The real significance of the AJC attack on “progressive” Jews

Joachim Martillo

Posted Feb 18, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The real significance of the AJC attack on “progressive” Jews

Joachim Martillo

[Hillel] was accustomed to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? 
1:14 פרקי אבות

The American Jewish Committee has forgotten the second question.

Numerous Zionist or Jewish organizations and individuals are slandering former President Jimmy Carter as a Jew-hater in order to invalidate his new book Palestine Peace not Apartheid. In response Carter has correctly pointed out that all prominent critics of his book are Jews that refuse to engage any of the issues that his book addresses. Because the public might as a consequence infer that opposition to Carter’s analysis results purely from ideological bias or Jewish tribalism, Haaretz correspondent Shmuel Rosner writes in “The Carter Trap” ( ) that

[this observation] is the only card left in [Carter’s] hand, but it is a strong one, which embodies a trap from which there is no escape.

On one hand, this problem, too, could be solved: All it needs is one well-known, well-respected, non-Jewish critic to come out publicly against Carter. If such a person does emerge, it will be possible to completely undermine the legitimacy of this miserable book. But on the other hand, what lies behind the assumption that such a critic is needed? Is this not a disturbing admission that even in America, when it comes to Israel, the word of Jews is still not, and may never be, completely sufficient?

Rosner does not even address the issue that many Carter supporters are Jewish and that many prominent American and Israeli Jews have criticized the former president for whitewashing the history of Israel and for an overly generous appraisal both of Zionism and also of the conditions under which Israeli Palestinian citizens live, but David Harris, who is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) specifically confronts such Jewish critics of Zionism in his preface to Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” ( ).

The American Jewish Committee, from its founding a hundred years ago, has seen its mission as the protection of Jewish rights worldwide and the strengthening of Jewish security. Today that mission centrally includes assuring the right of Jews to a national collective self-expression through the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose this basic right—whether Jew or gentile—must be confronted. Prof. Rosenfeld is to be thanked both for exposing the vacuousness of their arguments and for alerting us to the threat that arises when a Jewish imprimatur is given to the questioning of Israel’s legitimacy. Note that those he calls “proud to be ashamed to be Jews” are ideologists who deny the legitimacy of Israel’s existence, not critics of specific Israeli actions or policies. There can be healthy disagreement and debate within a family or a country as to what the right course of action is—but never of the fundamental rightness of its being.

When progressive or non-progressive Jews denounce the State of Israel, the AJC and other Zionist organizations are effectively blocked from defaming opponents of Zionism or the State of Israel as anti-Semites (if only in effect but not in intent as former Harvard President Lawrence Summers phrased his version of the standard accusation).

Rosenfeld’s article represents an attempt to neutralize or so marginalize Jews with any negative opinions of Israel that well meaning people will shun them and their opinions. If Rosenfeld’s attack is successful, the AJC will once again be able to defend Israel by slander in those situations where no rational ethical, ideological, or pragmatic argument can justify continued American support for the State of Israel.

Rosenfeld’s argument has generated so much controversy within the American Jewish community ( ) that on February 6th, the WBUR On Point host Tom Ashbrook moderated a discussion entitled “American Jews and Israel” ( ). The guests included:  Alvin Rosenfeld, who is director of the Institute for Jewish Culture at Indiana University as well as the author of the opinion piece in question, Alan Wolfe, professor of religion at Boston College, Tikkun Magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner, who recently published his essay entitled “There is no new anti-Semitism” ( ), and Haddassah-Brandeis? Institute founding director Shulamit Reinharz, who recently published “Fighting Jewish anti-Semitism” ( ) in the Boston Jewish Advocate. The participants have some serious misconceptions about the Eastern European Jewish/ethnic Ashkenazi intellectual culture (see for a brief discussion of Jewish ethnography).

Freedom of thought is not a characteristic of traditional Eastern European ethnic Ashkenazi culture but of the breakdown of that culture, and to this day American Jewish communal organizations put a lot of effort into keeping American Jews all on the same page with regard to the State of Israel and Zionism. The AJC publication of Rosenfeld’s paper looks like just another attempt in the long history of sometimes successful sometimes unsuccessful efforts by the ethnic Ashkenazi communal leadership to crush intellectual deviance within the American Jewish community, which today is almost entirely ethnic Ashkenazi.

