Dozens of masked youths clashed with police yesterday at a union protest in Athens during a general strike against the cash-strapped Greek government’s planned pension and labour reforms.
Similar strikes in Spain also led to arrests and clashes with police.
Greek riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse troublemakers who threw chunks of marble smashed off a metro station entrance and set rubbish bins on fire.
The violence came as 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organised by the country’s two main unions and fringe left-wing groups. A separate march by 5,000 members of the Communist Party-backed PAME union ended peacefully.
Public services shut down across Greece as workers walked off the job as the strike disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air.
They are protesting against draft legislation that would increase retirement ages and make it cheaper for companies to fire workers. The measures are aimed at fixing the country’s debt crisis, which has shaken the entire eurozone. Similar protests in May also turned violent, with three workers dying in a bank torched by rioters.
Greece is caught in a major debt and deficit crisis. It avoided bankruptcy last month only after receiving the first installment of a €110bn emergency loan package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
In Spain, similar strikes against austerity measures caused transport havoc in Madrid and led to clashes between police. Subway trains stopped running because of the stoppage to protest against public sector wage cuts ordered by the government. Spain is struggling to emerge from nearly two years of recession following the collapse of its construction sector which had earlier fuelled a decade of economic boom.
Besides its swollen deficit problems, it also has an unemployment rate of 20pc, the highest in the EU.
– William Fernie in Athens
Coeur d’alene, Idaho — The Armchair Survivalist believes the nation is falling into chaos, and he wants to help.
He offers practical advice for dealing with riots, wars, natural disasters and food shortages, which he says are imminent because of the worldwide economic meltdown and the incoming Obama administration.
“Too many things are occurring at the same time. It’s upsetting people,” said the Survivalist, whose real name is Kurt Wilson.
So this Martha Stewart for the camo-and-compound crowd provides valuable information on nonperishable foods, portable water purifiers and defensive weapons. His catalog business, Survival Enterprises, sells what you need for the coming hard times.
He operates out of a modest strip mall that is, ironically, on Government Way in Coeur d’Alene. Much of the work is packing and shipping orders for survival supplies such as canned bacon with a camouflage label and cases of military MREs.
Wilson started “The Armchair Survivalist” radio show about a year ago because so many people were asking him for advice on what he considered simple problems. The Saturday show can be heard over his Web site, on shortwave radio, or a few broadcast stations.
The survivalist movement was considered somewhat on the decline since it peaked around 1996, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies fringe movements around the country. But the SPLC warned last week of a rise in “hyper-survivalist paramilitary groups” as a result of the Obama election.
“Some conspiracy theorists and fringe ‘patriot’ radio hosts are seeking to reverse that course by calling on their friends and countrymen to arm themselves, organize and head for the hills in preparation for a fast-approaching second civil war,” the SPLC said on its Web site.
Jim Rawles, editor of survivalblog.com said unique visits to his site are climbing. They’ve doubled to about 107,000 a week, he said. But he doesn’t think Obama’s election is the main reason.
“The main driver right now is the economic situation,” he said. “A lot of people are deeply concerned we are on the cusp of another economic.”
While the term “survivalist” often carries negative connotations of reactionary politics, advocates of the lifestyle say it has a long, proud place in history – see Lewis and Clark – and in fiction such as “The Swiss Family Robinson.”
Barton Biggs, former chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley, recently wrote a book in which he warned that people should anticipate the breakdown of civilized society. He suggested creating a “safe haven” and stocking it with canned food, liquids, medicine, seed, fertilizer and other tools for survival.
In the same vein, Wilson devotes most of his program to topics like vacuum packing of food, generator silencing and fire starting
But his politics are also clear. During a recent program he referred to “low-life interesting creatures that crawl over the border to get on Social Security.” He said Barack Obama was a communist whose election was largely due to his race.
Yet business is booming at levels Wilson has not seen since the Y2K scare.
He attributes that to Americans’ sense of vulnerability because of economic woes and a series of high-profile disasters, most notably Hurricane Katrina. People feel they have to fend for themselves, he said.
Wilson spent part of his childhood living in a log cabin in the woods, where he picked up many of the skills once common among rural Americans but now largely forgotten.
During the Great Depression, for example, many Americans survived by planting gardens, he said.
