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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: September 2010

J-Street, the pro-Arab lobby which masquerades as a pro-Israel peace lobby, is in a lot of trouble. Each day it seems to get worse, putting J-Street’s lobbying efforts in the vicinity of Enron-style deception. As The Washington Post acknowledged yesterday, its claim that the group received no money from billionaire philanthropist George Soros has been exposed as false. As Dan Eggen put it in his report, “confidential tax records mistakenly made public by the Internal Revenue Service seemed to undermine those characterizations – causing a major public relations problem for the fledgling group, which has enjoyed regular access to the White House and senior Obama administration officials. The tax records, which were discovered by the conservative Washington Times newspaper, showed that Soros and his family had contributed $245,000 to J Street in 2008, and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami acknowledged that the group has received $500,000 more since then as part of a three-year gift.”

Now that the truth has come out, its chief Jeremy Ben-Ami is trying to find the best way to spin J-Street’s lies.  This is what he now says: “”I said Mr. Soros did not help launch J Street or provide its initial funding, and that is true. I also said we would be happy to take his support. But I did not go the extra step to add that he did in fact start providing support in the fall of 2008, six months after our launch.” And, he adds, “I’m thrilled to have him as a supporter.”

In fact, as Eli Lake’s story- which should win him a Pulitzer Prize if there is true justice-pointed out the group’s web-site  had a now gone section “of the website called ‘myths and facts,’ the group includes a passage that reads: ‘George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched — precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization.’After Mr. Ben Ami spoke with The Times, the website was abruptly amended Thursday night with an addition that stated: ‘J Street has said it doesn’t receive money from George Soros, but now news reports indicate that he has in fact contributed.’”

What a truly Orwellian way to spin a lie!  Instead of admitting their purposeful obfuscation, they write about themselves in the third person, as if the news story was talking about some other organization, and they have the chutzpah to say that “news reports indicate” that Soros was funding J-Street. Hey J-Street, we all know that your directors knew all the time where the money was coming from, and your statements are so embarrassing to read that it is no wonder many in Congress who lent you their name are now asking to be taken off the list as supporters.

That admission, however, only makes things worse. A few years ago, in the first speech Soros ever gave to a group of Jewish philanthropists, Soros made banner headlines when he said on November 6 in 2003, that “When asked about anti-Semitism in Europe, Soros, who is Jewish, said European anti-Semitism is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States.” Soros elaborated and “explained” that “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that.”

The response from major Jewish leaders, including many who heard him speak, was immediate. As the JTA reported at the time, “ ‘Let’s understand things clearly: Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews; it’s caused by anti-Semites,’  said Elan Steinberg, senior advisor at the World Jewish Congress. ‘One can certainly be critical of Bush policy or Sharon policy, but any deviation from the understanding of the real cause of anti-Semitism is not merely a disservice, but a historic lie.’”

And Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish millionaire and philanthropist who arranged Soros’ talk, sarcastically said to the audience, “George Soros does not think Jews should be hated any more than they deserve to be.”

So the question is a simple one to ask Ben-Ami: Why should J-Street or any pro-Israel group want someone like George Soros to back their group financially? And why should Soros, given his pronounced anti-Israel views, be anxious to support a group that claims it is pro-Israel? Could he actually have a better appreciation of what J-Street stands for than many of those who have illusions about their agenda?

And now, yet another effort by J-Street has emerged to blacken its reputation, once again from the wonderful reporting of Eli Lake, in an article co-authored with Ben Birnbaum. The two journalists now report that J-Street “facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.” They also reported that the recent resignation from the group of Collette Avital, “a former member of Israel’s parliament, from the center-left Labor Party and until recently J Street‘s liaison in Israel — told The Washington Times that her decision to resign her post with J Street earlier this year was a result in part of the group’s ‘connection to Judge Goldstone.’”

Avital told them “When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill.” This attempt to help Goldstone reach members of Congress took place while the Chairman and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were circulating a bi-partisan resolution condemning the report which bore his name.

Realizing the damage to an ostensibly pro-Israel group that was trying to help Goldstone gain access to Congress, in a one-sided report that slandered the IDF and accused Israel’s armed forces of deliberately targeting civilians in the air and ground war in Gaza, Ben-Ami once again has attempted to deny his organization’s actions, in a statement that in fact made it quite clear the Washington Times report was accurate.

Ben-Ami told the paper that “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.” But he went on to say “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

In other words, a distinction without a difference. Ben-Ami added: “We believed it to be a good idea for him and for members of Congress to meet personally, but we declined to play a role in hosting, convening or attending any of the meetings.”  So, they thought it a good idea, spoke to colleagues about trying to see if members of Congress would meet with him, but did not play a role in the meetings. This is indeed a nice example of double-talk.

The Lake-Birnbaum report also went on to reveal that one of J-Street’s top officers, Morton J. Halperin, who happens to be President of Soros’ Open Society Institute, did play a major role in suggesting to Goldstone that he meet with Congress if possible. In addition, the so-called dovish Daniel Levy, a J-Street co-founder, arranged meetings for Goldstone at the New America Foundation for policy experts and wonks, at which some from Congress took part. (They did not identify who showed up from Congress.)

