To the Editor:
Readers of “Sandinista Anti-Semitism and Its Apologists” by Joshua Muravchik, Susan Alberts, and Antony Korenstein [September 1986] are likely to be misled in at least three respects by its reference to two articles in the October 1984 issue of Moment.
First: one would not know from the authors that the issue of Moment they cite contained not two but three articles on Nicaragua and the Jews. The article that was omitted from their citation was by Rabbi Morton Rosenthal, director of the Latin American Affairs Department of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the most vigorous proponent of the view that the Sandinistas do, indeed, persecute Nicaragua’s Jews. (Or did, there being none left in Nicaragua to persecute.) It was this position Rabbi Rosenthal argued in our pages, which are often open to the presentation of opposing views. His article took specific exception to the article by Cynthia J. Arnson that your authors so roundly condemn. I am surprised they did not refer to it, as Rabbi Rosenthal’s article shows that as long as two years ago, the substance of their critique of the Sandinistas—and, for that matter, of Cynthia Arnson—was already available.
Second: Muravchik et al. accuse Miss Arnson of selective quotation and, thereby, of intentional distortion. Is it really necessary to impute base motives to those with whom we differ on complex matters of public policy? After all, Muravchik et al. are vulnerable to the very same accusation. They pillory Miss Arnson for allegedly misquoting Ambassador Anthony Quainton. In their words, Miss Arnson “quoted Ambassador Quainton’s cabled doubts that the Sandinistas ‘have persecuted the Jews solely because of their religion’—but she omitted the word ‘solely’ (without indicating an ellipsis), thus altering the meaning of the passage.”
I have discussed this matter with Miss Arnson, who is chagrined that the word was inadvertently dropped. But the authors (conveniently?) drop Ambassador Quainton’s preliminary phrase: “The evidence fails to demonstrate that the Sandinistas have followed a policy of anti-Semitism.” I leave it to your readers to decide which selective quotation involves the greater distortion. In coming to that decision, they may also wish to refer to the manner in which the authors treat Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger’s position, described rather differently by Miss Arnson and by Muravchik et al. According to Miss Arnson, Eagleburger (in July 1983), wrote: “. . . Our embassy has not found evidence of a systematic anti-Semitic campaign by the Nicaraguan government.” The authors do not dispute this quotation—nor do they cite it. Instead, they lamely note that “in the very same paragraph from which Miss Arnson quoted, [Eagleburger] went on to refer to the ADL’s allegations.” By this, presumably, they mean to imply that Eagleburger is on their side in the debate, not on Miss Arnson’s. Selective nonquotation?
Third: the debate over American policy regarding Nicaragua is a serious debate of potentially major consequence. Why, then, do the proponents of American intervention so regularly argue against straw men rather than on the merits of their case? Muravchik et al. would have it that those who differ with them are “apologists” for the Sandinistas. To bolster their view, they quote from the New Jewish Agenda, from Rabbi Balfour Brickner, and, as we have seen, from one of three articles that Moment has devoted to the matter of Sandinista treatment of the Jews. They do not quote from Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee who alleged that “Representatives of various Central American communities [have] all strongly challenged the interpretation of Rabbi Rosenthal of the situation of Jews in Nicaragua.” Nor do they quote from any of the very many entirely respectable Jewish leaders who, at least as of 1984, differed publicly with the position the ADL and Rabbi Rosenthal were espousing. It may well be that all those leaders were mistaken; that hardly makes them “apologists.”
The real debate is not between apologists and opponents, much as it would simplify the argument if it were. The real debate, instead, is between those who prefer a political solution to the problem of Nicaragua and those who argue for a military solution. In that debate, it is entirely possible to loathe the Sandinistas, be they anti-Semitic or not, and simultaneously to believe that American policy is tragically misguided.
To the Editor:
While I find much to contest in the article “Sandinista Anti-Semitism and Its Apologists,” I will limit my remarks to some of its more egregious distortions, including its representations of my work.
- The very title of the article misrepresents the controversy which the authors purport to illuminate. By calling all with whom they disagree “apologists” for the Sandinistas, the authors attempt to dismiss (and slur) those critical of their position, thereby concealing the sharp disagreements within the Jewish community over the issue of Sandinista anti-Semitism. Even when such disagreements (presumably by others than Sandinista “apologists”) are acknowledged, the authors rely on selective quotations to distort the content and breadth of the debate. Thus, we learn that Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee became “embroiled in a dispute with Rabbi [Morton] Rosenthal [of the Anti-Defamation League] in the pages of the Jewish press” but that the “quarrel . . . seemed to be less about the facts of the case than about how to respond.” In fact, the substance of the disagreement between Rabbis Tanenbaum and Rosenthal, chronicled extensively in the Long Island Jewish World, was over whether or not the American Jewish Committee and its affiliates in Central America concurred with the ADL’s assessment of what had happened to Nicaraguan Jews (which, according to Rabbi Tanenbaum as recorded in the Jewish World, they did not). Rabbis Tanenbaum and Rosenthal did disagree over how to respond to the Nicaraguan issue, precisely because Rabbi Tanenbaum did not see “political anti-Israel positions” and anti-Semitism as inextricably linked.
