On August 11, 1944, on a road somewhere near Vire, France, a fragmentation bomb dropped from a German plane exploded…
On August 11, 1944, on a road somewhere near Vire, France, a fragmentation bomb dropped from a German plane exploded beside Chaplain Rabbi Irving Tepper of the 60th Infantry Regiment. Twenty-two pieces of shrapnel went into him. For nearly two days Irving Tepper fought to live; the doctors who tended him declare they never saw a man so badly wounded fight so hard. But he died in a field hospital and was buried in an Army cemetery near Chasney.
Chaplain Tepper’s army record is simple. He trained at Fort Bragg, and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 60th Infantry. With this dirt-soldier outfit he made the first landing in Africa, with them he went through every African battle, including the bloody fight for Sedjanene valley, which won the battalion a presidential citation; with them he went through the Sicily campaign, and the time of waiting in England; with them he landed in France, and he remained in action with his regiment until he was killed.
I knew many rabbi chaplains in France and Germany; usually they were assigned to a large body of troops such as a corps, since they could, from this level, reach Jewish soldiers in several divisions and in scattered special units. There were also a number of rabbi chaplains at division level, but only a very few lived down on the level of the fighting soldier.
I never knew Irving Tepper while he lived, but I feel that I know him now, through the men of his regiment. He was young, the boys say about thirty. He was one of those stringy little guys whose head came up to everyone else’s chin; he was one of those book-readers with more stamina than a backwoodsman. Tepper came from Chicago’s West Side, from among the sons of fur workers and cigar makers and garment workers, from the solid Jewish blocks where the public schools close on Jewish holidays.
He was trained at the Hebrew Theological College, which is on Douglas Boulevard, across the street from the Jewish People’s Institute; he probably went to basketball games, dances, anti-fascist meetings and Irish and Russian plays at the J.P.I.
The Hebrew Theological College is of course orthodox, turning out rabbis who eat kosher and wear skullcaps, rather than modern pastors who introduce Sunday lectures by Erika Mann in their temples. What makes a Chicago kid tie himself in the “fetishes” of orthodoxy? Is he sincere? Does he really believe in tefillim? This is no boy from Warsaw, continuing long habits, but a young man who reads Tillie the Toiler and The Nation, a fellow who cracks wise, makes puns, and knows the pitch.
To go orthodox, he must be a fellow who believes in the head-on attack. If the definition of a Jew to the McSweeneys and the Pisanis is a Jew won’t eat pork, then he says there is no use confusing the issue by claiming that’s just the old folks from the old country, we American-born eat ham fried in butter same as you. The head on attack is to adopt the old symbols and say a Jew is a Jew and he doesn’t take his hat off in church, and try to reach an understanding, from there out.
I guess that is how Tepper felt.
There was one other curious thing about this West Side rabbi. Tepper did not have a synagogue. Chaplain Judah Nadich, in Paris, told me that Tepper was identified with organization work in Hapoel Hamizrachi. Which is to say that he was working in the left wing of the right wing of Jewish life.
When I went to look into the memory of Tepper among the boys in his battalion, they were fighting in the Siegfried line, around the town of Rötgen. Their battalion had been the first to enter Germany.
This would have meant a great deal to Tepper, for the boys recalled how his greatest war ambition was to conduct services on German soil. In a way, they carried this out for him, since the first Jewish service in Germany was a memorial service for Chaplain Irving Tepper, held by fifteen of the old-timers of the battalion. It was held on Rosh Hashanah in the back part of a textile factory; there was still a picture of Hitler on the wall, but the linty atmosphere from the goods the Germans had left on the machines smelled homelike to the GI sons of garment workers.
Just after the kaddish for Tepper, Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz started the New Year’s service, and while a soldier cantor was singing, enemy planes came over. The cantor ducked under a table, and continued to sing, and this reminded the boys of the time Irving Tepper held a Sabbath service in Beaumont Hague, France, and the bombs began to fall, and the whole congregation crowded under the table with the rabbi to finish their prayers. So it was a commemoration in Tepper’s own way.
When I, came around asking about Tepper, there were not many oldtimers left in his outfit; the battalion consisted largely of replacements. They replaced the dead whom Tepper himself had buried, and the wounded, and the few who had been sent home. The best place to find people who knew the chaplain, the boys said, would be among the medics and aidmen, because the chaplain worked where the wounded were brought in. They said Dr. Soslowsky, at the clearing station, could tell me about Tepper.
