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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Writing in The New Republic, John B. Judis offered an answer to his critics — me, Rick Richman in Commentary, and Jordan C. Hirsch in the Wall Street Journal. Richman has already responded in detail at Commentary, and I will not repeat what I consider to be his devastating critique of Judis.

Judis accuses all of us of writing “condemnatory reviews.” Actually, Judis avoided answering my review in the Jewish Review of Books; instead he linked to an op-ed I was asked to write by the editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, who said he wanted to acquaint Israeli readers with Judis’ book and to explain why it was important. Judis knows the difference between an op-ed and a review, and yet he chose to call my column a review, although my actual review was already online when he wrote his answer.

What Judis does in his answer and throughout his book is to take the approach of Israel’s anti-Israel historians, Israel’s equivalent to those historians who follow Howard Zinn in the United States. These so-called “new historians,” historian Efraim Karsh explains, are “politicized historians” who have “turned the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims and vice-versa.” Omitted, always, is the desire of the Arabs to push all the Jews out of Palestine, preferably into the sea, and to do all in their power to prevent the creation of a Jewish state.

1. What Happened in Hebron in 1929

Judis says that I falsely accuse him of writing an apologia for the Hebron massacre in 1929, when in reality he did not play down or justify the massacre. In his eyes, the Arabs were indigenous to the region, while the Jews were “settler-colonialists.” If this were the case, one would not be surprised that he would think the Jews brought Arab hostility on themselves: as he so crudely puts it in various places in his book, the Jews “screwed the Arabs” out of land that was rightfully theirs.

For example, Judis writes that from the 1890s on, “when Zionists first settled in Palestine with the express purpose of creating a Jewish state where Arabs had lived for centuries … the responsibility for the conflict lay primarily with the Zionists. They initiated it by migrating to Palestine with the purpose of establishing a Jewish state that would rule the native Arab population.” (My emphasis.)

Judis neglects to acknowledge that Palestine had been the homeland of the Jews for centuries prior to the 1890s, as Lee  S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin write in The Algemeiner. The intention of the Zionists, as Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote, was definitely not to settle in Palestine in order to subjugate the Arab population.

It is not surprising that Judis downplays the significance of fierce Arab attacks against Jews. What he does write — and what he leaves out of his response — is his claim that the 1929 events were caused by Revisionist Zionists marching to the Arab section of Jerusalem yelling “the wall is ours!”, and carrying the Zionist flag. It was their march to the home of the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, according to Judis, that “set off demonstrations that degenerated into large scale riots.”

If he had read the works of other scholars instead of the Arabists he cites in his footnotes, he would find the true reasons.

Efraim Karsh points out in Palestine Betrayed, a book which Judis obviously has not read, that it was the mufti who “utilized the immense inflammatory potential of Islam … and its deep anti-Jewish sentiment” to inflame the population against the Jews. The mufti had distributed copies of  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Arab population in the early 1920s, something Judis somehow fails to mention. He simply writes that Hebron was proof of Jabotinsky’s admonition that “the ends of Zionism justified the means.”

Judis might also have looked at the book by historian Stephen Norwood, Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left. Norwood writes that the 1929 events were “aroused by the virulently anti-Semitic harangues of the grand mufti of Jerusalem.”

Norwood’s accurate description, had Judis cited it, would make clear on whom the responsibility lay for the attacks on the Jews. Moreover, it would have revealed to readers just what the Arabs did. Norwood writes:

Arab mobs armed with swords and axes, knives, sledgehammers, iron bars, and stones, screaming “Allah is Great … Kill the Jews!” attacked Jews in Hebron, Jerusalem, Safed, Haifa, Jaffa and even Tel Aviv, as well as many Jewish agricultural settlements. They broke into Jewish homes and massacred men and women — including the elderly and children, some of them less than five years old. The Arabs’s savagery was unrestrained. The pogromists beheaded some of their victims with axes and chopped off hands. They gouged out the eyes of a Jewish pharmacist in Hebron while he was still alive and then murdered him.

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We did not have to wait long to see how The Nation, the flagship publication of the American Left, would respond to the events in Venezuela. And no one has put it as well as one of its contributing editors, Marc Cooper. He posted the following on his Facebook page:

Here we go again. After winding up on the wrong side of Ukrainian history this week, The Nation magazine … now calls for the Venezuelan government to take a MORE radical line and rather stupidly argues that the current student protests are simply a mechanism to return the “elites” to power. As if Chavismo has not created a new elite! This piece also brims with the usual claptrap about the revolutionary and democratic process. Yada yada yada, What a lack of courage and honesty! And people wonder why the U.S. Left is impotent and irrelevant?