- The authors of the article accuse me of “doctoring” a quotation to alter the meaning of a 1983 cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Anthony Quainton, which refutes the charge of anti-Semitism. The charge is malicious and absurd, because the omission of the word (for which I accept responsibility regardless of the source of the error) in no way changes the meaning of Quainton’s report. In fact, Mr. Muravchik, Miss Alberts, and Mr. Korenstein quote selectively from press accounts of Quainton’s cable in order to suppress evidence which detracts from their argument. Thus the authors report that, in the embassy’s judgment, being “a member of the Jewish religion is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to result in . . . persecution” [by the Nicaraguan government], but they omit the next clause, “and the several Jews who have suffered under the Sandinistas can best be listed among the thousands of other Nicaraguans of the middle and upper classes who have been persecuted because of their political or financial positions.”
- The authors correctly report that I refused to give Mr. Muravchik the names of members of a State Department delegation, which Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams “denied” had existed. Mr. Muravchik’s insistence that I name my sources is both astonishing and dishonest: astonishing because journalists know that when a U.S. official requests anonymity, those rules are respected; dishonest because, as my article in Moment makes clear, my source was in fact a member of the State Department delegation. Asking, therefore, for me to name the members of the delegation was the same as asking for my sources, something which I refuse, then as now, to do.
- Finally, what is one to make of the fact that Mr. Muravchik, Miss Alberts, and Mr. Korenstein can find Nicaraguan anti-Semites only among the Sandinistas, when Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo (a committed anti-Sandinista) has slurred the Jewish people in the most vulgar way? In a Sunday homily published in La Prensa (which was brought to the attention of Miss Alberts prior to the publication of the COMMENTARY article), Cardinal Obando accuses the Jews of killing Christ, describing how the “heads of Israel . . . grabbed him [the Divine Son], and, pushing him out of the vineyard, they killed him by crucifying him. . . . The Jews killed the prophets, and finally the son the Heir. . . .” The ADL found reason to protest. Apparently Mr. Muravchik, Miss Alberts, and Mr. Korenstein were unmoved. Perhaps they found no objection because the statement was not uttered by someone in the Nicaraguan government?
Cynthia J. Arnson
To the Editor:
In a rush to judgment concerning a very complex controversy within the Jewish community, the authors of an article on Sandinista anti-Semitism misrepresent the substance and the motives of a report which resulted from a delegation to Nicaragua organized by New Jewish Agenda. If the research described in the article is as selective and confused as is the authors’ presentation of the New Jewish Agenda report, the readers of COMMENTARY have simply become part of a long list which the National Jewish Coalition (of the Republican party) is attempting to coax into support of the Reagan policy in Nicaragua. But are the editors of COMMENTARY the Coalition’s dupes?
The authors quote the New Jewish Agenda report as saying that the delegation “searched for any evidence to support charges of anti-Semitism” but that “none were found.” In fact, the delegation found anti-Semitism in Nicaragua and did condemn those instances which it did find (particularly anti-Semitism in columns in the pro-Sandinista press). The quotation lifted out of context by the authors refers specifically to Sandinista expropriation of land and other assets owned by Nicaraguan Jews. The delegation concluded that the Jews who lost their property were treated no differently from others of their economic and social position, an interpretation shared by the U.S. embassy in Managua when the actions occurred.
Another charge in the article is that the New Jewish Agenda delegation and others who have visited Nicaragua have ignored the allegations made by Nicaraguan Jews who left the country. The fact is that the delegation was fully aware of this testimony both from its hours of meeting in Miami prior to our visit and from the dissemination of these charges by the Reagan administration. Moreover, the delegation accepted that there were disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism around the time of the revolution. The delegation tried to investigate within Nicaragua the specific charges of discrimination as a matter of policy. The delegation did not accord any more credibility to Nicaraguan government spokesmen than to the views of the many anti-government business, political, human-rights, and press leaders with whom it met. These opposition spokesmen castigated the Sandinistas for their political, economic, and social policies. Yet no individual among these vigorous Sandinista opponents gave any credence whatsoever to reports of Jews being singled out for persecution.
