Saturday, October 19, 2013

Norman Geras -- RIP


Yesterday I was kicking cans in the junkyard of my 9-to-5 when it occurred to me, suddenly and without ostensible cue, that for some time I hadn't looked after the status of ailing Norman Geras. When I returned to my desk after lunch, I puttered around the Internet before visiting normblog and there was the news that Norm had died that morning.

Maybe the notion that someone might "let you know" that they're departing is desperate, or unseemly in a parlor-game way, but I think it serves here as a metaphor for the impact Norm had on so many of us, including and perhaps especially those like me who didn't know him in "real life". He was present, even if you didn't often actively think about him.

I discovered Norm's blog in 2003 or 2004 and was impressed by it quickly. Norm was a series of things that were exotic to me back then: an anti-totalitarian Leftist, a European dissenter from bien pensant thinking on America and Israel, and above all a Marxist -- that strange and terrible thing -- whose writing I respected and very often strongly agreed with.

There were other times over the years when Norm suddenly came to me. Once early on in an email, offering to exchange links. Another back-and-forth, when we discussed how he was from Bulawayo and my father from Cape Town. I wrote him a couple of dumb things, embarrassingly inchoate, about neoconservatism and the Left. Then the happy occasion when he offered to do a "Normblog Profile" on me. I was so proud to be number 361.

Now that I've lived a little, having rounded the startlingly acute bend of 40, I've learned that one of the worst things about death is the enervating sense of futility it imparts -- that straw dogs realization that the universe will trundle over you like the sub-sub-atomic particle you are by simply deleting the things that give your life meaning.

So much of what Norm wrote was great.  For a bracing tour, visit this round-up by Engage of some of his best writings on anti-Semitism and Left-wing failure in response.  For me, the piece of Norm's that struck me most forcefully was this -- a lapidary dismantlement of "root cause" apologetics called "Apologists among us".
The root-causers always plead a desire merely to expand our understanding, but they're very selective in what they want us to 'understand'. Did you ever hear a Jenny Tonge who empathizes with the Palestinian suicide bomber also understanding the worries of Israeli and other Jews - after the Holocaust, after the decades-long hostility of the Arab world to the State of Israel and the teaching of hatred there against Jews, after the acts of war against that state and the acts of terrorism against its citizens? This would seem to constitute a potentially rich soil of roots and causes, but it goes unexplored by the supposedly non-excuse-making purveyors of a root-causism seeking to 'understand'.

In this accessible but forensic essay -- so measured in tone that it belies the utter destruction it visits on useful idiots -- Norm gave us a brilliant, and practical, tool with which to understand and resist the ways in which we in the liberal-democratic West undermine ourselves.

Illiberals will continue to come, in human wave attacks, and the irony of our humanistic civilization is our susceptibility to their vicious ideas.  First Christopher Hitchens, now Norm is gone.  I hope we have it in our DNA to continue their fight.  I'm so tired.

Norman Geras was a great man.  We are all poorer for his loss.




Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hassan Rohani: A Beginning Dossier


Updated

Hassan Rohani, who is being identified throughout world news media as a "moderate cleric," has won the 2013 Iranian Presidential election in a landslide.

There is some basis for differentiating Rohani from outspoken hard-liners like Ahmadinejad. Rohani participated in a mid-90s Iranian-Israeli effort to "reduce tensions," going as far as meeting with an Israeli delegation in Finland in 1996, according to The Iran Brief.  And in 2008 Rohani put Ahmadinejad on blast for his reckless rhetoric on Israel.  "Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding," Rohani was reported to ask.  "This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country."

However, IRNA reported in April, 1994 that Rohani's activities were more in line with those of traditional hard-liners.  Rohani had just returned from multilateral talks in Damascus between Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian groups, in which they concluded that "the current developments never allowed any prospect for peace in the region." They discussed parliamentary cooperation between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.


TEHRAN (IRNA)--The Vice-Speaker of the Iranian Parliament (Majlis), Hassan Rowhani, here Thursday underlined that Syrian officials as well as the Lebanese and Palestinian groups believed, as Iran does, that the current developments never allowed any prospect for peace in the region.

Upon his arrival from his visit to Damascus, he told the reporters at Tehran's International Mehrabad Airport that in addition to ranking Lebanese Ulema and Palestinian and Lebanese groups all parties that were themselves involved in the negotiations including the Syrian President Hafez al-Asad, Vice-President Abdel al-Halim Khaddam and Syrian Parliament speaker believed that what was going on under the pretext of peace negotiations was not but a mere plot.