Obviously under extreme pressure from her former J-Street colleagues, Collette Avital has now released a statement saying “About Goldstone I am very firm, I don’t know anything about J Street organizing things in the United States. There may have been disagreements about how we each saw the Goldstone Report. I never mentioned that they organized these things for Goldstone.”

But the authors of the article, and the Washington Times, firmly stand behind their article. Eli Lake told me in an e-mail that “We totally stand by the story.” The paper points out that the two authors have an audio tape of their interview with Avital, that totally contradict her latest change of story. The reason she and J-Street parted ways, she told them, is because they did not see eye to eye on Israel. She told Lake and Birnbaum: “I really don’t want to speak about my agreements or disagreements with them. Honestly, I think they have enough problems as it is.”

And that last line is finally, the real truth. With these kind of “problems” emerging with each passing day, one question rises to the forefront: Does anyone really think J-Street has Israel’s real interests at heart, and that it has anything left to say?

Update: 3:45 pm est

The Washington Times  has just posted the audio of Ben Birnbaum’s interview with Collette Avital, which confirms that she has lied in her retraction to her original statement re Goldstone. As Jeffrey Goldberg writes on his blog (he has the link) “Unfortunately for Avital, and for J Street, the reporter who interviewed Avital by telephone, Ben Birnbaum, recorded their conversation, and The Washington Times has posted the audio. The recording shows that Avital was quoted accurately, and more than that: It shows that it was Avital, and not Birnbaum, who first raised the subject of Goldstone.”

Goldberg also explains why Ben-Ami felt that he had to lie to his own group: “On one level, I understand what is happening here: J Street is made up of liberal Zionists, as well as non-Zionists, and even a few anti-Zionists, and it has been difficult for it to please its differing constituencies. This is why Ben-Ami, its president, might have felt the need to cover-up the involvement of George Soros, because liberal supporters of Israel know that Soros is unfriendly to the Jewish state, and some, presumably, would not want to be part of a group that counted Soros as a prominent supporter.  But on another level, what is going on here is inexplicable, and terribly dispiriting to people who thought that J Street was going to make a useful contribution to the debate over the future of Israel.”

Unlike Goldberg, I had no illusions about J-Street’s raison d’etre. The only ones fooled, as usual, were the usual gullible liberals who still support or claim to support Israel. Peter Beinart, are you learning from this?

Now that some time has passed since Jeffrey Goldberg posted his now famous report of his interview with Fidel Castro, the critics are beginning to weigh in, and slam him as a useful idiot of Castro, who shrewdly used Goldberg to become the vehicle for a new propaganda offensive.

Yesterday, USA Today used Goldberg as a starting-off point in an editorial calling for a new foreign policy towards Cuba. Castro, they argued, has mellowed in his old age: “Were this 50 years ago,” the editorial stated, “we’d be seeing the uniformed, bearded firebrand at the opening of the United Nations railing about Yankee imperialism. Now he’s quietly questioning the viability of the system he created, and taking time to smell the flowers.” The editorial writer added: “He avidly defends Israel‘s right to exist — an affront to one of his revolutionary acolytes, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And with his newfound free time, Castro pauses to appreciate some of life’s smaller pleasures, such as dolphins.”

They conceded that Castro is still a dictator, that his regime still holds political prisoners, and that the country suffers under a “repressive political system.” But they argue that the times have changed, the U.S. embargo has failed, and that Cuba’s “realist” leaders know that real adjustments have to be made. Our leaders, they conclude, should make their own — and change U.S. policy towards Castro and Cuba.

As is their policy, the paper prints beneath the main editorial a contrasting point of view. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida member of Congress and a Democrat, argues that the paper is wrong, and that “after 50 years of oppressive rule by Fidel and Raul Castro, Cuba maintains one of the most deplorable human rights records in the modern world.” She therefore says: “Declaring the embargo a failure and using it as justification to reopen trade and relations ignores the fact that the Cuban economy is on its knees. The paltry changes we’ve seen (allowing Cubans to buy and sell some goods) have been necessitated by their economic crisis. Ending the embargo now not only ignores the atrocities perpetrated by the Castro regime, it also hands the Cuban government a huge financial boost at the exact moment they need and want it most.”

But the most significant challenge to Goldberg came in the Wall Street Journal from their Latin American expert, Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Viewing Goldberg’s invitation from Castro as stemming from his urgent need to put “a smiley face on his dictatorship,” and a desire to “counteract rumors that he is a dictator,”  he picked Goldberg as a “perfect candidate” to do the necessary job. His first piece of the new campaign was to tell the Jewish American journalist that he is not an anti-Semite and that he is a defender of Israel and an opponent of Holocaust denial.  She writes:

We are supposed to conclude that Cuba is no longer a threat to global stability and that Fidel is a reformed tyrant. But how believable is a guy whose revolution all but wiped out Cuba’s tiny Jewish community of 15,000, and who spent the past 50 years supporting the terrorism of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Syria, Libya and Iran? And how does Castro explain Venezuela, where Cuban intelligence agents run things, Iran is an ally and anti-Semitism has been state policy in recent years? Mr. Goldberg doesn’t go there with Fidel.

Her most damning part of her indictment is when she calls attention to Goldberg’s failure to raise the issue of Alan Gross with Castro.  In my estimate, she scores a major point here. Gross traveled to Cuba with some of the American Jewish groups who regularly go to the island to assist the small remaining Jewish community. Gross gave computers to Cuban Jews who sought to have the means to regularly communicate with others of the diaspora. Gross was arrested for espionage by the Cuban government and has been held in a prison since December.  O’Grady concludes: “It is hardly surprising, then, that what we get from this interview is warmed-over Barbara Walters, another whose heart went pitter patter when she got close to the Cuban despot.”

