To Bigotry No Sanction



My parents didn’t believe in God but it was important to them that my sister and I understand that we are Jewish. They wouldn’t have put it this way themselves–they were proud to be members of an extended family that included so many great leftists and thinkers–but I think they regarded Jewishness as a congenital condition that made you smarter and more morally developed, but that also debarred you from the mainstream community and potentially shortened your life, as something like a mirror version of Downs Syndrome. They sent us to religious school, not so that we would learn how to live, but so that we would understand why we might die.

It wasn’t altogether crazy. I was born in 1957, a mere dozen years after the biggest blood letting that history had ever seen. The six million Jewish dead were a small minority of the total fatalities–between Hitler and Stalin, some 14 million civilians were deliberately liquidated between 1933 and 1945, and the body count from the war amounted to another 60-70 million soldiers and civilians–but the Jews had been exterminated by plan and in the case of Europe’s emancipated middle class Jews, people like the ones in the picture on top of this post, by industrial means. They were registered, labeled, and rounded up for slaughter, men, women, and children alike, just like so many cattle.

Whether we American survivors of the tribe were a “saving remnant” or just a remnant, we had eluded the fate of so many of our aunts and uncles and cousins abroad because our grandparents had found their ways here. The US Constitution accords its religious minorities the same status as it does its religious majority, which is to say none, except the right to meet and pray unmolested (and un-taxed). George Washington put it best, in his letter to the Touro Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…..May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

So what did we learn in religious school? That George Washington was naive. America was good, but who knew for how long? There was Lindbergh; there was John E. Rankin; there was George Lincoln Rockwell. Israel, our teachers told us, was a place where the Jews owned all the fig trees and controlled the army to boot–that was where real safety lay.

The Internet is on fire today, as it should be, with outraged rejoinders to Donald Trump’s call for a database of Muslims; I pulled the photograph above from a petition that I signed and that every other American Jew should sign as well. But what’s terrifying to me is that Trump wouldn’t be saying those things if he didn’t think they’d win him support. He’s not the only one: Ben Carson implicitly compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”; Cruz and Bush both called for a religious test for refugees–and Cruz, echoing a classic anti-Semitic canard about the Talmud, noted that “there is a religious philosophy in Islamism that encourages them to lie to carry out jihad.” How can so many Americans know so little about our own history and laws when it comes to religious pluralism?

And yet as I think about the lessons I learned in that suburban Reform synagogue almost fifty years ago, I find myself wondering how it could be otherwise, when so many Zionist Jews–the greatest beneficiaries of those laws and those traditions–appreciate them so little themselves. People are tribal. Product of the Enlightenment that it is, the American experiment runs against the grain of human nature in many ways. Demagogues know that and exploit it, and they always will. Some day one of them might be elected president.


Paris, 11/13: An Act of War

“If you close your eyes/Then you will see/That it’s easier without complexity.” –Eagles of Death Metal

There’s no complexity in the ISIS statement: Paris is “the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.” The suicide bombers and gunmen were believers and martyrs; their victims Crusaders and pagans and disbelievers who reaped what they had sown. The equation balances perfectly.

There’s no complexity in President Obama’s first statement: the attack is not just on the people of France but “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”; which are “the timeless values of human progress.” There’s no complexity in President Hollande’s statement: the attacks are a “horror….There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilise its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.”

And of course there’s no complexity on the US right: obviously the perpetrators were the refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now?” Representative Jeff Duncan (R), of South Carolina Tweeted. “There are those out there,” Ben Carson declared, “who have a thirst for innocent blood.” The answer, he said, is for America to “eliminate them…destroy them completely.” Paris was targeted, Newt Gingrich opined, because of its tight gun control laws. “Imagine a theater,” he Tweeted, “With 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people.”

Kevin Barrett, the conspiracist editor of Veterans Today, knows exactly what happened Friday: it’s another false flag, its perpetrators all of the usual suspects: “Authoritarian insiders. Zionists. Militarists. Islamophobes. New World Order-Out-Of-Chaos freaks.” The date alone gives it away, he says: “It happened on Friday the 13th (commemorating the massacre of the proto-illuminati Templars) in the 11th month, in Paris’s 11th district. It’s going to be remembered as ‘11/13’ or ‘Friday the 13th.’ Illuminati numerology or coincidence?” Barrett knows why it happened too—it’s all about him and his false flag theories: “If I were a truly paranoid conspiracy theorist, or conspiracy intellectual, or whatever,” he wrote, “I would think somebody staged these new attacks just as I was leaving Paris and planning to return one month later because…well, because they’re afraid that my book We Are NOT Charlie Hebdo is picking up steam and threatening to expose the state-sponsored crimes of last January.”