He further referred to parliamentary cooperation between Iran and Syria and Hizbollah's fraction group as other issues discussed during the meetings.

He commented that in the present sensitive situation, all those confronting the West and not yielding to compromise should engage in more exchange of views and must cooperate with each other more than ever.

Rowhani left Damascus Thursday night and was seen off at the Damascus airport by his Syrian counterpart, Adel Jamous.

During his five-day stay there, he held talks with Syrian officials and Lebanese and Palestinian groups on regional and international developments, mutual ties and the ways to continue struggle against the Zionist regime.


Update: The BBC Middle East Monitoring Service has a more detailed summary of Rohani's diplomatic activity in April 1994.  We find that he had a cordial meeting with Hezbollah's Hasan Nasrallah, in which Nasrallah praised Iran for its support.  He met with what appears to be representatives of the PLO factions and told them that the Oslo Accords were "self humiliating"[sic].  And he affirmed ties between Iran and the Assad regime in Damascus.
The deputy speaker of the Iranian Majlis, Dr Hasan Rohani, met the leaders of ten Palestinian groups and the secretary-general of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah, in Damascus on 4th April, Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 (Tehran, in Persian 1430 gmt 4 Apr 94) reported. The report said that Nasrallah thanked the Iranian people and leadership for their support.

IRNA news agency (Tehran, in English 1910 gmt 4 Apr 94) reported that Rohani, who is also the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, reiterated "Iran's firm support for Islamic resistance in southern Lebanon".

According to an IRNA news agency report (2036 gmt 4 Apr 94), Rohani told the leaders of the 10 Palestinian factions that "what Yasir Arafat has signed with the Zionist regime as an agreement is `self humiliating'and will not realize any of the goals and rights of the Palestinian nation".

IRNA news agency (2049 gmt 4 Apr 94) reported that in a speech to the leaders of the ten Palestinian groups, Rohani had said that the Hebron massacre had helped to strengthen "the jihad of the Palestinian people in occupied Palestine".

Syrian Arab Republic Radio (Damascus, in Arabic 1315 gmt 4 Apr 94) reported that on the same day Rohani met Abd al-Qadir Qaddurah, the speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly. IRNA news agency (2103 gmt 4 Apr 94) reported that during the meeting Rohani described ties between Tehran and Damascus as excellent.

In the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq, Rohani, who was then Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, met with Algerian ambassador to Iran, Abdelkader Hadjar.  He referred to a plot by which the United States and Israel were using 9/11 to justify their respective campaigns of terror against the Muslim world and Palestinians.  Announcing that "The Muslims have never been involved in terrorism actions," he seemed to hint at 9/11 conspiracy theories.

The SNSC secretary said that the United States has embarked on propaganda campaign against Islam since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, while the US-backed Zionist regime has intensified its terrorist operations against Palestinians. The Muslims have never been involved in terrorist actions, while, Washington accuses Muslims of terrorism, he said. He said that the United States is seeking to exert influence over the Muslim world's vital and geopolitical centres especially in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the horn of Africa, adding that the Muslim nations are in pressing need of solidarity more than ever before.

Archives also show that Rohani played an important role in the violent suppression of late 90s pro-democracy protests in Iran, in which he eagerly implemented the "revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these opportunist elements".  According to an August 1999 edition of The Iran Brief:

With Mr. Khatami firmly on board, the regime launched its counterattack on July 14, bussing tens of thousands of government employees to Tehran to stage a pro-regime rally. While no one was fooled as to the authenticity of the rally, it was an impressive show of force. Addressing the crowd, the Secretary of the National Security Council, Hassan Rouhani, known as a top aide to President Khatami, promised to arrest pro-democracy protesters and execute them. "Two nights ago we received decisive instructions to deal with these elements," he announced. "And at dusk yesterday we received a decisive revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these opportunist elements wherever it may occur. From today our people shall witness how in the arena our law-enforcement force and our heroic Bassij shall deal with these opportunists and riotous elements, if they simply dare to show their faces."




Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Middle Class Radicalism & Its Discontents


Two responses to the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

"What happened in Boston is undeniably important and newsworthy. But so is what happened in Iraq and Syria. It is not the American people’s fault that they have a capitalist news model, where news is often carried on television to sell advertising. The corporations have decided that for the most part, Iraq and Syria aren’t what will attract Nielsen viewers and therefore advertising dollars. Given the global dominance by US news corporations, this decision has an impact on coverage in much of the world."