As members of the delegation to Nicaragua, we stand by the findings of its human-rights delegation to Nicaragua, and we encourage all to read its report rather than COMMENTARY’s distorted rendition of it. The report is both critical and fair and helps to clarify the debate on Nicaraguan anti-Semitism, even as the conclusions differ so vastly from those of the COMMENTARY authors.
Instead of a rush to judgment, let those who care about the future of vulnerable Jewish communities in Latin America begin to visit and learn how to prevent anti-Semitism in highly polarized and dangerous situations which abound there. For the record, the New Jewish Agenda has a strong record of promoting human rights and fighting anti-Semitism in Latin America, especially in direct work alongside the ADL in Argentina. As a matter of fact, one member of the delegation was the only non-Argentine member of the National Commission on Disappeared Persons appointed directly by Argentine President Raul Alfonsin. We do not believe in double standards, which is why we have addressed issues of anti-Semitism in various settings. There is considerable and ongoing evidence of support for anti-Semitism among government circles in Chile and Paraguay. COMMENTARY’s silence on such matters is deafening.
David Cohen, [Rabbi] Marshall
T. Meyer, [Rabbi] Gerry Serotta,
James M. Statman,
New Jewish Agenda
New York City
To the Editor:
The article on the Sandinistas raises several serious problems. The first is a basic methodological flaw. The authors of the article condemn the positions taken by organizations and individuals on the issue of Sandinista anti-Semitism on the basis of information the authors only recently put together.
Let us assume, arguendo, that the new information substantiates their thesis. For the authors to have argued that this information should cause these organizations to reconsider their positions would have been legitimate. For them to condemn carefully researched positions by citing information that has only recently become available as though it should have been known two years ago is at best disingenuous.
Secondly, the article leaves the impression that organizations like the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) had not considered the information and views of the ADL seriously. To the contrary. The UAHC relied heavily on the data provided by the ADL because of the value of its extensive interviews with some of the Jews who had fled Nicaragua.
Yet the article does not do justice to the array of investigation and opinion on the other side. Not only had Rabbis Balfour Brickner, Marc Tanenbaum, and Marshall T. Meyer (certainly a distinguished cast of Jewish leaders) reached opposite conclusions, but the Washington Post; the New York Times; the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua; Rabbi Heszel Klepfisz, a Central American representative of the World Jewish Congress; Saul Sorrin, the distinguished former executive director of the Milwaukee Jewish Community Council; and an Israeli delegation which included a member of the Knesset—all these had researched this issue and reached conclusions diametrically opposed to those of the article’s authors. I would point out that even more recently our own staff in discussions with Jewish leaders in surrounding countries, who had had longstanding relations with the Nicaraguan Jewish community, found a consensus that Nicaraguan Jews against whom the Sandinistas had taken action had been supporters of Somoza.
Third, the authors’ own observations do not lead to their conclusion that the story of the persecution of Nicaragua’s Jews “is rather a simple one.” While in their article in COMMENTARY they assert the obvious existence of anti-Semitism, in the Prodemca report on which the article was based, they said: “In summary, our finding is that while Sandinista anti-Semitism is not motivated by traditional religious reasoning or the more radical and racist theories of the Nazis, it is anti-Semitism all the same. Jew-hatred is not a central tenet of Sandinista ideology.” Certainly they have not resolved the issue of what is and what is not anti-Semitism. Similarly, were Jews singled out because they were Jews, as the authors contend at some points in the article, or, as they observe at other points, “. . . because they were middle class and this made them natural targets of Sandinista hostility”?
Fourth, the authors misrepresent the thrust of the comments by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Rabbi Schindler’s comments were in response to President Reagan’s assertion that Sandinista anti-Semitism served as a justification of his policy of arming the contras. Rabbi Schindler properly condemned this political manipulation of the anti-Semitism issue. Not only had the existence of anti-Semitism been branded as a “canard” by the many reliable sources cited, the UAHC believed that this hotly contested debate on what comprises anti-Semitism in a country with no Jews should not be the basis for deciding whether the U.S. should or should not provide military aid to the contras.
This accords with longstanding UAHC policy which has maintained that reducing the Central American dispute solely to the question of militarily rebuffing Soviet/Communist expansionism, as the administration does to justify arming the contras, is fundamentally to misperceive the nature of the Central American conflict. At stake are hundred-year-old struggles for land reform, for the right to organize, for the right of politica participation, and for political freedom. Only when the U.S. provides a persuasive alternative to Communism—i.e., a means of achieving economic and political reform in those nations—will we deter the expansion of Soviet influence. To ignore the basic nature of the dispute is to play into the hands of the Soviets and allow them to manipulate the frustration and despair of the people for their own purposes.
