measuring three by six feet for weeks, even months, on end. Their visits were cut off, phone calls denied, and letters confiscated.” The authors do not say so, but one wonders whether these Cuban prisoners of conscience sometimes wished they were guests of the United States in the nearby Guantanamo facility in which the Taliban and other prisoners suspected of being terrorists are being held.

The authors realize fully that even if not locked up, dissidents are “effectively imprisoned on the island itself.”  When Castro years ago changed his entire country into one big prison, one of the very first Cuban dissidents,  Carlos Franqui, made that very point years ago in his own book on Cuba. As for the blogosphere we have heard so much about, it means little in Cuba, where most of the people have no access to the internet. And the Cuban regime has learned its lessons from the old Stasi- whose members trained the Cuban security police-and from Stalin as well. Relatives of dissidents find they too are unemployable, and are regularly harassed for being related to the person suffering in prison. 

The defendants of Castroism, of course, argue that few are outspoken, although we no longer hear that turnout at mass rallies prove the loyalty of the people, as they scream “Viva Fidel! Venceremos!” The truth, as Steinberg and Wilkinson write, is that “to criticize the Castros is to condemn oneself of years of enforced solitude.”

Having described the reality, the authors turn to the next big question: What should the United States do to help the Cuban people life the decades of repression? Should it support regime change, or just work to get the existing government to ease up on the restrictions on liberty imposed on the Cuban people?  Castro’s defenders have stated that to demand change in Cuba violates the nation’s sovereign rights, an argument they never made when it came to advocating pressure against the South African apartheid regime.

We know that the left has a different standard which they apply to regimes of the left and the right. But here, the authors argue that there is some merit to their argument. As they put it, “Cuba has indeed, for five decades, faced an explicit threat to its national sovereignty- coming from the United States, a superpower ninety miles off its shore.”

What they ignore, of course, is that other Latin American governments regularly suffered an infringement on their sovereignty coming from Cuba and the Castros, especially in the period in which Castro and Che Guevara favored guerrilla wars to overthrow authoritarian and liberal democratic regimes in the Western Hemisphere that were not socialist, and that rejected the path of revolution as their goal. And they include in this supposed war both the US embargo on trade with Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act, which prohibits lifting trade restrictions until Cuba legalizes political activity and holds full and fair free elections. They argue, since the bill says the Castros must relinquish power, that it requires “Cubans be free to choose their leaders, but bars them from choosing the Castros.”

The above is rather ridiculous. If the Castros controlled the electoral process, which they would if in power, the elections could never be free. One should at least assure that the mechanism for elections is put in place by neutral international groups, and not under government aegis. Then Fidel and Raul could run, and like Daniel Ortega in 1989, would find they would be easily defeated since elections could be held without fear.

Yet, the authors are correct that as for the embargo, not only has it not loosened the Castros hold on power, but has provided the government an excuse to justify their rule and their repression. They note that the Verela Project for a national referendum gained 11,000 signatures. Yet rather than allow it to be put to a vote, they introduced a law declaring their communist system “irrevocable,” which the government announced received 99 per cent approval. (shades of Stalin again)  Next, the authors write, “the government began its most aggressive crackdown in years.”  My question is this: What makes them think merely saying Castro could run would suddenly change the regime’s behavior?

Indeed, the authors themselves describe how if a Cuban journalist goes to the U.S. Interests Section to read forbidden newspapers, like The Miami Herald, and registers that he has received funding from the US, such as an  NED grant (National Endowment for Democracy), he is admitting to a crime punishable to 20 years imprisonment, even if the funding was for acts like legal labor organizing, establishing an independent library, etc.  But they make what I consider a faulty analogy:

Since promoting democratic rule is a central objective of Helms-Burton, any action taken toward that end can therefore be considered a crime. In this way, just as criticism of the Castros is equated with abetting their enemies, promoting democracy is equated with US-sponsored regime change.

This analysis smacks of the old doctrine of moral equivalence. Do the authors mean to say the analogy is correct, or that the Castroites and their defenders are simply making it? The Castro brothers will always make the argument that promoting democracy means regime change.