France was a colonial power in the Middle East and Africa for a century; it has boots on the ground in West Africa and its war planes have been bombing ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. As shocking and terrible as yesterday’s attacks were, there really is no mystery as to why they happened; they did not come out of the blue. Just as Israeli realpolitik helped lay the groundwork for Hamas, ISIS, as we now know, is a monster that the West had a hand in creating.

Everyone and no one is innocent in wartime, and once the shooting starts, there is no such thing as moral clarity. It would be so much easier if that were not the case.

PS This is up on Salon now, under a different headline.

Safe Spaces, Civility, etc

One member of the audience asked Jonathan Holloway, a civil-rights historian and the dean of Yale College, who has been at the center of the recent events, if he would remove Calhoun’s name from the college…..To understand the real complexities of these students’ situation, free-speech purists would have to grapple with what it means to live in a building named for a man who dedicated himself to the principle of white supremacy and to the ownership of your ancestors.

This is Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker, a generally smart and fair-minded writer, on what he calls the “free speech diversion” in the backlash to the recent events at Yale and Missouri. The real faultline, he says in defense of the Yale student who was videotaped shouting at the husband of the woman who wrote an email about Halloween costumes (you can read it here), is “between those who find intolerance objectionable and those who oppose intolerance of the intolerant.”

I’ve spent the last week saying that the smartest thing that an over-50 white man can do at the present juncture is to hold his peace (as I suspect the author of that Halloween email–which it seemed to me bent over backwards to be tolerant and respectful–now wishes she’d done), but as a free speech absolutist I can’t resist taking his bait. For me, there’s actually nothing to grapple with: I would remove Calhoun’s name in a heartbeat, and I wouldn’t worry that I was infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech. No one has a right to have a building or a college named after them. I would haul down the Confederate flag from public buildings too, and I would make it illegal to daub swastikas on the walls of mens rooms with shit (though I suspect there are already regulations on the books).

Would I remove every book that Calhoun authored from Yale’s library, or forbid anyone who likes Calhoun or dislikes black people from speaking at Yale?  Those are fundamentally different questions.

Here’s a thought experiment (and mind you, when I say this is a thought experiment, that’s exactly what I mean–I’m not claiming any equivalencies between the Jewish experience and the black experience, and I don’t for a minute believe that campus anti-Zionism and campus anti-Semitism are in any wise the same things). But suppose, just suppose, that you are a member of a religious/ethnic community that the Christian Bible accuses of betraying and murdering God, and whose laws, that same Bible says, are sterile and devoid of love. Suppose, furthermore, that news shouters and even presidential candidates are screaming that businesses that don’t formally acknowledge the Christian-ness of Christmas should be shamed and boycotted, that any attempt, no matter how muted, to include rather than exclude Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Janes, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and Christians who are offended by the commercialization of Christmas from the holiday spirit constitutes an act of war against the country’s majority. It would be a little alienating wouldn’t it?

Imagine the cultural dissonances you would experience just going to a concert hall to hear a masterwork like Bach’s St John’s Passion, with its full-throated choral denunciations of “the Jews,” or to a music appreciation class, where you’d learn that Wagner, the author of Jewishness and Music, is the greatest operatic composer who ever lived. Or maybe you’re assigned poems by Pound (“And the big Jew has rotted every nation he has wormed into” and Eliot (“the rats are underneath the piles/the jew is underneath the lot”) in English 1-2.

My point isn’t that Jews deserve special consideration or that students of color don’t–and it’s certainly not that minority students shouldn’t take offense or protest when they feel marginalized and disrespected. It’s more in the way of a mournful acknowledgement that there can be no safe spaces, at least where hate is concerned.  Which is why I tend to think that more public hate speech is preferable to less if less comes at the cost of someone being forcibly silenced. I’d rather have it out in the open so that everyone remains focused on hatred rather than diverted to an argument about free speech.