Finally, while reasonable people can and will disagree regarding the extent and seriousness of anti-Semitism in Nicaragua, impugning the integrity of those with whom the authors disagree has no place in honest debate. In particular, the singling out of respected individuals in our community, including Rabbi Balfour Brickner and Cynthia J. Arnson, to suggest that they have acted out of something other than the deepest commitment to the Jewish people, reflects more on the authors’ own intolerance than on the character of these individuals.
Rabbi Brickner has long been a voice of prophetic conscience on the American Jewish scene whose work is dedicated to the defense of Jewish rights and interests. And no one who has worked for Jewish concerns in Washington has anything but the highest regard for Miss Arnson’s integrity, her talent as a congressional staffer, and her determination to work for the values and well-being of the Jewish community. The oft-cited omission of a single word in a quotation which did not change its meaning is nothing but an effort to distract readers from the power of their argument.
Those who favor the administration’s policy in Nicaragua will have to make their case on its merits, rather than on the debatable question of Sandinista anti-Semitism. And those who want to be taken seriously in the debate in the Jewish community ought not to resort to implications that their opponents are dishonest when they feel they are unable to win through argumentation.
[Rabbi] David Saperstein
Co-Director and Counsel
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
To the Editor:
I write to protest the vile attack Joshua Muravchik, Susan Alberts, and Antony Korenstein mount against the motives and reputations of those who disagree with their analysis of alleged governmental anti-Semitism in Nicaragua. One of those slandered by the authors is a fellow congressional staffer, Cynthia J. Arnson, a respected scholar of Central American politics whose integrity and expertise can be attested to by anyone who has worked with her. (I am staff consultant of the congressional Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus.) My only hesitation in writing in Miss Arnson’s defense against the authors’ unfounded and malicious accusations is the fear that the act of responding will somehow imply to your readers that the accusations have some merit worthy of debating. They do not.
The authors brand Miss Arnson an “apologist” for Sandinista anti-Semitism (and a “zealous” one, at that), and accuse her of “doctoring” texts. Both charges are inaccurate, unproved, and hence slanderous.
“Apologist” has come to mean one who condones and knowingly defends an immoral practice, in this case, Sandinista anti-Semitism. The use of this term without substantiation is McCarthyism at its lowest. Amazingly, the authors never even attempt to prove this charge.
In fact, far from being an apologist for Nicaragua, over the three years I have known Miss Arnson she has consistently protested the Nicaraguan government’s restrictions on speech, the press, and opposition political parties, as well as its other abuses of human rights. I have personally heard her express these views firmly and eloquently to members of Congress and representatives of the Nicaraguan government as well as in public meetings.
Your readers should be aware that while Miss Arnson is a tough and effective opponent of the administration’s policy of pursuing military victories rather than negotiated settlements throughout Central America, she has never been anything but tough on all parties to the conflicts there who abuse human rights or who fail to pursue negotiated settlements.
“Doctoring” means the purposeful alteration of texts or other data to mislead the reader. It is unethical behavior deserving of exile from the academic community, and the most severe charge that can be brought against a scholar. If unproved, it is reckless and potentially libelous. The authors seize on an apparently inadvertent omission of a word to try to sully Miss Arnson’s reputation, but the fact that the omitted word is redundant demonstrates the depth of ill-will and ignorance behind the accusation.
Having been subjected to Miss Arnson’s incessant demands for absolute accuracy in data and fairness in analysis when we worked together with members of Congress on reports about U.S. aid policy in El Salvador and the make-up of the military leadership of the Nicaraguan contras, I can tell your readers that the notion of Miss Arnson bending an interpretation or ignoring an inconvenient fact, let along actually doctoring a text, is laughable.
Miss Arnson is a rare and valued commodity on Capitol Hill, a congressional staffer who is also a respected scholar. I have seen members of Congress and administration briefers, both of whom much prefer talking to listening, shut up and take notes in meetings when Miss Arnson states the facts about a particular issue, because they know that her firsthand familiarity with Central America is unmatched, and that her academic reputation requires her to be completely accurate.
Finally, and ironically, given their topic, the authors conclude with anti-Semitic innuendo that apparently includes Miss Arnson. They claim that the story of alleged governmental anti-Semitism in Nicaragua is “unfortunately revealing as well about those in this country, including some Jews, who have denied or defended it.” OK, I’ll bite, given that innuendo about a person’s religion is so odious. Can the authors cite just what “unfortunate” implications are “revealed” about Miss Arnson and the other Americans discussed as Jews?