The authors claim that the problem is that the Cuban regime casts its repression “as the story of a small nation defending itself against a powerful aggressor.” But everyone knows- especially Cubans- that few people any longer fall for that argument. So what if Castro makes it? As for the fellow travelers of Castro, they write that “the indignation provoked by the US embargo left little room for the revulsion they would otherwise feel for Fidel Castro’s abuses.” Really? Don’t we all know the embargo has failed; that Cuba gets American resources supposedly kept out via other nations that send banned goods and material to Cuba, even if they are US products? If some people are so thick that “they think first of what the US has done to Cuba, not what Cuba has done to its own people,” lifting the embargo is not going to change their minds. After all, these are the mindless leftists we are talking about, for whom nothing will end their love for Fidel and the Revolution.

They note, for example, that both President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and former President Michelle Bachelet of Chile made state visits to Cuba, and “embraced the Castros and refused to meet with relatives of political prisoners.” That, indeed, is my very point. These two, who were imprisoned by right-wing dictatorships and were both political prisoners, and the latter a victim of torture, are leaders of the Latin American left! Their sympathies are with Castro and his ideological agenda, despite the moderation they displayed as leaders in their own countries. If the embargo was lifted, they and types like them will not suddenly shun Castro and embrace the cause of the dissidents. I don’t recall these types rushing in the late 80’s to defend Vaclav Havel and the Czechs as communism was beginning to collapse in Eastern Europe.

Yet, when it comes to the bottom line of their argument, they make a valid point:

The embargo must go. But it is naive to think that a government that has systematically repressed virtually all forms of political dissent for decades will cease to do so simply because the embargo has been lifted. Nor is it realistic, given the effectiveness of the Castros’ repressive machinery, to believe that the pressure needed for progress on human rights can come solely from within Cuba. The embargo needs to be replaced with a policy that will bring genuinely effective pressure on the Castro government to improve human rights.

They propose that the US lift the embargo, in return for which other governments in Europe and Latin America demand that all political prisoners in Cuba be immediately released. I would extend it to demanding that truly free and monitored elections be scheduled, with full rights for international monitors not controlled by the Cuban government brought in to  supervise and report on the voting.  And I think their proposal for tough new sanctions be introduced that  directly target the Cuban leaders, including freezing their overseas assets, is a good and sound idea.

It is a sign of maturity that Human Rights Watch, once known in the 80’s in the United States as a group that regularly attacked the abuses of the Nicaraguan “contras” while ignoring those of the Sandinistas and the regime they controlled, has two of its key figures in the region calling for tough new measures against the Castro dictatorship.

Of course, they end by writing that when the US “stops acting like Goliath, the Castro government will stop looking like David.” In fact, the US has if anything, not acted like Goliath in a long time. It has done virtually little to oppose Castro or support his opponents. And frankly, I doubt whether President Barack Obama will suddenly be the US leader who changes course and stands up to the eternal Commandante. At least, for a change, Human Rights Watch and the NYRB has given him some sound advice.

I suspect there may be something wrong with many of the leading lights of the American Jewish community, who are succumbing to the phony charm offensive of the Obama administration.  Maybe it’s a case of denial.  As a two-week-old report by Laura Rozen of Politico put so well, “The White House is engaged in an aggressive effort to reassure Jewish leaders that the tense relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government that has played out in public in the past few months does not signify any fundamental change in U.S. policy.”  The problem is precisely that they are just reassurances which do not in any way indicate a fundamental shift in Obama’s new anti-Israeli policy.

One White House spokesman told Rozen that the administration has always “been consistent in our rhetoric.” Rhetoric is one thing; reality, however, is another. Sending administration spokesmen to say kind words is so transparent a PR maneuver that it is rather amazing that anyone thinks it will work. But the reasons for it are quite clear. As a congressional staffer put it, they are all concerned “that the White House is losing the Jewish community,” and that concern might well translate into  Republican votes in the near future. The effect of the ads I discussed earlier by Elie Wiesel, Ronald Lauder and David A. Harris could simply not be ignored.

Yet liberal Jewish groups, grasping at straws in the hope that Obama will stand with Israel and the special relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish state, have quickly sought to reassure their members that all is well, despite evidence to the contrary. All it took for Hadassah to inform  its members that all is well were some carefully chosen words from David Axelrod. On April 29th, a backgrounder alert sent to its members informed them that “the Obama administration has responded to concerns from the Jewish community with a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and speeches by prominent administration officials to Jewish organizations, affirming the administration’s support for Israel and the need for peace.”

