To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell
Friday, December 19, 2014
Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s LinkedIn page offers some inadvertent humor in light of the train wreck her article about the “rape culture” at UVA has produced for Rolling Stone.
The RS contributor sees herself as a “feature writer and tireless reporter” whose work has appeared in a long list of impressive national glossies, as well as "possibly some other publications that don’t come to mind right now.” She adds that she specializes “in narrative nonfiction, with a particular focus on crime, health & society -- and anything, it seems, that requires about a thousand interviews.” Her work, she also notes, “has won an armload of prestigious awards.” In conclusion, she declares “I love what I do."
As the UVA rape story enters its second month of controversy, the LinkedIn lulz stand in stark contrast to the Rolling Stone’s editorial agony. The magazine has been to forced to launch an “internal review” into where it’s reporting, editing and fact checking procedures fell down, which follows two different “Note to Our Readers,” both of which left critics and readers growling. The first focused on “Jackie,” the victim, who was the primary focus of much of the RS account, explaining that “Our trust in her was misplaced." Amending the note after an uproar for “blaming the victim,” the magazine took responsibility for reporting errors, saying "These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie."
So far, even without the results of the internal review, there’s mounting evidence that Rubin Erdely failed to do the due diligence required to verify that the main character in her Rolling Stone article on campus rape at the university of Virginia was in fact assaulted by seven men at a frat party, or to verify that there even was a frat party to begin with. She also seems to have misrepresented what the friends who came to her aid after the rape said and did when she called them out in the middle of the night for help. In the article, Rubin Erdley portrays the three friends as being more worried about the social repercussions of helping the victim than in getting her to the hospital and alerting authorities.
The Washington Post, the AP and others have all reported that Rubin Erdley seems to have fallen fatally short of her “1000 interviews” claim, and made an agreement with the alleged victim not to contact the “perpetrators” for their side of the story. And other news organizations have also reported that Rubin Erdley did not interview the three friends who she said came to the alleged victim just after the supposed attack, despite reconstructing their encounter and the conversation at its center for the article she wrote.
Such revelations give the pronounced impression that Rubin Erdley may have lied about her efforts to contact them and instead lazily relied on the alleged victim for a reconstruction of the post-attack encounter, which did not remotely happen as Rubin Erdely reported. As one of these students told the AP: "I couldn't help but notice that everything that the article said about me was incorrect.” One of the other students told CNN that "That whole entire conversation about debating the social price of reporting a rape, and any sort of detriment to a reputation that might come around from reporting a rape, absolutely never happened." This student added that the description of the victim standing barefoot in a bloody dress was at odds with what he saw firsthand: "I didn't notice any sort of physical injuries. I didn't notice a lack of shoes. I really didn't notice anything that was consistent with the physical description that was in the article."
The tone of the LinkedIn page, which manages to be glib and grandiose at the same time, is noteworthy ---the many publications for whom she has written and "possibly some other publications that don't come to mind right now." In fact, it’s kinda bi-polar. Which is an adjective that certainly captures the ups and downs Rubin Erdley has experienced since her piece came online November 19 for the December 4th issue of RS. In the week immediately after her piece was published, Rubin Erdely was the toast of the national media, profiled by the Washington Post and booked as a guest on public radio, PBS and MSNBC. The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg, like Rubin Erdely a University of Pennsylvania alum, tweeted that “Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story on UVA’s culture of rape is astonishing. A superb reporting job.”
But once critics like Worth editor Richard Bradley, who had once been rooked by infamous New Republic fabricator Stephen Glass when Bradley was editor of George magazine, began to poke holes in her reporting, Rubin Erdely became a media piñata. The Washington Post was relentless, sending reporters into the field to speak to the subjects whom Rubin Erdley, it turns out, never did. The Post’s media reporter and its media critic added to the coverage which produced a string of devastating reports and commentary in the first half of December. PBS wound up appending a note to their Nov 21 interview with Rubin Erdely. Jeffery Goldberg, whose own badly sourced reporting on Iraq’s WMD in 2002 still haunts his credibility as the “official therapist” of the US-Israel special relationship, promptly tweeted that his “week’s biggest regret” was “praising that Rolling Stone piece.” Choosing to throw Rolling Stone under the bus and not his fellow alum even as he seems to have forgotten how fact-checkers at the New Yorker allowed his erroneous WMD reporting through the editorial gate, Goldberg added: “It never struck me that a magazine with fact-checkers on staff wouldn’t use them.“ Rubin Erdely retreated into a bunker, refusing to answer questions from journalists and even put her busy (and also boastful) Twitter feed to sleep.
