Responses to Michael Moynihan's “False Friends”
To the Editor:
Michael Moynihan argues convincingly in “False Friends” [November 2012] that fascists in Europe must not be allowed to get away with what he calls “strategic Zionism” and “Israel-washing”—that is, concealing their ugly views by a show of support for the Jewish state. But he leaves several topics unaddressed that I hope he will cover in reply to this letter.
First, at what point does one accept that a person or organization has shed its fascistic origins and become legitimately conservative? What are the litmus tests for this? Who, if anyone, has made this transition?
Second, is there not value in encouraging organizations like the British National Party, Vlaams Belang, Front National, Austria’s Freedom Party, or the Sweden Democrats to shed their unsavory origins and elements? Of course, the left focuses relentlessly on their negatives; but it is counterproductive for the right to pile on. Why not expand the respectable right by urging these parties to renounce their fascist aspects and evolve in a constructive direction? And if Mr. Moynihan deems such an evolution impossible, why so?
Third, he says not a word about Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, arguably Europe’s most important politician, nor about his Party for Freedom, nor about the many other like-minded parties that have risen in recent years, including Italy’s Northern League, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Swiss People’s Party, the Danish People’s Party, Norway’s Progress Party, and the True Finns. Does their omission imply that he endorses working with them? If he does not, why not?
Middle East Forum
To the Editor:
Michael Moynihan believes that far-right groups do not deserve to be among Israel’s supporters, and that Israel deserves other friends. He who likes Israel but is not likable is called a false friend and phony philo-Semite. But expecting Jews to be uniquely choosy about friends might be seen as a manifestation of phony philo-Semitism as well. The author is concerned that many Hungarian people distrust Jews, but he should not be surprised, as it was the Jews who led Bolshevik violence (Bela Kun) in Hungary in 1919, and it was the Jewish politicians (Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Gabor Peter) who organized the Stalinist terror in Hungary after WWII. Ignoring the Jewish role in the Communist terror should also fall under false philo-Semitism.
The author does not distinguish between Belgium’s pro-Israeli Vlaams Belang and Greece’s anti-Jewish Golden Dawn—both are condemned as fringe right. Surely it is not their “fringeness” that worries Mr. Moynihan, but their rightness. That is corroborated by the fact that he also condemns many Israelis, including democratically elected members of the Israeli parliament, who allegedly “cozied up with the far right.”
Mr. Moynihan disagrees with the “primitive formula that my enemy’s enemy is my friend” but forgets that higher ideals have never been a part of practical politics; that his praised political mainstream aims at signing peace agreements with reactionary Arab leaders and Hitler admirers; and that even the United States allies itself with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Alliances with the fringe right seem troubling to the author for moral reasons, and also because they justify Israel’s critics who equate the Israel Defense Forces with the Wehrmacht. The fact is that anti-Semites and Israel’s enemies do not need any justification for their hatred, and it would be of no help to try to please the far left by refusing the far right.
We in Israel frequently remember Ben-Gurion’s words: “What matters is not what they say but what we do.” In all countries in the world, what was considered “moral” has been what was good for the country. To ask anything else from Israel would constitute phony philo-Semitism.
Although Mr. Moynihan notes that half of Germans hate Israel, he advises Jews to stick with the mainstream and not with the fringes. But that is exactly what Jews have always done, and the tragic history shows that it did not help. If Jews constitute a normal nation today, it should not be surprising that they have, beside their beloved far left, a far right, because a normal spectrum has two fringes. More important, the political right usually supports Israel, but the left does not.
Be’er Sheva, Israel
To the Editor:
Michael Moynihan suggests that since anti-Semitic parties and individuals attacked Jews and Jewish interests in the past, pro-Zionist parties and individuals today are being hypocritical and opportunistic and actually harbor old attitudes toward Jews.
My understanding is that anti-Semitic sentiment was directed at Jewish internationalism, whether that of the Communists or of the democratic Jewish supporters of such bodies as the League of Nations. Nationalists, including National Socialists, were opposed to internationalism in general as well as the Communist Internationale. Jews felt that nationalism was inimical to Jewish interests because Jews lived in many different countries.
