This is a long, sad, and (except to me) fairly boring story about hate-mongering and its stable-mate, dishonesty. It’s about the word “especially,” and about the difference between being a Jew and responding to something, on the one hand, and responding to it based on one’s Jewishness on the other. It’s posted mostly in self-defense.
If the intricacies of idiocy and mendacity don’t interest you, I suggest skipping to any other item on the blog, guaranteed to be more uplifting and edifying.
Last week I put up a blog post criticizing the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill, which I claimed (and still claim) is designed to make it impossible to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue without war. The post – headlined “Iran: Time to say ‘enough, already!’ ” starts:
If you’re a constituent of, of contributor to, Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (CO), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.),Charles Schumer (N.Y.), or Mark Warner (Va.), please consider making a phone call or sending a fax or email telling that Senator to back off the lunatic piece of warmongering legislation known as the Kirk-Menendez bill, designed to torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran. As of now, they’re all co-sponsoring it. Please consider making your voice heard especially strongly if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.
That post didn’t generate much in the way of comment here, or very much heat. One commenter wrote:
I have a Hispanic sounding name. I will lobby my Senator to vote against the immigration Bill.
I think the commenter intended that as snark, but of course Latinos who think that immigration reform is being falsely presented as a demand of the Hispanic community generally ought to speak up. (Though in that case I think they would be in the minority within their community, and I think that immigration reform is in fact in the interests of Latinos overall.) And yes, I think it’s fair to say that the Yiddish inflection in the headline was deliberate.
Then our friends at the Washington Monthly, under the working agreement RBC has with them, chose to adopt that post for WaMo’s Ten Miles Square blog, under the slightly more inflammatory header “Time to Yell at Senate Democrats Who Support the Iran Sanctions Bill.” Note that “yell at” isn’t really consistent with the text, which advises readers: “Be direct, but polite and respectful. Don’t give the staffer on the other end of the phone a hard time.”
That’s when the (not) fun started. A slimemeister from a right-wing hate site – a person and a site which certainly don’t deserve any link traffic from me, and which therefore appear below under an appropriate pseudonyms – sent me an email, to which I was foolish enough to respond as if it were a legitimate journalistic inquiry. The exchange, in full, is below, with my part in bold:
Hi Prof. Kleiman – This is [Alfred Rosenberg] from the [Völkischer Beobachter]. I hope all is well. I was looking to follow up on your recent Washington Monthly post regarding Iran sanctions.
In the piece you wrote: “Please consider making your voice heard especially strongly if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.”
I was hoping you might be willing to explain this statement a bit further. Why urging a people with a “Jewish-sounding name” to call. I think that some might find this phrase offensive and concerning. Was curious for your thoughts on it and the reason for framing this way.
Please do let me know. All my contact details below. Thanks so much!
There’s a carefully cultivated misimpression that warmongering with respect to Iran is popular with Jewish voters, while in fact it’s popular only with Sheldon Adelson. So it’s especially important for politicians to hear from Jewish constituents who prefer the good outcome offered by the Obama/Kerry approach to the bad one sure to result by deliberately torpedoing an amazing diplomatic success.
Understandable — but why say “Jewish sounding name” specifically? What does this mean exactly and why include that in your piece. I’m just trying to understand. I appreciate you humoring me and also your quick response! Thanks!
Because – given the false impression cultivated by Adelson’s money – an email from someone named Shapiro has a surprise factor not generated by the same email from someone named O’Hara.
That should have made my reasons clear. And of course the original post asked everyone – not just Jews – to write to Senators. But the next email made the pseudo-reporter’s bad faith transparent, even to my naïve eyes:
I see. Just out of curiosity, what are examples of “Jewish sounding names?”
Again, thanks for explaining.
At that point (too late, of course) I lost patience and responded:
OK, I’ve played your silly game long enough.
Please take your concern trolling with you and go play in traffic.
So I wasn’t really surprised, though I was dismayed, to see the headline:
UCLA Prof Urges Those With ‘a Jewish Sounding Name’ to Lobby Against Iran Bill
over a story that went on to suggest that my own ethnicity was somehow in doubt.