A clearing station is a group of large tents where wounded receive emergency treatment and classification on their way to field hospitals. In Africa, in Sicily, or in Germany, all clearing stations look the same, and Tepper must have been in and out of these very tents a dozen times a day.
Dr. Hyman Soslowsky of Brooklyn was a man of ponderous speech. We sat on some medical supply boxes while he tried to convey what he felt about Tepper.
“He was a man of brilliant understanding of people,” Soslowsky said. “He was a man with a real quick tongue, and before anybody could say anything, he had the comeback. You know, Tepper always ate kosher, even in the army. So he was the first one to make cracks about it, always joking about all his kosher troubles, and when he made the jokes himself, everybody had to respect him for his principles. You see?”
But he shook his head, as if that wasn’t the main quality, the deep thing he wanted to bring out. “To the boys, Tepper was somebody that would talk up for them, right up to the generals. He would kid with the officers, but he would get everything for the boys. He had his nerve and he would kid even a general, to get what he wanted for the boys. In Africa, when nothing was coming through, he was the first one to get the men their cigarette rations and chocolate, and he even got them to bring in a library. He also put it through with General Eddy that the Jewish boys should be taken out of line for their holiday services.” Dr. Soslowsky meditated again. “But the main thing is, he was always doing things he didn’t have to do.”
“Like the censoring,” said a corporal, Rudy Walzer, who was sitting on a pile of blankets. “If a fellow didn’t want the regular censor to go over his mail, you know, something real personal, he’d take it to Tepper. One time there, the chaplain was censoring half the battalion mail.”
“Even when he was killed,” Dr. Soslowsky pointed out, “Tepper was some place he wasn’t supposed to be. He went into a house to shag out a couple of boys because the bombing was getting too close, and that was how he got hit.”
At the moment the clearing station was not busy. Captain H. B. Copelman of New Brunswick, a surgeon who had just been recaptured from the Germans, came over to talk about Tepper. Copelman leaned on the operating table—a litter across a few uprights—the sort of table upon which Tepper must have lain during his last hours. “All the time we’d be traveling,” Copelman said, “he’d be writing V-mails to the boys’ folks, just keeping in contact, making those folks feel somebody had an eye on their boy.” But Copelman, too, seemed to feel it was difficult to bring out the essential, inner thing about the chaplain. “He wasn’t a narrow man,” he said. “You understand?”
“In Sicily,” Soslowsky said, “he had a couple of Catholic priests for friends. They lunched together every day. You know, he was the chaplain for the battalion, not just for the Jewish boys. So he was interested in all the religions.”
“He read a lot,” Corporal Walzer said. “He was a great one for gadgets. He’d get an old jeep battery and fix himself up a light so he could read in his tent.”
“Talk to some of the aid men,” Copelman suggested. “Tepper was always up front where they are.”
An ambulance was going to a collection Point—a large tent in the field. There, a major who didn’t want his name mentioned because his mother still thought he was working in a base hospital, started telling about the chaplain. “He was always with the men. What they carried, he carried. If they had one blanket, that’s all he’d take, to sleep in. He’d refuse a ride, to march with the boys. And after the longest hike he’d come up with that grin of his. You know,” the major said, “he was a puzzle to me in his way: he didn’t drink or play cards, and he’d come around when the boys were shooting craps and kid the bejeezus out of them, but you had to say he was one of the boys. Nobody ever felt embarrassed with him around, you know, like with some kind of angelic characters. He was nervy, half the time you couldn’t make him wear his helmet. In Port Lyautey when he was holding a burial service the Heinies were sniping from the next hill but that never bothered him, he only wore his skullcap and said they were poor marksmen anyway. You know, he built that first cemetery in Africa, Port Lyautey, he practically had to blast it out of the rocks. It’s a beautiful place. All the boys remember the job he did there, because that was our first dead, and the way he took care of them made the boys feel better.”
Just then, a litter-bearing jeep drove up, and a couple of aidmen carried in a sergeant whose arm had been tom by a booby trap explosion. A young chaplain followed the aidmen into the tent. He was helping the wounded sergeant joke about his arm, the way Tepper must have done. After fixing the man up for cigarettes the chaplain came over to talk about Tepper. His name was W. J. MacLeod, he was from Everett, Mass., and he had been Tepper’s room-mate in Winchester, England, while they were waiting for D-Day.