Joining O’Grady in condemnation of Goldberg is Jamie Daremblum, director of Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute, and a former Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States. Like O’Grady, Daremblum considers Castro’s overture to Goldberg as part of a “charm offensive” carried out while his regime is in dire internal distress.  Castro, he writes, was “deliberately attempting to curry favor with America’s Jewish community” first, and then with American policy-makers. Why, he asks, “pick this moment to attack the Iranian theocracy, condemn anti-Semitism, and strongly endorse Israel’s right to exist? After all, as recently as 2001, Castro traveled to Tehran and thundered, ‘Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees.’  For decades, his government aided the PLO and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups seeking to kill Israelis and Americans. In 1966, Havana hosted the infamous Tricontinental Conference, a gathering of bloodstained radicals that arguably launched the modern era of international terrorism. So it’s a bit rich for Castro to now posture as a scourge of anti-Semitism and a selfless defender of the Jews.”

All the above is true, but certainly many of Daremblum’s examples are from the past. Citing the Tricontinental Conference of 1966 is particularly absurd, since shortly after that, Cuba already began to move away from the policy espoused in that era of fomenting revolution throughout the hemisphere. His most recent example is Castro’s 2001 speech in Tehran, and one could respond that his new words may be seen as a concrete repudiation of the policy he espoused nine years ago.

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Why Republicans Will Not Win the Senate

September 23rd, 2010 - 2:50 pm

This coming election should produce not only a Republican House, but a Republican Senate as well. Even in New York, as Jonathan Tobin points out, the gap between Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Carl Paladino is narrowing. And in the Senatorial race, Republican challenger Joseph DioGuardi is trailing Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand by only 10 points! Both Democrats are likely to win, but if a state such as New York is showing the potential of a Republican appeal,  then it would appear that all bets should be off.

Unfortunately, a Republican victory in the Senate may not occur for one reason — or should we say two: Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle! First, look at Angle. Harry Reid should be the easiest Democrat to beat. Reid is the personification of everything that has turned the electorate against the Democrats. As the Senate majority leader, he has presided over the very legislation that has produced the unpopularity of the Obama administration, beginning with health care.

But as the latest polls reveal, the race in Nevada between Reid and Angle is a virtual toss-up. Angle might still be able to win, but with each day, the odds in her favor are declining. Fox/Rasmussen gives her a slight +1, as does CNN/Time. Reuters/ISPOS and LVRJ/Mason-Dixon give Reid +2. Hence a wide-open race, at a time when a Republican running against Reid should have a smashing majority, and no doubt of replacing him.

As the team at Real Clear Politics reports:

Angle has proved to be a chronically gaffe-prone candidate, who is running as a proud Christian conservative in Sin City. Complicating matters for Angle, the state allows voters to select “none of these candidates,” which could split the anti-Reid vote. This could be a missed opportunity for Republicans.

In Delaware, the situation is even worse. The former self-proclaimed college Marxist, Chris Coons, is running some 15 to 16 points ahead of Christine O’Donnell, in what is regarded as a state that should have been a shoo-in for the Republicans, if they had a candidate who was a moderate of even a liberal Republican. Yes, many of O’Donnell’s most vapid and silly statements were made a long time ago. But she is a candidate of the TV age, who made a name for herself through the medium, and hence many videos exist that can be replayed over and over to remind voters of the quality of her resume.  As John Podhoretz writes, her early career made her a natural for the new talk shows, “because she was young, pretty, and a raging extremist of the right.” Now, those very attributes have become her undoing. Today, TNR.com provides a convenient list of her statements that will contribute to her coming electoral loss.

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We have known for some time that Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, was one of the last century’s most brutal and vicious mass murderers.  In 2005, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s biography of Mao was published in this country to wide acclaim, and for the first time, many of the myths surrounding his rise to power and the nature of his rule after 1949 were brought to light. The authors estimated that Mao “was responsible for over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.” My own discussion of their findings can be read here.

One period they covered was Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” his attempt to rapidly industrialize China in the five years between 1958 and 1962. Chang and Halliday had argued that not only did the program fail; it produced mass starvation, with areas of China resorting to cannibalism. Peasants and city dwellers alike were forced to build home steel furnaces, and all metal implements — including pots and pans used for cooking — were to be smelt, turning each home into a mini local steel producing factory. Mao also ordered that all sparrows be killed, since they ate grain. The “bourgeois” bird was condemned; the result was the upsetting of nature’s ecological balance, as pests and other birds once killed by sparrows began to attack crops. Before long, Mao was asking the Soviet Union to send them 200,000 sparrows from the Soviet Far East.

Mao had said: “Half of China may well have to die,” and he was prepared for such an outcome. It almost came true. Thirty-eight million people died of starvation and overwork during the Leap and the subsequent famine, which lasted for four long years. This greatest of 20th century manmade famines exceeded the deaths caused by Stalin’s collectivization of the Ukraine. As Mao told his staff, “50 million (might have to) die … you can’t blame me when people die.”