Last Friday, I attended the evening plenary session at the American Jewish Committee national conference in Washington, D.C., where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a standing ovation and a very warm reception. Her speech was a perfect example of reassuring spin meant to wow the crowd. “We know,” Clinton told the audience, “that Israel faces unique challenges. A nation forced to defend itself at every turn, living under existential threat for decades. We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel.”

Instead of addressing the specifics and the reasons Lauder, Ed Koch and others have pointed to, Secretary Clinton merely asserted “that there has been some of what he called ‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East. Over the past month, we have attempted to remove any ambiguity. The President and this Administration have repeatedly reaffirmed our commitment to Israel’s security in word and in deed.” On Iran, for example, she said, “We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

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John Mearsheimer has stooped to new lows since writing The Israel Lobby with his co-author Stephen Walt. From being known as an eminent political thinker of the “realist” school — once associated with scholars of note like the late Hans Morgenthau — Mearsheimer now associates himself  with certified crackpots, the kind of people who do not even try to hide their blatant anti-Semitism.

When their book was published, a debate ensued over whether or not it was proper to call it anti-Semitic, or whether it should simply be attacked as it was by most commentators as an over-the-top argument about AIPAC’s control of American foreign policy. Virtually all mainstream reviews in the United States panned the book. One of the most devastating critiques was by Walter Russell Mead, who wrote that although he did not think the authors were anti-Semitic, they wrote a book that anti-Semites would love. Mead continued:

The authors do what anti-Semites have always done: they overstate the power of Jews. Although Mearsheimer and Walt make an effort to distinguish their work from anti-Semitic tracts, the picture they paint calls up some of the ugliest stereotypes in anti-Semitic discourse.

In the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Robbins argued that Mearsheimer and Walt might deny they are anti-Semites, but since they “devote themselves to criticizing American Jews for lobbying their public officials in support of the Jewish state, one may legitimately wonder what phrase would apply.” Their disclaimer that they are not anti-Semites, he concluded, “lack[s] a certain credibility.”

Mearsheimer’s recent speech to the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., on April 29 shows  that the question of whether or not he can be called anti-Semitic is no longer up for debate. Moreover, the lecture honored the late Hisham B. Sharabi, a man whom Martin Peretz notes was actually “an Arab fascist,” a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Mearsheimer then turned it over for publication on the Monthly Review magazine’s website, where you can read it in its entirety.  That journal is not exactly where one expects a noted academic realist to publish. Those of us who came from the ranks of the American Left know it quite well. Indeed, many, many years ago, I used to write for it. It was started by the late Marxists Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman,  as what they called “an independent socialist magazine,” but quickly descended into a leading intellectual center of apologia for Third World totalitarians — from Castro in Cuba to Mao in China.

Particularly objectionable is the argument Mearsheimer develops towards the end of his lecture.  He proclaims that there are three kind of Jews who care about Israel. According to this expert, they are the “righteous Jews,” the “new Afrikaners” and a third group constituting the majority who supposedly stand between them. These people care about Israel but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about the Jewish state. He deems them the “great ambivalent middle.”

Here is how he defines the first group:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category.  The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few.  I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone.  Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

Let us pause a moment and ask the question: Can he be serious? Norman Finkelstein is the most well known Jewish huckster, a man whom the scholar Omar Bartov calls “a lone ranger with holy mission — to unmask an evil Judeo-Zionist conspiracy.” This is how Bartov  describes Finkelstein’s thesis:

The gist of his argument is simple: Had the Jews and the Zionists not had the Holocaust already, they would have had to invent it. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, this is precisely what they have done, in the form of ”The Holocaust,” despite the distracting fact that, once upon a time, such an event actually took place. And why was ”The Holocaust” fabricated? Because it legitimizes ”one of the world’s most formidable military powers,” Israel, allowing it to ”cast itself as a ‘victim’ state,” and because it provides ”the most successful ethnic group in the United States,” the Jews, with ”immunity to criticism,” leading to ”the moral corruptions that typically attend” such immunity.

Given such views, it does not come as a shock to learn that Finkelstein accepted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s invitation to the now infamous Holocaust denial conference. Yet this man is cited without irony by Mearsheimer as a “righteous Jew.” Evidently, any Jew who is opposed to Israel’s existence is by definition righteous — even if he is such an evident crank as Norman Finkelstein.  Mearsheimer’s other names are a coterie of Israel bashers, anti-American leftists like Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk, or intellectuals and writers like M.J. Rosenberg and Tony Judt, who see a Jewish state as a tragic mistake that should never have been created.

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