Rubin Erdley’s LinkedIn account also cites the many journalistic awards the now disgraced writer has won. Among them is a 1993 “Rolling Stone College Journalism Award” for a profile of the “Christian rocker” Michelle Shocked.
What Rubin Erdley did not share however is she “borrowed” from other news organizations for the facts she “reported” in that story, which is also called “plagiarism” --- and that most of those “facts” in that award-winning story turned out to be bogus.
In a video clip of an October 2012 presentation she gave at her Ivy League alma mater, Rubin Erdley explained that she had missed a press conference Shocked had given and had “fused” her story together from other media sources. "I went to the library and pulled up tons of clips on her, borrowed whatever facts I could find. It turns out that those facts, which were in mainstream publications and magazines, were not actually factual. Which completely shocked me. I just assumed those were real and legit but they were not at all."
Erdley told her interviewer, RS contributing editor Anthony De Curtis, that Michelle Shocked’s husband at the time, the well-known music journalist Bart Bull called her up at home and stepped her through her errors. He did so less to scold her than to help her in a avuncular kind of way, she explained. “He had read the story and just about everything in the story was wrong," Rubin Erdley told De Curtis somewhat matter-of-factly.
Despite the factual inaccuracies of the profile, and its dubious methodology, which for the record entailed no interviews at all, Erdely took the RS award as a "sign from God" that she should be a journalist instead of a psychiatrist. She switched from pre med to major in English, graduating in 1994. She was immediately hired at Philadelphia magazine by Eliot Kaplan, another Penn alum, who is now head of “talent acquisition” at Hearst.
Rolling Stone isn’t commenting right now about the UVA rape fiasco, or about Sabrina Rubin Erdely. I’m sure though that its editors now wish the magazine had noticed problems in her work long ago---and never gave her the award that she took as divine encouragement.
Of course, a psychiatrist with a loose sense of the truth and a loose sense of professional ethics can do a lot of damage too. But it’s usually one patient at a time, and not anywhere near the broad damage that Rubin Erdley has wrecked on the reputations of a university, on a fraternity system, on nearly a dozen individuals who were defamed, slandered and libeled by this bit of “execrable” journalism, as the Washington Post has called it, and on the journalistic credibility of Rolling Stone, especially its rigorous fact-checking process.
And that’s not even getting into the harm done to individuals and institutions at the center of Rubin Erdley’s other pieces for RS, as well as the ones she has written for well-known magazines such as The New Yorker, Philadelphia, Self and Cosmopolitan. Many of these pieces, which I’ve read over the last week or so, give off the same problematic odor as her dubious UVA rape story. They are overreliant on anonymous sources who make outlandish claims and offer ringing quotes that are “too good to be true.” They’re also focused on traumatized victims who may become objects of solicitude or hypersensitivity for fact-checkers, if the fact-checkers were even allowed direct access to them, which in the case of UVA’s Jackie I’ll bet did not happen. I reached out to Philadelpha to see if they were planning an audit of the pieces Rubin Erdely did for them and was told they weren’t sure if they were planning on one but would get back to me. I spoke with Nicole Scott, the managing editor who said she was a Penn grad too, from the class of 2013. Penn grads seem to move up the ladder pretty quick.
The Rubin Erdely pieces I found troubling epitomize the very “radical chic” sensibility that Tom Wolfe, a Rolling Stone writer for some time, once satirized. These pieces take a sensational approach to the presumed moral and institutional failings of the Catholic Church, Christian evangelicals and the American military, with ideological feminism functioning as a pole star and filter, edged with ethnic snark and cultural prejudice.