Cooper is referring to the article on The Nation’s website by George Ciccariello-Maher, an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University. (God help the students subjected to his teaching.) Ciccariello-Maher wants his readers not to “be excited by people on the streets,” as Nation writers always are when the event is something like Occupy Wall Street. The thousands protesting against the Castroite tyranny emerging in Venezuela are not, he writes, “simply the latest act in an upsurge of world-historic proportions.” Rather, “these protests have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power.”

The collapse of the economy as oil prices fall, the inability to obtain common goods like toilet paper, the rampaging inflation that is destroying the ability of middle-class and working-class folk to buy goods — all this is evidently not anything to be concerned about. What Chavismo has created is, to the Nation writer, a movement of “radical social movements against a repressive, neoliberal state.”

To the Left, as this article makes clear, repression exists in an actual democratic polity, when people are free to speak their minds, opposition political leaders are allowed to challenge the power of the existing leaders in free elections, and when freedom of the press exists. The closing down of opposition newspapers, the arrest of journalists, and the suppression of TV networks that reported the actual news and not Chavista propaganda? Not repression. That is simply seeing to it that the truth as defined by the Left is the only thing the rulers allow the citizens to hear.

This outlook stems from the philosophical double-talk of the influential Frankfurt School scholar, the late Herbert Marcuse, from whom the New Left learned that there was supposedly something called “repressive tolerance.” According to Marcuse, the people’s forces fighting for socialist revolution had the right and duty to suppress propaganda made by the capitalist ruling class. Once the voice of the right-wing was forbidden — right-wing defined as anyone opposed to leftists — then the people could learn the truth.  Or as The Nation journalist-professor puts it:

For decades, armed guerrillas, peasants and workers, women, Afro- and indigenous Venezuelans, students and the urban poor struggled against a system that — while formally democratic — was far from it in practice.

You know that Lopez is a monster of the ruling class. The proof? He received funding for the building of a democratic civil society in Venezuela from the bipartisan U.S. institution funded by Congress, the National Endowment for Democracy! The NED, as long-time readers of The Nation know, is a decades-long bugaboo of the American Left. After all, it also funded opposition to the dissidents in Eastern Europe during the waning days of the Cold War. What better proof could you want?

In this manner, Ciccariello-Maher becomes another one of those journalists described in the Daily Beast by Michael P. Moynihan, one of “Venezuela’s Useful Idiots.” As Moynihan writes, “All over the internet, one finds a seemingly inexhaustible supply of useful idiots and Sandinista nostalgists willing to contextualize the disastrous Bolivarian Revolution.” Moynihan presents wonderful examples of how other writers are rationalizing the growing repression of the would-be totalitarians anxious to copy the regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba.

He cites a Huffington Post writer who tells his leftist audience that the Venezuelan economy is doing well. The reality is that capital is fleeing the country, the shelves in the supermarkets are bare, and inflation is skyrocketing. But to say the opposite is anti-revolutionary. Who cares what the reality is? My favorite anecdote in his article is the report about the headline in the British Guardian that informs its readers: “Venezuela’s hardliner reappears as Nicolas Maduro expels US officials.” The “hardliner” here is not Maduro, but none other than the now-jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

The British paper’s editorial actually attacks Barack Obama as a neo-con, who in their eyes is supporting “regime change” in Venezuela. If only that were the case.

Returning to The Nation article, one must note the description of Chavista armed thugs, called “the radical sectors of Chavismo,” who ride through the streets on motorcycles, wear red shirts, and are “poor-looking or dark-skinned.” Rather than goons spreading terror to dissuade protestors from gathering, they are described by Professor Ciccariello-Maher as “popular grassroots organizers” who are “the most direct, organic expressions of the wretched of the Venezuelan earth.” He calls them representative of “the most independent sectors of the revolution … those most familiar with the repressive force of the state.”

Don’t be confused. He is referring to those who held power before the coup led by the late Hugo Chavez, who represents real democracy. Nothing the state now led by Maduro does is, of course, repressive.

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Will Venezuela Follow Ukraine?

February 22nd, 2014 - 10:05 am

Cuban troops

As the world focuses on the demonstrations and “Day of Liberation” in Kiev, as the oppressive regime in Ukraine has fled to areas in which they have support, events closer to the United States are also flaring up.