Naturally, I spent much of the next week hanging up on obscene phone calls and deleting or responding to angry and often illiterate emails that had as keywords “gas ovens” and “kapos,” as if the fact that Germans had killed Jews was a good reason for Americans to kill Persians. There were two exceptions to the pattern: one thank-you from a stranger, and the following, from a Mr. Peter Huessey.
I understand you wish to have me call a number of Democratic Senators re: the Iran sanctions legislation.
In 1933, my grandfather, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, resigned his professor’s duties at the University of Leipzig law School and fled to the United States to Norwich, Vermont , with my father and grandmother a move he had planned in case Hitler came to power.
In 1960, Freya von Moltke, the widow of Helmut graf von Moltke, came to visit and remained there until her passing at age 99 in 2011. She became an adopted grandmother of mine and one of my dearest friends. From her I learned about Helmut–a lawyer in the Army who formed the resistance group the Kreisau Circle, the center of resistance to Hitler from which the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler originated—and for this and other efforts to save the lives of the enemies of the Reich, Helmut was arrested, tortured and eventually murdered in Jan 1944.
I am not sure I qualify as a Jew or someone with a Jewish sounding name but I am clear in my own mind that religion or ethnicity has nothing to do whether we should or should not watch our backs re: Iran. The Iran sanctions bill would not enter into force unless Iran failed to meet its own declared obligations at the end of the negotiated period. And whether its requirements are accurately described as “maximalist” the point is that each of the legislations requirements would enhance US security–whether Iran would agree to them or not.
Since my rule on communications is “tit for tat,” I tried to offer a measured and reasoned response:
Thanks for your note. It is the only communication I have received from that viewpoint, after the rather inflammatory account in the [Völkischer Beobachter], that is rational and politely phrased: or, for that matter, grammatical, or even printable.
Your note raises two questions: one as to the substance of negotiations with Iran and the Menendez-Kirk bill to derail those negotiations, and the other as to the question of ethnicity. Let me answer them in reverse order.
Of course in a perfect world each person’s views would be received and evaluated purely on their merits, without respect to ethnic identity. Equally of course, that is not the world we actually inhabit. In this particular case, a small, well-organized, and disproportionately wealthy faction within the American Jewish community has succeeded in taking control of a wide range of Jewish organizations and promulgating the idea that the “Jewish” position involves maximum subservience to the policies of the current ruling faction in Israel and maximum enthusiasm for warfare in the Middle East. That group cheered on the disastrous invasion of Iraq (which had, among its predictable outcomes, an enormous gain in strength for the current regime in Iran). Their viewpoint – called, not entirely accurately, “neo-conservative” – is not in fact the majority view among Americans of Jewish ancestry. Its most vocal proponents mostly support Republican candidates and favor policy measures to increase income inequality, while Jews continue, in Milton Himmelfarb’s phrase, to “earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans,” with more than two-thirds, for example, voting to re-elect President Obama.
In that context, it is especially important, in my view, for Jews who side with the Jewish majority against the self-appointed Jewish leadership to speak out, reminding one another and elected officials that – in this case – war with Iran is not only bad for the United States but bad for Israel and “bad for the Jews.” Given the misimpression that has been so carefully cultivated by AIPAC and its allies, a letter signed with a Jewish-sounding name will be more surprising, and therefore more effective, than the same letter with an ethnically neutral signature. If there were a movement in Germany to restore the Hohenzollerns and the old nobility, a protest against that movement signed with such a proud name as von Moltke would inevitably carry more weight than a similar document signed “Schmidt” or “Katz.” (I take it that the recitation in your note of the admirable history of your own family was intended to make me pay careful attention to your views, and that seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing for you to have done.)
Now, as to the substance: I do not agree with your assertion that the current Iranian regime has “murdered more Americans than any other entity in the world.” The largest recent mass murder of Americans; the attacks of 9/11, had nothing to do with Iran, but were carried out by Saudi nationals with the active connivance of at least some elements of the Saudi monarchy. That monarchy is now lobbying almost as hard as AIPAC for a war between the U.S. and its Shi’a rivals in Teheran. Theological questions aside, it is easy to forget, from a distance, the intensity of the mutual distaste between Arabs and Persians.
