Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Shocker Out of Iran

Apparently, the president of Iran has come out and said what we all knew he was thinking in the first place. For some reason, Ha’aretz has not considered this worthy of English translation, but for those who read Hebrew, here’s the article. Roughly translated, the esteemed president said: “Israel is a humiliating stain that must be erased off the map. There is no doubt that the new wave of attacks in Palestine will soon erase this stain from the face of the Islamic world.” This charming fellow made his statement before a group of “conservative” (as Ha’aretz puts it) students at a meeting in Tehran entitled “A World Without Zionism” at which the students repeatedly shouted “Death to Israel” and “Death to Americans”. So, the next time someone says we’re paranoid…

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hobsbawm Exalts the Exile

Eric Hobsbawm, whose continued and quite conscious refusal to acknowledge the horrendous toll taken by communism in the twentieth century must mark him as one of the most corrupted intellectuals of our time, has chosen to sound off in praise of the Jewish Diaspora in the London Review of Books. Hobsbawm’s argument is not particularly original, others of his political bent have made the same argument for a century, namely, that exile is both good for the Jews and – perhaps more importantly – good for the world.
The paradox of the era since 1945 is that the greatest tragedy in Jewish history has had two utterly different consequences. On the one hand, it has concentrated a substantial minority of the global Jewish population in one nation-state: Israel, which was itself once upon a time a product of Jewish emancipation and of the passion to enter the same world as the rest of humanity. It has shrunk the diaspora, dramatically so in the Islamic regions. On the other hand, in most parts of the world it has been followed by an era of almost unlimited public acceptance of Jews, by the virtual disappearance of the anti-semitism and discrimination of my youth, and by unparalleled and unprecedented Jewish achievement in the fields of culture, intellect and public affairs. There is no historic precedent for the triumph of the Aufklärung in the post-Holocaust diaspora. Nevertheless, there are those who wish to withdraw from it into the old segregation of religious ultra-Orthodoxy and the new segregation of a separate ethnic-genetic state-community. If they were to succeed I do not think it will be good either for the Jews or for the world.
Now, I don’t think there is any likelihood of the Jews withdrawing from the world anytime soon. In fact, the very existence of Israel as a modern nation-state demands that the Jews engage themselves in the affairs of the non-Jewish world. Nor do I put much confidence in Hobsbawm’s historiography, since he claims that the Diaspora has “shrunk” in the Islamic world without mentioning that this was the result of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing for which the Jews of those countries have yet to be compensated. As for the “unlimited public acceptance of Jews” and the “disappearance of anti-Semitism”, this is simply a ridiculous assertion. Antisemitism is at a historically unprecedented level in the Islamic world and swiftly metastasizing in Europe. The only country where antisemitism has not substantially risen over the last few years – with the exception of extreme leftist circles – is the United States, a country for which Hobsbawm has expressed little sympathy over the years.

Hobsbawm’s dislike for the facts of history – odd for a historian – is less telling than the fact that, as even a cursory reading of this article reveals, he is not writing what he says he is writing. That is, Hobsbawm is not writing in praise of Diaspora, but rather in praise of assimilation. He is not writing about the achievements of Judaism in exile, but rather about the achievements accrued by the cessation of Jewish identity. Hobsbawm openly admits that he is interested only in the final two hundred years of the Diaspora – from the Empancipation to the Holocaust – and barely mentions the two thousand years of exile that preceded the end of the 18th century. He dismisses the Talmud and its attendant commentaries – the greatest accomplishment of the Diaspora, and a thoroughly unique cultural and religious achievement – does not mention the Kabbalah at all, ignores Maimonides – who was an Einstein before Einstein but who also, unfortunately in Hobsbawm’s eyes, did not abandon his faith in order to engage the outside world – and damns with faint praise the history of Halachic and exegetical thought which constitutes the lion’s share of Diaspora cultural and literary achievement. Nor does he mention the flowering of Hebrew poetry in the aftermath of the exile from Spain, nor the Hasidic movement. Even more interesting, he makes no mention at all of certain inconvenient phenomena of the period he is praising. There is scant mention of the development of Yiddish literature, the revival of Hebrew, or the development of Jewish sectarianism and modern Orthodoxy. Out of an extraordinary plethora of cultural and religious labor, created by the simultaneous embrace and rejection of modernism that typified the Jewish world of the 19th and 20th centuries, Hobsbawm is interested only in the cosmopolitan, secular, assimilated achievements of the post-Emancipatory Jews of Western and Central Europe, who constituted both a minority of the Jewish world and a very specific cultural-regional phenomenon.