As the American Jewish community has incorporated more Russian Ashkenazim, whose anti-individualism has both Soviet and Eastern European Jewish roots, the narrow range of allowed opinion within the organized Jewish community has become even smaller as Boston AJC Director Larry Lowenthal recently experienced during his conflict with Alex Koifman (, who is the Russian Jewish head of Boston for Israel as well as one of two Russian Jews on the board of the Boston chapter of the AJC.

Nowadays successful communal suppression of divergent American Jewish opinion often includes the purging of the historical record. Even relatively recent (not very) dissenting Jewish organizations like Breira (See Torn at the Roots, The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America, by Michael E. Staub, , and New Jewish Agenda ( ) as well as their leaders have vanished from award-winning histories of the American Jewish community like American Judaism by Brandeis Professor Jonathan D. Sarna.

In his article Rosenfeld attempts a similar rewriting or erasing of Zionist history. He states on page 14: “By no reasonable standard of historical comparison or legal judgment can one show that Israel is intent on genocide; nor are the Israelis engaged in a “race war” against the Palestinians.”

One can only be completely amazed that director of the Institute for Jewish Culture at Indiana University either is completely mendacious or is totally ignorant that primary Zionist literature is almost uniformly racist, extremist organic nationalist, colonialist, biological-determinist, or social Darwinist. The eminent Zionist leader Max Nordau, who is probably second in importance only to Theodor Herzl, did not introduce eugenics to the German-speaking world, but he was probably the most important popularizer of eugenic ideas in the German language ( ). Zionist leaders and writers since Moses Hess’s publication of Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question in 1862 have supported the ideal of racial revitalization through racial purity and purification.

No major Zionist thinker from the 1880s through the 1940s would have disagreed with the proposition that Zionism is a Blut und Boden or la terre et les morts form of Romantic nationalism. It certainly belongs to the same class of ethnic fundamentalist parties and ideologies, of which the Polish Endeks, Greater Serbianism and German Nazism are examples. Ideologically Zionist scholars are at least as relentlessly primordialist and essentialist as German Nazi and proto-Nazi scholars. (Some of the latter were, in fact, German Jews, who later became Zionists.)

If Rosenfeld is not consciously lying about the “race war” inherent in Zionist ideology, one must wonder what he thinks the preeminent Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann meant on September 19, 1919 by declaring the following to the English Zionist Federation (Expulsion Of The Palestinians, , p. 41).

“By a Jewish National Home I mean the creation of such conditions that as the country is developed we can pour in a considerable number of immigrants, and finally establish such a society in Palestine that Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English or America American.” (Expulsion Of The Palestinians, , p. 41.)

The Zionists achieved most of that goal in 1947-48 by committing genocide as defined by The International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (, which states the following in Article 2.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; The ongoing immurement of Palestinian population centers in the Occupied Territories is an obvious continuation of the genocidal Zionist program and a clear violation of the above article of the International Genocide Convention. This form of Zionist genocidalism has strong similarities to Soviet genocidalism, in which Soviet ethnic Ashkenazim played a leading role ( ).

In his article as well as in the radio discussion, Rosenfeld followed the Zionist party line when he asserted that rejection of the legitimacy of the Zionist or Jewish state results from bigotry or anti-Semitism simply because there is only one Zionist or Jewish state. Apartheid South Africa was the only Afrikaner state in the world, and the world is much better off for its absence. Likewise after March 12, 1938 there was only one German state on the planet, and vast numbers of people supported its destruction for perfectly valid and legitimate reasons after the start of WW2.

Reinharz also parroted Zionist propaganda and completely ignored all modern scholarship on ancient Judaism (or Judaisms as Jacob Neusner would write) to project modern Zionism back to the Judaism of the Greco-Roman? period or before. This sort of nonsense is particularly important in conning Christian Americans into supporting Zionism but has no connection whatsoever to the facts.

Rabbi Lerner and Professor Wolfe generally opposed the extremism, fanaticism and racism of Professors Rosenfeld and Reinharz, but they were also guilty of some serious misrepresentations. Despite Wolfe’s belief, German Jews and ethnic Ashkenazim have never been particularly strong defenders of free speech outside of the Jewish community and have historically tried to control the discourse of the larger non-Jewish society whenever the means have been available. The Downfall of the Anti-Semitic? Political Parties in Imperial Germany by R. S. Levy describes in detail how German Jewish advocacy organizations like the Zentralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith) used the legal system

.  to force perceived enemies into bankruptcy,
.  to attack members of the academic community believed unfriendly,
.  to ban books or
.  to force publishers to change offending passages.