As to “watching our backs,” of course we should. The current Iranian regime is hostile to the United States, and preventing its acquisition of nuclear weapons is an important objective for that reason and in order to prevent domino-effect nuclear proliferation. But that regime is not monolithic, and the Iranian population is not hostile to the U.S.: rather the reverse. American policies toward Iran should have in mind strengthening less hostile forces within the current regime, and, especially, strengthening pro-U.S. sentiment among the Iranian majority which will not subject itself forever to be ruled by the existing theocratic/kleptocratic power structure. The Menendez-Kirk proposal would, of course, have precisely the opposite effect.
Iran is not under any international treaty obligation to forgo uranium enrichment, and will not agree to do so. Apparently it has agreed to limit its enrichment to products not useable in nuclear weapons. The zero-enrichment provision of Menendez-Kirk has as its intended effect making a diplomatic outcome of the current situation impossible.
Now, I should say that on these matters I do not write as an accredited expert. My own areas of study are crime control and drug policy. I take my lead from those who understand these problems better than I do, including my teacher Thomas Schelling, whose work on strategic interactions won him the Nobel Prize in Economics. But when I reach out to my expert friends on this question, I do not find them either divided or in doubt. There are lots of hard questions in international affairs, where the right course of action is uncertain and open to legitimate debate. This does not appear to be one of those questions, which is why serious-minded hawks such as Brent Scowcroft support the proposed agreement. Only those who implicitly (if not explicitly) have an active preference for war with Iran, and those whose goal is simply to prevent the current Administration from having a success, think that the zero-enrichment demand makes any sense.
I do not flatter myself that the above will persuade you of the correctness of my views, but at least you now know what they are.
Huessy responded with his permission for me to post the segment quoted above, and with an infinite amount of additional material about the sanctions question, but nothing to the point about ethnic identity.
Ok. Already a bad day’s work. Of course no response could catch up with the accusation, or turn off the flood of hate-mail.
But wait! It gets worse. Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg view – a self-described “Iran hawk” who nonetheless had already published an argument that the bill is ill-advised, and that some of its proponents intend it to lead to war – decided to promote psychobabble over substance. Under unspeakably offensive headline “Is Your Name Jewish Enough to Oppose New Iran Sanctions?” Goldberg wrote:
Kleiman’s post is evidence of great anxiety on the part of Jews about the manner in which this bill has become a Jewish issue. Liberals are worried that the Jews will be blamed for creating conditions for war if the Iran talks fail. This wouldn’t be the first time Jews are blamed for starting wars. In this case, it is true that Israel and its friends on Capitol Hill are helping lead the charge for these preemptive sanctions. (Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies are also pushing hard, but they seem to push less noisily than Jews.)
Left-leaning Jews feel anxious when the warmonger label is attached to their community; they seek — as Kleiman is doing — to dissociate themselves from Jews, and Jewish groups, they find embarrassing. Meanwhile, right-leaning Jews, like many Israelis, feel anxiety about Iran itself. Its threats to eliminate the Jewish state create special worry for Israel’s supporters in the U.S., particularly when they’ve convinced themselves that Obama is an appeaser. Indeed, this Jewish anxiety — on both sides of the debate — grows from the fact that we live in an era during which the U.S. president (whom the majority of American Jews support) is in almost constant low-grade conflict with Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Such periods are never comfortable for American Jews of all political leanings, who tend to be happier when they see their president and the leader of the Jewish state in harmony.
Kleiman’s words also reflect the deep animus left-wing Jews feel toward the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which actually has grassroots support (and is also, by the way, not a “goon squad”), and the to the right-wing casino magnate Adelson, who holds various retrograde opinions about the Middle East conflict. (The post also raises questions about what exactly constitutes a Jewish name. In his formula, Scarlett Johannson, who is Jewish but carries an ostentatiously not-Jewish name, would be less useful to the anti-sanctions cause than, say, Julius Erving, or Bruce Springsteen — or, for that matter, the Berenstain Bears).
