Tuesday, September 24, 2013

1,443 Words of (Mostly) Balderdash

There is no such thing, it is said, as bad publicity. However, a recent article in Tablet Magazine would have been better publicity for Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) if author Steve Friess had been committed to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Friess would also benefit by learning a thing or two about professional journalism from Ryan Stanton. Below are several excerpts, preceded by "SF", from Friess' September 12 article, "500 Days of Protest in Ann Arbor", my comments follow each excerpt.

SF: "protesters ... wave doctored Israeli flags, with red lines crossing out the Star of David in the middle, and solicit honks from passing motorists."

Only one "doctored" Israeli flag has appeared at the protest outside the Beth Israel Congregation (BIC). On that flag, the red slash of the international no/prohibition symbol does indeed cross the "star of David", aka the "magen David", but solely because it is the central emblem adorning the flag of the State of Israel. That emblem, a hexagram, is not an ancient Judaic symbol.

As noted in the "Magen David" entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, the hexagram was used "as early as the Bronze Age ... in many civilizations and in regions as far apart as Mesopotamia and Britain." The symbol also "appears in early Byzantine and many medieval European churches ... Probably in imitation of church usage – and certainly not as a specifically Jewish symbol – the hexagram is found on some synagogues from the later Middle Ages ..."

So, how did the hexagram become associated with Jews and Judaism? According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica: "The prime motive behind the wide diffusion of the sign in the 19th century was the desire to imitate Christianity. ... From such general use it was taken over by the Zionist movement. The very first issue of Die Welt, Herzl's Zionist journal, bore it as its emblem."

Judaism 101 adds: "The Magen David gained popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897, but the symbol continued to be controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag."

SF: "the group—known as Jewish Witnesses For Peace and Friends even though Herskovitz is its only regular Jewish participant ..."

This false and misleading. Marcia Federbush, who is Jewish, also attends the vigil regularly. While it is true that a majority of current participants are not Jewish, this was not always the case. When the vigil started, Jews comprised a majority. Several Jews quit because they were not able to stand up to the pressure and smears meted out by Zionist Jews. Further, other Jews who were there from the beginning, such as Rachel Persico, Larry Hochman, and Sol Metz, have since died. It is, perhaps, a sign of the moral decrepitude of the larger Jewish community that no younger Jews have come forward to take their places.

SF: "Almost every Shabbat since Sept. 13, 2003, they have appeared at this corner on Washtenaw Avenue decrying the synagogue as an agent of Palestinian oppression."

This is also misleading. No one in JWPF asserts that BIC is "an agent of Palestinian oppression". As AnnArbor.com reported nearly a month ago: "Herskovitz said his group isn't blaming the synagogue for the actions of a foreign government — just holding the congregation accountable for supporting the state of Israel."

What is at issue is the synagogue's active and willful complicity in the oppression of Palestinians. This takes the form of its public expressions for the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine, the silencing of all but the most tepid of Jewish critics of the Jewish State, its trips to Israel to indoctrinate BIC youth into militant Zionism, and its cheer-leading when Israel goes to war. Not surprisingly, BIC leaders and members want to support Israel without experiencing the moral opprobrium that is their due.

SF: "But [Henry] Herskovitz's efforts are rooted in an old-fashioned intra-faith grudge: In 2003, the synagogue refused to let him present a slideshow of photographs he'd taken at a Palestinian refugee camp that he felt documented human rights abuses. Incensed, he turned to local pro-Palestinian groups for support."

To reduce Herskovitz's objections to being silenced by his synagogue, which had no problem hosting yoga classes on the sabbath, to an "old-fashioned intra-faith grudge" is a way of trivializing the issue. One can imagine a 17th century Steve Friess similarly characterizing Spinoza's expulsion from Amsterdam's Jewish community as an "old-fashioned intra-faith grudge".

Curious readers are invited to view the photos Herskovitz collected on his 2002 visit to the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank. His photos document the experience that began the transformation of a nominally Zionist Jew into a stalwart enemy of Jewish hypocrisy and chauvinism. Also, Herskovitz first turned to fellow Jews and the peace community from which he came when his efforts were rejected by Rabbi Dobrusin.