-- Middle East Studies professor Juan Cole

“I’m not saying that the US is much better than China. But in the face of a bombing attack, they have absolute information transparency and absolute freedom of speech. There is no ban on reporting or block of information. All media are allowed to report, which will never happen in our country.”

-- A Chinese "Netizen"

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The New Laocoon


Andrew Sullivan and Public Debate
The mountain of words and pictures last week mirrored the piles of rubble in New York. Like the rescue workers there, one waded in trying to find something that was alive, that would illuminate and explain what had happened. Noticeable was the reluctance throughout the media to contemplate the Israeli factor - the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony, sustained by billions of American dollars and armed with American missiles, helicopters and tanks.

Such has been the pressure from the Israeli lobby in this country that many, even normally outspoken journalists, are reluctant even to refer to such matters. Nor would you find anywhere in last week's coverage, any reference whatever to things I have mentioned here in recent issues of The Observer: the fact, for example, that Mr Blair's adviser on the Middle East is an unelected, unknown Jewish businessman, Lord Levy, now installed in the Foreign Office; the fact that this same Lord Levy is the chief fundraiser for the Labour Party; unmentioned also would be the close business links with Israel of two of our most powerful press magnates, Rupert Murdoch and the newly ennobled owner of the Telegraph newspapers, Lord Conrad Black.

When Mr Blair, supported by these gentlemen's papers, pledges his support for Mr Bush as he prepares for war with an as yet unidentified enemy, we ought to be prepared at least to incur the charge of anti-Semitism by giving these matters an airing before the balloon goes up.

So wrote the English journalist Richard Ingrams five days after the 9/11 attacks. "Who will dare damn Israel?" he asked. An outraged Andrew Sullivan answered.
We should be grateful, I suppose, that those who seek the extinction of the Jewish state still feel somewhat hesitant to say so outright. But like all anti-Semites, Ingrams thinks he and the West are somehow victims of the Jewish people... After an event like last week, Ingrams wants to "damn" a country that has long been the victim of such horror. Dare? Oh, the bravery of Ingrams' prejudice! And then further in the piece, he casts the usual ugly slur of dual loyalty on Lord Lever [sic], a British citizen of impeccable patriotism... One phrase stands out: "unelected, unknown Jewish businessman." These are the code words of the worst kind of anti-Semitism...

Also five days after 9/11, Sullivan wrote a piece in The Sunday Times which identified a comparable force in America: "The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column." Sullivan celebrated the arousal by 9/11 of a "squeamish" and "appeasement"-oriented United States, that if not for the horror of that day might have "[abandoned] Israel to the barbarians who would annihilate every Jew on the planet." As much as his charge remains true of fringe figures and is redolent of some thought on the Left, it complemented Ingrams' mean paranoia. There is nothing he's written that he's walked back more emphatically, but that line stands as a measure of the public intellect of Andrew Sullivan.

Like TED and Time Magazine, Sullivan is middlebrow. His blog is a piano roll of middle class amusements -- "Mental Health Breaks," views from our windows, faces of the day, surface encounters with science that make us "go hmmm." This is the mortar into which quick takes on weighty issues are pressed. Sometimes he writes his own; other times he features excerpts by one-off commentators or a gallery of go-to guys. This is by careful design -- Sullivan is enamored of what he considers his key role in the digital democratization of media, which is itself of course a middlebrow concern. He designs his blog to make information easily accessible and emotionally evocative. He uses it to "think out loud."

The china shop starts rattling when he tackles sensitive topics. An intellectual tic guides Andrew Sullivan as a journalist: judging the importance of an issue and the value of its spokespeople by how much outrage they generate. Perhaps the most lurid example is the amount of time and space he donated to amplifying rumors that Bristol Palin was Trig Palin's mother. And if Sullivan detects that a debate is taboo, he doubles down and his hallmark hysteria becomes a kind of keening. That is what has led him to obsess over race and intelligence and to champion Charles Murray. As Editor of the New Republic in 1994, Sullivan shanghaied the center-Left magazine into serializing parts of The Bell Curve. Its whole editorial staff nearly quit. More recently, in meretricious penitence for his support of the Iraq war, he has focused on what he calls the "Greater Israel Lobby" and the work of Walt and Mearsheimer.