Like Rosenfeld and Reinharz, Levy often tends to conflate possibly legitimate criticism with anti-Semitism.

While Rabbi Lerner basically agreed with this article and with careful scholars like Norman G. Finkelstein (see Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism? and the Abuse of History) that Zionists and Zionist organizations generally refuse to answer the content of critiques of Israel but strive to switch the discussion to the legitimacy of the critic, he himself acts as a sort of gatekeeper by limiting the discussion to a superficial aspect of the AJC attack on progressive Jews.

Commentary Magazine, which the AJC only just spun off as an independent entity in January 2007 (, presented the larger picture in its January issue, which contains the article “Jews, Muslims and Democrats” ( by Gabriel Schoenfeld, who writes: the judgment of the political scientist Peter Skerry, we may now be witnessing the emergence of a new force in American politics. Writing in Time, and citing a whole range of such convergent interests, Skerry calls this a “Muslim-liberal coalition” (more accurately it might be called a Muslim/Arab-liberal coalition). If he is right, and if this coalition can be organized to act with any degree of coherence, it could indeed end up, through sheer numbers alone, wielding a disproportionate influence on American politics [my emphasis], to the clear detriment of the interests of American Jews.

In theory the USA is supposed to be a democracy. Normally, a political group, whose power comes from sheer numbers alone, is described as wielding a proportionate influence on American politics. Schoenfeld and those American Zionists that agree with him have a clear anti-democratic un-American agenda.

Of the Jews attacked in Rosenfeld’s article, only Noam Chomsky has much name recognition among American Muslims collectively, but Rosenfeld and the dominant group at the AJC seem to fear that the situation might change. Only this concern explains the inclusion of Rabbi David Weiss, who is not progressive, and Adam Shapiro, who does not identify with the American Jewish community ( ), in an article entitled “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism?,” for unlike the other targets of the article, they have both made extensive outreach efforts to American and non-American Muslims.

Marginalizing progressive Jews with accusations of anti-Semitism is simply not enough from the standpoint of the AJC, the Anti-Defamation? League (ADL), the David Project, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Stand with US, and other Zionist groups.

In order to be truly certain to block this “Muslim-liberal coalition,” of which there is yet actually little evidence in the USA (it is more developed in the UK), these Jewish communal and Zionist organizations are trying to incite a form of Islamophobia on the model of Central and Eastern European Judeophobia or anti-Semitism of the late 18th through the middle 20th century. Here are some of the activities associated with this ongoing and expanding program.

1. Robert Spencer (author of Islam Unveiled) and his ilk, who are generally well-funded by fanatic Zionist and Jewish Neocon organizations like the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, are scribbling these ridiculous books that are poor imitations of Eisenmenger’s Entdecktes Judentum (Judaism Unmasked) or Rohling’s Der Talmudjude (The Talmud Jew).

2.  Too many (often Jewish) pseudo-scholars are babbling ignorantly about taqiyya (prudence), which is a permissible form of dissimulation in certain life threatening situations according to certain Shiite jurists. The concept has an exact counterpart in the thinking of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides or Musa bin Maimun, see his Letter on Martyrdom/Forced Apostasy, whose original Arabic uses the word taqiyya to describe exactly the same form of deception permitted to Jews subjected to certain forms of mortal danger). 

The concept of taqiyya also has a very close analogue in Roman Catholic ethics.

The accusation that Muslims practice taqiyya to justify lying to non-Muslims is essentially equivalent to the common anti-Semitic slander that asserts that Jews never keep their contracts with non-Jews because the Kol nidrei prayer, which is part of the ceremony of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) nullifies all such agreements.

3.  Articles like Alain Besançon’s “What Kind of Religion is Islam?,” which appeared the May 2004 issue of Commentary, argue for a fundamental opposition between Islam and Judeochristianity. Such scholarly and non-scholarly literature represents a phenomenon essentially identical to the extensive 19th and 20th century literature that claims an unbridgeable gulf exists between Judaism and Christianity (Judentum und Christentum or sometimes Judentum und Deutschtum) in order to assert that Muslims today or Jews then are/were fundamentally alien to mainstream Western culture and must be removed. (See for a much less sinister hypothesis of the relationships among Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.)

4.  Racist Neocon Islamophobes portray Islamic finance as something sinister just as 19th and 20th century anti-Semites depicted Jewish bankers as malicious and exploitive. “Playing by Islamofacist rules” ( ) by Alex Alexiev is typical of this sort of defamation. Alexiev is the VP for Research at the extremist Neocon Zionist Center for Security Policy.

