Against Anti-Semitism: Right, Left, or Media-Induced
By Al Giordano
Anti-Semitism has historically fallen harder on Jewish peoples than against Semitic non-Jews, and its English-language use is commonly understood as anti-Jewish, which is what I mean when I use the term in this essay.
I try very hard to avoid touching what I call the “third rail” of international geo-politics in what I publish – specifically, the debates over Israel-Palestine – precisely because to do so, no matter what one’s position is, no matter how sensitively or not one offers an opinion, the entire matter has become akin to blowing on a gigantic dog whistle that brings out all the haters on all sides and makes rational conversation impossible.
I am also admittedly very sensitive to anti-Jewish slurs and other forms of anti-Semitism. I have high contempt for those like Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who run around denying that the holocaust happened, while violently repressing civil resistance movements against their authoritarian regimes. Even though I am not Jewish, I take such attacks personally, as do many Jews and non-Jews alike.
Perhaps it is because I grew up in New York, where so many of my best and most worthwhile cultural influences were Jewish. Perhaps because when as an early teen the local Catholic Church officials kicked me out of the guitar group for the Sunday “folk mass” after they caught me teaching, ahem, unchristian songs to the other kids there, I was able to convince my mom to let me attend the Temple youth group instead. Perhaps because the director of that youth group, a heroic Jewish-American named Richard Zoffness, went to bat and fought and won his battle that I be allowed in that Temple youth group. That’s when I learned an important lesson in Jewish political concepts of solidarity, an example I strive to adhere to each day.
In that Temple youth group, I received benefits that would not have been available to me as a Catholic kid, including sex education classes at 13. In those formative years I marched down Central Park West in support of Soviet Jewry – the Jewish population in what is now known as Russia and surrounding countries – that, just like our anarchist forbearers, was persecuted so brutally by that government.
I’m a bit older now, but I still carry with me the understanding that the Nazi holocaust was the worst single atrocity upon the greatest number of people among all the horrible things that have happened in the time while anybody alive today was still alive.
And yes I know that capitalism is terrible and destructive, and there have been and continue to be other genocides - to say one was the worst is not to say that the others aren't also evil - and that it’s been no picnic to be Palestinian over the past century, or a member of many other national, ethnic, religious, racial or other groups either. Still, the Nazi holocaust and the systematic extermination of millions of people because they were of a certain faith is, to me, the single worst example of what mobs of people can be whipped up to support when blinded and manipulated by hatred and the ill urges to make scapegoats.
If you try to argue with me against that point, if you try to lecture me that any worse crime was committed over the past century, I will not take you seriously. I will not even apologize for not taking you seriously. My respect for you will probably lessen. Because I believe when something that terrible happens to so many people at the hands of others that, after all, were of the supposedly evolved European continent, that it is vital work to inoculate society against such a mass psychosis ever happening again. And that requires generations of education and of, in sum, rebuilding an entire culture around making sure that history shall not repeat itself, not against anybody, but specifically not against those and the descendents of those to whom it did happen, who bore the brunt of it for all peoples: Jewish peoples.
I know many other native New Yorkers and many from other places, and many Jews and non-Jews, who feel exactly as I do about that holocaust and the importance of two words: “never again.” Interestingly, all of us have very different opinions about Israel-Palestine and how to address that conflict. But we are united in making sure a mass violent psychosis such as that pulled off by the Nazis must never happen again.
And so when real anti-Semites run around saying things like "I believe it should have been fair and valid to let Hitler finish his historic vision,” I don’t care who it comes from – right or left – that guy is asking me to open up a big can of whoop-ass on him, because of the legitimate fear and trauma such statements cause good people, while also riling up other haters like him do do violence against Jews.
And sad to say, although Nazism itself is the pinnacle of right wing ideology, there are some confused and sick people who identify themselves as on the left who make statements like that. One who did make that exact despicable statement last week on Radio Globo in Honduras - a couple days before it was occupied and shut down by coup military troops (for reasons unrelated to Romero's statement, which the regime was not aware of until after it seized the station and its tape archives) - was its managing director, David Romero.