Now Frank Dikötter, a historian who lives in Hong Kong, has written the first major book about these disastrous years, which Dikötter calls “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known.” It is titled Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Using regional archives in rural areas, he has unearthed many gruesome details. A British newspaper covered the author’s recent book talk, noting that Dikötter “compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.”

Calling the period a virtual war between the peasant and the State, Dikötter said: “It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three grimmest events of the 20th century. … It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over.” It is not only a period that official China has conveniently forgot — wiped out of the historical memory of China’s newly prosperous populace — but of course it is one also forgot by those legions of American leftists who in those years maintained that Mao and the Chinese Communists were successfully creating a new world.

The records Dikötter found revealed:

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.

All of this raises the question of what this means for the people of today’s China, whose real history is carefully hidden from them by the Party’s leaders. As we read of the great progress China has made in the past few decades, it is tempting to think that China is no longer what anyone would call a Communist state — since it is so far removed from these horrible events of Mao’s day.

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Those of you who may have read my memoir, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, The New Left and the Leftover Left, already know that I attended a camp named Camp Woodland for Children, in Phoenicia, New York. I started as a camper, and continued to attend as a counselor. In the memoir, I tell some of the story about my experiences there in a chapter I titled “Commie Camp.” That, of course, is not how the official guardians of the camp’s memory describe the place.  Their view is more similar to the description you will find here.

They talk instead of director Norman Studer’s devotion to “integration of African-American children” and his philosophy of “humanitarian values.” Nothing that any good minded person could be opposed to. Not a word about Communism, socialism, Marxism, or any of the other “values” I write about in my own book, that made the camp quite different from the hundreds of other summer camps in the New York of the 40’s and 50’s.

I don’t want to repeat any of the stories I tell in my memoir, but I give lots of examples of how the camp’s “progressive” agenda that it heralded was a code-word for the politics of the Popular Front, the Communist led coalition of liberals and Communists that formed the left-wing of FDR’s New Deal, and tried to stay together to fight the Cold War liberals in the period of Harry Truman’s presidency.

Well, a few weeks ago, I received e-mails from various camp alumni who were announcing two things: a museum exhibit about the camp, including a concert with Eric Weissberg and Joe Hickerson.

To celebrate the event, the museum and other sponsors asked the leftist historian Paul Mishler to speak. If you wonder about my characterization of him, here is how he himself describes the argument of the book he wrote about the left-wing camps, Raising Reds:

In Raising Reds, Mishler focuses on the era of 1920 to 1950. During this time the Communist Party was able to make significant inroads into American society. Communists were active in labor unions and universities, and they published their articles in popular newspapers. These activities were undermined and demonized in the early 1950s due to McCarthyism and the advent of the Cold War. However, Mishler contends that the Communist radicalism of the 1930s re-emerged in the New Left’s activism of the 1960s.

This result, as you imagine he would argue, was all to the good. And his main point is that Camp Woodland was itself an institution that trained and created a future generation of “Reds” who would carry on the struggle for socialism and world peace. And here is how Mishler characterizes the Catskill folk music that the campers learned and sang and its relevance to the struggle:

Further, in his book Mishler explores how, during the Great Depression, some Americans believed that the music of the people was being forced underground due to the rise of larger, more impersonal institutions of social, commercial and industrial development. Therefore, during the 1930s, the Communists and their allies sought to discover/construct/create an alternative America grounded in the roots of the country’s culture. Camp Woodland set in motion an experiment to bring this alternative democratic model into being. The camp’s organizers felt that the most important way for Woodland to establish new ground was via a celebration of folk music and early American folk values, and that this could be made the basis for societal change. Mishler contends that these same beliefs led to the activism of the 1960s, to the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, and beyond.

Look at those code-words: an “alternative democratic model;” i.e., a “People’s Democracy” that Stalin was building in Eastern Europe; to be inspired through “a celebration of folk music.” Once that was accomplished, it would become “the basis for societal change;” i.e., the movement for “socialism.”

So now let us skip to our present day, the 21st Century, when most people of sanity have shed their old illusions and moved on. They learned the lesson about the Gulag and the horrors of Communism a long time ago. One could have fond memories of old friends and good times at camp- even this particular camp- and have put aside the once cherished commitment to Stalinism.

Well, I thought briefly about going to the celebration. Fortunately, I made the right decision, and decided not to attend. I know this because in the past week, I have been flooded with e-mails from the camp alumni who did attend. So here, with the names removed, are some of the gems I received. Don’t laugh too hard, please:

First, of course, is the obligatory homage to those comrades who fought in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (sic) during the Spanish Civil war:

Dear Woodlanders:  Believe you will be interested in a major event for the benefit of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion Archives featuring Pete Seeger, Patti Smith, Guy Davis and other significant participants that I, a Camp Woodland alum, is producing.  The Notice is pasted below and I hope to see many of you there.  Get in touch with me personally if you have any questions.

This alum only went to Camp Woodland: those they are celebrating at least fought and lost their lives in a real war, even though their idealism was in the service of a regime and a power that used them for its own purposes. All the Woodland group did was go to a damn Red summer camp- not quite the same thing.