To which I responded:
Thanks for the kind words about my work as a policy analyst. Good try at projecting your fears and insecurities onto me. Keep trying. Someday you’ll probably get it right. The contempt for dangerous politically motivated bushwa I feel on this issue is no more “emotional” – just as much a product of what you generously call my “cold clarity” – than it is on, say, global warming or drug policy.
Speaking for myself – which I prefer to having others presume to speak for me without even the courtesy of a phone call – I have absolutely no fear that this has “become a Jewish issue” or that “Jews will be blamed” if war eventuates. Jews will be blamed only by those who make a habit or profession of blaming Jews. Since in fact Jews tend to support the Administration, on this and other issues, more than non-Jews, there would be absolutely no rational basis for attributing such blame to Jews as a group. Of course, anti-Semites need no such rational basis, but equally of course they’re going to say anti-Semitic things under any and all circumstances.
My concern, which my original post made quite clear, is that a small moneyed faction has appointed itself the “official” voice of American Jewry. I was merely suggesting to the members of the liberal majority in the Jewish community the potential value – not in defending the community, but in defeating a pernicious piece of legislation – of speaking up. When a farmer opposes farm subsidies, his opposition is more surprising, more newsworthy, and therefore more effective than is the case when a cobbler opposes farm subsidies. Given the careful effort to foster the idea that “Jews” as a group like the idea of war with Iran, Jewish names on anti-war messages might (or, I admit, might not) have special value. That was not, after all, the focus of my piece, but merely a throwaway line, quoted in a distorted and inflammatory fashion by a right-wing hate site. Of course I never suggested that only Jews should oppose this madness, so the implication in your headline is a flat-out falsehood.
Imagine my surprise to find, at the end of your post, that you and I agree that the bill is a bad idea now: which is, after all, when it is being proposed and debated. That agreement puts both of us, as far as I can tell, on the side of the overwhelming expert consensus (not merely of the “Jewish left”) and of every substantial political force except for the neocon/AIPAC/fundamentalist axis, the pure Obama-haters and Republican opportunists, the Israeli government, and (as you note) the Saudi Monarchy. (One might add, of course, the Revolutionary Guard and other extreme forces within the Iranian regime, which would be the biggest losers from a negotiated settlement.)
I have yet to find a single serious thinker on international relations who doubts that the path of negotiation is superior, in this case, to the path of war, or that the bill will do anything – or is intended to do anything – but derail negotiations when they seem to be producing results.
Given the objective reasons for opposing Kirk-Menendez, I can’t see the basis for attributing a call for opposition to ethnic insecurity rather than common sense. I hope that, on reflection, you will decide that a retraction is in order.
Yours for clarity (and charity)
Neither Goldberg nor his editors have bothered to respond in any way.
But wait! It gets worse than that. Another email came from someone I’d never heard of (and now wish I’d still never heard of) who runs a website I wish I’d never heard of. Again, I’m not prepared to give him, or his site, any recognition or traffic, so I’ll just call him [Self-Hating] and the site [Mondo Self-Hatred].
Mark Kleiman, a UCLA Professor of Public Policy, is against the “lunatic warmongering” Iran sanctions bill, and good for him. He’s a blogger, and started a post for the Washington Monthly:
If you’re a constituent of, or a contributor to, [he named the 16 Democratic senators supporting the legislation], please consider making a phone call or sending a fax or email telling that Senator to back off the lunatic piece of warmongering legislation known as the Kirk-Menendez bill, designed to torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran. As of now, they’re all co-sponsoring it. Please consider making your voice heard especially strongly if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.
The professor of public policy and I agree, Jews count more on this issue. I wrote him:
I agree with you re Jewish sounding names, and re Iran policy; but isn’t your recommendation also an acknowledgment of a political truth, that we are 5/3 of a man, to reverse the old voting fraction of black people? And inasmuch as that is true, isn’t this something liberal Jews ought to seek to end? For instance, by speaking openly about the Israel lobby?