Sullivan's self-perception as a maverick fostering the discussion of uncomfortable truths has a stylistic corollary. It gives him a penchant for sounding dogwhistles -- using language that is designed to be disparaging, invidious, provocative, which cunningly conjures from a distance themes that are thought over the line. Christian fundamentalists are termed "Christianists" in order to evoke images of Islamists executing people in football stadiums. Jews and Muslims persist in the "barbarism" of "Male Genital Mutilation," which likens them to primitives who hack away at girls' clitorises with can lids. And "many Jews" participating in our democracy make up the "Greater Israel lobby," which "has actively damaged the interests of the United States on behalf of... a foreign country."

One effect is to draw more attention than he would otherwise get. Another, of course, is to summon the "smears" and silencing he laments in the first place, which has the tautologous use of reinforcing his narrative: Andrew Sullivan is a maverick opposing debate-squelching prigs. "I will not be intimidated," he warns.

Better if he thought out loud less. Native to the middlebrow milieu are Sullivan's capacities for conventionality and enthusiasm. Long after Obama-mania peaked, he maintains a feudal devotion to the President that has led political scientists to ridicule him as an exemplar of unscientific analysis. And on other matters, Sullivan sometimes overshares. That was the thing about Laocoon -- they might have listened to him if he hadn't diddled his wife in front of the statue of Apollo.

Andrew Sullivan is zeitgeist Silly Putty. After 9/11 he became a strident neocon, and after Bush he became a neo-realist with Paulite undertones -- skepticism of intervention and distrust of Israel. This has kept him busy for several years, but when his middlebrow intelligence is no longer able to digest what he perceives to be an epochal issue, his hysteria becomes wholly unleashed, and when this emotional process reaches its apex, he identifies a "Fifth Column" threatening to tip us over the edge into perdition.

Eleven years after 9/11, this is what Andrew Sullivan has found:
For many fanatically pro-Israel Jewish-Americans I know, it all comes down in the end to tribalism.

But they project that onto others.

I am not a tribal gay; I am a person before I am a gay person. I have attacked HRC in the past in a way that would simply be inconceivable for many Jewish Americans and AIPAC. I oppose hate crime laws; I challenged the priority for employment discrimination laws. I backed the Boy Scouts in their freedom. For the vast bulk of the American Jewish Establishment, this is simply incomprehensible. Why would I betray "your people" as one TNR colleague used to ironically call my fellow gays when talking to me. "My people?" It tells you so much about a mindset. The mindset affects all vulnerable minorities, of course, gays included. But the enforcement of it on Israel questions in Washington is striking. And it is profoundly illiberal. It reflexively and even at this point unconsciously puts tribal loyalty before any argument of any kind. It is why the Middle East is so fucked up. And why on the Israel question, Washington is so fucked up as well.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Optics, or How It Works




Liberalism today, on Rosh Hashanah, 2012: the New York Times runs a protege of Rashid Khalidi, who reaches deep into the candy bag of Israel's crimes and dredges up the worst of them all -- the Sabra and Shatila massacre -- to depict the Jewish state as amoral, dishonest and hysterical so as to undercut its security concerns about Iran.  While the stakeholders deliberate how to wring the most use out of this, Maureen Dowd's "Neocons Slither Back" pulses like a red lamp in the Most E-Mailed sidebar.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Gore Vidal: Another Lodestar Dims


As if to sweep Alexander Cockburn's cantankerous spirit along, Gore Vidal, one of the last known individuals of a functionally extinct species -- the patrician man of letters -- has died at 86.

As with Cockburn, Vidal was a bracing stylist whose worldview drew from crusty precincts of the Left and Right. And as with Cockburn, Vidal nonetheless was revered as a progressive lodestar. This is especially peculiar in Vidal's case, as he was clearly an American nativist. It's easy to perceive a xenophobic overlap of far Right and Left in relation to Israel, but Vidal nursed a quaint obsession with the Yellow Peril. In 1986 in The Nation of all places, he volleyed abuse at Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter which began with the following "conclusion":

... for America to survive economically in the coming Sino-Japanese world, an alliance with the Soviet Union is a necessity. After all, the white race is a minority race with many well deserved enemies, and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers–or, worse, mere entertainment–for the more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.