While the demonstrations against the leftist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro continue in Venezuela, news has arrived that a new group of Cuban troops has arrived in Caracas to help the regime defeat the protestors.  As PJ Media contributor Alberto de la Cruz reports at Babalu, the anti-Castro website, these troops are in fact “simply joining the thousands of other Cuban soldiers already stationed in the Cuban pseudo-colony.”  Recently, Raul Castro threatened to unleash these troops to help the Maduro regime stay in power.

The situation in Venezuela is producing a serious opposition, which now includes both students and regular middle-class Venezuelans, as this report from Al Jazeera reveals. In the city of San Cristobal, where the protests began, Caracas Chronicles reports that many sections have fallen out of control of the regime.

The response of Maduro and his cronies, Reuters reports, is of the usual leftist variety: “Small fascist groups” are working in league with the United States to overthrow the government. Maduro is the same leader who recently told Venezuelans, Michael P. Moynihan writes, that he has seen Hugo Chavez appear to him in the form of a bird, as well as having spotted his ghost lingering in the Caracas subway. We know, of course, that this could not be true, since Maduro would no longer be caught dead in the subway — preferring to ride through his occupied capital in a bullet-proof car protected by his troops.

Last week, Maduro had the popular opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez arrested and thrown in jail, where he is awaiting trial on the charge that he has incited the crowds to riot, is guilty of homicide, and, finally, that he is a terrorist. We all know what the outcome of that trial will be. “The fascist right-wing,” Maduro told a crowd of organized supporters, is finally “in the hands of justice.” Maduro continued to tell his small rally that “we have been informed that the ultra-right wing of Venezuela, in tandem with the ultra-right wing of Miami, apropos the bench warrant, activated foreign groups to find and kill [Lopez] so as to fuel a political crisis and lead us to civil war.”

To translate: Maduro, whose regime has done everything to stifle a democratic opposition from being heard, including the recent murders of demonstrators by the regime’s police, is now claiming that they are in fact, by arresting Lopez, protecting him from the wrath of other of his fascist followers! Just like when Stalin had one of his agents assassinate Leon Trotsky, in exile in Mexico, by wielding an ice-ax to his skull, he was protecting the people from Trotsky’s supposed coming alliance with Hitler to overthrow Stalin’s workers’ paradise.

So far, the ranks of the American leftwing have been relatively silent, except for one voice, as you’ll see on the next page.

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“The United Auto Workers union suffered a crushing defeat Friday, falling short in an election in which it seemed to have a clear path to organizing workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.,” the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. “The setback is a bitter defeat because the union had the cooperation of Volkswagen management and the aid of Germany’s powerful IG Metall union, yet it failed to win a majority among the plants 1,550 hourly workers.”

One cannot emphasize the magnitude of this loss. What it clearly spells out is the irrelevance of the old industrial unions in today’s world. They have become nothing less than reactionary institutions. It is no longer the heyday of the union movement, which once was necessary and helped create a middle class in our country in the 1930s and ’40s.

How different a situation existed in that bygone era. When Ford and GM workers tried to gain representation for collective bargaining, they were met with an onslaught of fierce opposition from the auto manufacturers. First there were the sit-down strikes in 1936 and 1937 at GM and Chrysler, and the brutal attack on workers by Ford management. They responded to organizing with the famous attack on the workers by company thugs, goons, and the local police, who cooperated with management. The culmination was the most famous event in modern labor’s fight to organize, the Battle of the Overpass at the River Rouge Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

In our own era, the workers at the Tennessee Volkswagen factory had the support and encouragement of Volkswagen for unionization. Both the UAW and the European IG Metall union convinced Volkswagen management to engage in talks with the UAW in the United States, and not even to propagandize against unionization among the workforce. As the WSJ article notes, “the election was also extraordinary because Volkswagen chose to cooperate closely with the UAW.” As a labor lawyer who previously worked for the leftist SEIU put it, “usually, companies fight” union drives.

So when a major corporation urges unionization and sides with the UAW, and the workers vote in a free NLRB-supervised election to not unionize, it is a very big deal indeed. Nationally, the decline in the strength of unions has had its effect on the UAW. During the heyday of the union, it represented 1.5 million workers; now, it represents only 400,000. If Walter Reuther were still alive, he would be stunned at the reversal of the fortunes of the union he worked so hard to build. Indeed, in Michigan — once the very stronghold of the union –the state has put into place a right-to-work law that allows workers to drop their membership in unions, including the UAW, if they choose to do so.