Then, of course, there are those who want the Red alumni to march in every forthcoming leftist protest with a Woodland banner; i.e., this request:

Well I guess I screwed that last post up by asking  “Anyone going to DC on the 29th?”     I meant Oct 2, not “the 29th.” I will have to look back at my other posts to this list to see if I botched them too     But I have Sept 29 on my mind because that is the day Spanish workers are calling for a General Strike. There is also currently a march across Spain, France and Low Countries to encourage  workers in those countries to join the strike.     Any thoughts about a “Woodland”  gathering to support that General Strike?     Campers Unite,

Gee, I don’t know about you, Comrade, but I’m a bit more concerned with the growing threat of radical Islam than showing solidarity with a General Strike that probably won’t occur. If it does, it is because even the socialist government of Spain realizes that its workers have to give in and prevent Spain’s economy from totally collapsing by accepting some retrenchments on benefits the welfare state can no longer afford. But I’m sure the various grouplets that still exist will thank Woodland profusely for its important solidarity.

Then, some of the Woodland comrades can’t make it, because their other commitments to the class struggle take precedence, as this camp alumni reveals:

Sorry, I have candidate engagements all day Sat for Socialist Party(SP) candidates and Independents.  I’m the SP candidate for the US Senate-VT     But I’m anxious for more face to face gatherings with Woodland campers, maybe after the elections.

Well, it is Vermont, and I imagine that one Bernie Sanders isn’t enough- and maybe this guy could actually win! Then the alumni can get private tickets from him for a White House tour after they protest Obama as a corporate sell-out.

Yes, but buses are indeed being chartered for the demo on Oct.2nd. (Bet they’ll get so much less than Glenn Beck did that no one will even notice.) This camp alumni is reassuring:

Cde. Chuck … says there is room remaining. There are 19 busses… from Syracuse area, Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor, I believe will be able to provide a bus reservation contact.

Good to know the Green Party can be depended upon to hire old buses and spread more carbon emissions.

And finally, the whopper of them all. This one truly deserves special attention:

 

You all have no idea how thrilled I am to have spent some time with you this afternoon. You have given my spirits a great lift. You are inspiring.     On the drive back to Brattleboro, I envisioned a DC demonstration for Peace and Justice(No justice, no peace) and a bunch of us with a Woodland Banner. Our history should not just be behind us, but in front of us as well.     With ironic smiles, we could sing, “We are the youth, and our voice proclaims our song of truth.”     There is a union, Veterans for Peace, SP, and others sponsored DC Demo scheduled for Oct. 2 with busses leaving from Albany and points south. Cheapest ride to DC you will ever see, union subsidized: $10 round trip. Time to bring children and grandchildren. If our history is in front of us, it is in them as much, no more, than in us.     Doris and 3 others from Vt-NH already ticketed to leave from Albany late Fri nite, return by early Sun morn.     Volunteers to make the banner?     I will get and forward email and phone contact info.     Camp Woodland Political Action Committee could be a next step.     Campers unite!

One point of explanation. The song he has a few words from was known as “The World Youth Song,” and was the official anthem of the world Communist youth movement in the late 40’s and 50’s, and was sung at the Soviet run World Youth Festivals that took place every year. It was written, or forced upon him by Stalin, by the Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovitch. It promised, as I wrote in my memoir, a “bright, lyrical tune promising better tomorrows when all would live in peace and harmony under socialism.”  The writer of the e mail says they will sing it with “ironic smiles,” NOT BECAUSE of its outdated message, which he still adheres too, but because now this guy is somewhere in his 70’s or 80’s, and is no longer a youth!

So my question, Comrade, is this? Can I form a Camp Woodland PAC to elect someone like Chris Christie, whom I would love to run for President? After all, I went to the camp as long as many of you. And if not- one word of advice- tell the bus drivers to shut off the engine at every traffic light. After all, you don’t want to spread too many of those dangerous emissions as you drive to DC from up North. Maybe, with luck, you’ll go slow and get there after the demo is over. But you can still get that tour of the White House from Bernie Sanders.

 

Every time an American Communist or leftist dies, you can count on one thing: the New York Times will run a major obituary, and it will be misleading, incomplete, or very favorable to their life and record. The latest example of the paper’s favoritism to deceased men of the far Left is Saturday’s obituary of Irwin Silber, the first editor of the folk music magazine Sing Out! and a secret rather than open member of the Communist Party, U.S.A. I happen to know a great deal about Silber. My very first published article appeared in that magazine in 1955, and through the years, I had many run-ins with him and could have shed a great light on what he thought and believed.

The current editor of the magazine, who did not really know him, calls Silber “one of the architects of the folk revival.” That is, in my judgment, more than inaccurate.  Rather, Silber’s role was to direct a growing interest in the music into very narrow Stalinist channels. As the well known folk-singer and guitar picker Happy Traum told me at the time Silber took over as editor, “It’s a coup.” Traum too was a leftist, but a rather moderate one and non-political, far more interested in the music and its art than narrow politics.

At the time, Silber was one of the most hard-nosed Stalinists in the American CP. The obituary tells readers that Silber left the Party “in the late 1950s.” (I doubt that too. In 1957, a friend and I visited Silber at The Daily Worker, where he was an editor and writer. The CPUSA did not let non-Party members write for and edit its official paper.) Other obituaries say that he left after the famous Khrushchev Report of 1956, the first indication of a power struggle among the Soviet leadership, in which Khrushchev shocked the world Communist community with his limited and incomplete account of Stalin’s crimes. The indication is that Silber, shocked at the truth of Stalin’s record, left when he realized the enormity  of Stalin’s crimes.