SF: "Beth Israel's rabbi, Robert Dobrusin, said he rejected the original request because he didn't know what context Herskovitz planned to use for his presentation. 'If what's happened since then is any indication, I was right,' Dobrusin said this week."

This is a rather strange assertion. Why didn't Dobrusin ask Herskovitz about the "context" and content? And why didn't Friess ask Dobrusin about that? In fact, I've spoken to Henry Herskovitz and he says Dobrusin knew exactly what he wanted to do.

SF: "Herskovitz, for his part, first called on Beth Israel to denounce Israel's existence, and now promises they'll stand down if Dobrusin removes the Israeli flag from the sanctuary."

Here is Herskovitz's comment on the Tablet Magazine web site:
Friess' claim that "Herskovitz, for his part, first called on Beth Israel to denounce Israel’s existence" is simply not true. Though I personally believe that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish supremacist state, I have never called upon Beth Israel to do the same, whether it was when the vigils started, nor now.

Rather, as our deceased friend and vigiler Sol Metz reiterated in the Ann Arbor News (July 17, 2009): "Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends will end the vigils if Beth Israel satisfies our three previously stated requests or if equivalent goals are achieved through negotiations with Beth Israel: Committing to work for the equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, committing to work for the end of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and committing to work for the right of Palestinians to return to the homes from which they were forcibly removed in what was to become Israel."
It is also inaccurate to report that removing the flag will end the vigils. That is Herskovitz's personal issue, JWPF has never adopted that position collectively.

SF:"[Herskovitz] says he attended High Holiday services at Beth Israel before Dobrusin's 1988 hire, but now he spends Yom Kippur each year taunting fasting worshippers by dubbing it International Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day."

Herskovitz never dubbed Yom Kippur anything and he certainly doesn't taunt anyone, no one brings burgers to the vigil. The only way "worshippers" would even know about the Bill Henry, Z"L, international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day is if they chose to read about it here, in Herskovitz's weekly vigil reports, or, now, from Friess' article. Not much of a taunt.

SF: "[Herskovitz] and his group are scrupulous about staying off synagogue property and not obstructing anyone's ability to come and go—just as the synagogue has been scrupulous about respecting Herskovitz's First Amendment right to carry on protesting."

There is some truth to this. JWPF has been scrupulous about not obstructing people, the only people ever investigated or arrested by police in connection with the protests were a Beth Israel congregant, Eli Avny (Assault with a Deadly Weapon), and a BIC guest, Abraham Seligman (Assault and Battery). But there is a false equivalence suggested here. For, while JWPF has never sought any means, legal or extra-legal, to prevent people from attending services, the congregation has not been similarly respectful of the rights of JWPF members.

In 2007, it came to light that BIC was handing out a leaflet entitled,"Frequently Asked Questions About the Synagogue Protesters". It included these words:
Since what they are doing is legal, we cannot force them to leave, and we do not want to hand them the publicity a legal fight would entail. Our instincts in this area have been affirmed by the current and former Ann Arbor police chiefs, and by numerous other attorneys and community leaders we gave consulted. We continue to investigate legal options, albeit without much optimism.
It is clear that the leaders of BIC acknowledge the free speech rights of JWPF only grudgingly and, at least at that time, they continued look for the means to silence them.

SF: "But even many who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians regard Herskovitz's group as an embarrassment. Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan, denounced the protest to The Arab American News, noting: "We'd be hypocrites to say it's not civil in front of mosques yet to endorse it taking place at other houses of worship ... There's a time and place for everything, and it would not be fitting for us as Muslims to protest in front of Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath day."

Interesting. Friess writes about "many" but, quoting a two-year-old article, he only cites a one person, Dawud Walid, a self-described "Black American Muslim" and a "revert to Islam" (read Walid's contribution in All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim). Here's something else attributed to him: "Dawud Walid ... said the root cause of the conflict [in Lebanon] was Israeli occupation of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian territory, not Islamic fundamentalist terrorists as the Bush Administration would prefer people to believe. He also told the cheering crowd that the interests of Israel are not the same as and should never supersede America's." (Source: Art Aisner, "Marchers protest war: Multiple speakers at rally highly critical of Israel", Ann Arbor News, August 12, 2006).