Howsbawm is, in short, praising the benefits of becoming a gentile is all but name. Now, this may or may not be good for the world, but it is certainly not good for the Jews, for the simple reason that it involves the death of one’s self as a Jew in favor of an amorphous and – in my opinion – non-existent universalist identity. Hobsbawm is a man who has dedicated his life to the most extremist forms of universalism, and his studied inability to regard anything which steps out of that realm as being of any value whatsoever is quite telling. He seems to see nothing problematic in the phenomenon of assimilation, and to regard the pain of otherness and the loss of self as being of little consequence so long as it continues to produce great mathematicians and socialist intellectuals. Nor does he deal in any real way with the historical cataclysm which destroyed the appeal of assimilation in many Jewish eyes, the disaster which convinced many that there can be no universalism without the particular. He waxes rhapsodic, for instance, on the achievements of the German-Jewish assimilates, and then mentions the Holocaust which annihilated them without a single comment on the obvious irony inherent; he is too busy scurrying off to the next marvelous example of universalist triumph.

Hobsbawm seems unable to entertain the notion that the dichotomy he is posing is one which disproves the very point he is trying to make. Because if the Jew cannot engage the world as a Jew, it is not a problem with the Jew but a problem with the world. The Jewish experience of modernity – which Judaism, I believe, had a hand in creating – has proved that the only way for the Jew to engage the world effectively is not as a masked exile, pretending to be just like everyone else, but as what he is. Proudly and openly, and without apologetics. Zionism and modern Orthodoxy, among other phenomena, have proved this possible, and the vagaries of history have proved Hobsbawm to be terribly, catastrophically mistaken. They have proven that the embrace of Diaspora is nothing more or less than the embrace of death, the adoration of self-murder. It is a willful re-enslavement, a return to the wilderness.

Hypocrisy Exposed

There’s a great interview up at NRO with Peter Schweizer, who wrote the article exposing Chomsky’s epic hypocrisy that I quoted in the previous post.  He’s written a book on he subject, and not only on Chomsky.  Here’s the best quote in the interview:
LOPEZ: What's the funniest story you learned while compiling the book?

SCHWEIZER: It has to be one about Michael Moore. In his books Michael Moore goes on and on about the fact that Americans are racist because they live in white neighborhoods. It's an example of latent segregationist attitudes in his mind. When I checked the demographics on Michael Moore's residence I burst out laughing. Michael Moore lives in a town of 2,500 in Michigan. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is not a single black person in the entire town.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The J.D. Rockefeller of Hypocrisy

Tech Central Station has a terrific article up exposing the Good Professor’s utterly redolent hypocrisy and selfishness when it comes to capitalism and private property. Not only does the author give us an estimate of the Professor’s net worth (an astounding two million dollars) but also exposes Chomsky’s massive investments in tax-dodging trusts, corporate stocks, and high return investments in companies whose practices he claims to despise. Apparently, the best defense the self-anointed genius of the century can muster is: “Should I go live in a cabin in Montana?” The answer of course, is simple: if you expect people to take you seriously, yes. Especially interesting is the author’s insight into the fact that this faux-anarchist is, in fact, a talented capitalist entrepreneur who has reaped enormous benefits from American traditions of private property.
Chomsky is rich precisely because he has been such an enormously successful capitalist. Despite the anti-profit rhetoric, like any other corporate capitalist he has turned himself into a brand name…

Chomsky's business works something like this. He gives speeches on college campuses around the country at $12,000 a pop, often dozens of times a year.

Can't go and hear him in person? No problem: you can go online and download clips from earlier speeches-for a fee. You can hear Chomsky talk for one minute about "Property Rights"; it will cost you seventy-nine cents. You can also by a CD with clips from previous speeches for $12.99… It would not be advisable to download the audio from one of his speeches without paying the fee, warns his record company, Alternative Tentacles. (Did Andrei Sakharov have a licensing agreement with a record company?) And when it comes to his articles, you'd better keep your hands off. Go to the official Noam Chomsky website and the warning is clear: "Material on this site is copyrighted by Noam Chomsky and/or Noam Chomsky and his collaborators. No material on this site may be reprinted or posted on other web sites without written permission." However, the website does give you the opportunity to "sublicense" the material if you are interested…

But books are Chomsky's mainstay, and on the international market he has become a publishing phenomenon. The Chomsky brand means instant sales.

As publicist Dana O'Hare of Pluto Press explains: "All we have to do is put Chomsky's name on a book and it sells out immediately!"

Putting his name on a book should not be confused with writing a book, because his most recent volumes are mainly transcriptions of speeches, or interviews that he has conducted over the years, put between covers and sold to the general public. You might call it multi-level marketing for radicals. Chomsky has admitted as much: "If you look at the things I write -- articles for Z Magazine, or books for South End Press, or whatever -- they are mostly based on talks and meetings and that kind of thing. But I'm kind of a parasite. I mean, I'm living off the activism of others. I'm happy to do it." (emphasis mine, Benjamin – honesty at last!)