The other issue in the campaign was the effort of the UAW and Volkswagen to create what is called a “works council,” a committee composed of both union and nonunion employees who negotiate with management on day-to-day work issues that arise in the factory. Such councils are standard arrangements in German factories, as well as in other countries in Europe. They allow for settlement of issues in a manner that creates labor peace and promotes better conditions in the workplace, without the threat of a strike. But according to American labor law, they cannot be established unless an outside union like the UAW legally represents the workers.  Because Volkswagen wanted one, they chose to support the UAW organizing effort.

When it comes to wages, it turns out that at the Southern plant, a starting worker earns $19.50 an hour without a union, while his counterpart working in Michigan earns only $15.50 an hour. So wages do not compel a worker to support unionization. The foreign- owned plants, it seems, pay better than the American auto manufacturers.

Then there are the unspoken social issues, which I’ll discuss on the following page.

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Anti-Putin protesters march through Moscow February 2, 2014, Russia. Several thousand protesters have marched through central Moscow to call for the release of 20 people who were arrested. Photo by Nickolay Vinokurov, Shutterstock.com.

 

The opening Olympic ceremonies, broadcast last night on NBC, were most revealing in what they told us about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It was the fantasy Russia, sometimes beautifully portrayed, not the reality. In that sense, Putin put together propaganda offensive in the style of the late Joseph Stalin, a tyrant who the current leader of Russia admires for successfully having created an empire with world influence and power.

True, as Ed Driscoll writes, the narrative at the start of the program praised the Soviet era as one of history’s greatest “pivotal experiments.” Fortunately, NBC made the very wise move of hiring New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick as its official on-air live commentator. Remnick is author of one of the most insightful books about the fall of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire,  and Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia, about the early post-Soviet era.

Rarely have viewers of an opening ceremony had such an erudite and candid picture of what the ceremony meant, for which NBC deserves kudos. Remnick did not let the Putin narrative go unchallenged, and he regularly informed the audience of what Putin hoped to accomplish, and in what ways the narrative was completely false.  He also provided context for most of the people who watched and who would have no idea of the program’s symbolism.

The program opened with a paean to the modernizing czar Peter the Great.  Of this, the editors of the Wall Street Journal made the following point:

The choice of Peter the Great to headline the opening speaks to Mr. Putin’s self-perception, but in Sochi he has been more of a latter-day Potemkin. Russia estimated the cost of converting a beach resort into a world-class ski and winter sport center at $12 billion. The final tab came to $50 billion, more than every previous winter Olympics combined and even the 2008 Beijing summer games.

One road from the beach resort to the ski center alone cost 9 and a half billion dollars—the most expensive road ever built in the entire world. And even with an overrun in the billions, with seven years to prepare, the Kremlin could not even build the necessary hotels so they could open in time for receiving guests. Perhaps had they spent a million more in bribes, the work might have been completed.

Moreover, the past months have revealed gaps in Putin’s popularity, with mass protests throughout Russia, to which Putin’s regime has responded with the jailing of its opponents and the new ban on “gay propaganda,” with Putin assuring visitors that gays would be welcome at the Olympics, as long as they “stay away from children.”

Yet, the first part of the program about Peter’s legacy was beautiful. The sets and the choreography were magnificent, as Russia’s top dancers performed and viewers were able to see the lush façade created by the czars in gorgeous colors. Then, after a section showing turmoil and war, the narrative got to the birth of the Soviet Union. This section was shown in an ominous red color, which symbolized Communism.

The section began with a train forging ahead. As Remnick explained, every Russian who lived through Soviet times knew what this symbolized. It was the so-called “propaganda train,” which brought Soviet diktats to the nether regions of the USSR, at a time when there was no mass media, and all peoples of the tyranny had to be reached with Bolshevik policies meant to be obeyed and which were enforced by the Cheka, the name of the first secret police.

It was followed by a panorama of Soviet productivity and the birth of modern industry as dancers symbolized building of railroad tracks, cranes were everywhere setting up major building projects, and workers were drilling and hammering. We saw Soviet Lada cars riding through the stadium, and people rejoicing in the entry of Russia to the modern era.

Remnick did not let Putin get away with this. As he put it, this was an era of mass terror, the Gulag, severe repression and the worst years of the constant terror. There was no mention of Lenin, Stalin or any other future Soviet leaders — only a picture of the supposed great results of the five-year plans, which of course were never mentioned. Somehow, viewers learned only that Russia had modernized. It was in a strange way a choreographed picture of the thesis of the late Isaac Deutscher, the Marxist historian who argued that while Stalin was horrible, he obtained the results to build the Soviet Union into an industrial behemoth, which would then somehow be transformed into a humane, democratic Communist society.