The UVA story, for instance, is filled with what the cultural studies majors might refer to as Anti Wasp “hate signifiers,” ---“dog whistles,” as ethnic guardians like Jeffrey Goldberg call them. Rubin Erdley describes ”the toned, tanned, overwhelmingly blonde” members of the UVA student body, as well as the university’s “aura of preppy success,” “old money” and “privilege.” UVA is a place “where social status is paramount,” she writes, with the university’s “cherished Party culture” fusing “the decorum of the Southern aristocracy with binge drinking.”
Rubin Erdely has acknowledged that she had considered using other schools as her focus for an examination of campus “rape culture”---Harvard, Yale and her alma, Penn among them---“rape shopping,” it’s been called. But she chose UVa instead, a place where Scott McConnell of the American Conservative explains, “the perpetrators could unambiguously presented as white Christian males—a group which would likely be underrepresented at any other prestige college.” Indeed, you can say what you will about Penn, where the ethnic and religious composition of the student body is much, much different than UVA’s, but it’s hard to see anyone ever describing that school as “overwhelmingly blonde” or being Aryan Highball Heaven.
Likewise the aroma exuded from “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex Crime Files,” a 2011 expose of the “secret” archives that the Philadelphia Archdiocese maintained on its clerical abusers and their victims. The piece, accompanied by an illustration of bloody Jesus on the cross, focused on a former Philadelphia altar boy who claimed that two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher “raped and sodomized” him when he was ten years old in 1998, “sometimes making him perform stripteases or getting him drunk on sacramental wine after Mass.” Rubin Erdley based this piece on a grand jury report that was found to have at least 20 factual inaccuracies, and failed to acknowledge that every time the victim told his story he changed it, in the end dropping the most lurid accusations at trial. As former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano reported in Newsweek, Rubin Erdley also failed to tell readers of the accuser’s extensive criminal record and history of drug abuse that impugned his credibility, and that every witness who police interviewed, including the boy’s mother, brother and former teacher, contradicted the boy’s account.
On TV, Bill Donahue of the Catholic League often comes across a bit under-medicated. But his letter of complaint to Rolling Stone that Erdely’s clerical sex abuse piece inspired was spot on, especially about the article’s conspiratorial tone. Wrote Donahue
As with any form of prejudice, there are staples that are commonly employed by bigoted writers. Anti- Catholics, for instance, like to play on the stereotype that the Church operates in secret, as a top-down organization, run by Rome. True to form, not including the title of Erdely’s piece, the term “secret” appears 16 times in her article… This is the kind of melodramatic language that is important to Erdely’s agenda; it invites the reader to think the worst about the Church.
And let’s not forget Rubin Erdely’s 1998 Philadelphia piece about a high end suburban prostitute, who has come to be known as the “Mainline Madam.” This yuppie hooker/mother, Rubin Erdley claimed, was bothered by the fact that some people thought prostitution was immoral. The hooker, Erica, Rubin Erdley explained, was “a devout Catholic who goes to church twice weekly and considers herself an exemplary human being with a strong sense of values.” Like many other rubin Erdley pieces, this one too has a central character who was given a pseudonym (“Erica”) and whose claims, particularly about the frequency of her mass-going, were difficult if not impossible to fact check.
Some journalists are now speaking of Rubin Erdley in the same breath as Stephen Glass, the New Republic’s serial fabulist and fabricator who, incidentally, also wrote for Rolling Stone before scandal brought him down in 1998. Some think RS, which was lackluster in reviewing the work Glass had done for them, and even went so far as to hire him again for a 2003 piece on Canadian marijuana laws, might be experiencing karmic payback.
In fact, Rubin Erdley was a classmate of Glass’s, who was the editor of the Penn student newspaper when Rubin wrote for it. In a Penn alumni magazine piece about Shattered Glass, the film made from that 1998 episode, Rubin Erdley said she had once regarded her fellow student journalist as an endearing if “pathetic weenie," but began to realize he was a “sociopathic creep.”
I wonder whether Rubin Erdley doth protest too much about Glass. In fact, if she would ever respond to my efforts to contact her, I would have to ask whether Glass may have coached her in putting together the piece that won that 1993 RS student prize--the one she admits to plagiarizing and getting wrong--- just as her victim Jackie might have coached her in inventing so many of the fraudulent details in Rubin Erdley's most recent, and probably her last, Rolling Stone article. As they say, it’s hard to make all this up. But it gets a little easier when you have help.