Wilson said his show is intended for a mainstream audience, but it’s not exactly “Paul Harvey.”
On a recent program, he ripped the Wall Street bailout package, Democrats, rising taxes, disappearing pensions and the possible expansion of welfare. He warned that the worldwide credit crunch may leave cargo ships stranded in ports, making food imports to the U.S. impossible.
During breaks, there were advertisements for a product that can obscure license plates from red light cameras (“when cameras flash, you’ll save some cash”), a cure for intestinal parasites and a device for converting humidity into drinking water.
He doesn’t worry so much about people who live in the country, figuring they can fend for themselves.
“The guy in an apartment has no chance in hell,” he said. “I help people to become more self-sufficient.”
One customer lives in a small Manhattan apartment, where he keeps stacks of canned food covered by tablecloths in his living room so they look like end tables, Wilson said.
Wilson recommends spending whatever it takes to have a year’s worth of food on hand because grocery stores will be immediately stripped bare when disaster strikes.
Survival food and equipment can be expensive, but there are tricks to cutting the costs, such as buying cases of canned food on sale.
“I like yard sales,” he said. “All true survivalists like yard sales.”
Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.
They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.
The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp.
This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. San Francisco’s Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers – including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.
The admission came in an agreement that Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.
Wachovia admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican currency exchange houses from 2004 to 2007. That’s the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history – a sum equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product.
“Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” said Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case.
Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile border that Mexico shares with the United States.
Among the dead are police, soldiers, journalists and ordinary citizens. In Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been killed this year as of mid-June.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to crush the drug cartels when he took office in December 2006, and he’s since deployed 45,000 troops to fight the cartels. They’ve had little success.
The United States has pledged Mexico $1.1 billion in the past two years to aid in the fight against narcotics cartels.
“It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy,” said Martin Woods, director of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London from 2006 to 2009.
Woods says he quit the bank in disgust after executives ignored his documentation that drug dealers were funneling money through Wachovia’s branch network.
“If you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point,” he said.
Wells Fargo’s effort
Wells Fargo regrets that some of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering efforts fell short, spokeswoman Mary Eshet says. Wells Fargo has invested $42 million in the last three years to improve its anti-money-laundering program and has been working with regulators, she says.
Wachovia is just one of the U.S. and European banks that have been used for laundering. For two decades, Latin American drug traffickers have gone to U.S. banks to cleanse their dirty cash, says Paul Campo, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s financial crimes unit.
American Express Bank International paid fines in 1994 and 2007 after admitting it had failed to spot and report drug dealers laundering money through its accounts. Drug traffickers used accounts at Bank of America in Oklahoma City to buy three planes that carried 10 tons of cocaine, according to Mexican court filings.
Federal agents caught people who work for Mexican cartels depositing illicit funds in Bank of America accounts in Atlanta, Chicago and Brownsville, Texas, from 2002 to 2009. Mexican drug dealers used shell companies to open accounts at HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank by assets, an investigation by the Mexican Finance Ministry found.
Those two banks weren’t accused of wrongdoing. Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton and HSBC spokesman Roy Caple say laws bar them from discussing specific clients. They say their banks strictly follow the government rules.
A Mexican judge on Jan. 22 accused the owners of six centros cambiarios, or money changers, in Culiacan and Tijuana of laundering drug funds through their accounts at the Mexican units of Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc. and HSBC, according to court documents filed in the case.
The money changers are in jail while being tried. Citigroup, HSBC and Santander, the largest Spanish bank by assets, weren’t accused of any wrongdoing.
The three banks say Mexican law bars them from commenting on the case, adding that they each carefully enforce anti-laundering programs.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney addresses an Aipac meeting in March 2007
The Bush administration – like its predecessors – has stood by Isra
The power of America’s “Jewish lobby” is said to be legendary.
Commentators the world over refer to it, as though it were a well-established fact that US Jews wield far more influence than their numbers (2% of the population) would suggest.
But this presumed influence is also a delicate issue in the US, and is rarely analysed.
How does the lobby work? Is its power truly legendary, or just a legend?
Two US academics, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, have set out to answer those questions, and triggered a firestorm of controversy as a result.
Their book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which builds on a 2006 article in the London Review of Books, says the reasons for US support for Israel need to be explained.