Zionism, in my understanding of it as a Gentile, was a political movement with the goal of creating a Jewish state, a nation for the Jews—the polar opposite of internationalism.
What we’re seeing today are the same nativists who opposed internationalism in the past, now supporting the nationalism of Israel. This is hardly “phony,” and hardly an attempt to “look respectable,” as Mr. Moynihan claims. It shows a consistency of purpose on the part of nativists and nationalists, a purpose that has been largely defanged of its previous violence and cruelty.
Rather than deploring nationalists in Holland, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere, nationalists in Israel should—as some do—welcome them as supporters. True democracy is only possible among people with similar cultures (witness Lebanon, Egypt, etc., for the opposite), so the more nationalists we have, and the fewer internationalists, the better—in Europe and everywhere else.
Grand Forks, British Columbia
To the Editor:
I cannot agree with the argument of Michael Moynihan’s overwrought article: that Zionists should never, ever form alliances with nationalistic European political parties that are sympathetic to Israel but have anti-Semitic pasts or current anti-Semitic elements or tendencies. (Regarding such tendencies, I am grateful for the informative “Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual,” by Ben Cohen, in the same issue.) Political alliances are often partial and shifting. It is the way of the world and is not wicked. While I think Zionists should resist any temptation to whitewash such partners, and should oppose them if and when they attack the Jewish way of life, I do not see that alliances with them against common foes should be rejected a priori. Pace, Mr. Moynihan, I doubt that many not already disposed to regard Israel as fascistic will be moved to do so because of such alliances.
Michael Moynihan writes:
Daniel Pipes makes some worthwhile points and poses a number of important questions. He is surely right that those who distrust moribund socialist and conservative parties should encourage Europe’s new populists to purge their ranks of racists and anti-Semites. I don’t believe that, for the most part, parties with toxic pasts should forever be associated with their most extreme adherents, any more than I think that the often troubling histories of both the American Democratic and Republican Parties should mean that they should be boycotted or dissolved. At present, though, most of the parties he mentions are a rather long way from respectability.
The BNP, for instance, is not an organization that attracts racists, but is a racist organization, currently led by lunatic anti-Semite Nick Griffin. A quick Internet search finds Griffin sharing a dais with his chum David Duke or allying with Muammar Gaddafi. The same is true of the poisonous English Defence League, which created a Potemkin “Jewish Division,” whose former leader defended Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.
As for those populist right groups I ignored, I did so only because they’re not, with the exception of Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, parties that I have watched closely in the past decade. As Ben Cohen pointed out in the very same issue, though, the Freedom Party does possess some distressingly illiberal instincts. But in fairness to Wilders—a man who, whatever one thinks of his politics, is remarkably brave—his warm feelings toward Israel predate 9/11 and seem independent of his criticism of Muslim immigration to the Netherlands.
Having watched the immigration debate up close in Sweden, I am less impressed by the ability of the Sweden Democrats to moderate. The problems that have arisen from immigration in Sweden have largely been ignored by mainstream political parties and underplayed by major media outlets, who fear inviting charges of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Subsequently, the Sweden Democrats are now polling at around 10 percent. But not long after my story was published, a video surfaced of leading members of the party’s “reformist” faction armed with iron bars and they fought and shouted racist abuse at an immigrant in Stockholm.
Thomas Guttmann’s recommendations to German Jews—to ally with anti-Semites to smite anti-Semitism, for example—don’t make sense. Contrary to his claim that “Jews have always” clung to mainstream groups, German Jews have allied with many political parties, both within and outside the mainstream. Perhaps Mr. Guttmann is unaware that the extremists in the German Communist Party (KPD) were themselves culpable in allowing the Nazi seizure of power. At the behest of Moscow, the KPD focused its attacks on “social fascism” in the Social Democratic Party—instead of the actual fascism of National Socialism. In other words, two ideologically fringe parties created the conditions for world war and the Holocaust. I’m not sure what
Mr. Guttmann suggests German Jews should presently do—embrace the far right and ally with the neo-Nazi NPD?