Chomsky's marketing efforts shortly after September 11 give new meaning to the term "war profiteer." In the days after the tragedy, he raised his speaking fee from $9,000 to $12,000 because he was suddenly in greater demand. He also cashed in by producing another instant book. Seven Stories Press, a small publisher, pulled together interviews conducted via email that Chomsky gave in the three weeks following the attack on the Twin Towers and rushed the book to press… The book made the bestseller list in the United States, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand. It is safe to assume that he netted hundreds of thousands of dollars from this book alone.

Over the years, Chomsky has been particularly critical of private property rights, which he considers simply a tool of the rich, of no benefit to ordinary people. "When property rights are granted to power and privilege, it can be expected to be harmful to most," Chomsky wrote on a discussion board for the Washington Post. Intellectual property rights are equally despicable…But when it comes to Chomsky's own published work, this advocate of open intellectual property suddenly becomes very selfish.
None of this is particularly surprising, and it merely serves to solidify my conviction that Chomsky is (to use the phrase bestowed by Albert Camus on the French communists) the judge-penitent par excellence, because the judge-penitent believes he has the right to simultaneously sin and to judge the sinner. The judge-penitent is one who weeps over the crimes of his brethren even as he absolves himself and condemns all others. Chomsky has spent his life trying to destroy the American system of capitalist democracy, but considers himself exempt from any guilt accrued by his own ruthless and highly effective exploitation of the very system he claims is a crime. He revels in the very riches he has accumulated through posing as a defender of the poor and an enemy of capitalist exploitation. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale and it may well stand as Noam Chomsky’s only truly extraordinary accomplishment. Noam Chomsky, the J.D. Rockefeller of hypocrisy, the most titanic charlatan the United States has ever produced.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Portrait of the ADL in Denial

This report from the ADL on antisemitic conspiracy theories involving 9/11 is certainly welcome, but it also serves to underline one the biggest problems with mainstream Jewish organizations in America.  While the report does an excellent job exposing antisemitism on the extreme Right and in the Muslim world, it says almost nothing about antisemitism on the political Left.  Except for a brief mention of Amiri Baraka (and he deserves more than a brief mention, him and Louis Farrakhan are probably the most openly ferocious antisemites in America today) there is not a single word about antisemitism on the Left.  Considering that the likes of Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader have quite publicly voiced antisemitic conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 and the War on Terror, this is simply an inexcusable admission.  It may be that the ADL is afraid of offending its liberal base, but I don’t think that can be an excuse.  Nader, for one, is far more respected and mainstream than any of the antisemites mentioned in the ADL report, and its high time he had his feet held to the fire.  Antisemitism will continue to be a serious problem in America until organizations like the ADL get up the courage to direct their fire into their own backyard, and not merely where it is easy and comfortable for them to do so.    

Another Cinema Post

I just posted a brief piece over at Gefen on The Godfather Part III, which I think is overdue for a reappraisal.  Enjoy.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"You Will Bow Down Before Me, Jor-El!"

I guess I'm going to have to drop my pretensions and admit that Superman is one of my favorite movies. So, needless to say, I think this is hilarious. I wonder what Terence Stamp thinks about the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

שנה טובה לכולם

A good and sweet new year to all of you out there in anti-Chomskyland.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I Think We Now Know...

Exactly who is watching the BBC.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Forward Gets Its Hands Bloody

The formerly Yiddish newspaper, The Forward, which is now little more than a self-renewing epitaph for the Jewish Left, has noticed the fact that many of the groups involved in the self-described anti-war movement are more than a little problematic.
For many Jewish activists the main problem with the coalition Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or Answer, is the organization's fiercely anti-Israel stance. But for some observers and activists, there is a more fundamental question: whether the decision of liberal groups to work with Answer — an organization that represents the most extreme-left elements remaining in America — will stifle the anti-war cause's efforts to transform itself into a mass movement.
This is, unfortunately, fairly typical of the Jewish Left. As though wanting to annihilate Israel were not enough, they feel the need to treat us to a wholly ridiculous treatise on why an openly anti-semitic, anti-democratic, and anti-American organization may be slightly problematic for the anti-war movement as whole. Being existentially bad for the Jewish people is apparently of little consequence.
It's a question that clearly has troubled the left. Leaders of United for Peace and Justice, a more moderate coalition that has been focusing narrowly on the issue of the Iraq war, have taken part in demonstrations with Answer before. But they agonized for months about whether to join Answer for the September 24 rally and march. And, in recent months, they have criticized Answer's tactics.