So, yes, if he still believe as he did seven years ago then Walid can probably fairly be said to be sympathetic to Palestinians so why does he object to the vigils?  Not for Walid is the reasoning of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: "Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds." He is uninterested in what goes on in the synagogue or what it stands for.

It's simple, Walid doesn't want people protesting outside mosques. Here's what Herskovitz said about this in the same article Friess cites: "I would say that if a mosque was a Zionist mosque, as strange as that may sound, I would certainly not attack a group for protesting in front of such a mosque; we have protested in front of Zionist churches and synagogues before."

Perhaps, Walid's head-in-the-sand approach helps explain why he and an Episcopal bishop collaborated with Rabbi Dobrusin on an op-ed about torture. You see, a year before that op-ed was published Rabbi Dobrusin explained at a sabbath service how torture could be "justified" under Judaic law. Here's the key paragraph in Dobrusin's sermon:
Some might ask: Doesn't making torture illegal tie the hands of our military in the event that an act of torture might possibly save thousands of Americans? Think about how we would respond if, God forbid, our family members were in danger. We would do what we thought we had to do, and then would seek to defend ourselves as having committed a justified act of self-defense. But we don't go into situations saying that morals don't matter in how we live our lives.
Yes, opposition to torture matters--all the way up to the point that it doesn't. When the situation gets challenging then "We would do what we thought we had to do ..."

SF: "Others point out that Dobrusin is a poor target, because the rabbi has been outspoken in his support for a two-state peace settlement. 'The rabbi is one of the most outspoken for addressing full equality for Arab citizens,' said Ann Arbor City Councilman Chuck Warpehoski, director of the local Interfaith Council, which has condemned Herskovitz and his followers. 'That's his dream for what Israel should be. We're talking about one of the people most willing to be critical of Israeli policy and he's the one who's targeted for this kind of abuse. It boggles the mind.' "

What truly "boggles the mind" is that any supposedly rational, ethical person could think that "support for a two-state peace settlement" is in any way about peace, justice, or "full equality." The South African apartheid regime, too, wanted separate states for Whites and Blacks but no decent, thinking person ever fell for that. By talking about "Arab citizens" Warpehoski also conveniently leaves 4.9 million Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 out in the cold. Perhaps dollar signs are obscuring his moral vision, earlier this year the editor of A2Politico.com described Warpehoski as "a walking conflict of interest".

SF: "Herskovitz was happy to elaborate ... 'I said it's incumbent upon Jews to understand why they were hated and why they were treated so badly not only in Germany but other places,' he said. 'For one thing, the Bolsheviks from Russia were coming into Germany and Hitler feared the Bolsheviks, which were dominated by Jewish leadership. So he looked around and said, "Well, I have all these Jews in Germany." It's like the Japanese-Americans in World War Two, we didn't trust them so we rounded them up. That's what Hitler did.' Such commentary, while historically suspect and abhorrent to most Jews, has made Herskovitz a celebrity of the anti-Israel fringe."

Certainly, it is the burden of Jewish mainstream discourse to defend and propagate the notion of Jews as eternal innocents and their 'enemies' as irrational people who hate them only because of Jews' innate goodness, material success, godliness, or ________ (fill in the blank with a positive attribute of your choice). However, there are Jews (no one else can be trusted with such matters, right?) who lend credence to the idea that the rise of Nazism and the policies of the Third Reich were influenced by the behavior of Jews.

As Theodor Herzl explained in The Jewish State (1896):
... Governments will never take action against all Jews. The equal rights of the Jew before the law cannot be withdrawn where they have once been conceded; for the first attempt at withdrawal would immediately drive all Jews, rich and poor alike, into the ranks of revolutionary parties. The beginning of any official acts of injustice against the Jews invariably brings about economic crises. Therefore, no weapons can be effectively used against us, because these injure the hands that wield them. Meantime hatred grows apace.
Although Herzl was clearly mistaken in failing to anticipate the Third Reich his main point is well-taken and Nazi Germany is an exception that proves the rule. Jews did use their power to create an economic crisis in Germany and their efforts to topple Hitler may well have succeeded if they hadn't been halted by Jews

Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, writing in Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism (2007), develop the idea that Jewish radicalism helps explain animosity toward Jews. In fact, they have a whole chapter on the subject where they state flatly: "During the last century some of these Jews have contributed to intense Jew-hatred. These are radical and revolutionary Jews" (p. 42). They assert, "The association of Jews with revolutionary doctrines and social upheaval has not, unfortunately, been the product of antisemites' imaginations" (p. 43). They take note of "the highly disproportionate role played by Jews in radical causes ..." (p. 43) explaining that "radical alienated Jews have been active in societies as diverse as despotic and antisemitic czarist Russia, the democratic Weimar Germany, and the United States" (pp. 44-45).

They remind readers, for example, that "Béla Kun, a Jew, established the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in March of [1919]. Of the 48 people's commissars in his government, 30 were Jews as were 161 of its 202 highest officials" (p. 46)."In Germany," they write, "until 1933 when Hitler came to power, the predominance of Jews on the radical left was as pronounced as in Russia. ... These Jewish radicals wielded a major influence over the cultural and intellectual life of Weimar Germany, an influence utterly disproportionate to their numbers ... " and "to many Germans ... they stood out as destroyers of everything German" ( p. 46).

In The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (1993), Benjamin Ginsberg argues "Jews played key roles in constructing a number of the most important states to emerge ... over the past 700 years. ... For many of these states, Jews were crucial in building and staffing institutions of extraction, coercion, administration, and mobilization ... these relationships have been the chief catalysts for organized anti-Semitism" (p. 11). Of Soviet Russia and the USSR, he says: "the special contribution of the Jews to the Bolshevik state involved the organization of coercion. From the beginning, the Soviet state relied heavily upon military, police, and security services to sustain itself, and Jews were active in these agencies. ... Jews had traditionally been at the margins of Russian society and, hence, prepared to staff and direct the coercive instruments upon which the state relied to control its citizens" (pp. 30-31).

Ginsberg also goes into some detail about how Jews were central to the creation of the Weimar Republic and dominated German economic, political, and cultural life during the inter-war period. And Ginsberg cites Rosa Luxemburg, a Jewish communist, as "one of the most prominent leaders" of the failed German Revolution of 1918–19, and mentions three other Jews prominent in the communist coup d'etat in Bavaria that resulted in the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919: Eugen Leviné, Gustav Landauer, and Ernst Toller (p. 29).

From Samuel Landman, in Great Britain, the Jews and Palestine (1936) and echoing British PM Lloyd George, we learn that American Zionist Jews were mobilized on a "quid pro quo contract basis" to bring the US into World War I on the side of Britain and France (p. 4). The payoff was the Balfour Declaration. Landman was a British Jewish Zionist insider and he claims: "The fact that it was Jewish help that brought U.S.A. into the War on the side of the Allies has rankled ever since in German—especially Nazi—minds, and has contributed in no small measure to the prominence which anti-Semitism occupies in the Nazi programme" (p. 6).

Regarding Bolshevik Russia, Winston Churchill averred in 1920: "There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin [in fact, Lenin, too, had Jewish ancestry] the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders." Of course, since Churchill is not Jewish he cannot be regarded as a reliable source in this matter.

Now, let's sum up what we have learned in this final section. Contra Friess, there is nothing "suspect" about Herskovitz's "commentary" about attempting to understand the rational basis for German antipathy to Jews. This is not to excuse the irrational imputation of collective guilt to all Jews qua Jews but to point out that there is evidence that Jews, a tiny minority, exercised disproportionate power in Russia, Germany, and elsewhere. Jews used power in their perceived self-interest and in a manner which alienated and angered members of the majority populations of these countries. Jews may find this truth "abhorrent" but they do no one, least of all themselves, any favors by refusing to wrestle with it.

Finally, Friess claims that Herskovitz's "commentary" has made him "a celebrity of the anti-Israel fringe." My last question to Friess is what fringe? There is reason to believe that the pro-Israel crowd may be the true fringe. According to an international scientific poll commissioned by the BBC this year, only 21% of respondents thought Israel had a "mainly positive" influence in the world. 52% thought Israel had a "mainly negative" influence, putting the country in the same class with North Korea.

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