Louis Jordan and the birth of R & B.
In 1973, Ebony magazine ran a story titled “Whatever Happened to Louis Jordan?” Two decades earlier, the genial singer-saxophonist was one of America’s biggest pop stars. Not only did 18 of his 78s reach the top of the black pop charts between 1942 and 1950, but several of them, including “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,” “Caldonia,” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “crossed over” and became hits with white listeners as well. In addition, Jordan was widely admired by his colleagues. In his heyday, he made duet recordings with Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald. His later fans included James Brown, Ray Charles, and B.B. King—as well as Sonny Rollins, the celebrated jazz saxophonist, who called Jordan “a fantastic musician” and “my first idol.”
But the Tympany Five, Jordan’s combo, fell out of fashion in the mid-1950s, and Jordan himself was largely forgotten by the time of his death in 1975. It was not until 1992 that Five Guys Named Moe, a Broadway revue whose score consisted of two dozen of his hits, triggered a revival of interest in his music that continues to this day. Even so, his career has been ignored by jazz scholars, and if any of the major histories of jazz mentions him, it is only in passing1.
Today Jordan is mainly remembered as a pioneer of rhythm and blues, while pop-music historians see his music as a precursor of rock and roll. Yet he started out as a jazz musician, and much of the music that he played in the 40s and 50s is indistinguishable from the jazz with which he grew up in the 20s and 30s. Why, then, has his work been overlooked by historians of jazz?
To some extent, their lack of interest can be explained by Jordan’s enormous popularity. As the critic Max Harrison has observed, “People do not object to artists deserving success—only to their getting it.” But it is also true that to call Jordan’s music “jazz” is to ignore certain of its most important characteristics, and to overlook the equally important fact that he reached the peak of his popularity just as America started to turn its back on jazz. Anyone who wants to understand what happened to jazz after World War II could do worse than to ask why Jordan and the Tympany Five appealed to listeners who took no interest in Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker.
Born in 1908 in a small, isolated town in eastern Arkansas, Jordan was the son of a music teacher who played in touring minstrel shows. Determined to become a professional musician, he went on the road with his father when he was still a child. By 1927 Jordan was a full-time saxophonist, and in 1936 he joined the big band of Chick Webb, one of the top drummers of the swing era.
When Jordan struck out on his own in 1938, it was in a direction determined in part by his theatrical experience. A superbly accomplished alto saxophonist, he was also an engaging, good-humored vocalist whose work in minstrel shows had taught him the value of showmanship. Although he was committed to jazz, he sought to play it in a way that would appeal to the working-class audiences whose uncomplicated tastes he’d come to know through his years on the road: “I wanted to play music on stage that made people forget about what they did today.”
To this end, he put together a small ensemble of the kind known in the late 30s as a “cocktail combo.” The Tympany Five, as he called the band, was modeled on the much-admired John Kirby Sextet, which specialized in instrumental versions of pop songs and light classics. Like Kirby’s group, the Tympany Five played hard-swinging, carefully rehearsed arrangements that made extensive use of “riffs,” the short, punchy unison phrases employed by most swing-era bands. But Jordan, unlike Kirby, spotlighted his own vocals, and his group’s repertoire was dominated by light-hearted blues songs whose lyrics usually had a humorous twist.
Jordan’s emphasis on the blues was unusual for a cocktail combo. In this respect, the Tympany Five emulated such blues-oriented “jump bands” of the period as the Harlem Hamfats. But Jordan eschewed their rougher-hewn sound, insisting that his sidemen play with the same precision as a big band. In addition, his singing had a cool, smooth-surfaced polish similar to that of his saxophone playing. This, along with his clean enunciation, allowed him to sing pop material effectively, and it also helped make his music more accessible to middle-class whites.
It took Jordan three years to develop and perfect the Tympany Five’s formula for success. The first step was to find suitable material. He steered clear of straight ballads and darkly melancholy blues, instead presenting himself as a comic character, a “regular guy” who is a slave to his sensual appetites (a surprisingly large number of his songs, including “Beans and Cornbread” and “Boogie Woogie Blue Plate,” are about food) but who rarely gets the upper hand when it comes to love.
Having chosen the right songs, Jordan and the Tympany Five presented them in the most vivid way possible, wearing flashy uniforms and performing with flamboyant verve. According to Berle Adams, his manager, “Louis wanted to be thought of primarily as a fine musician….I said to him, ‘Look, you’re never going to be a Johnny Hodges or a Willie Smith—be a showman.’” Indeed, he lacked the musical creativity of Hodges, Smith, and Benny Carter, the leading alto saxophonists of the swing era. What he did have in abundance was showmanship, and his willingness to incorporate it into his stage act was central to his mass appeal. In the words of one of his sidemen:
What Louis was trying to do was to present his audiences with a Technicolor picture of a live band….The wild colors, the movement, the exaggerated gestures, the whole thing came over like a scene from a movie and that’s what Louis wanted.