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R.I.P.: Remembrances of My Friend Barry Rubin

February 3rd, 2014 - 1:54 pm

The loss of a friend comes hard to all of us, and Barry Rubin was a friend, whom I always knew was there to discuss the issues that were of mutual concern to us. PJM readers know him well as our Middle East editor, a man who traveled the world and wrote candidly and frankly about the hard truths others always seemed to avoid.

His importance to those who followed the Middle East was made clear today in a statement issued by Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Barry, Satloff stated, “was a brilliant scholar who was passionately committed to the pursuit of truth. He brought this determination to his fight against cancer. His death is a loss to the broader community of Middle East scholars.”

The Institute website provides a list with links to many of the articles Barry wrote for them and other outlets.

I suspect I knew Barry the longest of anyone at PJ Media. A decade older than him, I first met him when he and I were both men of the Left. He had just graduated college. Few know that back then Barry was hard left — as left as they come. At the time, he was foreign editor of a now defunct weekly newspaper, The Guardian, which had transformed from a vehicle of the pro-Communist Left to a newspaper of the most radical elements of the New Left, and of the pro-Maoist and most Stalinist elements that came from the ranks of the old Communist Party, U.S.A. Barry had become its foreign correspondent.

I suspect that experience is what gave him the personal insight for his new book – Silent Revolution, about the American Left’s rise to power — that will be posthumously published in May. Readers will find out that Barry’s expertise went far beyond that of understanding the Middle East. I know from the many discussions I had with him over the years about the Left in America that he had a lot to say especially on this topic.

When he was working for The Guardian, Barry — like the rest of the New Left — was enthusiastic about Cuba. So as I was sitting in the waiting room of Cubana Airlines at their Mexico City terminal in the summer of 1975, waiting to board the flight to Cuba, coming out of the plane was none other than Barry! “You’ll love Cuba!”, he shouted as he ran over to me. “You’ll see how Castro is building a new socialist country right in our own backyard.” He sat me down with tips galore about what to see and whom to talk to.

Years later, both of us would laugh about how as young men we had been taken in, and how the full realization of what a prison Cuba was for its people under the rule of Fidel Castro and his henchmen had helped move us far, far away from that Left we once were part of.

That experience also led Barry to report on the wars in Central America during the Reagan years. With my friend Robert S. Leiken, Barry co-edited an important volume, The Central American Crisis Reader. The book collected and presented the most important articles helping to explain what, at the time, seemed like the possible triumph of communist revolutions throughout the region. It also offered policy alternatives for how the United States should deal with the region. The book still stands as an important document for those wishing to comprehend how important Central America was in that period.

I saw Barry most often during his long stays in Washington, D.C., where he kept his mother’s old home and stayed when he was here. I would meet him often at the P.F. Chang’s in Rockville, Maryland, where we would have a relaxed meal of Chinese food and talk. When he was writing his biography of Yasser Arafat, Barry brought with him copies of documents and material he had uncovered that he would use in the book. Spreading them out on the restaurant table, he had me read the most revealing ones. I recall it was a long time before we ordered any food.

We shared a love of bluegrass music. My wife and I joined Barry, his wife Judith, and their children at the outdoors Strathmore concert series to hear the well-known local D.C. bluegrass masters Seldom Scene. Barry had first introduced me to his wife Judith Colp Rubin after they got married, when we both still lived in New York City.

And of course, Barry was an avid Civil War buff. As readers know, he regularly donned his uniform and participated, as he did last summer with re-enacters of the battle at Gettysburg during the camp set-up for the 150th anniversary event. Although he had recently gotten through his first bout with cancer, he went and took part in the blazing heat, wearing the heavy garments. To Barry, always one part American and one part Israeli, recognizing the importance of the Civil War and paying homage to those who fought and died in it was a great part of understanding the country of his birth.

I cannot believe Barry is no longer with us. Just two weeks ago I received a few e-mails from him, commenting on some of my PJM columns and offering his thoughts on the topics I was writing about. When he told me of his new book on the Left, I promised him to review it, a promise I will keep.

Barry Rubin is gone, but his friends and readers all over the world will continue to read his books and articles, learning from them as they did weekly from his reports for the institute he built in Israel, and from his columns in PJ Media. His loss is a great one, and there are few who can fill his shoes. R.I.P.