Interestingly, it seems that Jackie might have employed some of Glass’s manipulative methods to establish the persona of “Haven Monahan,” the UVA upperclassman she told her three first-year friends was interested in her and who took her on the ill-fated date that ended in the frat house gang rape. According to the Washington Times, the numbers Jackie gave her friends for “Haven Monahan” were from online texting services, like Pinger, which make it easy to hide or invent an ID and scam the unsuspecting. It’s also possible that Jackie used Glass-like digital tricks to fabricate an email account for “Randall” the friend in the story who came to her aid that night in 2012, who Rubin Erdely said in her article refused to talk to her “out of loyalty to his own frat.” Jackie may have even employed dummy emails for the two other rape victims who were said to have also been attacked at the same frat as Jackie who Rubin Erdley claimed “chose not to speak to RS.”
With RS staying mum about it’s “internal review,” we’ll have to wait to find out whether Jackie created any fake websites along the lines of the one that Stephen Glass used concocted for “Jukt Micronics,” which led to his downfall. We’ll also have to wait to see what what lessons RS may draw about the kind of writers it hires and the rigor of the editing and fact checking they get. For now though, it’s safe to say that one of the important lessons of writing a LinkedIn profile is to be careful what you brag about. Especially the number of interviews you routinely perform in the course of your award-winning work.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Friday The Rabbi Spewed Hate: Cleric At Upscale New Jersey Synagogue Says 'Vanquish All Arab Enemies Of Israel --- And Bury Their Ashes With Dead Pigs’ (Updated)
|Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem|
As someone who has been immersed in the reactionary religious nationalisms of the former British Raj---Sri Lanka and Burma for the most part---I’m no stranger to militant clerics and the bloodcurdling things that can come out of their purportedly holy mouths.
In Sri Lanka during the long civil war there, is was not uncommon to hear Sinhalese monks cite verses from the ancient Buddhist narrative called the Mahavansa in which monks salve the conscience of a triumphant Buddhist king by noting that the Tamils that the king’s army had just vanquished were not in fact “believers” and therefore not full human beings. In Burma right now, Buddhist monks belonging to the militantly nationalistic movement “969” preach the most virulent hate against the Muslim minority, demanding it be stripped of citizenship and/or driven out of the country in the name of the “land, the race and the faith.” This is so this small minority of about 5% can’t join forces with other Muslims in the region to “engulf” Burmese Buddhism, as happened centuries before in other formerly Buddhist lands like Afghanistan and Indonesia.
Still, there is something shocking about hearing this kind of bloodymindedness from American rabbis. In fact, some of the most deranged things I’ve heard in the two years I’ve been immersed in the American debate about Israel have come from some of these “men of the cloth.” Some of them have a streak of atavistic, Old Testament wrath so strong you’d think they were Biblical re-enactors psyching up their troops for battle against the Amalekites or the Canaanites. We’re talking ugly here, and we’re talking vengeful. And we’re talking hate.
The latest addition to this lengthening list of toxic rabbis is Rabbi Steven Pruzansky , the chief rabbi of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, a “modern Orthodox” synagogue in upscale Teaneck NJ. Bnai Yeshurun is considered a leading light in the “modern Orthodox” movement, which is gaining numbers and influence in America. The modern Orthodox are the sect that Times columnist David Brooks, observing affluent and educated groups of modern Orthodox shopping at a luxury kosher supermarket in Brooklyn, touted last year as representing the Jewish future, what he called “The Orthodox Surge.”
Pruzansky is an Ivy League graduate, Columbia 1978, and practiced law for 13 years as a litigator before assuming his “current pulpit” as his bio says. He was trained in “yeshivot” in Israel and the US, is on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and has served as the American co-spokesman for the International Rabbinic Coalition for Israel. His institutional affiliations also include the board of the Temple Reclamation Project, a messianic Zionist group with a long record of Jewish moral chauvinism and disdain for Islamic religious sensitivities which is working to establish the Third Temple in Jerusalem. Shumley Boteach, "America’s Rabbi" who is also Zionist moneyman Sheldon Adelson’s chief clerical contact in the US, calls Pruzansky “a lion” who possesses the kind of “moral courage” needed to make rabbis “relevant.” Though it’s hard to tell from Pruzansky’s resume whether he himself is a dual US-Israeli citizen, the bio does say he has four married adult children, three of whom live in Israel.