This isn't a literary curio. Vidal, the Left-intellectual author of a humane bildungsroman about male homosexuality (The City and the Pillar) and the Democratic Party mandarin who grappled with the likes of William F. Buckley, was a devout isolationist.  Attending Phillips Exeter Academy in 1940, Vidal organized its chapter of the America First Committee.  Later he described Charles Lindbergh as "the true white knight through and through" who was "the best that we are ever apt to produce in the hero line, American-style." In late life Vidal was also, of course, a conspiracy theorist about the 9/11 attacks.

So it is not surprising that like Alexander Cockburn, and Pat Buchanan and contemporary epigones like Glenn Greenwald, Gore Vidal was ardently phobic of Israel.  As Christopher Hitchens observed:

... I always knew, as one had to know - and it was in his writing too -- that [Vidal] had this mean streak in him, of a kind of paranoia -- a conspiracy-based paranoid view of the world, and particularly of American history, which leads to isolationism and what I call Lindberg-ism, because he was a great admirer of [Charles] Lindberg, because this stuff is indissoluble from a very tiny stain of Judaeo-phobia which he could never dispel. He had it in under control - but it's quite hard to keep it under control.

Vidal was less controlled than Cockburn.  He contributed a Foreword to Israel Shahak's notorious "Jewish History, Jewish Religion", in which he claimed of the Jews that "no other minority in American history has ever hijacked so much money from the American taxpayers in order to invest in a ‘homeland’". Beloved by hardcore anti-Semites, Shahak's book sources Israel's political pathology in a fundamentalist interpretation of Judaism.

And Vidal wrote the following Nation essay, which contains his quote about "Asiatics" and demonstrates that for him, there wasn't a clear distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.  I've added highlighting in red, in case you wish to skip to the really piquant parts.

The Empire Lovers Strike Back
March 22, 1986

Gore Vidal lives in Los Angeles and Rome. His coruscating essays on the U. S. giobal role always inflame as well as enlighten. Vidal has taken this occasion lo respond to two of his critics, but he uses the sparks of this clash to illuminate his larger preoccupation: the changing image and reality of
the American Empire.


GORE VIDAL

Recently, Norman Mailer and I chatted together at the Royale Theatre in New York, under the auspices of PEN American Center. Part of what I said was reprinted in these pages on January 11, under the title, not mine, “Requiem for the American Empire.” I gave a bit of a history lesson about our empire’s genesis, and I brooded on its terminus last fall, when Tokyo took over from New York as the world’s economic center.

My conclusion: for America to survive economically in the coming Sino-Japanese world, an alliance with the Soviet Union is a necessity. After all, the white race is a minority race with many well deserved enemies, and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers–or, worse, mere entertainment–for the more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics. In principle, Mailer agreed.

As expected, that wonderful, wacky couple, Norman (Poddy) Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter, checked in. The Lunts of the right wing (Israeli Fifth Column Division), they are now, in their old age, more and more like refugees from a Woody Allen film: The Purple Prose of West End Avenue.

Poddy was the first to respond. He is the editor of Commentary (circulation 55,000, and allegedly falling; paid for by the American Jewish Committee). He is best known–and by me loved–for his autobiographical “novel,” Making It, in which he tells us that he has made it because he has become editor of Commentary and might one day be a guest at the White House, as he has already been a guest of Huntington Hartford in Nassau.

Over the years, Poddy has, like his employers, the A.J.C., moved from those liberal positions traditionally occupied by American Jews (and me) to the far right of American politics. The reason for that is simple. In order to get Treasury money for Israel (last year $5 billion), pro-Israel lobbyists must see to it that America’s “the Russians are coming” squads are in place so that they can continue to frighten the American people into spending enormous sums for “defense,” which also means the support of Israel in its never-ending wars against just about everyone.

To make sure that nearly a third of the Federal budget goes to the Pentagon and Israel, it is necessary for the pro-Israel lobbyists to make common cause with our lunatic right. Hence, the virulent propaganda.

Poddy denounced Mailer and me in the pages of the New York Post. According to him, we belong to that mindless majority of pinko intellectuals who actually think that the nation spends too much on the Pentagon and not enough on, say, education. Since sustained argument is not really his bag, he must fall back on the ad hominem attack, a right-wing specialty–and, of course, on our flag, which he wears like a designer kaftan because “the blessings of freedom and prosperity are greater and more widely shared [here] than in any country known to human history.” Poddy should visit those Western European countries whose per capita income is higher than ours. All in all, Poddy is a silly billy.