[Many critics] tried to smear us by either saying or hinting that we are anti-Semitic
America spends $3bn a year in largely military assistance – one-sixth of its direct aid budget – to help a prosperous, nuclear-armed country, and strongly backs Israel in negotiations on Middle East peace.
But according to Mearsheimer and Walt, the US gets remarkably little in return.
They reject the argument that Israel is a key ally in America’s “war on terror”.
On the contrary, they contend, US patronage of Israel fuels militant anger – as well as fostering resentment in Arab countries that control vital oil supplies.
The authors also reject the common view of Israel as a democratic outpost that needs protection from deadly enemies.
It is indeed a vibrant democracy, they say, but also a regional giant ready to use its considerable firepower against civilians.
US soldier and helicopter in Iraq
Whose interests do US soldiers in Iraq defend?
If both these arguments are weak, they say, the real reason behind US support for Israel is domestic – the activities of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and like-minded groups and think tanks.
Mearsheimer and Walt do not talk of a “Jewish lobby”, as these groups do not speak for all US Jews and include many non-Jews, but of an “Israel lobby”, whose main aim, they say, is to convince America that its interests are aligned with those of the Israeli state.
The book analyses the lobby’s sources of influence – notably its financial muscle and the reluctance of critics to speak out.
Pro-Israeli contributions to US campaigns dwarf those of Arab-Americans or Muslim groups.
Like other interest groups, the Israel lobby also influences debate by rounding on politicians and commentators who take positions it does not like – but it does it particularly effectively, according to Mearsheimer and Walt.
Those who might think of questioning US support for Israel know they are in for a fight, making it more trouble than it is worth.
The resulting lack of discussion, the book says, has skewed US policies across the Middle East.
Most controversially, it argues that the lobby played an important role in the Iraq war.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mearsheimer and Walt have unleashed a torrent of criticism – though not from Aipac, which has made no comment.
For any anecdote they come up with, you can come up with an anecdote that demonstrates the opposite
“Their conclusions are classic anti-Semitic canards – such as control of foreign policy against the interest of the US, the Jews controlling the media and getting America into war,” ADL director Abraham Foxman told the BBC News website.
After reading the original article, Mr Foxman wrote a book-length rebuttal entitled The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and The Myth of Jewish Control.
Many attacks have been highly personal.
In a fierce critique of their scholarship, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote in the New Republic of the original article: “Were ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’ an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.”
Virtually all reviews of the book in the mainstream US press have been negative.
“They have often misrepresented our arguments badly or tried to smear us by either saying or hinting that we are anti-Semitic,” Mr Walt told the BBC News website.
He and Mr Mearsheimer deny recycling old fantasies of Jewish conspiracies. Their book repeatedly states that pro-Israeli lobbying is not secretive, but conforms to the open rules of America’s democratic system.
The authors regard their excoriation in the US press as a sign of the lobby’s effectiveness, and point out that reviews abroad have been much more favourable.
“This in some way confirms our basic argument that it’s much easier to talk about this subject outside the United States than we do inside the US,” he says.
Cause and effect
However, some of Mearsheimer and Walt’s US critics have been less vitriolic and harder to dismiss as angry polemic.
Robert Lieberman, a Columbia University political scientist, argues that they overstate the lobby’s financial power.
I have written articles in Haaretz that no American newspapers would touch
Mearsheimer and Walt cite cases of members of Congress losing their seats after running afoul of pro-Israeli groups which then bankrolled their opponents.
But Mr Lieberman says the contributions involved are unlikely to make a difference and the book fails to establish a clear link between lobby money and victory.
Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle lost his seat in 2004 despite the fact that he got more pro-Israel funding than any candidate that year.
“For any anecdote they come up with, you can come up with an anecdote that demonstrates the opposite,” Mr Lieberman says.
Perhaps the most contentious argument in the book is the direct causal link it tries to establish between lobby activity and US Middle East policies.
But political preferences can be influenced by any number of factors, such as popular pressure, party politics or heartfelt conviction.
Although Mearsheimer and Walt do their best to discard those alternative explanations for the US pro-Israeli stance, many are unconvinced.
“Is this the manipulation of a tiny group, or is this politicians not wanting to take a stand that is unpopular with the broader public?” Walter Russell Mead, of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC News website.
Mr Mead – who wrote a lengthy critique of the book in the journal Foreign Affairs – also says Mearsheimer and Walt give too vague a definition of the lobby to make any credible conclusion about its impact.