On Friday last week Pruzansky used his personal blog to publish an essay he titled “Dealing With Savages.” According to Pruzansky, “there is a war for the land of Israel that is being waged, and the Arabs who dwell in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished.”That enemy “rides our buses, shops in our malls, drives on our roads and lives just two miles from us,” he says, and is capable of inhuman acts of violence. Referencing the recent massacre at an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem in which three rabbis, two of them dual US-Israeli citizens, were killed, Pruzansky asked rhetorically: “How does a human being (or two) walk into a synagogue and begin hacking at worshippers who are immersed in prayer, leaving behind a trail of blood, victims, grief and horror? He argues that in fact
The question is misplaced because no “human being” could do such a thing. It would have to be a beast in human form, a relic from primitive times before true humans became civilized. The Arab-Muslim animals that span the globe chopping, hacking and merrily decapitating – from Iraq to Jerusalem to New York to Oklahoma, and places in between and beyond – are a discredit even to the term “animal.” Most animals are not that brutal.
The real issue “confronting Israel for decades and the civilized world today," Pruzansky explains, "is what to do about the proliferation of savages who lust for blood and derive inspiration from their religious texts?” At a certain point he argues, “the unrestrained behavior of unruly animals becomes the fault of the zookeeper, not the animals. “Little can or should be expected from Obama or from the Europeans," he says, “mired as they are in cultural deterioration, moral relativism, population decline and Muslim-inspired Jew hatred." He adds that “we should be clear, as the wave of recognition sweeps Europe in the coming year: any country that recognizes a 'Palestine' is endorsing the mass slaughter of Jews."
While Pruzansky furtively maintains that “many things can be done that should not be in print,” he does quite openly advise that:
*Israel should make clear that a Palestinian state will never be created between the river and the sea. There will be no non-Jewish national entity tolerated. The Muqata in Ramallah should be destroyed and “President” Abbas should be incarcerated as a war criminal.
*Terrorists will be killed, not captured (no great loss, as their fondest wish is for martyrdom). Their bodies will not be returned to their families but will be cremated, and perhaps the ashes buried with deceased pigs.
*The homes of the extended family (up to and including first cousins) of the terrorist will be destroyed, and they will all be deported to the Muslim country of their choice. A second terrorist in a village results in the destruction of that village and the deportation of its residents to a friendlier country. (If the homes in that village would be useful to Jews, then they should be retained and given to Jews after the evil residents are deported. Or, as they used to say in Israel, disengaged.)
*Anyone who riots or throws a stone at a Jew should be shot – with real bullets. Rubber bullets and tear gas should be sold to the Amish. Those who wish to be martyred and who celebrate death should be accommodated as often as possible. The media should be barred from scenes of violence, cell service canceled and cameras confiscated, like in most war zones.
*Arab access to the Temple Mount will be denied for at least six months, and Jewish prayer will be allowed thenceforth at permissible locations, such as they might be. It is unconscionable crime to deny Jews the right to move their lips on the Temple Mount! … Perhaps the day will come in the near future when the mosque and the dome can be uplifted intact and reset in Saudi Arabia, Syria or wherever it is wanted. (The Arab countries can fight over it if they want.) That itself will preclude any Arab claim to Jerusalem.
* Implement measures that encourage Arab emigration – the payment of stipends, compensation for property, etc. Thy must be made to feel that that they have no future in the land of Israel – no national future and no individual future. Start with the Arabs of Judea and Samaria who are stateless; they deserve to find a country in which they can be full citizens and make their contribution to society.
Pruzansky closed his post by noting that “Rational thinkers will argue that the “world” will never tolerate such Draconian sanctions, that countries will sever diplomatic relations with Israel, cut off trade ties and completely isolate the Jewish state. And, in the short term, much of that is true. But is there an alternative short of national suicide and self-immolation?” In keeping with the moral grandiosity that goes along with the whole “Light Onto The Nations” idea, Pruzanky says the backlash won’t be that bad because “Israel has much to offer the world, without which many people in the world would suffer. Any “alienation” that such a hardline action plan might engender “will be short-lived.”