Significantly, the one Yiddish word that has gained universal acceptance in this country is chutzpah. Example: In 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Podhoretz were in upstate New York where I used to live. I was trying out a play at the Hyde Park Playhouse; the play was set during the Civil War. “Why,” asked Poddy, “are you writing a play about, of all things, the Civil War?” I explained to him that my mother’s family had fought for the Confederacy and my father’s for the Union, and that the Civil War was–and is–to the United States what the Trojan War was to the Greeks, the great single tragic event that continues to give resonance to our Republic.

“Well, to me,” said Poddy, “the Civil War is as remote and as irrelevant as the War of the Roses.” I realized then that he was not planning to become an “assimilated American,” to use the old-fashioned terminology; but, rather, his first loyalty would always be to Israel. Yet he and Midge stay on among us, in order to make propaganda and raise money for Israel–a country they don’t seem eager to live in. Jewish joke, circa 1900: A Zionist is someone who wants to ship other people off to Palestine.

Midge was next to strike. But before she launched her attack, in something called Contentions, she put on her thinking cap and actually read what I wrote. I give her high marks for that. Unfortunately, she found my history lesson hard going. But then, like most of our Israeli fifth columnists, Midge isn’t much interested in what the goyim were up to before Ellis Island. She also likes the ad hominem attack. When I noted that our writers seldom speak out on matters of war and peace because so many of them are paid for by universities that receive money from the garrison state, Midge tartly retorted, “He, after all, is not paid by a university but by those great centers of independence, the film companies.” Since my last Hollywood film, The Best Man, was made in 1964, I have been “paid” by that American public that buys my books about the American past, a subject of no demonstrable interest to Midge and Poddy and their friends.

Midge was amazed by my description of how we seized territories from Mexico, including California; annexed Hawaii and Puerto Rico and, of course, the Philippines, where we slaughtered between 100,000 and 200,000 of the inhabitants. Interesting note: American imperialists froth if the figures for those murdered are ever in excess of 60,000 men, women and children, the acceptable statistical minimum for genocide. Then Midge, with that magisterial gooniness that marks her polemical style, told us, “that three of these conquered territories are now states of the United States, and a fourth an independent republic, is evidently beside the point–as, we cannot resist remarking...”

Oh, Midge, resist. Resist! Don’t you get the point? We stole other people’s land. We murdered many of the inhabitants. We imposed our religion–and rule–on the survivors. General Grant was ashamed of what we did to Mexico, and so am I. Mark Twain was ashamed of what we did in the Philippines, and so am I. Midge is not because in the Middle East another predatory people is busy stealing other people’s land in the name of an alien theocracy. She is a propagandist for these predators (paid for?), and that is what all this nonsense is about.

Since spades may not be called spades in freedom’s land, let me spell it all out. In order to get military and economic support for Israel, a small number of American Jews, who should know better, have made common cause with every sort of reactionary and anti-Semitic group in the United States, from the corridors of the Pentagon to the TV studios of the evangelical Jesus-Christers. To show that their hearts are in the far-right place, they call themselves neoconservatives, and attack the likes of Mailer and me, all in the interest of supporting the likes of Sharon and Israel as opposed to the Peace Now Israelis whom they disdain. There is real madness here; mischief too.

“Well, one thing is clear in all this muddle,’’ writes Midge, adrift in her tautological sea, “Mr. Vidal does not like his country.” Poor Midge. Of course I like my country. After all, I’m its current biographer. But now that we’re really leveling with each other, I’ve got to tell you I don’t much like your country, which is Israel.

Although there is nothing wrong with being a lobbyist for a foreign power, one is supposed to register with the Justice Department. Also, I should think that tact would require a certain forbearance when it comes to the politics of the host country. But tact is unknown to the Podhoretzes. Joyously they revel in the politics of hate, with plangent attacks on blacks and/or fags and/or liberals, trying, always, to outdo those moral majoritarians who will, as Armageddon draws near, either convert all the Jews, just as the Good Book says, or kill them.

All in all, the latest Podhoretz diatribes have finally convinced me that the time has come for the United States to stop all aid not only to Israel but to Jordan, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. The Middle Easterners would then be obliged to make peace, or blow one another up, or whatever. In any case, we would be well out of it. After all, the theological and territorial quarrels of Israel and Islam are as remote to 200 million Americans as–what else?–the War of the Roses.