5.  Arabophobes are using the international imperative to decrease consumption of fossil fuels to engage in a form of anti-Arab incitement that is modeled on traditional 1890s-1930s anti-Semitic cartoons, which gave the viewer a choice between trading at a small neighborhood shop belonging to a virtuous German Christian and buying from a giant department store owned by a sinister German Jew (see The Economist, “Green American,” Jan. 27th - Feb. 2nd, 2007, p. 24, ).

[Note how much the above billboard advertisement depends on reflexive racism. Maybe the guy on the left is some price-gouging Texas oil billionaire while the guy on the right is an Arab American humanitarian that is farming in Missouri.]

6.  Jewish Neocons model phrases like the “War on Terror” or “Islamic terror” on 1920s - 1940s anti-Semitic terminology like jüdisch-bolschewistische Terrorbanden (Judeo-Bolshevik terror groups).

7.  Zionist pseudo-scholars and media pundits have used two minor historical footnotes, to wit,
(a) Egyptian Kings Fuad I’s and Farouk’s flirtation with the idea of inheriting the Ottoman Caliphate and

(b) the slightly hysterical reaction of the Ali brothers and other Indian Muslims to the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate,
as the basis for crafting an Islamophobic fantasy comparable to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or to the German Nazi propaganda about the jüdisch-bolschewistische Weltverschwörung (Judeo-Bolshevik world conspiracy).

In reality, polling data consistently shows the vast majority of Muslims (from the least to the most religious) have about as much interest in a restored Caliphate (or Imamate from the Shiite standpoint) as Jews have in being ruled by the Davidic House, for whose restoration Orthodox Jews beseech God daily according to the traditional Jewish prayer book.

In general, whereas Schoenfeld and the AJC as well as Abraham Foxman and the ADL (, advocate restrictions on democracy and freedom of expression in the USA, American Muslims oppose the antidemocratic aspects of the Patriot Act, and Muslims outside the USA desire democratic reforms for their countries along with greater scope for freedom of expression.

8. Islamophobic Zionist organizations reward both ex-Muslims like Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq or Ayaan Hirsi Ali ( ) and also self-described Muslim reformers like Irshad Manji for writing exposés of Islam or for lecturing on the need for Islamic reform in exactly the same way that Czarist Russian organizations used to pay government-anointed Jewish reformers to encourage change within the Russian Jewish community or would support Russian Orthodox Jewish converts, who were willing to tell “the truth about Judaism.”

9.  Fanatic Jewish Zionists like Melanie Phillips (author of Londonistan), Nidra Poller (author of “Betrayed by Europe: An Expatriate’s Lament,”, Giselle Littman (author of Eurabia under the pen name Bat Ye’or), and Bernard Lewis (see ) are scare-mongering the Islamization or Arabization of Europe just as Henry Ford ranted about the Judaization of the USA in The International Jew and just as numerous Central and Eastern European anti-Semites denounced the Judaization of Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw or Łódź.

10.  The organized Jewish community is attempting to make the denial of the Holocaust of popular discourse today the equivalent of denying the divinity of Jesus within traditional Christian Judeophobic discourse. The similarity of these two cardinal “sins” is particularly striking because scholarly discussion of the mass murder of Jews during WW2 like scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus during the 19th and 20th century differs massively from the popular conceptualization in both cases (see ).

The pattern outlined above is not only despicable, but it is also shamelessly clear. The purveyors of this sort of Islamophobia on steroids have a very clear goal to marginalize Western Muslims so drastically so that no respectable political group and especially that no progressives would ever have any association with American Muslims whatsoever — except, of course, for those vile and contemptible Jewish anti-Semites so graciously identified by the AJC.

Because professional Islamophobes in the organized American Jewish community or among US Zionist groups would certainly not mind and would probably be overjoyed if their incitement against Islam led to the expulsion or even to the genocide of American Muslim communities, these fanatic Muslim haters are probably guilty of the crime of fomenting genocide and should be indicted at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Concerned Americans must begin seriously to consider whether fanatic and extremist Jewish Americans, more committed to Zionism than either to their fellow Americans or to basic human decency, should continue to play important roles in US media, academia and politics. Certainly, the AJC and its spin-off Commentary are crossing the line into the sort of un-American and subversive activities not seen to such a degree since the pro-Soviet subversion of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.