In a May press release, the national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, wrote that "while professing to desire unity, Answer and the IAC have repeatedly misrepresented the positions of, attacked, and attempted to isolate and split UFPJ and other antiwar groups, even when we were supposedly in alliances."

Still, Cagan's organization eventually opted for cosponsoring the march, explaining its decision as a way to avoid disunity and draw the largest possible number of people to one protest.
Only the Forward could describe UFPJ and its necro-communist leader as "moderate". I suppose in the circles the Forward's writers travel they might be. In relation to the the American mainstream the anti-war movement apparently wants to attract UFPJ is as far out as ANSWER is, and no less odiously treasonous. Albeit inadvertantly, this may point to the real problem. Namely, that the anti-war movement is not merely plagued by a single out of the mainstream oraganization, but rather represents an entire ethos that is outdated, irrelevent, and altogether odious to the majority of Americans, whether they think the Iraq War was a good idea or not.
It seems to be a conclusion some people on the left are coming to, despite their reservations about Answer's politics. The growing opposition to the war in Iraq, along with Cindy Sheehan's more populist protest this summer, might have made Answer's role less of a liability. Though Answer still might be getting the permits for marches and planting speakers at rallies, there is little question that the overwhelming majority of people going to demonstrations do so because they want to publicly oppose the war, not support fringe causes.
I don't know what the overwhelming majority of the people going to demonstrations think. I do think that people who go to demonstrations, especially those who go to demonstrations regularly, are inherently non-mainstream. Mainstream people have kids and jobs and don't have the time or inclination to go to demonstrations for anything. They are politically involved through that forgotten institution known as elections. Of course, this is not something the anti-war movement is interested in, since if they tried for political power throgh the ballot box - i.e. by democratic means rather than mob politics - they are well aware of the fact that they will lose. If the anti-war movement were mainstream it would work through the political process, and not try for influence through street theater and media manipulation.

As for Cindy Sheehan, I don't doubt that her grief is real, but the idea that she was representative of anything other than the media's desperate fascination with the aesthetic of 1968 is wholly ridiculous. She struck me as a woman who was firmly convinced of her anti-American, antisemitic, Chomskyite politics long before her son was killed and her use of his name and memory - despite the fact that he quite clearly disagreed with the cause she advocates, and gave his life in the service of its opposite - seemed to me, to put it delicately, more than a little disturbing. To my mind, the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon speaks less of the growing popularity of the anti-war movement and more of the Left's obsession with image, aesthetics, and sentiment over debate, democracy, and the difficult questions of war and peace.
"Most of the media and most people have the good sense to understand that people who oppose the war are not these Stalinist androids," said Erc Alterman, who writes a column for The Nation.

The anti-war movement needs to stomach Answer's antics and extremism, Alterman said, just "like the people who really wanted to go to war are stuck with the Bush administration."
Maybe, but I think it is clear to any thinking person that those involved in the anti-war movement are people who have no problem lying down with Stalinist androids when it suits them. The point Alterman is making, it seems to me, is roughly equivalent to a conservative pundit declaring that folks like me need to "stomach" the leadership of neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan in order to achieve a higher political good. If these are the friends the anti-war movement needs to succeed than they don't deserve to succeed. I've always thought Alterman was a distinctly untalented hack with a nasty tendency to engage in apologia for anti-semitism and anti-Americanism when it suits him, this does nothing to dissuade me from that conviction.

But Alterman's willful blindness - or worse, depending on how you look at it - points to a deeper problem on the Jewish Left and on the Left in general. It is a problem personified in the anti-war movement and in this article as well. Namely, an inability or unwillingness to recognize poltiical evil when it is sitting right in front of your face. In the name of an amorphous - and therefore useless - unity, the Jewish Left is willing to lay down with supporters of terrorists dedicated to killing Jews and annihilating the Jewish state, and the anti-war Left in general is willing to lie down with totalitarians and anti-democratic demagogues. What we need from the Forward, if it is going to be more than an epitaph for a dying creed, is not apologia but denunciation. We need the Jewish Left to learn the real lesson of 1968 - that the man who lies down with murderers will eventually have blood on his own hands. At the moment that seems to be, unfortunately, far too much to ask for.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Blogging My Way Out of Poverty

As you may have noticed, I've decided to see if AdSense can aid a poor student like me in making some money off of his various internet musings. If any of you don't like the presence of ads or think they interfere with the blog, please feel free to email me and let me know how you feel about it.

Incidentally, I've been very busy with signing up for courses, friends getting married, and various other things; but I hope to return to regular posting in the very near future.