The fact that the book invites criticism, however, is also a strength. Its scholarly, dispassionate tone is meant to encourage a debate.
“Reasonable people can disagree and one of the reasons we want to have a discussion is to get issues out in the open so people can talk about them,” Mr Walt says.
Tony Judt – a prominent historian and critic of Israel – does not accept every point made by Mearsheimer and Walt, but he credits them with lifting a taboo.
The main effect of the lobby, he says, has been self-censorship. “There are people out there who are anti-Semitic obviously, and you don’t want to find yourself in their company, so you end up saying nothing,” he says.
Mr Judt himself is not afraid to speak out, but he has to tread more carefully when he criticises Israeli policies in the US than he does in Israel itself.
“I have written articles in Haaretz that no American newspapers would touch,” he says.
In this context, he adds, Mearsheimer and Walt’s book is an “enormous act of intellectual courage”.
“They gained nothing from it, but the community has really gained something because with each little step like that, the conversation opens up a bit more.”
The front cover of the May/June 2010 issue of Mother Jones magazine boldly asks: “Who is to blame for the population crisis?” Inside, intrepid journalists apparently answer this question by shedding light on the taboo that “unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists and scientists in a conspiracy of silence.” However, in Julia Whitty’s headlining feature story, “The Last Taboo,” she systematically fails to grasp the historical dimensions of the population issue. In lieu of a viable argument she simply repackages imperial myths with a “new” sustainable façade, facilitating the neoliberal onslaught on the majority of the world’s humans. No doubt this outcome is unintended, but it is a logical outcome of her ineptitude; an ineptitude that enables her naïve literary flourishes to render service to Mother Jones’ commitment to elite social engineering (see “Mother Jones and the Defence of Liberal Elites”).
Taking a leaf from the reigning king of the neo-Malthusian population scaremongers Paul Ehrlich, Whitty’s pitiful tale is set in the slums of India, where in her opening paragraph we are reminded that people sleep “draped over sacks of rice or on work carts,” and others “sprawl haphazardly across the sidewalks, snoring.” (1) Yet while Ehrlich’s influential book, The Population Bomb (Sierra Club, 1968), epitomized the unrepentant colonial mentality of liberal imperialists, Whitty’s take is more subtle, and she even traces her family roots to 17th century Calcutta — to Indians I presume, not British colonialists.
On reading Whitty’s misinformed nonfiction, we are left in no doubt as to where the overpopulation problem lies, as a subheading on the article’s first page notes that of the 157 new people who are born every minute in our world, 153 of those are born in developing countries. (2) According to Whitty, the “only known solution” to this tragic situation “is to decelerate our population growth faster than it’s decelerating now and eventually reverse it”; the elephant in the room in Mother Jones’ conspiracy of silence is of course capitalism. But the pachyderm is not overpopulation, as Whitty and Ehrlich would have us believe, as while this idea is perhaps not talked about as openly as they might like, a racist fixation on overpopulation actually forms the backbone of mainstream environmentalism. In fact, as I and others have argued elsewhere, the newly invigorated environmental movement of the 1970s was in large part an extension of the Malthusian population control movement. (3)
The failure of Whitty to engage with obvious criticisms of the political structure under which so much violence is perpetrated helps explain why she gives “thanks” to the work of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, who in 1798 wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population. “For 150 years after Malthus,” she writes, “hunger killed millions.” What Whitty failed to notice in her investigative “research” was that this famous essay was not a faultless treatise on the causes of poverty and death, but in fact was a seminal defense of capitalist exploitation. Hunger did not kill millions, capitalism killed millions by profitably starving them, a good example being the Great Famine of Ireland.