Sitting on the tail-end of the jeep, driving to the aid post among the foxholes in the woods, MacLeod said, “You know, Tepper carried along more books than any of us. He was a heavy reader in philosophy and psychology. His ideas were broad—nothing sectarian, though he was orthodox. He didn’t believe in any single solution of the Jewish question, Zionist or socialist; he believed we could make some progress by getting people to know and understand each other. I don’t think he was ambitious in a career sense. Sometimes he would say he thought of staying in the army, after the war, because he liked to make things a little easier for the boys. Naturally, he hated war—”
A couple of large mobile guns nearby were sounding off, and MacLeod waited for them to cease firing. Then he told about a wonderful joke Tepper had pulled off, at a great, happy Purim service he had organized in Winchester. Tepper had primed MacLeod on the Purim service, taught him to sing “Adon Olum,” and then seated him next to the local rabbi, passing the preacher off as a good Jewish soldier from the Bronx. MacLeod had fooled everybody at the table, especially with his rendition of “Adon Olum,” and everybody including the local rabbi had laughed themselves hoarse when Tepper unmasked his goyish friend.
An aidman came back to the jeep with us. He was a big unshaven boy, with a round face and heavy lips, the kind of fellow who would look exactly at home eating a hot pastrami sandwich in Gold’s delicatessen. His name was Alvin Kass, and he was from Albany, New York. When he talked about Tepper, he had a hard time keeping his voice from jumping.
“The fellows used to call him the little Jew chaplain,” Alvin said. “I used to drive him in my ambulance, but the only times he’d ride was if I was carrying wounded and he was sitting with them. In that seven-day forced march we had to Oran, a hundred miles, he wouldn’t take a ride, he kept hiking with the fellows, and you know when they’d see him hiking along with his small fast choppy steps and his grin from ear to ear, it made them feel better. I remember the last day one of the captains was trying to speed up the men, and the chaplain kept kidding the captain about his whip, because every time there was a ten-minute halt the captain would want to break it up quicker, and the chaplain would look at his watch and say, ‘Got your whip out yet, captain?’”
John Lynch, a jeep-driver from Boston, said, “Remember the twenty days of Maknassy, in March, 1942. That was one of our biggest battles. The chaplain had to get the dead bodies off the field. That was one of the chaplain’s jobs, in this outfit—they made an undertaker out of him. He would have to get those bodies and load them on mules and carry them four miles over the hills with the Krauts potting at him all the time.”
“He even had to scrounge a burying detail,” Alvin Kass said. “I’ve seen him go right up the line in daytime under enemy observation to get a man’s body, and he’d come back always easy and cheerful, you’d think he was coming from the rear echelon instead of the front lines.”
Lynch said, “He’d bring those bodies over the hill and sometimes dig the grave himself, when he couldn’t get a burying detail. Then the first chance he’d get he’d dig up those bodies and load them on a jeep and bring them back fifteen miles to the regular cemetery. He wouldn’t leave anybody out there.”
In a large farmhouse back on the road was the command post of the 2nd Battalion. In the upstairs bedrooms a number of aidmen had fixed themselves some comfortable lodgings for a change. They had real beds, and a table, and even a toilet that worked.
Morris Olander of Armstrong, New York, was there. He had been Tepper’s assistant. Jake Pianelli of New Jersey and Clifford Parks of New Rochelle were also oldtimers in the outfit, and the three of them sat around the table, talking about Tepper.
“Remember the time on the hill in Maknassy,” Parks said, “when they had us pinned down with artillery fire, and Tepper was sitting there on the hill directing those shells where to fall!”
“I like to bust,” Pianelli said. “They sure had us zeroed in, and there he sits, here comes one, he says, fall to the left, and here comes the next one, fall to the right!”
“Remember when you were teaching him Italian?” Olander said to Pianelli.
“That was hot,” Pianelli admitted. “He was always learning languages, the chaplain, so when we got to Sicily he said how about teaching me some Italian. So we started in. Only after two weeks, he was teaching me!”
“He was broadminded,” said Parks. “He’d watch the fellows shooting craps.”
“Remember the time he prayed for Al Eisen to lose?” Olander said.
Pianelli burst out laughing at the memory. “So Eisen got cleaned,” he explained, “and what does he do, he turns around and borrows the dough from the chaplain to stay in the game.”
“He had a tough job,” Olander said. “When we were in Africa, he didn’t even have a jeep. Many a time I’ve seen him standing alongside the road with his field desk and his hymnal and his prayer-case, hitching rides.”