I reject and condemn Romero's words and him for mouthing them. If anybody ever said such a thing via this publication, he’d be fired in a New York minute.
If, as Romero did today in that AP story, that person apologized and said they didn’t mean what they said, I’d still fire them indefinitely while sorting it all out. And I’d tell that employee or freelancer or co-publisher that unless he was willing to now go, alone, to synagogues, temples or other gatherings of Jewish people and apologize face to face, and listen to everything they have to say to inform and educate him and express their legitimate horror over calls to violence like that, he wouldn’t have a chance at getting his job back.
In fact, here’s probably exactly how I would handle it: I’d call up some friends from a local Temple or Jewish organization and say, “It’s your call on whether you think this guy’s apology was sincere or not and whether you feel safe ever having him as part of this media again. Frankly, he creeps me out. But maybe you can educate him. If you're willing to try, I'll tell him he can only have a job back if you tell me he can. Otherwise, he's gone."
Mind you, I’m just saying how I would handle it at my own media organization. But if the owner of Radio Globo does something similar, he’ll get big applause from me, and from his other employees, many of whom have shared with Narco News their outrage and disagreement and embarrassment and feelings of betrayal caused by Romero’s statement. Nothing like that was ever said at Radio Globo before or since Romero did that. And people around the station have been in a state of shock over it, frustrated that he is their immediate superior and has tarnished its cause at the very moment that the station is fighting for its life against jackbooted coup regime censorship.
Thankfully, out of 469 co-publishers of Narco News, out of all of its diverse number of journalists and students and professors, nobody has ever written anything as stupid and hateful at this publication as what Romero said, and I hope that will always be the case.
But here is the other side of the dog whistle. There are others out there that look to pounce upon and exacerbate such legitimate fears and traumas every chance they get. And they are often over there on the right, trying to divide liberals and Jews, the left and Jews, because Jews have generally been more progressive than right-wing in most countries, and a vital part of most victorious progressive coalitions.
There has been a cottage industry in recent years trying to create fear of movements and individuals that are not, like Romero, harbingers of anti-Semitic thought, and that Jewish and other peoples would not be afraid of or distrustful of based on what they actually say or do. Rather, the cottage industry exists to distort their words, take them out of context, to try and smear them as something they are not: Anti-Semitic.
The dishonest manipulator that got this whole dog whistle blowing regarding Honduras was Miami Herald “journalist” Frances Robles.
In a September 24 story, headlined “They’re Torturing Me, Zelaya Claims,” Robles typed the following lead paragraph:
“It's been 89 days since Manuel Zelaya was booted from power. He's sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and ‘Israeli mercenaries’ are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.”
Normal journalistic procedure when lifting a sensationalist quotation like that reference to “Israeli mercenaries” in a first paragraph is to then, in a later paragraph, provide the full quote in its full context so that readers can judge for themselves what really was said.
Robles did not do that, which raised the first red flag about her intentions.
Asked six times by a reader, via email, to provide the full quote in its context, Robles kept replying via email to that reader with lengthy self-important defenses while still refusing to provide the exact quote from which she extracted the words “Israeli mercenaries" and put other words, not quoted, around them.
Narco News has obtained the full email exchange between Robles and that reader, in which Robles seems to confuse the reader’s request for the full quotation with a debate over whether Zelaya said the only two words she quoted from the undisclosed full statement:
“…anyone who thinks this was made up is obviously not with him, because he says it OVER AND OVER again. I can't explain why no one else reported it. I guess it sounded so off the wall other people chose to ignore it.”
She then invokes the name of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - another Latin American leader that the cottage industry keeps trying to portray as somehow anti-Semitic, one that has joined delegations organized by Jewish organizations to concentration camp sites and who has prosecuted invaders of a synagogue in Caracas - and what she says is his support for her article. Robles wrote:
“Yesterday at a press conference in NY someone asked Hugo Chavez what he thought of the article and he said, "I send the Miami Herald reporter a big kiss for finally telling the truth."