Kleiman wrote back:
Not at all. I don’t think a Jewish name would have extra weight on a question about heath care or crime control or global warming or Burma. It’s only on questions where “Jews” generically are perceived to have one opinion that a Jew expressing a contrary opinion is man-bites-dog.
I wrote back to Kleiman to say that he was making my point: on this issue, Israel, there is a real effect of Jewish influence– the lobby that presumes to speak in our name. “You are attacking that presumption of solidarity, for the best reasons. But any analysis of why the U.S. is where it is today re the Middle East has to grapple with my 5/3 formulation.”
I think this is a very important conversation. Kleiman’s appeal shows that the lobby is fracturing: that Jews are taking on the lobby as Jews, and many Jewish groups are now opposing AIPAC on this bill. But it raises questions, like, What is the basis of the Jewish influence here? I think it’s financial contributions and our presence in the establishment and yes, also a widespread cultural deference stemming from the Holocaust. Also, how long did the lobby successfully presume or impose solidarity on liberal Jews? Certainly back when my brother said to me in 2003, “I demonstrated against the Vietnam war, but my Jewish newspaper says this war could be good for Israel.” Of course Jews were against that war, by numbers; but how many denounced that “warmongering” lobby as Jews? Very few. Joe Klein for one.
Back to the main point. So long as Jews count more (and it’s probably more like 30/3, not 5/3), doesn’t that give people the right to count Jews when it comes to this policy? Put another way, why does the State Department’s Middle East team have one Arab-American that I’m aware of, and a half dozen Jews, or people with Jewish-sounding names? Kleiman’s law. The most important constituency must be addressed.
PS. [Alfred Rosenberg] got to this story first. Also, today the New Yorker did a piece on the boycott issue in which it identified me as a Jewish American blogger. Fair enough. But it proves the point– in how many other contexts would my religion/ethnicity matter?
Note that when [Self-Hating] says “I think this is a very important conversation” he means “I love misrepresenting the views of people who disagree with me, and want to continue to do so.”
The next day, that site had an additional post:
Yesterday I picked up UCLA professor Mark Kleiman’s appeal to Jews and people with Jewish-sounding names to write to their Senators as Jews in opposition to the Iran sanctions being pushed by the warmongering Israel lobby. I wrote that Kleiman and I agree that Jews have outsized influence on Middle East policy. Kleiman wrote to me:
I see your post says that you and I agree. That is false. We could not disagree more. And I thought my previous email made that clear, since it started with “Not at all.”
I do not believe that “Jews” have too much influence. I despise the practice of “counting Jews,” whether you’re doing it or whether Fred Malek does it for Richard Nixon. I think that farmers who dislike farm subsidies should label themselves as farmers when they write in opposition to farm subsidies. In this case, support for Obama and opposition to war with Iran is almost certainly more prevalent among Jews than among non-Jews. That was the whole point of my post: the position of the self-appointed moneyed spokespeople for the American Jewish community does not in fact reflect the majority views in that community.
If you and Jeffrey Goldberg and that creep at the [Völkischer Beobachter] want to brawl, be my guest. But I have no interest in taking sides. I’m a proud liberal, a proud Jew (despite Adelson and Bibi) and a proud American (despite Cheney), and a proponent of both Jewish influence in American politics and American power in the world, both of which, on average, are exerted in a liberal direction.
Since your projection of your views onto me is incorrect, and since you claim the title of “journalist,” I request that you publish a full retraction.
I’m happy to publish Kleiman’s note but no retraction. I’ll say it again: Kleiman and I agree that Jews have outsize influence on Middle East policy. He thinks it’s a good thing; I think it’s problematic, given the politics of the Israel lobby and Zionism inside Jewish life. His claim here is that Jews are just another constituency but one that opposes the sanctions legislation, and that’s why he’s trying to animate it is disingenuous. He’s not issuing his appeal to Iranian-Americans — who oppose the hateful sanctions legislation in greater measure than Jews, I’m sure — because he knows Iranian-Americans are chopped liver on this issue. He knows that politicians respond to Jews on this question, and those “self-appointed moneyed spokespeople for the American Jewish community” have incredible access to Obama and the Senate too. (And though I agree with him that those spokespeople are out of step with liberal Jewish life, that does not account for the Union for Reform Judaism supporting the Iraq war, or Americans for Peace Now refusing to quit the rightwing Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.)