At the same time, the Tympany Five always remained true to its jazz roots. In “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” (1941), the band’s first hit record, the rhythm section lays down a no-nonsense medium-tempo walking-bass beat atop which Jordan plays a spare, elegantly phrased saxophone solo. Then he puts down his instrument and assumes the role of a husband who doubts his spouse’s faithfulness: It may seem funny, honey/It may be funny as can be/But if we have any chill’un/I want ’em all to look like me. He sings with amused detachment, and the results strongly resemble the way in which Jimmy Rushing, whose jazz pedigree was unimpeachable, performed songs like “Good Morning Blues” with Count Basie’s band.
In up-tempo numbers like “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” Jordan often made use of a bouncy “shuffle” beat derived from boogie-woogie but lighter in feel, and after 1945 he would concentrate on such high-spirited novelty songs as “Barnyard Boogie” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” In a sense, these latter recordings constitute a simplification of swing-era jazz—though another way of putting it is to say that Jordan took care never to let his music become so complicated that it ceased to be danceable. This new style was soon dubbed “rhythm and blues,” a term coined by record producer Jerry Wexler in 1947 and adopted by Billboard two years later as the name of its black pop chart. Jordan, Lionel Hampton, and other musicians who adopted a similar style in the 40s were not working in a vacuum. They were responding to their fans—and to the music of another group of young musicians who longed to make postwar jazz more complex, not less.
It is impossible to grasp the historic significance of rhythm and blues without recognizing that it emerged simultaneously with bebop, the avant-garde style of jazz developed in the mid-40s by a group of virtuoso instrumentalists who felt that big-band swing had run its course. The boppers believed jazz to be an art form comparable in seriousness to classical music, and they resented the fact that nightclub owners insisted on promoting it as commercial entertainment.
In fact, jazz had started life as a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. Hence the growing popularity of Jordan and the other pioneers of rhythm and blues, much of whose music can be understood as an explicitly populist variant of jazz and as a response—conscious or not—to the refusal of younger musicians such as Gillespie and Parker to continue playing in an audience-friendly style.
No musician, however popular he may be, stays in fashion forever. Jordan’s last record to reach the top of the black charts, “Blue Light Boogie,” came out in 1950. From then on, the mainstream of American popular music was dominated by white balladeers, some creatively vital and others bland and insipid, while black rhythm and blues grew hotter and more frankly sexualized, thereby pointing the way to the next pop-music innovation, rock and roll.
As it happened, Jordan had added an electric guitarist, Carl Hogan, to his band in 1945, around the same time he began emphasizing the R & B–flavored novelty tunes in his repertoire. Hogan’s presence in the band prefigured the sound of early rock, so much so that it is startling to hear him launch “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” a boogie blues recorded by the Tympany Five in 1946, with the same guitar riff that Chuck Berry, one of Jordan’s biggest fans, “borrowed” 12 years later in “Johnny B. Goode.” But that was as far as Jordan was willing to go: “Decca asked me to get on that rock thing, you know, with a big beat. They wanted me to honk on a tenor [saxophone]. I was a little too old for that.”
Decca responded by dropping Jordan from its roster in 1953. Around the same time, the label signed a white pop group called Bill Haley and His Comets and put Milt Gabler, Jordan’s longtime producer, in charge of its records. Gabler encouraged the Comets to incorporate elements of Jordan’s style into their music, and the records they made with him soared to the top of the pop charts. “They got a sound that had the drive of the Tympany Five and the color of country-and-western,” Gabler recalled. The same combination would soon make Elvis Presley an even bigger star than Haley.
Trapped between the “big beat” of Haley and Presley and the sophisticated balladry of Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra, Jordan found himself at a loss. He was forced to become a nostalgia act, recycling his hits for a shrinking audience of aging fans. Toward the end of his life, he made a series of well-received concert appearances under the auspices of the jazz impresario George Wein, but his death prevented him from capitalizing on the exposure that they gave him, and two decades went by before Five Guys Named Moe introduced a new generation of listeners to his ebullient music.
Jazz critics and scholars remain ill at ease with Louis Jordan, but there is no shortage of younger commentators on rock and R & B who recognize his stature. Compilations of his 78s still sell briskly, and no doubt a time will come when the jazz establishment deigns to acknowledge what Sonny Rollins meant when he called Jordan “a bridge between the blues and jazz.” Much like Fats Waller, another pop-music giant whose unapologetic populism made the highbrows squirm, he knew how to please the public without demeaning himself—or his music. The buoyant records of the Tympany Five overflow with the spirit of delight, and anyone who can listen to them without rejoicing is the poorer for it.
1 Jordan is, however, the subject of a solid journalistic biography, John Chilton’s Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music (1994), on which I have drawn in writing this essay. In addition, 46 of his best 78 sides are collected in Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology 1938–1953 (Geffen, two CDs).
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The Man That Jazz Forgot
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out, however, that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, however, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.