A couple of years ago, I covered a white nationalist event at Towson University for the SPLC. I kind of thought the university handled it well—let the racists come and talk if the sponsors ponied up the money for additional security, and let the protesters come and protest, as long as they didn’t interrupt the speakers. That way the issue that everyone was forced to argue about were the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, not the First. Obviously it’s a lot more complicated when the exercise of free speech might get someone killed, like the Mohamed cartoons, or if the speech is explicitly designed to get someone killed, like that fake Mohamed movie trailer. But if nobody gets silenced, then nobody gets to disingenuously stake out the higher ground. Of course that also means that the notion of “safe zones” (at least for speech) falls by the wayside, though you could always not attend the speech.

Hate, hate, hate

The funny thing is that I argue all the time that eliminationist anti-Semitism has become extremely rare in this country, not least because the First Amendment makes it so difficult to suppress religions. I’m not a Zionist at all; in fact I also publish stuff that’s extremely critical of the so-called Holocaust industry.

I write about anti-Semitism as much as I do for two reasons: 1) Because it does exist elsewhere, and it’s salutary to remember how close to the mainstream it once was here (and could be again–something that I blame Israel for as much as I do Israel’s enemies); and 2) Because I want people to understand how it is that the US is such fertile ground for the Islamophobia that DOES exist–and whose promoters are no less on the wrong side of history than Henry Ford and David Duke. When I write about paleo-conservatives and people like Ann Coulter I’m not trying to say that the “the boxcars are coming,” as one of the Salon commenters put it–at least not for me. For Hispanics and Islamic people, the story is a little different. For young black men, God knows, it’s very different. They don’t ship ’em off in box cars, but they do have big prison camps that are run for profit.

But you know what? When you publish stuff about anti-Semitism, you have it brought very forcefully to your attention now and then that it does still exist. Like this e-mail I just got. Pretty chilling: “Jew: You’re a real scumbag and the curse is on you f–kstick..  within a year you will be in a car crash and they will have to cut off your left leg and right arm…  that way your poison can flow quicker out of your infested body… A–hole.”


The Old Hate and the New Hate

Ann Coulter EDIT

It’s easy to understand why all that pandering would have pissed off Ann Coulter. Pretty much every one of the 11 senior candidates swore their fealty to the king of the Jews the other night, bragging that they wouldn’t make a move in foreign policy without Bibi’s permission. In Ann Coulter’s parents’ day, the Jews wouldn’t have gotten through the door of the Republican club. Now, as I suspect she sees it, they own a big part of the GOP’s agenda, virtually all of the left’s, and almost everything else in between. A classic anti-Semite from her parents’ era might have seen it as the ultimate pincer move, exactly as the Elders of Zion planned it (cf. Protocol IX,#4: “WE HAVE IN OUR SERVICE PERSONS OF ALL OPINIONS, OF ALL DOCTRINES, RESTORATING MONARCHISTS, DEMAGOGUES, SOCIALISTS, COMMUNISTS, AND UTOPIAN DREAMERS OF EVERY KIND. We have harnessed them all to the task: EACH ONE OF THEM ON HIS OWN ACCOUNT IS BORING AWAY AT THE LAST REMNANTS OF AUTHORITY, IS STRIVING TO OVERTHROW ALL ESTABLISHED FORM OF ORDER”). Even as Jewish left-wingers disparage the Republicans in the media that they control, Jewish billionaires like the gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson put their candidates in their pockets. It’s Henry Ford’s worst nightmare and Republicans aren’t allowed to say boo about it, or even make jokes. In fact they have to pretend that they like it.

We’ve come to a kind of crossroads of hate. Historically, the American Paranoid’s reigning obsessions were:

1) Papism (meaning Roman Catholic immigrants)

2) Atheistic intellectualism (Masonry and Illuminism back then, secular humanism today)

3) Calibanic Demonicism (this is my own coinage; I use it as a shorthand for what our Puritan forebears saw as the dangerous sexuality and unregenerate sinfulness of natural man as embodied in blacks and aboriginal Americans–attributes that were also ascribed to suffragists and birth control advocates in later generations and to LGBT people today). Another word for this is “sex” *

4) The Anti-Christ (This last includes Jewish bankers, Jewish arms dealers, and Jewish pornographers, which is to say Hollywood producers and popular culture purveyors, as well as the “left wing media” which they control. International Communism falls under this rubric too**

The moneyed interests that have historically exerted the most power in this country and that are most deeply invested in the Republican party today have never been monolithic in their aims or beliefs; most of them were and are too cosmopolitan to give those paranoid obsessions full credence and too cautious to fully align themselves with the groups that do. But they don’t disbelieve them either, and they’ve never stopped using them to manipulate the debt-burdened dirt farmers, struggling artisans, and exploited (or nowadays discarded) mill workers to vote against their economic interests.