It should be noted that a "kaftan" is a garment symbolic of the Middle East. I think this is what The Nation meant when it referred to Vidal's "coruscating essays".

Postscript: Today, The Nation commemorates Vidal, offering this comment on "The Empire Lovers Strike Back":

The Asiatics didn’t complain, but two months later, some Jews did, after Gore wrote that Norman Podhoretz’s “first loyalty would always be to Israel,” and that he and his wife Midge Decter therefore constituted “an Israeli Fifth Column Division" inside the United States.

Many of us took that as another satiric barb, but Podhoretz had his associate editor at Commentary write to thirty people on the Nation masthead who had Jewish-sounding names asking whether they had protested the magazine’s publication of “the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst in an American periodical since the Second World War.” (Nobody on the masthead resigned.) Arthur Carter, the Wall Street figure who had recently become publisher of the magazine, told Victor that the head of the Anti-Defamation League had complained to him about Gore’s piece. Carter replied, “What do you think we are? It’s The Nation, not the Jewish Federation Newsletter.” Victor called that “passing the Gore test.”

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Commemorating Alexander Cockburn


The Irish New Left journalist and stylist Alexander Cockburn is dead. I don't like dissing the just-deceased, but I have a standard response to the passing of people like Cockburn: I'm not happy that he's dead, and I'm not happy that he lived.

You won't see a lot of straight talk about Cockburn just now. To the extent that anyone still notices his long-dimmed star, it's mainly New Left mandarins and their admirers who are staggering to commemorate him. Katha Pollitt, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Greg Palast are stunned. Gorgeous George is lugubrious. The Nation, which doesn't fly flags, is at half-mast. Assorted padawans are performing homage. Even the Paulite non-interventionist Glenn Greenwald, who moves usually in less rarefied circles, has observed the occasion, and aptly, as we will see.

Cockburn was edgy, ballsy and in some ways brilliant. As a stylist and polemicist, he was a meet peer of Christopher Hitchens, whom he was close to but came to despise. I don't think Cockburn had quite the same level of talent, but he was formidable and was Hitchens' perfect foil.

It goes deep downhill from there. Cockburn was the son of a Stalinist shill, the journalist Claud Cockburn, who according to Bob Gordon, "worked closely [in Spain during the Spanish Civil War] with the Soviet agents who orchestrated both acts of violence against the anti-Stalinist left and the propaganda which whitewashed those acts." Orwell himself documented Cockburn's disinformation in Homage to Catalonia.

Alexander seems to have inherited his father's character and the core of his politics, though he went on to become a New Left icon. Along with Jeffrey St. Clair, he came to edit a political newsletter called Counterpunch, which was admired alternately by International ANSWER types, 60s radicals, libertarians and nativists. As such Counterpunch isn't garden variety radical flora. Its politics comprise global warming denial, pro-NRA and pro-Pinochet positions, as well as paranoid anti-banker populism, hysteria about the surveillance state and Palestinian solidarity. You might be thinking what some have remarked -- that Counterpunch is in some ways more far-Right than Left. Oliver Kamm rightly sources its harlequin politics in
convergence between what may reasonably be termed anti-American instincts on both wings of politics. During Labour's fractious debates in the 1980s, Denis Healey memorably described neutralism - then a vibrant sentiment on the British Left - as "isolationism with an inferiority complex". The identity is by now almost complete.

On Israel, Zionism and Jews, far Right and Left also find common ground, and Counterpunch in this vein is unambiguously anti-Semitic. It's not just over-the-top or an Asperger's affair like Mondoweiss. Counterpunch actually published a blood libel. This is Alexander Cockburn's wicked accomplishment.

The fact is... that substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft, and allegations of worse, have been widely reported for many years. Given such context, the Swedish charges become far more plausible than might otherwise be the case and suggest that an investigation could well turn up significant information.

...

Israel’s organ donor problems

Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors. According to the Israeli news service Ynet, “the percentage of organs donated among Jews is the lowest of all the ethnic groups… In western countries, some 30 per cent of the population have organ donor cards. In Israel, in contrast, four percent of the population holds such cards. (17)

“According to statistics from the Health Ministry’s website, in 2001, 88 Israelis died waiting for a transplant because of a lack of donor organs. In the same year, 180 Israelis were brain dead, and their organs could have been used for transplant, but only 80 of their relatives agreed to donate their organs.”