He also writes that I “should not be surprised” by Hungarian anti-Semitism, employing the argument that “it was the Jews who led Bolshevik violence (Bela Kun) in Hungary in 1919, and it was the Jewish politicians (Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Gabor Peter) who organized the Stalinist terror in Hungary after WWII.” It was not “the Jews,” of course, but those Jews he mentions. As Anne Applebaum points out in Iron Curtain, only 25 percent of Hungarian Jews voted for the Communists in 1945.
What can one say to Frank Hilliard’s celebration of European nationalism as a useful counterweight to “Jewish internationalism” and his implicit contention that the United States couldn’t be a democratic country because “true democracy is only possible among people with similar cultures”? He draws sufficient attention to the perils of certain types of alliances all on his own.
Shmuel Ben-Gad similarly overstates the (very limited) benefits of such alliances. Once Islamic radicalism has been dispatched, it will be the turn of those “Jewish internationalists” who destroy the cohesion of European culture.
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Israel’s True Friends
Must-Reads from Magazine
A blow for sanity.
At some point earlier this year, America’s sources inside the Kremlin went dark. U.S. officials who spoke to the New York Times about their dangerous new blindness said they didn’t believe that their formerly reliable sources had been neutralized. Instead, their spies went into hiding amid a newly aggressive counter-espionage campaign from Moscow. The Times sources offered a variety of theories to explain what could have spooked their assets, but the most disturbing among them was the fact that the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee had exposed a Kremlin-connected FBI and CIA source as part of a campaign of unprecedented disclosures regarding America’s intelligence gathering process.
The disclosure that compromised a U.S. informant is only one in a seemingly endless cascade of classified information that Republicans claim must be revealed to the public if we are ever going to get to the bottom of the sprawling conspiracy that was put together to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. The president’s allies in Congress have appealed to previously unused methods to reveal confidential House Intelligence Committee memos and even highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, but none of it has satisfied Donald Trump or his defenders. There is always another document to release.
Last week, President Trump publicly ordered his Justice Department to declassify the redacted portions of a FISA warrant targeting Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, related FBI interviews, and text message sent by former FBI Director James Comey. These documents were supposedly related to the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign, even though he confessed that he had “not reviewed them.” Of the investigation, the president said, “This is a witch hunt.” The move satisfied many in Congress who insist that the president’s own Justice Department is persecuting him, but Trump confessed that he had ordered the declassification at the behest of his ardent supporters in conservative media such as Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro.
Trump’s order triggered a brief review of the most sensitive aspects of the intelligence he was prepared to declassify, and it seems that this information was sensitive enough that Trump’s advisers were able to convince him of the need to reverse course. And so, he did. On Friday, Trump announced that he would not allow the release of documents that “could have a negative impact on the Russia probe” and would jeopardize American relations with its key allies. And though he reserved the right to disclose these documents in the future, they would not be forthcoming anytime soon.
Trump’s allies in Congress were crestfallen. Three members told Fox News Channel’s Catherine Herridge that they were “blindsided” and “demoralized” by Trump’s about-face, but the president made a sober and rational decision. Not only has the withholding of these documents avoided the appearance of interference with Robert Mueller’s probe, but the president has also preserved America’s intelligence-sharing relationship with what he described as “two very good allies” that objected to the declassification.
Trump’s defenders in Congress who are inclined to flog the “deep-state” conspiracy theory should not be so disconsolate. According to ABC News’ sources, the documents Trump was prepared to disclose—just like documents before them—contained no smoking gun. Their sources insist that the documents and communications at issue would not have confirmed the suspicion among some observers that the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign was based on the intelligence provided by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. Instead, they would have confirmed that the investigation into Trump’s campaign began well before the FBI’s receipt of the “Steele dossier.” And when these disclosures failed to satisfy those who are most invested in nursing Trump’s persecution complex, there would be demands for more declassifications and more disclosures.
Conservatives with a healthy mistrust of federal agencies and the prevailing political culture within them may scoff at skeptics who are not eager to see U.S. intelligence documents sloppily released to the public. There are, after all, valid questions about the FISA Court’s oversight and the extent to which Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights are protected in counter-intelligence investigations that long predate Carter Page’s travails. But the interagency process and the oversight of appropriate redactions are designed to protect American intelligence assets and the assets of U.S. allies. It is all intended to preserve the integrity of U.S. sources and the methods they use to keep Americans safe.