That deep substructure of Hate is pretty much as it always was, but its superstructure has changed beyond recognition. Hitler made anti-Semitism disreputable, as, after much struggle, the Civil Rights movement did the most overt forms of racism (structural racism, of course, is a different story). Catholicism has joined the mainstream; most people have never heard of Know Nothingism, but Nativism is as powerful a force as it ever was, as Donald Trump’s continuing success (and Ann Coulter’s support for him) proves daily. With Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and overt white supremacism off the table, Islam and Sharia have taken their place, alongside sex and to a lesser degree anti-scientism (which never went away).

Of course it wasn’t just Hitler. Starting in the ’60s, a handful of neo-Conservative Zionist Jews made a tactical decision to throw in their lot with the GOP; later, they forged even weirder alliances with apocalyptic fundamentalist Christians, who need a Jewish Israel to fulfill the prophecies about the End Times. The vast majority of Jews want nothing to do with either, but the donor class that funds AIPAC and many of the other major Jewish organizations that claim to speak for Judaism believe that they are good for Israel.

In the wake of Roe v Wade and Stonewall, religious Catholics and Evangelicals also forged a firm alliance that would have once been unthinkable. Strangest of all are the neo-secessionists; the programmatic racists who joined the Party of Lincoln after LBJ’s great betrayal, and the Libertarians who believe that all government is tyranny.

All of these people–many of whom wouldn’t know what to say to each other if they had to sit next to each other on a long airplane flight–have crowded into the Republican big tent, along with the usual suspects who think their taxes are too high and their businesses over-regulated. It’s no wonder that some of them feel the need to step outside for a breath of fresh air from time to time, or to let off a little steam.

Seen in this light, it makes perfect sense too that Carly Fiorina would have singled out Iran and Planned Parenthood as America’s two greatest existential threats, or that the world’s leading brain surgeon would have hemmed and hawed about the utility of vaccines after Donald Trump re-told his story about the beautiful child who became autistic after getting shots. It also makes sense that the three leading hopefuls would have never held elective office.

And Ann Coulter? She’s just feeling a little cranky is all. “Republicans all agree 100 percent that we are pro-Israel, pro-Life, pro-gun,” she protested. “So why do we spend so much time on these issues?”

*Slavery and colonialism are about a lot more than sex, of course, but both are sex-haunted.

**Communists (and I’m not talking about the nation states that were pointing missiles at us during the Cold War, but about the specter of domestic subversion that drove the Red Scares of the teens and McCarthyism) don’t get their own category, since they are Jewish in the classic American paranoid understanding, and share the same ultimate goals as the billionaire bankers (cf the Protocols).

PS For Goldwag completists, I adapted this into a longer essay for Salon, (This is Why They Have Such Hate: Trump, Coulter, Carson and the Real History Behind Right Wing Intolerance).

Historical and Hopeful Perspective on Israel/Palestine Situation

This essay appeared on my Facebook wall this morning.  Historically-informed and tightly argued, I would have considered it worth sharing widely–even if it wasn’t written by my son Nathan. 

