Ron Radosh

How Two Leftist Writers See the Middle East and Cuba, and Get It Wrong

Two recent articles reveal the mindset of the Left, and tell us more about how leftists think than they do about the topic of the articles. One is about Israel and the meaning of its 65th anniversary; the other about Cuba and the future of the totalitarian state and U.S.-Cuban relations.

The first, written by Hillel Schenker, is supposedly a celebration of Israel. The writer asks, with 65 years of Israel: “Is Zionism Still Alive?” One might think that as most Americans understand, the Jewish state is a major success story: Rightfully called the “startup nation,” a small land and democracy situated in the midst of Arab monarchies and tyrannies, Israel has a vibrant culture, a major growing high-tech industry second to none, 10 Nobel Prize winners, the revival of Hebrew as the language of the state, and major acclaimed institutions of higher education. Indeed, Schencker acknowledges all of the above. It is hard to deny these accomplishments.

But Schenker begins by making it clear that when he made aliya to Israel in 1963, he came to the country as part of what he calls “the progressive Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair.”

To many readers, that affiliation will mean very little. The euphemism “progressive” does not situate what it stood for.

It was, in essence a Leninist group whose members believed Stalin was the leader of world socialism and that the Soviet Union was right about every issue — except the Jewish question. Their goal was to create a Soviet-style state in Israel that would combine Zionism with Leninism.

Its theoretician was an intellectual named Ber Berochov, who as his Wikipedia entry rightfully explains, “became highly influential in the Zionist movement because he explained nationalism in general, and Jewish Nationalism in particular in terms of Marxist class struggle and dialectical materialism.”

What Schenker mourns for is the lost Israel of his youth, when as he writes, “there was no television,” the labor movement “was still the dominant force in Israeli politics”, and “all the progressive forces around the world identified with Israel.” He saw himself, he proudly says, as “part of a worldwide movement to change the world,” symbolized by May 1968 in Paris, Danny the Red, Joan Baez, “the anti-Vietnam war demonstrators and the counter-culture.”

There is no realization that the Israel which strives today is largely the result of the turn away from the bankrupt socialist model of the Kibbutz and labor control of industry, which prevented the economy from taking off.

So he sees, not unexpectedly, that once Israel won its fight with the Arab invaders in the 1967 War, this turn of events made him sad. It was not in his eyes a victory, but rather, the “beginning of the occupation.” The Left he loved and identified with turned en masse against Israel. The German New Left sided with neo-Nazis and Arab terrorists who sought to massacre Jews and destroy Israel. In the United States, his comrades sided with the black radicals and extremists, whose support was for the PLO and other Arab extremist organizations, all dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

So like other leftists, he sees Israel “living in denial,” ignoring the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and refusing to take steps that he believes will result in peace.

He lives in a dream world. He argues that when Sadat came to Israel in 1977, it proved “peace was indeed possible.” So — no surprise — his belief is that pressure must be put on Israel, which needs a return to the Oslo accords which failed to do anything, but which he sees as the remaining source of hope.

Who is really in denial?

The second article appears in the journal Foreign Policy, and is written by senior Latin-American expert William LeoGrande, a professor of Government at American University. In the 1980s, LeoGrande made a name for himself as a major critic of Reagan administration policy in Central America, and as a key supporter of the Salvadoran Communist rebels and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Turning his attention to Cuba, LeoGrande might have taken the occasion to comment on the increased repression by the regime against its own non-violent and democratic dissidents, a campaign which included the widely discussed murder by Cuban state security of Cuba’s leading dissident, Oswaldo Paya — founder of a petition that demanded democratic and free elections on the island.

Instead LeoGrande chooses to emphasize what he sees as the Obama administration’s bending to the will of the “Castro-hating right wing” lobby.

What Leo Grande is upset about is not the continuing repression of democracy advocates, but those who take “democracy promotion” money from the U.S., a program he argues was created by “conservative Republicans.”

Actually, as LeoGrande knows, the most successful democracy promotion programs emanate today from the National Endowment for Democracy, a thoroughly bipartisan program funded by Congress that can hardly be characterized as conservative — except by those on the Left who seek to smear it with that term. What critics of the Cuban regime actually argue is that if U.S. policy is to change, Cuba has to first show real movement towards democratic reform.

LeoGrande is apparently only concerned with changing Cuban policy so that the Castro regime gets what it wants, without regard for the growing demand for democracy of the brave dissident Cuban community.

He gives his game away when he writes approvingly of a diplomat who argued that the “traditional dissident movement had very little appeal to ordinary Cubans.” (President Obama had proposed this diplomat be appointed ambassador to Nicaragua.) How does LeoGrande know that real Cubans have no regard for the democracy movement?

Actually, thousands braved reprisal and signed Paya’s Verela Project petition, indicating that they were supportive of his efforts. That is why the regime went to such lengths as to actually murder him to send a message to average Cubans.

It is not surprising that LeoGrande sees no merit to democracy promotion. A man of the left — and actually a friend of the far left in Latin and Central America — his sympathies are not with development of a sound foreign policy, but with one which rewards dictators and punishes brave defenders of democracy.

Both of these writers, Schenker on Israel and LeoGrande on Cuba, are beholden to the leftist ideas of their activist past. The result are blinders when it comes to evaluating a sound policy in either the Middle East or Latin America. Their articles, each in its own way, reflect the way those on the political Left evaluate policy options. Both writers are stuck in the ’60s and the activism of the New Left, whose illusions they still adhere to. When will they ever learn?