I am deeply angered by the vicious personal attacks by Mr. Muravchik, Miss Alberts, and Mr. Korenstein, and disappointed that COMMENTARY has permitted a part of the important debate over the character of both the Nicaraguan government and the contras to be obscured by such blatant slander and unethical journalism.
To the Editor:
Years after most of Nicaragua’s small Jewish community fled that troubled country, once again we have an article about “Sandinista Anti-Semitism and Its Apologists.” The diligence of the authors in tracking down virtually all of the fifty victims is to be commended, but, as is often the case in discussing or reporting on Nicaragua, the authors fail to place their charges in context or to provide any perspective.
First, on the question of Sandinista anti-Semitism. The authors correctly state that the “heart of the charges” is whether “the Sandinista Front . . . conducted a campaign of harassment aimed at Nicaraguan Jews, which caused them to flee.” Yet even after reading their article (and the Prodemca report on which it is based), questions remain concerning the extent to which the persecution of the Jews can be ascribed to the Sandinista government as opposed to the action of individuals or certain groups of Sandinista loyalists. For example, the synagogue bombing occurred in 1978 before the Sandinistas took power and when the coordination of activities by the FSLN hierarchy was haphazard at best. Similarly, there is little in the testimonies of the Nicaraguan Jews, as reported, to indicate that their “persecution” following the revolution was the result of a deliberate government campaign.
To be sure, even if the persecution was the result of overzealous FSLN loyalists, the FSLN hierarchy deserves criticism for not preventing or publicly condemning such actions. The hierarchy also deserves criticism for not denouncing the blatantly anti-Semitic writings in the newspaper El Nuevo Diario, as quoted by the authors. Yet the distinction between Sandinista government anti-Semitism and the failure to curb the actions of Sandinista activists at least should be acknowledged by authors conducting a serious study of anti-Semitism in Nicaragua.
Which brings us to the question of perspective. As unfortunately has been the case for centuries, Jews today are being killed for being Jews (most recently in Turkey), mistreated for being Jews (Ethiopia, Chile), and denied the right to practice their religion or to emigrate (Soviet Union). Given these continuing problems facing Jews throughout the world, do not the authors consider it strange that so much attention is being paid to a country where not one Jew was killed, where only one Jew was imprisoned for a limited period (and treated, according to the authors, no differently from other prisoners), and from which all Jews were allowed to emigrate?
Given the evidence presented, let us agree that the Jews fled Nicaragua because they were being threatened and persecuted by fellow Nicaraguans, and that the government was at best insensitive and at worst complicit in the threats and persecution. Now let us go on to address anti-Semitism where problems continue to exist. Further, let us debate the appropriate policy responses of the Jewish community to acts of anti-Semitism in foreign countries. Should it encourage the overthrow of the offending government by military means? Should the problem be addressed by advocating economic sanctions, both governmental and nongovernmental? Should the U.S. Jewish community focus its efforts on saving Jewish communities facing persecution by encouraging or facilitating emigration and not allowing the issue of anti-Semitism to serve the broader political agendas of others?
These real issues deserve the serious attention of responsible Jewish officials. Accusing one’s opponents of being “Sandinista apologists” does not further the discussion.
To the Editor:
The article on “Sandinista Anti-Semitism and Its Apologists” was a good review of what happened to the Jewish community of Nicaragua, necessary because of our short memories. . . .
My only minor disagreement is with the statement that “Even the Washington Jewish Week dismissed the story of persecution as emanating from the testimony of only two refugees.” Under the former editor and the former editor of the editorial page of the Washington Jewish Week, the euphemistically named New Jewish Agenda found an ideological partner. This is the paper that editorialized against having the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem. It is also the paper that brought the rescue of Ethiopian Jews to an end by releasing the news of the operation. If the authors had changed “Even” to “Of course,” I would have been in complete agreement with the article.
Harold M. Bailin
Joshua Muravchik, Susan Alberts, and Antony Korenstein write:
Leonard Fein expresses disdainful “surprise” that we failed to mention Rabbi Rosenthal’s article in the October 1984 issue of Moment which “would have shown that as long as two years ago, the substance of their critique of the Sandinistas . . . was already available.” The implication that we were pretending to raise a new issue is bizarre. The bulk of our article was devoted to retracing the debate over Sandinista anti-Semitism that began when the issue was aired by the ADL. Rabbi Rosenthal’s article in Moment was an insignificant blip in that debate because it was nothing more than a brief recapitulation of charges that he had spelled out on behalf of the ADL more than a year earlier, which constituted the starting point for our investigations. Our article began with the words, “In May 1983, the Anti-Defamation League . . . issued a statement denouncing Sandinista Nicaragua. . . .”