And then, either confused or trying to obfuscate, she ignores the request for the full quote and seeks to debate a different issue:
“I have been a journalist for 20 years and did not get where I am by making up quotes. I have nothing to gain from that.”
Except perhaps front page placement of her oft-buried stories in the Miami Herald.
When the reader asked, again, for the full quote, Robles replied:
“I am very busy and not really interested engaging in email debate. I will answer this email but to be honest, I haven't even completely read it because I just do not have time. I am not going to comb through my notes to find quotes for you…
“I have a lot of interviews and work to do and I simply cannot respond to every reader who wants to haggle over lines in my stories.”
Narco News then wrote to Robles to ask for the full quote, which she has refused to disclose. But the question remains: If the Miami Herald reporter had the time to answer the reader in multiple emails about why she didn’t have the time to answer his question, doesn’t that seem a bit too cute by half? In much less time, she could have just answered his question!
What Robles did do, though, panicked after being informed that her simulation would reach these pages that have exposed so many US correspondents for their dishonest dealings in Latin America, and cost more than a few their sinecures, was contact aides to Zelaya asking them to confirm that he had used the term “Israeli mercenaries.”
Narco News has obtained copies of the Zelaya organization's email responses to Robles, telling her that he mentioned “rumors” of “alleged mercenaries” but never said that such “alleged” parties were responsible for the high tech sonic and chemical weapons used on the Brazilian Embassy, which was the untrue claim made in Robles’ September 24 story.
Like disgraced NY Timeswoman Judith Miller before her, Robles made light of a matter of chemical weaponry - in this case, against the Brazilian embassy, now confirmed by the government of Brazil and the United Nations - to try and portray Zelaya as somehow crazy because he was one of the victims of those now-documented chemical attacks.
It was the very next day after Robles blew the dog whistle that David Romero made his anti-semitic statements, barking to the tune blown by Frances Robles. Nobody at Radio Globo or anywhere else expected him to behave that way. But the sonic pitch of that kind of weapon unleashed that demon from him.
The other thing the aforementioned AP story, by Benjamin Fox, neglected to mention was that Zelaya had already condemned Romero’s words on September 29, when he issued a statement that said:
“Many people in society are wrong, including some of my opponents and also some of my supporters, falling victim to anti-Semitism,” said Zelaya in a public statement. “I reject all anti-Semitic postures and attacks and call on the Honduran people to do the same.”
Fox never even asked Zelaya for comment.
Fox was apparently ignorant that Zelaya was the elected Honduran president who appointed a Jewish-Honduran, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal, as his presidential chief of staff, Leo Starkman as his minister of foreign investment, Moises Starkman as his energy minister. And Zelaya put Jacobo Regalado Weitzembluth at the helm of the state owned telephone company, an institution now seized by military troops.
David Romero is a vicious anti-Semite that deserves contempt from you and me, and had been publicly rebuked by President Zelaya days before this matter became a media campaign in this "open letter" he released on September 29.
Mel Zelaya was attacked by such anti-Semites when he appointed so many Jewish-Hondurans to top positions in his government, in representation much larger than in the population at large.
You decide, kind reader, who are the anti-Semites here? And who is blowing the dog whistles to get them riled up and provoking fear and trauma.
What professional simulators like Frances Robles do to blow those dog whistles and rile up real anti-Semites like David Romero is beneath contempt, does not serve the eternal and just cause against anti-Semitism, and is intended to accomplish quite the opposite.
After all, the manipulation of mobs and generation of mass psychosis attempted by Robles was not something she invented, but, rather, the trademark of a certain evil holocaust and its propagandists not very long ago. When the dogs start barking, deal with the dogs, of course, but also look for the ones blowing the dog whistles.