If the Democratic Party was demanding these unprecedented disclosures with no regard for the geopolitical fallout and national-security risks they could incur, Republicans, you could be certain, would be raising hell. And they would be absolutely right to do so.
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RIP Paulina Płaksej.
It’s only Monday evening, which means Americans face another full week of political and cultural squalor. For an antidote, consider Paulina Płaksej, who died Sunday, aged 93. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Daniella Greenbaum broke news of Płaksej’s death on Twitter, which alerted me (and many others) to her inspiring life and that of her family, Polish Catholics who fed, hid, and rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Zachariasz and Bronisława Płaksej, Paulina’s parents, moved from Lviv, Ukraine, to Kałusz before the outbreak of the war. There, Zachariasz worked as an accountant at a local mine and developed warm relations with the area’s Jews. Toward the end of 1941, when the Nazis forced the Jews of Kałusz into a newly created ghetto with an eye toward their extermination, Zachariasz and his family “acted as couriers, smuggling notes in and out of the ghetto,” according to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Soon, assisting persecuted Jews became the family’s main business.
It helped that they resided on the outskirts of town. As Paulina later recounted, “we lived in seclusion and not in the center of the town, so it was very convenient for us. We were surrounded by gardens, orchards, the river was flowing nearby, and there was a slaughterhouse not far away. The Germans rarely visited this place, so our life was peaceful…” Even before the creation of the ghetto, Jewish children would stop by the Płaksej home for a bowl of hot soup and a brief respite from the cruelty of daily life under occupation.
Her father, Paulina recalled, “was a very religious person, and he believed that you should always help a man, your fellow creature, as our religion has it. The Jewish victim was not simply a Jew, but your fellow, a human being, wasn’t he?”
The Płaksejs took extraordinary risks to that end, creating an underground pipeline from the Kałusz ghetto to safety for Jews targeted for liquidation:
The first family to escape [the ghetto] was Sara, Solomon, and their son, Imek. They temporarily hid at Paulina’s house. When it became too dangerous for them to stay there, Zacharias found a safer place for them to hide. He brought Sara, Solomon, and Imek to a trusted friend who was already hiding Jews in a bunker beneath his barn. Later, another Jewish woman, Rozia, escaped from the ghetto and sought out the Plaksej family. They also brought her to the farmer’s bunker. Paulina regularly brought whatever food and supplies were needed. Sara, Solomon, Imek, and Rozia, along with thirteen other Jews, stayed in this bunker for over a year. To this day, the identity of the farmer is not known.
In 1944 Miriam, another inhabitant of the ghetto, learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and deport or murder the inhabitants. Miriam asked Zacharias to save her two-year-old daughter, Maja. Zacharias contacted Miriam’s former maid and arranged for her to come rescue Maja. The maid brought a horse and cart, and the Jewish police helped smuggle the little girl out of the ghetto. The maid told her neighbors that this little girl was her daughter who had just returned from living with her grandparents.
Miriam was in one of the last groups of Jews to be deported to Auschwitz. As her group was marched to the train, Miriam quickly took off her armband and joined the crowds in the street. She went straight to the Plaksej house asking for help. They hid her in their wardrobe for a number of months. Zacharias obtained forged papers for her and took her to another village where she would not be recognized as a Jew. There she was picked up as a Pole and sent to a German farm as a forced laborer. After the war, she returned to the maid’s house, picked up her daughter, and reunited with her husband. Due to the efforts of Paulina and her family, all of the Jews they helped survived the war.
The State of Israel in 1987 recognized Paulina and her parents as Righteous Among the Nations. May we never forget these stories, and may we all strive to follow in their footsteps, even and especially amid our contemporary squalor.
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Podcast: Kavanaugh and Rosenstein.
Can you take what we say about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh seriously considering we’re conservatives and he’s a conservative? Are we defending him because we are genuinely discomfited by how insubstantial the allegations against him are, or are we doing so because we agree with him ideologically? We explore this on today’s podcast. Give a listen.
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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 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.