Kleiman does some name-calling, lumping me with a famous act of anti-Semitism: Fred Malek counting Jews under Nixon. That’s foolish. As Rob Eshman of the Jewish Journal said lately, We live “at a time of unparalleled Jewish power and wealth, and it makes us so uneasy, we prefer to talk about everything but.” Kleiman seems nostalgic for the 70s and the era of Jewish outsiderness. It’s over.
The exchange of unpleasantries continued by email:
Thanks, Mark. I will happily publish your letter, as it clarifies your thinking.
But I think you are arguing with yourself here. The issue is not whether we have too much influence (though I think we do), but whether we have disproportionate influence; and that is where I say you and I agree. You’re not sending out appeals to folks with German sounding names, or Armenian sounding names, or to Iranians (who in fact overwhelmingly share our view of the legislation) because as you and I both know those communities have far less influence than the Jewish community and its moneyed spokespeople.
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! That’s what you believe. That is NOT what I believe, or what I said. Please retract your false and damaging assertion that I agree with you and Nixon and the other anti-Semites that “the Jews” have too much power.
I think the contradiction here is you’re a, saying we are like farmers on farm-subsidy policy and b, asserting that we don’t have disproportionate influence on this policy.
Also, as a commenter pointed out, By all opinion polls, the American people are overwhelmingly against another war.
You and I are both against this lunatic legislation. But: Why not just mobilize the American people?
I give up. You won’t hear the difference between “surprising” and “over-important.” And you won’t stop being a lying anti-Semite. I’m sorry I wasted my time by engaging with you.
But apparently [Self-Hating] thought he was getting the worse of the exchange, so [Mondo Self-Hatred] published no more of it. But just to drive the message home: I do not believe that “Jews” have too much – or, for that matter too little – power. And I do want to “mobilize the American people.” But I don’t want to mobilize them for a pogrom to purge Jews from their jobs.
Apparently neither Goldberg nor the two creeps-to-be-named-never could understand that someone who is Jewish could have or express an idea about Middle East policy neither because of being Jewish nor in spite of being Jewish, nor as a move in an intra-Jewish struggle of some sort, but simply as an American (and a citizen of the world) eager to avoid war, without having any specific concern about what Jews were saying or what other people were saying about Jews.
In addition, none of them seems to own a dictionary that defines the word “especially.” I said that it would be especially useful for those with Jewish-sounding names to write, because that would help counter the false belief that Jews as a group favor war with Iran. I did not, of course, say that only Jews or those with Jewish-sounding names should write; I would like all of my readers to do so. But I think that letters with Jewish-sounding names affixed are likely in this case to be more effective, not because Jews as such have any special clout but because (1) such letters have a certain surprise value and (2) they can’t in general, though [Self-Hating] is an obvious exception, be dismissed as representing anti-Semitism, which is the subtext of some paleo-conservative “anti-interventionist” writing (e.g., from the Ron Paul crew).
This is not really a hard bit of reasoning to follow, and no such mistake would have been made in a less emotionally-charged context. If I had written, for example, “Drivers should make sure that passengers, especially little children, are securely buckled in,” I doubt that anyone would have accused me of arguing that teenagers should ride around without seat belts.
So (as the rabbi said) from this we learn:
1. That even the rhetoric around drug policy isn’t as nasty and illogical as the rhetoric around Middle East policy.
2. That many Jews are less relaxed about their Jewishness than I am.
3. That responding to concern trolling is a stupid mistake.
4. That Kirk-Menendez is, in fact, a dangerous proposal that should be resisted by all people of goodwill and common sense, regardless of ethnic heritage. So please write to your Senators.