The boys thought there might be a few more oldtimers up the line, in a trench on the hill, so we started up that way. Olander talked of how Tepper had always sought out the Jewish communities, in Oran and Cefalu and all the African towns, arranging for the boys to get acquainted with Jewish families, everywhere. And at dances, he remembered how Tepper used to shag the bashful lads toward the girls. “The girls were always crazy about the chaplain, but I guess he wasn’t romantic or something. He used to bring them over to the fellows.”
Two-thirds of the way up the hill was a captured pillbox. Staff Sergeant Grover Younce was squatting on the concrete floor, polishing a Lüger he had taken off a jerry. “Yah, I remember the chaplain. Remember the time he got the Christmas cards printed for us, in Palermo.” Another oldtimer, Staff Sergeant Isadore Lewis, recalled how the chaplain had put one over on the brass. “The time in Algiers, when he wanted to go sight-seeing and he didn’t have a jeep. He told them he had to go look for a native synagogue, so they assigned him a jeep. Boy, he sure made the rounds, he sure looked in some mighty queer places for synagogues!”
“The chaplain knew his way around,” Sergeant Younce said, winking.
“Remember the lecture he gave on sex?” That was a famous performance, the regular army sex lecture—and how the rabbi had kidded them about Army and Navy techniques.
The sex lecture was also the big memory of the men farther up the hill, in a long trench damp after a week of rain. But the sun was out today, and hot chow had just been lugged up to them. Junior Fortner of Galax, Virginia, back from a rifle-hole stretch in a hospital, said, “The chaplain really put on some act with that sex talk. By the time he was through you’d be ashamed to stand in any line, even a chow line! He sure could talk.” And, reflectively, “I remember the talk he gave us first time before we went into action.”
“He could always break it up with a joke,” Olander said. “I remember even in the middle of a service, he’d look at the fellows and interrupt himself and say, ‘Well, here’s George Grossman wants to go home, but George, the big picture hasn’t got it in it yet for you to go home’—and then he’d go right on with the service.”
Sergeant Kurt Roszat of Port Chester, another oldtimer back in the lines after being wounded and hospitalized, said, “First we didn’t like the idea of having a chaplain with us, we’d swear like hell figuring maybe that would make him take off, but he’d yell out, ‘Will you—bums stop that—swearling all the—time,’ and you’d laugh, but before you knew it you’d be saying rump.”
There was a spurt of gunfire from behind a house on the crest of the hill. “That—kraut!” Roszat swore. “Come chow time, he lets off a few just to annoy us!”
“I’ll never forget the day we were going in column formation through those woods in Sicily,” said Pat Hoey of Belleville, New Jersey. “That German patrol started cutting into us and the boys started dropping. Tepper kept right on talking, telling stories.”
“He was offered a chaplain job on corps level,” Olander said, “and he turned it down because he wanted to stay at the front with the boys.”
Pat Hoey recalled another incident that made him laugh. “The time at Cefalu,” he said, “when we got that five-gallon tin and filled it full of vermouth, and along comes inspection. The chaplain stuck the tin under his cot for us, but they found it anyway. So what does he do, he says it’s sacramental wine!”
“I remember now,” Olander said, looking out over the hills into Germany, “I remember one time when I think he had the most guts of all. That was right after we landed in Port Lyautey, when we lost all those seventy-six men in landing, our first dead, seventy-six men, that was pretty rough, and we were having a memorial service for them on the shore. We didn’t have any bugle there to blow taps. And nobody could figure out how to do it. Then Chaplain Tepper said all right, he would sing the taps, and he got up there in front of the whole crowd, the whole thousand men. That took nerve. You know he was a little guy, the chaplain, and his voice cracked. But there was not a smile in the crowd, and he went right through with it to the end. That’s how I remember the chaplain,” Olander concluded, “standing up there and singing the taps, because it was something the boys had to have.”
Sergeant Milton Westfal, of Rochester, said, “I never knew Tepper was a Jewish chaplain for a long time. He was just the chaplain.”
“Yah,” the boys agreed. A silence fell. That’s how they were remembering the chaplain—Pat Hoey, and Pianelli, and Kurt Roszat, and Manford Whitaker, remembering the little Jew chaplain, Irving Tepper.
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From the American Scene: Portrait of a Chaplain
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A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find that kind of unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
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A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.
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Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
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The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.