Next, Mr. Fein reprimands us for “imput[ing] base motives to those with whom we differ,” but he does the same to us by suggesting that we—“conveniently?”—omitted a phrase from Ambassador Quainton’s cable. This, he says, makes us guilty of the same transgression—“selective quotation”—that Cynthia J. Arnson had committed. But Miss Arnson was guilty not only of two instances of selective quotation, but also of a separate instance of misquotation, a more egregious matter. She dropped (without indication) a critical modifier that materially altered the meaning of a sentence. Thus, were we guilty of the omission with which Mr. Fein charges us, we would still be guilty of a lesser transgression. But, hilariously enough, we made no such omission! Mr. Fein (and anyone else interested) can find the allegedly missing phrase quoted—every word of it—on the first page of our article, right-hand column, second paragraph. “Conveniently,” indeed!
Nor is this the only instance where Mr. Fein reveals himself to be a very careless reader. He charges that we “do not quote from Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee.” But the entire seventh paragraph of our article is devoted to the dispute on this subject between Rabbis Tanenbaum and Rosenthal, and in it we quote Rabbi Tanenbaum not once but three times.
Mr. Fein also suggests that it is we, rather than Miss Arnson, who misrepresented the views of Lawrence Eagleburger. Let’s see. Miss Arnson’s boss, Representative George Miller, had asked the State Department to furnish him copies of cables from Ambassador Quainton on the subject of Nicaraguan anti-Semitism. Quainton, as we explained in our article, took a rather mild view of the issue (although not quite so mild as Miss Arnson’s misquotation of him made it appear). The State Department furnished the cables with a cover letter from Eagleburger, the operative paragraph of which read:
As the cables indicate, our embassy has not found evidence of a systematic anti-Semitic campaign by the Nicaraguan government. That government has, however, taken a strong anti-Israel, anti-Zionist stand and maintains close ties with the PLO, and it is a fact that the majority of Nicaraguan Jews living in the country at the time of the revolution have since felt compelled to leave. In the context of an overall deterioration of the human-rights situation . . ., the Jewish community in Nicaragua has understandably had reason to feel uneasy. For specific allegations of anti-Semitic acts, I would refer you to the Anti-Defamation League. . . . [Emphasis added]
While not directly contradicting Quainton, Eagleburger’s words seemed designed to suggest that the embassy’s failure to find “evidence” of a “systematic anti-Semitic campaign” was not the last word on the subject. The embassy’s ability to gather evidence might be limited (for example, by the fact that most Jews had already fled), or Sandinista anti-Semitism might exist short of a “systematic campaign.” Eagleburger’s invocation of the ADL makes no sense if he believed its reports to be baseless.
What Miss Arnson did was to offer Eagleburger as an example of a key Reagan administration official who, as she put it, “denied that anti-Semitism was involved in the Nicaraguan saga.” As proof, she presented a quotation consisting wholly of the portion of the above text that we have not italicized. Moreover, she capitalized and punctuated it in such a way that her readers could not have known that neither of the two phrases quoted was a complete sentence, and she told them not a word about the document or the context from which it was taken.
Rather than spell all this out, we merely noted, in the course of enumerating several misrepresentations on Miss Arnson’s part, that she invoked Eagleburger without mentioning his reference to the ADL. This was a shorthand way of indicating that she had not been faithful to Eagleburger’s meaning. Our shorthand may have left us sounding “lame,” but in fact we were guilty merely of understatement.
We are disappointed that Cynthia J. Arnson limits herself to “some of [our] more egregious distortions”; we would have liked to have heard more. By accusing us of “calling all with whom [we] disagree ‘apologists,’” Miss Arnson is trying to surround herself with more company than she deserves. The word “apologists” appears only in the title of our article and once in the conclusion. There was, however, little mystery about whom we intended it to apply to. It was quite clear that we placed some of those who downplayed the issue of Sandinista anti-Semitism—notably Ambassador Quainton and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum—in a different category from those—such as Rabbi Balfour Brickner and Miss Arnson—who took up the cudgels in defense of the Sandinistas.
In the hope of making it appear that we distorted Rabbi Tanenbaum’s views, Miss Arnson quotes some of what we said about him, but she fails to note that we also quoted him directly. Rabbi Tanenbaum said, we wrote, that “anti-Semitic acts” had occurred but that “the real problem with Nicaragua was one of political anti-Israel positions rather than classical theological anti-Semitism, and therefore requires a different response.” We concluded with our own judgment that his dispute with Rabbi Rosenthal was “less about the facts of the case than about how to react to them.”