What the paper does not say, nor do most of the other testimonials one can find if you Google his name, is that Silber left the Party because he believed Khrushchev had sold out Communism, and he longed for the return of the kind of staunch Marxist-Leninist leadership and system that  Stalin had built and presided over. Years later, as Wikipedia’s account of his life gets correct (and evidently the obit writer, William Grimes, did not consult), Silber became editor of what had become a far left paper The Guardian, and used his work there to make it the spokesmen of what Silber called a “new Communist movement,” based on a favorable reevaluation of Stalin and strict Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist principles. As Wikipedia describes that movement Silber led, “these new organizations rejected the post-1956 Communist Party USA as revisionist, or anti-revolutionary, and also rejected Trotskyism and the Socialist Workers Party for its theoretical opposition to Maoism.”

Silber in fact gave a keynote speech that was printed in The Guardian, which ended by echoing Stalin and actually saying something like “let the bourgeoisie tremble, as we build a new Marxist Leninist party that will crush capitalism.” ( I am writing from vacation without access to my notes and files, so this is from memory.) The ruling class, much to Silber’s dismay, ignored his blustering.

One other example of his outlook. When the once Communist actor and singer Yves Montand appeared in a French movie that depicted the torture of those falsely arrested as traitors during the purges in post-war Communist Czechoslovakia, based on the memoir of one of the few found guilty who was not hanged, Silber lambasted it in a review, arguing that even if it was true, it would hurt the movement if revealed.

The obit writer does not ignore Silber’s one famous article: his condemnation of Bob Dylan for moving away from “protest songs” to more introspective and literary songs. Wrote Silber: “Your new songs seem to be all inner-directed now, inner-probing, self- conscious — maybe even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion. And it’s happening on stage, too. You seem to be relating to a handful of cronies behind the scenes now — rather than to the rest of us out front. Now, that’s all okay — if that’s the way you want it, Bob. But then you’re a different Bob Dylan from the one we knew. The old one never wasted our precious time.”

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Last week, I wrote a critique of a column that appeared on the New Republic’s Website by the distinguished Israeli journalist, Yossi Klein Halevi. As he promised, Halevi responded with a thoughtful and serious retort, which you will read below. One commentator wrote in the comments section that Halevi, who grew up in the USA, understandably has such a confused position because of his “liberal upbringing.”  I laughed at that one. Halevi came from the hard Jewish right-wing.  He was, as he wrote in a book about his experience, Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, a protege of the late Meir Kahane and a member of the Jewish Defense League. This proves that all is not so obvious, and one should be sure about a comment before using it in an argument.

So here is Halevi’s response:

Dear Ron,

Thank you for the invitation to respond to your comments about my open letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

You called my letter “confused” because I showed respect to the Imam and treated him as a man of goodwill even as I acknowledged that he’s made statements that offend me.

For every problematic quote of his, one can find a counter-quote that shows sensitivity to Jewish concerns and occasional courage (like identifying himself as a supporter of Israel – words that can get a Muslim cleric killed).

So who is Imam Feisal?

One conclusion – yours – is that he’s a fraud, that his seemingly moderate statements are intended to conceal a jihadist agenda.

I don’t believe that he is an American Tariq Ramadan. (Ramadan would never call himself a supporter of Israel, even to deceive.) If I thought he was, I would not have addressed him with the respect that I did. I would not have bothered writing him at all.

How then to make sense of his contradictions?

One possibility is the opposite conclusion of yours – that Imam Feisal is cautiously advancing a moderate agenda by making occasional radical statements intended to reassure his community that he hasn’t sold out. You assume that he’s only telling the truth when he sounds like a radical; but it is surely no less logical to assume that he is telling the truth when he takes risks by making moderate statements and that his problematic statements are attempts to protect himself.

Having lived in Israel through the years of Yasser Arafat’s double-speak, advocating peace in English and jihad in Arabic, I’m wary of linguistic deceptions. But Imam Feisal seems to me to be engaged instead in a complicated balancing act = in part because even Arafat’s most extravagant “peace” rhetoric didn’t approach the powerful statements of reconciliation that Imam Feisal has made.

Is he engaged in a complicated balancing act? I don’t know. But having grown up in the Orthodox Jewish community, I’ve seen my share of good men who feel compelled to make the occasional moral compromise in the name of communal loyalty and discipline.

There is another possible explanation for Imam Feisal’s conflicted statements and that is that he is genuinely conflicted.

Religion is not political ideology. When dealing with a person’s soul, contradictions are almost inevitable.

Consider Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, one of the most important religious figures in Israel. Yosef heads Israel’s largest ultra-Orthodox party, Shas. Yet he is also one of the most lenient rabbis among this generation of leading halakhic authorities. He recently called for the death of “the Palestinians” – all of them –  one outrageous statement among many over the years. Yet he also issued a ruling permitting Israel to withdraw from holy land for the sake of peace, an halakhic position that could one day offer vital Judaic legitimacy for an agreement with the Palestinians.

So which is the real Rabbi Ovadiah? Many in Israel, especially secularists, dismiss him as nothing more than a genocialist, while his followers insist he is loving man who intends no harm to any human being and that his words were as usual taken out of context. A more nuanced approach would denounce his incendiary words while acknowledging that he may also play some positive role in Israeli life.

