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How the Soviet Union Seeded Antisemitism into The Nation

On September 28, 2012, The Nation, America's "flagship of the left," exploded in an un-American burst of antisemitism. Its cover article stated:

Looking like a slightly deranged grandfather obsessed with something only he can see. ... Benjamin Netanyahu fussed and scribbled over a cartoon bomb at the podium of the United Nations yesterday. With any luck, the bombastic, extremist, too-far-right-for-even-Likud Israeli prime minister has done himself in. ... No one, or almost no one, believes that Iran is a vast nuclear threat and that the United States (or Israel) has to bomb it in weeks or months or, as Netanyahu suggests, at the latest next summer. Not the Obama administration, which is treating Netanyahu as if it wishes it could haul out a straitjacket and a syringe. ... But few people, other than The Nation, are willing to say that Netanyahu might actually be crazy.

(You can read the entire antisemitic rant here.)

The Nation's antisemitic hysteria reminds me of the new antisemitic madness that exploded in Moscow in 1998, soon after one of my former colleagues in the KGB community, General Yevgeny Primakov, became Russia’s prime minister. Russian television showed General Albert Makashov, a member of the Duma, screaming: “I will round up all the Yids [pejorative for Jews] and send them to the next world.” Makashov alleged that the Jews were ruining the motherland, and he called for the “extermination of all Jews in Russia.” [i] On November 4, 1998, the Duma endorsed Makashov by voting (121 to 107) to defeat a parliamentary motion censuring his hate-filled statement. At the November 7, 1998, demonstration marking the 81st anniversary of the October Revolution, crowds of former KGB officers showed their support for the general, chanting “hands off Makashov!” and waving signs with anti-Semitic slogans.[ii]

So, why do I put America's oldest continuously published weekly, The Nation, on the same page with Moscow and Makashov? Because The Nation has been Moscow's mouthpiece for almost nine decades. In 1924, when Lenin died, The Nation raved:

Lenin is the hero of a legend, a man who had torn the burning heart out of his breast in order to light up for mankind the path which shall lead it out of the shameful chaos of the present, out of the rotting bog of stupid current politics. ... His hero-character has almost no outward adornment.[iii]

Let’s not forget that in fact The Nation's "hero of a legend" fathered the world's bloodiest tyranny in history, which eventually killed some 90 million of its own people, unleashed a 44-year Cold War, and ignited the current international terrorism. Let’s also not forget that the successor to The Nation's "hero of a legend" made a pact with Hitler, who at that very moment was planning to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth. On August 23, 1939, when the Soviet foreign minister and his German counterpart met in the Kremlin to sign the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact, Stalin solemnly declared: “The Soviet government takes this new pact very seriously. I can guarantee, on my word of honor, that the Soviet Union will not betray its partner.”[iv] Now a more recent Russian successor to The Nation's "hero of a legend" is secretly arming a contemporary Hitler dedicated to eradicating the state of Israel with nuclear weapons. "Israel will soon be destroyed," Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad screamed on August 17, 2012. He described the Jewish state as a "cancerous tumor" that would soon be excised.[v]

Changing minds is what Leninism and the Soviet empire were all about, and there is good reason to believe that The Nation became one of Leninism's main tools for changing minds in the United States. In 1936, the Soviet espionage service was able to recruit one of the most important collaborators of The Nation, I.F. Stone, who was later eulogized as being on par with H.L. Mencken, Seymour Hersh, and William F. Buckley. According to recently revealed KGB documents in the Vassiliev Archive, Soviet espionage recruited Stone on ideological grounds and gave him the codename “Blin” (Russian for “pancake”).

In 1940, Soviet intelligence agent I.F. Stone became The Nation's Washington editor. Venona intercepts of Soviet espionage traffic in 1944 show that Stone was then given a new Soviet handler, Vladimir Pravdin, and that Stone told Pravdin that he would not be averse to having a “supplementary income.” Another top-secret NKVD cable to Moscow shows that Pravdin recommended to NKVD  headquarters that if this “business” relationship were agreed upon, then Stone would have do his part and really produce.

Subsequent Venona intercepts show that by December 1944 the business relationship had worked out, and Stone was producing on subjects recommended to him by Moscow. Among those were condemning U.S. efforts to prevent communist expansion in Vietnam; belittling the FBI and embarrassing J. Edgar Hoover in the process; maligning Pope Pius XII and faulting the Catholic Church—the Kremlin’s archenemy—for the Nazi persecution of Jews; supporting the Kremlin’s efforts to persuade the world that there was no Soviet involvement in the JFK assassination; demonizing the Korean policies of John Foster Dulles, General MacArthur, and President Truman; and many, many similar issues. Even some of the issues Stone addressed for which he might today be hailed—including opposition to racial discrimination and McCarthyism—were at the time strictly in line with the Soviet position.