Rabbi Pruzansky is not exactly a political wallflower. Back in 1995 he drew scorn in some quarters for calling Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin a “Judenrat” for his efforts to make peace with Palestinians, using a reference to the Jews who did the Nazis’ bidding during the Holocaust. Rabin was assassinated shortly thereafter In Israel many believe such rhetoric set the stage for Rabin’s assassination, which followed shortly after the rabbi’s disparagement. Just this year, Pruzansky picked a fight with the New York Jewish Week, likening it to the Nazi publication Der Sturmer.
But the Rabbi’s racist, eliminationist rhetoric, including the open espousal of collective punishment; desecration of corpses, the destruction or dismantling of Muslim holy places (including the Dome of the Rock), as well as forced deportations, population transfers and other violations of international human rights seemed to cross a line.
Within two days, Pruzansky’s post had triggered such a furor, including threats against him, his family and his shul that he took the post down. He told the Times of Israel however that he didn’t think he was saying anything all that “outlandish.”
The TOI also noted that the rabbi’s “extreme views” did not “faze” the synagogue’s congregants. It quoted one of Bnai Yeshurun’s board member, Stan Steinreich, a former attorney who owns a communications firm that, among other things, does PR for Shmuley Boteach’s Value Network. Steinrich said the congregation was “lucky to have a spiritual leader of Rabbi Pruzansky’s intellect and depth.” Steinrich said that Pruzansky enjoyed broad support in the synagogue, and that anyone who found him objectionable as a spiritual leader had ample alternatives in a township that was filled with Orthodox shuls. For his part, Shmuley Boteach chose not to return a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Abe Foxman of the Anti Defamation Leaugue denounced Pruzansky’s “screed” as “outright racism and bigotry,” adding that “coming from a rabbinic authority, it’s just hideous.” The Orthodox Union, an important institutional and moral voice in that community issued condemned Pruzansky’s “incendiary rhetoric,” said it was “anathema to Jewish tradition” and “had no place in civil society”--- but did so without specifically mentioning the rabbi’s name.
This would not do for the Failed Messiah blog, a popular website in the Orthodox community which often challenges the Orthodox right wing. “At what point does the RCA remove Pruzansky from its executive committee? When does it expel him entirely? How many more lines must he cross? And why is Congregation Bnai Yeshurun still a member of the OU even though its rabbi openly espouses racism and collective punishment (among many other very objectionable things) and it has done nothing to reprimand him?" Failed Messiah demanded to know.
Pruzansky also issued a “clarifiction” on his blog, saying that when he was referring to “savages” he was referring to terrorsts and terrorists only. "I certainly did not, nor did I intend to, call all Arabs or Muslims 'savages,' nor do I, obviously, believe that to be so," he explained. But his clarification was less an apology than an exercise in gaslighting, saying he had not said what it fact he actually had. A radio interview he did with the Voice Of Israel showed his lack of repentance. He called the media “lairs” and that “the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply anymore.” Failed Messiah said that it was clear the rabbi still “believes he has done nothing wrong.”
After a battering week, Bnai Yeshurun’s board issued a statement taking pains to distance itself from Pruzansky declaring that it was “in no way affiliated with the rabbi’s blog postings and has never had editorial control over them whatsoever.” The board announced that it would establish a panel to ensure “editorial oversight.” Pruzansky welcomed the measure, but again minimized his transgression. He said that the oversight panel would not censor his ideas but would merely ensure that his ideas would not be conveyed “in such colorful ways.”
Every faith has its whack jobs and fire breathers. Lord knows there are plenty of imams and mullahs in the Islamic world whose anti Jewish utterances far outstrip Pruzansky’s ugly anti-Arab views. Yet Islamic spiritual leaders here in the States generally do not indulge in rhetoric like this rabbi’s, at least for public consumption. This seems to underscore a troubling double standard in the American discourse about Israel, which is encouraged by a sense of ethnic entitlement, by a sense of ethnic exceptionalism and by a sense of historical victimization.