Ireland and Palestine: A Historical Comparison
Nathan Goldwag

In an election characterized by racism, incitement, and the triumph of the Far Right, one of the few bright spots was the victory by the Joint List. The raising of the electoral threshold, designed to drive the Arab parties out of the Knesset, instead resulted in their unprecedented unity and a healthy electoral victory. Still, now that the heady success of Election Day has come and gone, many have begun to question the Joint List’s credentials. Israel is an apartheid nation; with the Palestinian population either living under direct military rule in the Occupied Territories or as second-class citizens within the Green Line itself. How then, many have wondered, can the Joint List hope to fight for its constituents when it is itself a part of the oppressive process? By serving in an organ of the Israel government, does it not legitimate or normalize the current situation? Even among those who did not oppose participation in the electoral process, many questioned whether the Joint List could have any real impact beyond the symbolic. These are valid concerns that should not be dismissed out of hand. It has been less than a year since the election, and it remains possible that the Joint List will fade away to irrelevance. However, there is another option.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the struggle for Irish autonomy at last began to bear fruit. Slowly but surely, the various aspects of the British colonial administration were peeled back and destroyed, culminating at last in the formation of the Irish Free state in 1922. Today, most people remember the bitter fighting and bloodshed that it took to reach that victory; from the so-called ‘Land War’ of the 1870s—1890s, to the ill-fated Easter Rising of 1916, to the Irish War of Independence in the early 1920s. Throughout this period Irishmen and women fought and died for their beliefs and in the hope they could bring an end to the Imperial domination of their island. But at the same time, another, equally important struggle was being fought on behalf of Ireland, fought not in the streets and fields of the Emerald Isle, but by Irish parliamentarians in the halls of Westminster Palace.

In 1882, a man named Charles Stewart Parnell founded the Irish Parliamentary Party as the official voice of Ireland in the British Parliament, replacing the loose alliance of Irish nationalists who had preceded him.  From that moment, until its dissolution in 1922, the IPP would be at the forefront of the battle for reform in Ireland. Today, many question whether Ayman Odeh and his compatriots can successfully combat the occupation while serving in one of the institutions that enforces it. Over a century ago, Parnell provided this was possible. From the very heart of the British Empire, the representatives of Ireland steadily pushed forward a series of bills drastically improving the situation in their homeland. The 1889 Local Government Act, which gave the Irish people control over their local administration for the first time, the Land Purchase Acts of 1903 and 1909, which granted tenant farmers the right and ability to purchase their lands, and finally, the long-awaited Home Rule Act of 1914, which would have granted self-government to Ireland, if it hadn’t been for the interruption of the First World War.

Throughout all this, the connections between the fighters and activists on the ground in Ireland and their colleagues in Westminster Palace remained strong. In addition to his leadership of the IPP, Parnell was the first president of the Irish National Land League, an organization dedicated to reducing the power of the landlords over the Irish peasantry. It was this organization that fought the ‘Land War’, a struggle waged by rent strikes, protests, agitation, and occasional violence. A greater contrast cannot be imagined, perhaps, between the ragged tenant farmers of the Irish countryside and the sophisticated, cosmopolitan MPs who served in London. And yet, it was a combination of efforts from both the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Irish National Land League that brought about the land reform of the early 20th century. This was the secret of the success of the Irish nationalists: their ability to work for their goals both within and without the political system they were attempting to abolish.

The situations in Ireland and Palestine are, of course, very different, but there is one important similarity to keep in mind: the democratic nature of the occupying power. Obviously, both Israel today and Britain of the 19th century were extraordinarily flaws democracies to say the least! Both ruled over vast populations of non-voting subjects, both were willing to exercise their power brutally and capriciously to uphold their power, but the fact remains that in both cases, the nature of the society made it impossible to totally lock their subject populations out the power. London and Jerusalem both have had to choose between giving up even the façade of democracy and allowing those they oppressed a toehold in the halls of power, and both made the same choice. In the case of Great Britain, those choices eventually lead to the end of the centuries-long rule over Ireland. We have yet to see how it will turn out in Israel.

Right now in Palestine, there exists a strong and robust extralegal opposition to the Occupation. Even discounting armed militant groups like Hamas, popular committees are organizing protests across the West Bank in villages like Budrus and Bilin, while the BDS movement continues to gather traction worldwide. But Palestinian efforts to work within the Israeli ‘democratic’ system have never amounted to much. Now, however, that may be subject to change. Though it was unable, as some hoped, to prevent Netanyahu’s far-right government from forming, the establishment of the Joint List as Israel’s third largest party has already brought the oft-forgotten Israeli-Arab political parties into the international spotlight. For now, the Joint List remains marginalized, shunned by both Government and Opposition, but that can change. In 1881, Parnell and many of his colleagues were thrown into jail without trial for protesting British law. By 1910, the Irish bloc in Parliament had the power to make or break the government. A lot can change in thirty years.