According to Ynet, the low incidence of donors is related to “religious reasons.” In 2006 there was an uproar when an Israeli hospital known for its compliance with Jewish law performed a transplant operation using an Israeli donor. The week before, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.”

...

Palestinian disappearances increase

Bostrom, who earlier wrote of all this in his 2001 book Inshallah, (20) reports in his recent article:

“While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.

“Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies.”

“... On an assignment from a broadcasting network I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed.”
He describes the case of 19-year-old Bilal Achmed Ghanan, shot by Israeli forces invading his village.

“The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him up the twenty stone steps of the workshop stair… Israeli soldiers loading the badly wounded Bilal in a jeep and driving him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. The boy was flown to a destination unknown to his family.”
Five days later he was returned, “dead and wrapped up in green hospital fabric.” Bostrom reports that as the body was lowered into the grave, his chest was exposed and onlookers could see that he was stitched up from his stomach to his head. Bostrom writes that this was not the first time people had seen such a thing.

...

It’s time to bring clarity to this macabre business, to shed light on what is going on and what has taken place in the territories occupied by Israel since the Intifada began.
Cockburn, in publishing the ruminations by Alison Weir on Israeli organ harvesting, was the last notable First-World purveyor of blood libel. Weir's work is based on an earlier blood libel by Donald Bostrom appearing in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet. She folds into it the research of anthropologist and organ trade investigator Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who documented sporadic unethical and illegal organ harvesting of Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers in the 1990s by staff at the National Legal Medical Institute in Tel Aviv. The staff "said that they believed they were helping to save lives, and that this was more important than trying to procure the consent of ill-informed and grieving family members." Chief Pathologist Dr. Yehuda Hiss was fired for these improprieties, which ended by 2000, though he stayed with the Institute.

Weir, and Counterpunch, want you to believe a broader, darker narrative: that Israel maintains the occupation of the Palestinians in part to shore up its reserves of organs for Jews in need of donations. This is necessary, the conspiracy theory goes, because Israel, owing to the religious compunctions of devout Jews, has a very low supply of donor organs.

This isn't like the case with Ron Paul and his newsletters, which were ghost-written and which Paul indirectly benefited from. Counterpunch was Cockburn's primary project, to which he contributed writing, and his sentiments elsewhere are congruous. "It's supposedly the third rail in journalism even to have a discussion of how much the Jews do control the media," Cockburn observed, and published a book called The Politics of Anti-Semitism on the supposed misuse of the charge to silence people like him. About conspiracy theories fingering Israel for the 9/11 attacks or for having foreknowledge of them, Cockburn was noncommittal: "I don't know there's enough exterior evidence to determine whether they are true or not."

While the progressives grieve, consider all this and the following tweets and links that lead to a breviary of other anti-Semitic quotes and their primary sources at Counterpunch. Also see if you can obtain the latest issue -- it features a piece called "THE DREYFUS CASE, REVISITED" by the Holocaust-denier Israel Shamir, who asks "... was [Dreyfus] really a victim of anti-Semitism?"


Also:
  • Lenni Brenner, the American Trotskyist who is the leading Western amplifier of the Soviet lie that Nazis and Zionists were kindred collaborators: "The slaughter of between 5 and 6 million Jews has become history’s best known black hats/white hats movie."
  • Alison Weir on that same lie
  • Gilad Atzmon, the leading Jewish anti-Semite, was a favorite at Counterpunch, which liked to run him and articles defending him. Here's Atzmon at Counterpunch: "...there is good reason to believe that Hitler developed some of his anti-Semitic arguments after reading early Zionist texts"
  • Recall Bashar Assad told Pope John Paul II that the Jews continue to afflict Christians and Muslims the way they betrayed Jesus and Muhammad. 8 years later, Cockburn published an article called "Israeli Bodysnatchers" by Bouthaina Shaaban, Political and Media Advisor to the Assad Presidency. The piece carries on about the Bostrom blood libel.
Philosophy professor Michael Neumann is a frequent Counterpunch contributor. The hate site Jewish Tribal Review admired Neumann's writings and tried to recruit him for collaboration. Neumann demurred and JTR published their email exchange, in which Neumann wrote: "If an effective strategy [of helping Palestinians] means that some truths about the Jews don't come to light, I don't care. If an effective strategy means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism... I also don't care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don't care." Here are a few of Neumann's Counterpunch writings:

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