The accompanying irony is that a that a community---or at least a significant and influential part of that community---which never ceases to invoke the specter of the Holocaust and as well as Holocaust guilt, would advocate collective punishment and ethnic cleansing along lines that might not be as extreme as what was done to them but is certainly in and of itself egregious. In some way it underscores what anti-anti-Semitism has wrought, encouraging some Jewish hardliners to be so focused on identifying and rooting out “monsters” ever ready to attack them that they lose the capacity to recognize and restrain the monsters within. Indeed, in making their case for America’s inherent anti Semitism, American Jews often invoke the memory of Father Charles Coughlin, the anti Semitic “radio priest” from the 1930’s. Coughlin was in fact quite harsh, but Pruzansky is more explicitly violent---murderous, really..
The Pruzansky affair is important to note too because the Modern Orthodox congregation he leads, full of educated upscale professionals, represents that part of the American Jewish community which is gaining in numbers and political strength and which bring significant influence and money to bear on coming Congressional battles over the Iranian nuclear negotiations and in the money-fest that the 2016 presidential campaign will surely be. This community is also the focus of considerable patronage from pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson who is also devoting his considerable resources to ensuring that the Republican party has a candidate who will mirror or adopt his extremist Zionist views on Israel, including the stated desire for the US to “nuke Iran” as a preemptive warning. Among the modern Orthodox, Greater Israel is an object of religious veneration; sovereignty over the land, which itself “holy” is seen in a sacramental light.
Pruzansky’s noxious words also echo the increasingly strident, neo-fascist rhetoric employed by the Israeli right wing, from political figures like Likud party leader Moishe Feiglin, Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and hardliner Naftali Bennett, who might become Israel’s next Prime Minister and has extensive connections to the American Jewish right and its GOP operatives. In fact, the rabbi’s “to do” list reads as a spiteful embellishment of the steps that the government should implement to foster “real deterrence” against Palestinian terrorism as outlined in a Knesset bill introduced by Likud party leader Yari who says he did at the behest of Bibi Netanyahu.
Maybe the most unfortunate aspect of the Pruzansky affair though is the reminder of the way that religious nationalism can profane the very religious and ethical traditions it seeks, nominally speaking anyway, to protect and exalt.
A Jewish novelist I know from a family of “survivors” told me once that he considers Israel a bad advertisement for Judaism--- and a bad influence on it as well. At the time I thought his comment overly harsh, histrionic in fact. The more I see and hear however from rabbis like Steven Pruzansky, the less I am able to dismiss it entirely. I. F. Stone seems to have had it right back in "Holy War," his enduring 1967 piece in the New York Review of Books: “A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements.”
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
"The Senator from Jerusalem" as some Israeli journalists have taken to calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hasn’t yet communicated his preference for Hagel's vacant post. But as the 2016 presidential campaign looms, backed by unprecedented pots of pro Israel money that would make even the most brazen Elders of Zion blush, it’s reasonable to suspect he’ll get his way. If not on this appointment with this particular president, then certainly on other cabinet positions in the future, when the 2016 winner takes the oath to protect the Constitution, which the last time I checked was still the US Constitution.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev today offers the top reasons "why the right beats the left in the battle for Israel,” explaining why the right wing has the upper hand on peace with Palestinians and sets the agenda on relations with the US. The first reason Shalev lists is the whole thing in a nutshell, underscoring why the accusations of “incitement” leveled against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were so effective. Number 14 rings my bell too, a lack of empathy on the Israeli side of things growing more pronounced in the face of rising Palestinian violence---and the growing influence of right wing, fundamentalist Judaism that asserts the primacy of Jewish life over that of others. More on Israel's empathy issues, TK.
20 top reasons why the right beats the left in the battle for Israel
By Chemi Shalev
1. Because the right has cornered the whole deal, cause and effect, chicken and egg, lock stock and barrel. First it laments that Israel has no partner, then it makes sure to undermine those that are; first it builds settlements and creates irreversible facts on the ground, then it proclaims the end of the two-state solution. It’s a perfect setup.
2. Because the right wing is a no-fault service provider while the left lives by the opposite motto: it’s not you, it’s us. The further right you go, the more anyone but you is responsible for the mess we’re in, but the further left you travel, the more you have only yourself to blame. Given a choice between those who point fingers from morning till night and those who tell them how virtuous and noble they are, most people understandably prefer the latter and opt for the flatter.