Having so spectacularly failed History 101, it is not surprising that Whitty claims that the reason why the “inevitable mass starvation” that was predicted by Ehrlich in his 1968 book did not eventuate owed to the “monumental achievement” of the “Green Revolution,” which she adds rendered the population issue “largely taboo.” Here, although she observes that the “miracle of the Green Revolution” was not a complete success (“giving life with one hand, and robbing life support with the other”) her reliance on the propaganda of the liberal foundations that developed the revolution is severely problematic. With a special emphasis on the destruction that was wrought by the Green Revolution on India, Vandana Shiva writes:
The American strategy of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations differed from the indigenous strategies primarily in the lack of respect for nature’s processes and people’s knowledge. In mistakenly identifying the sustainable and lasting as backward and primitive, and in perceiving nature’s limits as constraints on productivity that had to be removed, American experts spread ecologically destructive and unsustainable agricultural practices worldwide. (4)
Shiva’s analysis is perhaps too generous to the motivations of the liberal philanthropists behind the revolution, and as Eric Ross suggests, it might be more appropriate to see it as a method for propagating capitalist land reforms, “which only large commercial farms could provide.” Such reforms were certainly conducive to the US foreign policy establishment, which required the imperialist penetration of overseas markets and saw the development of “national agriculture as part of a comprehensive package for thwarting revolutionary change.” (5) Thus while the chief public rationale for the Green Revolution was supposedly humanitarianism, a good case can be made that the logic undergirding this revolution was Malthusian. This foundation-guided project of “civilization engineering” becomes clearer when the Green Revolution is historically contextualized; this is because the same liberal foundations that financed the Green Revolution worked in tandem to successfully elevate population control to become a key priority for US foreign policy elites in the 1960s.
Ignorant of history, Whitty moves on to quote John Guillebaud to disabuse her readers of some of their misconceptions about the population issue: what remains unstated is that Guillebaud is the former co-chair (now patron) of a controversial British-based group called the Optimum Population Trust. According to Guillebaud, population growth is unrelated to poverty and/or the mechanics of capitalism. Instead, he says, “poor people have large families” because they fail to use contraceptives effectively. How simple it must be to live in a world detached from history: no need to challenge capitalism, let’s just spread the good word about contraception. Here, to bolster her fictional argument, Whitty refers to the stellar work that has been undertaken by the former vice president at Goldman Sachs Sheryl WuDunn, who along with her husband Nicholas Kristof recently published Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009). WuDann explains: “When women are educated, they tend to marry later in life, to have children later in life, and to have fewer children. In effect, you have a form of population control that’s peaceful, voluntary, and efficient.”
Appropriately the rest of Whitty’s propaganda spiel is a puff piece for micro-finance, which in Whitty’s deluded mind is the capitalist solution par excellence for the world’s woes. There follows a glowing discussion of a group called Freedom From Hunger, whose Ambassadors Council’s co-chair is Muhammad Yunus, and whose financial supporters include the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation. Freedom From Hunger’s major financial supporter, however, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest liberal foundation and lead backer of the misnamed Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: with no sense of irony Whitty writes that women aided by such elite aid are “hungry for this education.” Not surprisingly she concludes that: “The best 21st-century contraceptive is a Yunusian device, a microloan.”
Having forged a career as a filmmaker of nature documentaries for mainstream propaganda outlets in the United States, it is fitting that Julia Whitty should have turned her written skills to the promotion of free-market environmentalism; her latest contribution to this area of “knowledge” is the book Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean, which is due to be published in a few months. There is no conspiracy at work here, just the normal fare for mainstream corporate America, which fits comfortably with Mother Jones, a publication that contrary to its popular image is far from radical.
There is, however, a conspiracy of silence by Mother Jones’ senior staff and board members, which is expressed by their inability to publish articles that are critical of the imperialism of liberal philanthropists. No doubt this owes to the heavy reliance of their magazine on the money of the same foundations critically examined in this article. Furthermore, members of Mother Jones’ board of directors might also be implicated in such a conspiracy (read: promoting capitalist growth imperatives). To take just one example, Mother Jones board member Susan Pritzker is the past chair of the Chicago Foundation for Women, a large foundation that finances many of the same women’s health groups that the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations back, like for example the controversial and well-funded population behemoth Planned Parenthood (see “Planned Parenthood for Capitalists”). (6)
Unfortunately, as Bob Feldman surmises: “Left media and left think tank staff people generally deny that the acceptance by their organizations of grants from liberal foundations has transformed their organizational priorities, subjected them to elite control, or channeled their energies into safe, legalistic, bureaucratic activities and mild reformism.” (7) The evidence suggests that this is exactly what has happened. However, this situation is unlikely to be remedied by people working within the nonprofit industrial complex, thus it is imperative that we begin to vocalize our concerns about one of the very last real taboos, “The Funding Taboo.”