I use this example not to compare Imam Feisal and Rabbi Ovadiah, but to show the sometimes unbearable contradictions that occur within a believer’s soul.

Perhaps the main disagreement between us, Ron, is over how to conduct an interfaith argument, including one as bitter and traumatic as the one over Imam Feisal’s Islamic center and mosque. I believe that religious arguments need to be conducted differently than political arguments — though Islamism has blurred those distinctions, and this rule doesn’t apply to Islamists.

So that brings us back to the question of who is Imam Feisal.

Perhaps if there were large numbers of unequivocal moderates, I wouldn’t need Imam Feisal as a dialogue partner. But there aren’t. And as an Israeli and a Jew, I need him desperately. I need him because large parts of the Muslim world are going the way that large parts of the Christian world went in the 1930s.

Yes, Imam Feisal has advocated a one-state solution, and I’ve spent much time over the last years countering the demonization of Israel generally and the pernicious notion of  the“one state” destruction of Israel in particular. Yet he is also a Muslim who is willing to publicly engage with Jews, to unequivocally condemn suicide bombing attacks against Israelis and is open to discussing the religious meaning for Jews of our return home to the land of Israel. That is a basis for engagement and debate.

Rather than seek the telltale quote that will supposedly resolve whether he is a genuine moderate or a closest jihadist, I prefer to treat him with respect and

– not as a tactic, as you suggest, but because that is the prerequisite for genuine dialogue.We need an approach that doesn’t resort to the blinders of the left or the sledgehammers of the right.  If the result sounds “confusing,” I’m willing to live with a certain amount of disonance, at least in my religious conversations.

And on the next page, my response.

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By now  most PJM readers have heard about or looked at Atlantic magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg’s scoop of the year — his invitation to travel to Cuba and have an exclusive meeting with Fidel Castro. The dictator, it seemed, read Goldberg’s Atlantic cover story about Iran and Israel, and requested that Goldberg travel to Cuba so he could talk about the issue with him.

Of course, what Castro wanted to really accomplish was to use Goldberg as a conduit for his ideas — to let the world know his most recent thoughts and also to send a message to those considered his long-standing allies, Ahmadinejad in Iran and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. What Castro told them is that a nuclear war between Iran and Israel must be averted and that Ahmadinejad should “stop slandering the Jews.”

Was this Castro’s message to Jews on the eve of the Jewish New Year? Has the man who for years backed and trained PLO terrorists during Yasser Arafat’s heyday, and who supported the USSR’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies, actually reevaluated and moved towards a new Cuban policy?

The truth is we don’t know. Whatever his motives, to have Fidel Castro announce that essentially Ahmadinejad is both wrong and probably crazy is some kind of unexpected breakthrough. Goldberg writes:

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

I am as opposed as the next person is to the Castro dictatorship, but this is, one has to admit, the most unexpected announcement by Castro one might have ever expected to hear. Will Chavez get the message as well, and suddenly change course and sabotage his great ally in Iran? Somehow, I doubt it. But think of how he must feel having heard this from his hero.

And then this:

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

And next Castro admitted that during the Cuban nuclear crisis in 1962, when he urged the Soviets to consider a nuclear strike against the USA, “it wasn’t worth it all.”  This may be the first time the Cuban leader said he was wrong about anything.

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Once again, yesterday’s Sunday New York Times treated us to the wisdom of Nicholas D. Kristof. It’s getting so bad that we have to decide which columnist is worse than the other — Frank Rich or Kristof. One may disagree, but this week I give Kristof the distinction of the single worst column in the paper.

Entitled “America’s History of Fear,” Kristof’s piece tried to explore why some Americans and New Yorkers might oppose the Park51 mosque. First, Kristof explains that bigotry is not “the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan.” Then he proceeds as expected to show his readers why obviously that is precisely the reason why they oppose the mosque!

How does Kristof accomplish this? Not by seeking to prove that all the reasons given for opposition to the mosque stem from bigotry. That would be too difficult, since he would have to scrounge around to find the bigots. He might attack Glenn Beck, but as we all know, at the Mall rally last week Beck included praying for non-violence in one’s mosques, which he listed alongside churches and synagogues.

So what Kristof does is recite the old litany of well-known episodes of bigotry in America’s past, largely taken from the 19th century and early 20th century. We have the stories about anti-Irish, anti-German, anti-Italian, and anti-Asian bigots who have risen up in those periods. We had the Know Nothing movement that opposed the “Catholic menace”; the opposition to Irish immigrants — “No Irish Need Aply,” as the signs said at many business establishments; the WASP opponents of Jewish immigrants; the failure of the United States to allow thousands of Jews to gain freedom here during the start of the Holocaust; and of course the Japanese internment, which took place during the liberal presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

No one is proud of this sorry record in our country. As Kristof acknowledges, “most American stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry.” But still, he cannot help but use it to prove how bigoted our countrymen were in the past. The purpose: to show that we are just as bigoted today, except  now, we attack Muslims rather than Catholics or Jews.

And, as Kristof himself realizes, the problem is that “some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women.” Tell that to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom in an earlier book review Kristof savagely attacked.  She had told her father that “Islam is full of misogyny,” which upsets the columnist a great deal.  He found her book “strident, potentially feeding religious bigotry.” So it seems that telling the truth about radical Islam is — you got it — nothing but bigotry.