There exists compelling evidence showing that I.F. Stone's efforts to transform The Nation into a Moscow mouthpiece were not only successful but also long-lasting. In a 1946 article published in The Nation, Walter Duranty (a former New York Times correspondent in Moscow, who in 1933 denied even the infamous famine in Russia that killed millions) "explained" to American readers that Stalin's bloody purges of the 1930s, which had killed over seven million people, were just "a general cleaning out of the cobwebs [emphasis as in original] and mess which accumulate in any house." The Nation represented Duranty's laudatory view of Stalin mass assassinations as "the most enlightened, dispassionate dispatches from a great nation in the making which appeared in any newspaper in the world."[vi]

During the Vietnam War, The Nation strongly supported U.S. enemies. For example The Nation's June 14, 1975, editorial read:  "The evidence is that in Cambodia the much-heralded blood bath that was supposed to follow the fall of Phnom Penh had not taken place. As for Vietnam, reports from Saigon indicate exemplary behavior. ... There has been no evidence of a blood bath."[vii]

In 2004, The Nation heavily advertised a book, Unmasking Israel's Most Dangerous Myths, which loudly proclaimed the Holocaust to be fictional. The book labeled the Holocaust a "historical myth cited to justify Zionist aggression and repression." The ad was illustrated with various symbols, among them a swastika.[viii]

There is good reason to believe that The Nation's conversion to antisemitism was similarly born in Moscow. Just before the appearance of the above Holocaust-denial advertising, a letter from ninety-eight U.S. senators expressing concern about the rise of antisemitism in the Russian Federation had been sent to President Putin. [ix] The senators’ letter evidently fell on deaf ears. In January 2005, nineteen members of the Duma sent a letter to Russia's prosecutor general accusing the Jews of being on the payroll of American Zionism, and asking that all Jewish organizations in Russia be banned. The letter also compared Judaism to Satanism and accused Jews of ritual murder.[x]

Apparently, The Nation again obediently fell into line. The above-mentioned article of September 28, 2012, asked:

What is guiding Netanyahu’s actions? Is anything holding him back? Maybe, it’s just the red light that he’s getting from Washington. ... To free his hand, so far this year Netanyahu has tilted heavily toward Mitt Romney, who seems ready to give Israel a green light. In his paranoid fog, however, Netanyahu may be dimly aware that Romney isn’t going to win the election in November, and his freedom to act against Iran will be constrained for the next few years. And thankfully, even deranged people can be held in straitjackets.

The U.S. is, of course, the land of  free speech, but antisemitism, that devastating weapon of the emotions so successfully wielded by Stalin and Hitler, is un-American. “Hope is a key word in the vocabulary of men and women like myself and so many others who discovered in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair,”[xi] stated Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who was born in Romania, as I was. Wiesel knows better than anyone what real hope means. It was the hope that America would defeat the Nazis and its antisemitism during World War II that kept him alive in the German death camp.

There are millions of other Americans who, like Wiesel and like me, started their lives from scratch for the privilege of living in this magnanimous land of freedom for all, irrespective of their religion. Let's hope that The Nation will become American again, and return to its founding prospectus of 1865:

The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.

"You are a free man, General,” said the U.S. government official who greeted me on that memorable day of July 28, 1978, after the U.S. military plane that had brought me to freedom landed at Andrews Air Force Base. Many years after that unforgettable day, I became friends with a Holocaust survivor whose eyes always misted up whenever he talked about what one of the American soldiers who had liberated his concentration camp had told him: “You’re a free man!” That’s the way my eyes are, whenever I think back on those solemn words.

Freedom can be shackled, but never killed. Let's hope The Nation will learn that too.


[i] “Duma Deputy calls for the Extermination of all Jews in Russia,” November 10, 1998, published at www.fsumonitor.com.

[ii] Jean Mackenzie, “Anti-Semitism is resurfacing in Russia,” Boston Globe, November 8, 1998

[iv] Toland at 548.

[v] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h2kt7YEySucnIMNA8U5rFtlb9iiQ

[viii] http://www.adl.org/media_watch/magazines/20040421-The+Nation.htm

[ix] Text of the US Senate letter, including signatures listed alphabetically

[x] Steve Rosenberg, “Anti-Semitism alarms Russian Jews,” BBC News, Moscow, as posted on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4271783.stm

[xi] Elie Wiesel, “The America I Love,” Parade, July 4, 2004, pp. 4,5.