Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Status of SocFools


I've been transitioning into journalism more and more over the last few years, so this blog--with its additional shortcomings of style and functionality--is not likely to receive a lot of attention in the foreseeable future.

Here's where you can find me.

Social Media:

Twitter: @johnpaulpagano
Medium: @johnpaulpagano
Facebook: @SocialismFools


The Atlantic
The Forward
Tablet Magazine
The Tower

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Talmud Anti-Semitism Today

I've been working sedulously on an article, so I haven't had time to say a lot about this, but I want to take a moment to note what nasty pieces of work are Max Blumenthal and his sidekick Rania Khalek. Their "beat" now is reviving the notion that Jews are a special kind of racist, and that Jewish racism is derivative of Judaism itself.

There's an essay here. The bedrock of all anti-Semitism -- since the very origin in the ancient world of this "longest hatred" -- has been the idea that Jews are a misanthropic cult whose creed teaches them to regard non-Jews with abiding hatred. That, so the conspiracy theory goes, is why "international" Jewry enslaves and exploits the world -- because, in essence, they are the world's worst racists.

This theme has been rehearsed a good many times throughout history. Its modern source is the Talmud anti-Semitism of the 17th Century Christian Hebraist, Johann Eisenmenger. An Orientalist, Eisenmenger purported to expose the misanthropic teachings of the Talmud by cherry-picking scraps and publishing them as Entdecktes Judenthum, or Judaism Unmasked. These excerpts, shorn of context and cranked through a grinder of jaundiced interpretation, struck Gentiles as scary. Next was August Rohling, a German theologian and professional anti-Semite who rehashed Eisenmenger's work in Der Talmudjude, or The Talmud Jew, and retailed himself as an expert witness. In an adumbration of the Holocaust-denier David Irving's disgrace by the scholar Deborah Lipstadt, Rohling was eventually embarrassed on the stand, himself exposed as a fraud who -- unlike his muse, Eisenmenger -- was almost entirely ignorant of Judaism.

After the Nazis brought this grimy business to its apex, the efforts of "learned" anti-Semites to expose the dark side of Judaism paused; but strangely and sadly a Holocaust survivor, Israel Shahak, defibrillated the project in the Sixties... in Israel of all places. Shahak claimed to have witnessed an orthodox Jew refuse to allow anyone to use his phone -- it was the Sabbath -- to call paramedics to help a dying man. This triggered a lot of publicity and soul-searching among Israeli Jews and even elicited commentary by high-profile rabbis. The tale was debunked later, but the damage was done. Shahak became celebrated as a rationalist critic of Judaism; even the great Christopher Hitchens, eager always to insult religion, touted him. In the 90s Shahak made a lasting contribution to Talmud anti-Semitism -- his Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight Of Three Thousand Years. As with Eisenmenger's volume and along with The Protocols, Jewish History has become part of the modern anti-Semite's canon.

Max and Rania are the latest to run with this. I speculate that ultimately they've been inspired by Mondoweiss, which for some time has been dancing around the theme of misanthropic Judaism and its praxis in Israel and the occupied territories. They are also joined by cranks like Gilad Atzmon. Blumenthal's poorly titled Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is his contribution to the canon. He's marginal and clearly sick, but as with Hitchens and Shahak, more worthy figures sometimes pick up and broadcast the ideas of such people. James Fallows, for example, has promoted Blumenthal's book.

Max and Rania spent today on Twitter resuscitating the old Soviet libel that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis. Zionists, so the conspiracy theory goes, are a special kind of racist, so extreme that they were kindred spirits of the Nazis who sought to destroy them and all Jews. This is the moral and intellectual hygiene of anti-Zionism. This is the latest reverberation of the longest hatred.

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


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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