3. Because the right, no matter what it does, is always the wronged victim while the left feels guilty even when Israel is on its best behavior. Because the right has blinders on when it comes to Israel’s transgressions, while the left usually looks at them through a 500x zoom microscope.
4. Because right-wingers are on total-offence and in perpetual attack mode against their enemies, real and imagined, mainly on the left. Which leaves the left ducking the fire and scrambling for cover.
5. Because right-wingers never admit to a mistake, never apologize for anything, never concede even a point to the other side. Remember how many right wingers “proved” that the videos shot near Ramallah that showed the shooting of two Palestinian teens were a “Pallywood” fake? Have you been swamped with apologies and mea culpas ever since? Me neither.
6. Because the right has tunnel vision and is focused on one issue only, while the left seems to believe for some reason there are other worthwhile causes in the world besides the Jewish state and the procreation of its people.
7. Because, like maids and windows, right-wingers don’t do nuances. They have a one-stop, clear-cut, black-or-white, for-us-or-against-us mentality, while left-wingers live in a complex world of 50 shades of grey at least. The old hasbara joke about “Israel good, Arab bad” has become the right wing’s dogma while lefties are still figuring out what their position is in the first place.
8. Because right wing donors put their money where their mouth is, while left wingers either spread their wealth among myriad causes or prefer to stay out of the limelight altogether. Because even when you have someone like Hami Saban serve as a supposedly leftist counterweight to Sheldon Adelson, as he did at the recent Israeli American Council meeting in Washington, it turns out he doesn’t like Obama too much on the Palestinians and his policy on Iran is to “bomb the living daylights out of the sons of bitches”.
9. Because the right wing has ingeniously found a way to delegitimize measly contributions from “foreign governments” to left wing NGO’s while building separate fast tracks for untold millions of dollars to flow freely from end-of-days Evangelists, Third Temple enthusiasts and transfer- supporting trillionaires. The former, which won’t make of a difference anyway, is considered self-hating and treasonous, while the latter, which could detonate entire continents, is the epitome of Jewish patriotic pride.
10. Because when the right wing runs out of convincing arguments they can always go to their no-nonsense god and no-arguing Orthodoxy trump cards. The left, even when it gets some rabbis on its side as backup, they usually come from denominations in which everything is negotiable and up for debate.
11. Because the right wing rewrites history, plays up its role and trashes anything the left has ever done, and the left does exactly the same, but not vice versa.
12. Because no matter how far right you may go, from blowing up the temple to killing off a prime minister, you may be a “wild weed” but you’re still in the “national camp”. But if you’re on the left you have to tread carefully and watch out not to fall off the ledge, from liberal Zionism to non-Zionism to post Zionism to anti-Zionism to enemy of the state. And even if you keep completely still, the right will eventually move the goalposts so that you turn willy nilly into what you didn’t want to be.
13. Because the left is often much more preoccupied with its own internal divisions than with taking on the outside world (See “What ever happened to the Popular Front? He’s over there”)
14. Because hatred is so much more effective as a propellant and so much less tiring than making an effort to understand the other side, never mind empathizing with it.
15. Because the other side, lets face it, has its own right-wingers, or equivalents thereof, who will corroborate the right wing’s most dire predictions, and vice versa. It’s a type of symbiosis known as Synnecrosis, which, Wikipedia notes, is “detrimental to both organisms involved and eventually causes death”
16. Because the left is always attracted to living in other liberal democracies while the right wing feels that its back is to the wall with nowhere to go.
17. Because the right always forward and outward and never looks back while the left gazes at its navel, looks over its shoulder and agonizes over where it went wrong.
18. Because while the left is in meditation, yoga, gym, Pilates or Soulcycle, the right-wingers are out there, demonstrating, building or creating a ruckus, actually doing something tangible for their cause.
19. Because the right has only one source for its news and believes the worst of its enemies while the left usually suffers from sensory overdose and too much information. (See: Political Polarization & Media Habits)
20. Because, most right wingers, let’s face it, are flesh-eating carnivores, while leftists have become vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, macrobiotic, peanut-allergic feinschmeckers. So it’s usually just a matter of time before they get devoured.