Miss Arnson’s allegation that we distorted Ambassador Quainton’s cable more than she did reveals not a little chutzpah. She tries to convey the impression that we portrayed Quainton as agreeing with our interpretation, but we did nothing of the sort. We wrote: “Ironically, the most important help [that the Sandinistas got in defending themselves against charges of anti-Semitism] came from the U.S. embassy in Managua.” And we quoted not one, but several phrases from Quainton’s cable that cast doubt on the charges, including this one: “[T]he evidence fails to demonstrate that the Sandinistas . . . have persecuted Jews solely because of their religion.” Then we observed: “[D]espite the fact that he seemed to deny the gravamen of the accusations of anti-Semitism, Ambassador Quainton’s conclusion contained a note of ambiguity, acknowledging as it did that Jewishness could indeed have constituted one contributing factor among several that led to the persecution of Nicaragua’s Jews.”
But what Miss Arnson did in quoting this phrase from Quainton in her Moment article was to drop the word “solely” without giving any indication that something had been omitted. This effectively eliminated the note of ambiguity to which we referred. We do not see how any disinterested reader (we exempt Caleb Rossiter and Rabbi Saperstein from this category) could agree with Miss Arnson that this change does not alter Ambassador Quainton’s meaning.
Miss Arnson’s discussion of this issue in her letter is also revealing of her methodology. She says she “accept[s] responsibility” for this elision, but immediately adds the mystifying qualifier, “regardless of the source of the error,” thereby suggesting that she was not in fact responsible. But she was the source of the error. In (mis)quoting Quainton, she cited the Los Angeles Times, but the Times story quoted Quainton correctly.
Once again she uses words slyly to imply things she knows are false when she charges that we “quote selectively from press accounts of Quainton’s cable in order to suppress evidence.” We have already refuted the charge that we misrepresented Quainton, but we focus now on Miss Arnson’s use of the term, “press accounts,” which is designed to suggest a certain flimsiness in our presentation, since everyone knows that “press accounts” are sometimes unreliable or misleading. In fact, we quoted not “accounts” of the Quainton cable, but the text of the cable itself, as reported in the press. If this text had been misreported, Miss Arnson would have known it, and would have said so, since she had copies of the original cable even before it hit print.
Let us see, too, who is being “dishonest” on the matter of the mysterious “delegation” from the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights that Miss Arnson claimed had visited Nicaragua in 1983 and concluded that the charges of Sandinista anti-Semitism were baseless. Elliott Abrams, who then headed that bureau, denies that any such delegation existed, and a handful of others who served in the bureau at the time, with whom we were able to check, concur. Joshua Muravchik did not ask Miss Arnson to name her sources, as, with characteristic obfuscation, she claims in one sentence, but to name the members of the delegation, as she concedes in her following sentence. Her argument that the one is tantamount to the other is sheer nonsense. Naming the members of the delegation would have made it possible to resolve the contradiction between her and Abrams, but it would have in no way enhanced the risk that the identity of her source would have become known to his superiors at State. They, after all, already knew, or had a record, of, the names of the delegation’s members—if indeed such a delegation ever existed.
Miss Arnson’s implication that we are indifferent to anti-Semitism except when committed by the Sandinistas is contemptible. The difference between the anti-Semitic utterances of Cardinal Obando and those of the Sandinistas (aside from the fact that theirs were accompanied by threats and violent deeds) is that no one has rushed forward to defend or deny or rationalize his reprehensible statements in the manner that Miss Arnson et al. did those of the Sandinistas.
The five members of the New Jewish Agenda delegation to Nicaragua who write accuse us of quoting them out of context, but it is they, not we, who misrepresent their report. Indeed they do so flamboyantly. It is true that the phrase we quoted denying they had found evidence of anti-Semitism came from the section of their report dealing with expropriations, but it was worded in such a way as to suggest that it was intended as a general exoneration. Even if that particular sentence were not so intended, their report said over and again that they found the Sandinistas innocent of anti-Semitism on all counts. Although they now claim that they “found anti-Semitism in Nicaragua and did condemn . . . it . . . particularly . . . in the pro-Sandinista press,” their report stated: “[W]e are convinced that available facts concerning the expropriations, the synagogue, and the press do not support charges of anti-Semitism” (emphasis added). They went on to say, after considering a fourth and final category of allegations: “In summary, our investigation fails to support allegations of anti-Semitism on the part of the Sandinista government.” And their report concluded: “[C]harges of Nicaraguan government anti-Semitism cannot be supported; there simply is no body of credible evidence to suggest that the Sandinista government has pursued or is currently pursuing a policy of discrimination or coercion against Jews, or that Jewish people are not welcome to live and work in Nicaragua.”