He went on to again qualify his remark: “The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn’t be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today.”

So there must be in his eyes another existing and just as powerful moderate Islam. The problem is that he can’t find it. He claims, however: “There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque.”

The truth, however, was told by Bernard Lewis, who wrote: “For the moment, there does not seem to be much prospect of a moderate Islam in the modern world. This is party because in the prevailing atmosphere the expression of moderate ideas can be dangerous — even life threatening.” No wonder Kristof does not give his readers examples of the Islam he admires. He can’t find any.

And in the same Wall Street Journal forum, Akbar Ahmed pointed out that there are three strains in Islam today: mystic, modernist, and literalist. The third is today the majority view among practitioners of Islam; they believe they are under attack from infidels, and many of them advocate violence to stop their enemies. “Movements like the Muslim Brotherhood,” he writes, “Hamas, and the Taliban belong to this category.” And in his contribution, Tawfik Hamid writes that real moderate Muslims “must be honest enough to admit that Islam has been used in a violent manner … to seek domination over others.” To claim that Islam is only a peaceful religion “is a form of deception that makes things worse by failing to acknowledge the existence of the problem.”

That last observation by Mr. Hamid refers perfectly to the approach of Nicholas Kristof. Indeed, Kristof goes on in his column yesterday with the largest misleading sentence in his article.  Noting that in past decades anti-Catholics used the acts of “the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism,” he then writes, “fundamentalist Wahabis (sic) today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia.”

As Mr. Kristof should note, however, the problem in the United States is that about eighty percent of American mosques are funded by the Saudis, and indeed are Wahhabi institutions. Scores of articles have appeared detailing the kind of words spoken therein by Imams, and the nature of the writings and textbooks they use in their schools — which promote anti-Semitism, opposition to Christians and other  infidels, the institution of Sharia law, and the waging of Jihad.

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The Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi, a contributing editor of The New Republic, has issued a challenge to Imam Rauf. Halevi, whom I met a few years ago in Israel, has believed for a long time that the only road to peace in the Middle East is through a coming together of the three Abrahamic faiths. Indeed, this is the theme of his well-received book, At the Entrance to The Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

At first glance, Halevi seems to hold many illusions about Rauf’ s beliefs. He writes his open letter to the imam, he says, as “a well-wisher and friend.” His approach is the opposite of someone like Andy McCarthy, whose many articles on NRO.com are devoted to exposing the hidden agenda of the imam (a view which I have come to believe is correct). Halevi, in contrast, begins by noting what he believes is Rauf’s willingness to endorse Halevi’s call “for the Muslim world to come to terms with the Jewish return home.” Halevi recalls with pride how Rauf beamed when Halevi talked of “joining the Muslim prayer line and the reverence-the love-I felt for its choreography of surrender to God.” As for himself, he and a friend he quotes both believe that the imam is “a spiritual ally, not an enemy.”

At this point, I had the reaction many of you readers undoubtedly will have: How much is it possible for someone so smart, as Halevi is, to be taken in by the evidently personally charming Rauf? So what lies behind this rather fawning opening of Halevi’s article? Does he really believe all this about Rauf, or is Halevi using a technique he has adopted so that the challenge he lays out will be hard for Rauf to ignore?

I suspect the latter is the case, although it is possible he does have these positive feelings about Rauf, and reminding the imam of what he said to Halevi back in 2001 will make him listen to the points he next raises. He says the imam favors an “outreach to the American Jewish community,” that he favors creating an Islam for America modeled on Orthodox Judaism.

But in the second part of his article, Halevi tells Rauf that he is now “troubled by some of your statements on the Middle East.” After all, Halevi above all knows that one cannot be a supporter of Israel, as Rauf said he was, and advocate a one-state solution for Israel which, as Halevi says, “is code for destruction of the Jewish state.”  And, Halevi tells Rauf, “you’ve refused to condemn Hamas.”

Somehow, I think that Halevi is writing with his tongue in his cheek. The kind of contradictions he accosts Rauf with are hardly accidental slips; they reveal what he obviously really thinks. So Halevi next tells the great imam that “sometimes it seems that you want to be all things to all people.” Really, how could Halevi get such an idea, since he is talking about a person he told us earlier is an ally of Israel? Well, perhaps Halevi is really confused. He writes:

“Some of your statements about America and the Muslim world — partly blaming U.S. foreign policy for September 11, or saying that America has killed more Muslims than Al Qaeda has killed innocent non-Muslims, as if the terrorists and their targets were morally equivalent — pander to the most simplistic sentiments within your community. But where some see hypocrisy, or even a hidden agenda, I prefer to see the struggles of a good man who wants to help his community enter the American mainstream, while reassuring the faithful of his loyalty.”

But wait a minute; isn’t that last sentence also a major contradiction? Does one reassure the faithful by accepting their most radical views as the way to enter the mainstream? Shouldn’t an imam who really seeks that goal be opposing these views, rather than pandering to them?  And how then can Halevi tell Rauf that “I believe that you intend to create a center of Islamic moderation near Ground Zero”? If he did, would he recently have made all these objectionable statements that Halevi throws in Rauf’s face? Could it be that Rauf believes what he says? And these statements were made not to Islamic audiences abroad, but to Americans at home. It was to a question from a reporter about whether he would condemn Hamas that Rauf sought to evade an answer.

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