Of course their delegation was “aware” of the testimony of the Jewish refugees from Nicaragua. That, we said, is what made so inexplicable the structure of their report, which divided the issue into four categories: expropriations, the synagogue incident, the press, and Israel. This artificial construction simply eliminated the main charges made by the refugees, namely, that they were subjected to a campaign of threats and harassment that impelled them to flee. And indeed, these charges were never addressed in the New Jewish Agenda report.
Just as they misrepresent the stance of their own organization, so they misrepresent the National Jewish Coalition (of which Antony Korenstein is director of research and information). The Coalition is a nonprofit organization not affiliated with any political party.
At points we have trouble figuring out what Rabbi Saperstein is trying to say in his letter, and we suspect that he does, too. The information we “only recently” put together consisted entirely of interviews with the Nicaraguan Jewish refugees. Those refugees were available to be interviewed by anyone interested for at least four years—in other words, since well before debate on this issue began.
It is not we, but Rabbi Saperstein who misrepresents “the array of investigation and opinion” that he cites. The New York Times and the Washington Post, for example, did not reach independent conclusions on this issue, but merely cited Rabbi Brickner’s statements; thus what Rabbi Saperstein presents as three different sources is really only one. Moreover, Rabbi Tanenbaum’s conclusions are not “diametrically opposed” to ours, but differ in nuance.
Rabbi Saperstein tries to make it appear that our report on this subject for Prodemca differed somehow from our article. But the quotation he offers from that report does not sustain his point. And if there is any ambiguity about it, that is only because he cuts the quotation short. Our next sentence said: “Nevertheless, they persecuted the Jews as Jews, with no apparent regard for the views or activities of individual Jews.”
We did not in the least misrepresent Rabbi Schindler. He sent a letter to all members of the House urging them to vote against aid to the Nicaraguan resistance and referring to the charges of Sandinista anti-Semitism as “discredited canards.” What Rabbi Saperstein apparently is trying to say is that Rabbi Schindler’s noble purpose—blocking aid to the contra resistance—justifies this epithet. Rabbi Saperstein further muddies the waters by suggesting that the characterization was shared by “many reliable sources,” presumably meaning all those listed in his letter. Here again it is he who is guilty of misrepresentation. In our researches we found only two people—Rabbis Schindler and Brickner—who used the term “canard” in this context (and it appears that Rabbi Schindler has since backed away from the term). And we are certain that many of the sources Rabbi Saperstein lists would not consider using it.
Caleb Rossiter huffs and puffs but he blows nothing down. He does, however, hyperinflate Miss Arnson, whose “firsthand familiarity with Central America” is surely not “unmatched.” However high Miss Arnson stands in Mr. Rossiter’s esteem, her behavior toward us was more appropriate for an ideologue than a scholar. When Joshua Muravchik called to interview her, she announced after a few minutes’ discussion (which included the exchange cited above about the identity of the phantom State Department delegation) that, on second thought, she would not talk to us. When asked why, Miss Arnson replied: “Because I don’t want to help you with your article.”
Mr. Rossiter goes Rabbi Saperstein and Miss Arnson one better when he declares that the word “solely” which Miss Arnson omitted from the phrase denying that the Sandinistas had “persecuted Jews solely because of their religion” was “redundant.” Perhaps we are, as he charges, ignorant—ignorant, that is, of any logical system in which the formulations “A is not B” and “A is not solely B” are equivalent.
After castigating us for a “vile attack,” “slander,” “malicious accusations,” and “vicious personal attacks,” Mr. Rossiter concludes by calling us anti-Semites. He is out of his depth.
Larry Garber is the most civil and cogent of our critics, but the two essential questions he raises answer each other. Why pay “so much attention” to Nicaraguan Jewry (as opposed to Jewish victims in other countries), and why call people “apologists”? We agree, as we wrote, that the story of Nicaraguan Jewry is “not a very big” one. What distinguishes it from the stories of anti-Semitism in the other countries he mentions is that in those cases no body of respected leaders rushed forward to defend the offending government and cast aspersions upon their Jewish victims. And Mr. Garber himself, for all his civility, borders on apologetics when he suggests that the abuse of Nicaragua’s Jews may have been the work of “overzealous FSLN loyalists” acting without authorization from above. The FSLN has always declared itself to be a disciplined, Marxist-Leninist vanguard party, and a vast amount of available evidence confirms that this is how it functions. The scenario Mr. Garber suggests is therefore preposterous, and constitutes little more than another way of deflecting blame from the Sandinistas for what they did to Nicaragua’s Jews.