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1. In her article, Whitty cites Paul Ehrlich who says: “We don’t talk about overpopulation because of real fears from the past — of racism, eugenics, colonialism, forced sterilization, forced family planning, plus the fears from some of contraception, abortion, and sex.” On the latter points Ehrlich is talking about conservative opposition to population control, but on all the former points he is referring to policies of oppression and imperialism that were promoted by the very same liberal elites that have long supported the propagation of his own ideas. Two books that review this well-documented subject matter are Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus (Knopf, 1977); and Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (South End Press, 1995).
It is interesting to note that Whitty points out that both Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, were former board members of the racist Federation for American Immigration Reform, only “part[ing] ways” with this group when it was revealed that they obtained funding from a white supremacist group known as the Pioneer Fund. The Ehrlichs left FAIR around the time that Paul renamed his nonprofit group Zero Population Growth to the more politically acceptable Population Connection (a change that occurred in 2002). Despite this parting of ways other environmental groups remain closely linked to FAIR, as a current advisory board member of FAIR, Diana Hull, is the president of Californians for Population Stabilization (for other links between these two groups, see below) — a group whose emeriti advisor’s include David Brower (1912-2000) and Garrett Hardin (1915-2003), and current advisors include famed theorist of deep ecology, George Sessions. Notably, the vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization, Ben Zuckerman, is a board member of the deep ecology-inspired Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. This connection is worth highlighting as deep ecology has been closely wedded to the Malthusian population control agenda, and Paul Watson, the founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society played an important role in propagating such Malthusianism when he served as board member of the Sierra Club (2003-06), and was the endorsed candidate of the anti-immigration body, Sierrans United for U.S. Population Stability.
Diana Hull is not the only person at Californians for Population Stabilization who works with FAIR. Other individuals include Henry Mayer, Robert Gillespie, Richard Lamm, and Fred Pinkham. Likewise it is important to point out that three other people associated with Californians for Population Stabilization are affiliated with the racist group NumbersUSA; these include Ben Zuckerman, Dick Schneider, and Leon Bouvier. (back)
2. The cited source for this “statistic” is the Population Reference Bureau. This hard done-by member of the population establishment was funded to the tune of $9.7 million in 2008 — of which $2.5 million came from the US government, and $6.2 million from liberal foundations. In 2009, while their money collected from Contributions dropped from $0.3 million (in 2008) to $0.1 million, government support increased to $3 million and foundation aid remained even. The former CEO of the Population Reference Bureau, Peter Donaldson (1994-2003), went on to join the leading member of the population establishment, the Population Council, and was subsequently appointed their president in 2005. For an early critique of the Population Council, see Steve Weissman, “Why The Population Bomb Is a Rockefeller Baby,” In: Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 27-41. (Donaldson obtained his first postdoctoral employment as a Population Council staff associate in Thailand, 1973-75, and then as their representative in South Korea, 1975-77.) (back)
3. Michael Barker, “The Liberal Foundations of Environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford Connection,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), 2008, pp. 15-42.
Last month, Brian Tokar drew attention to the negative influence that liberal foundations have exerted on the environmental movement in his article “Reclaiming Earth Day: With Climate Chaos on the Horizon, the Environmental Movement Needs Traction,” The Indypendent, April 23, 2010.
Here it is also worth pointing out that biotech investor and president of Hyatt Development Corporation Nicholas Pritzker is the husband of Mother Jones board member Susan Pritzker (see later). This is relevant as Nicholas is a vice chair of the imperial “environmental” outfit, Conservation International (for criticism, see “When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder”). (back)
4. Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab (Zed Press, 1992), p.34. “‘Green Revolution’ is the name given to this science-based transformation of Third World agriculture, and the Indian Punjab was its most celebrated success. Paradoxically, after two decades of the Green Revolution, Punjab is neither a land of prosperity, nor peace. It is a region riddled with discontent and violence. Instead of abundance, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogged deserts and indebted and discontented farmers. Instead of peace, Punjab has inherited conflict and violence.” (p.19) (back)
5. Eric Ross, The Malthus Factor: Population, Poverty, and Politics in Capitalist Development (Zed Books, 1999), p.105, p.116. The global agricultural transformation promoted by the Ford and Rockefeller (and to a lesser degree the Kellogg) Foundations, was less interested in “enhancing the food security of the poor in developing countries than about securing the economic security of the United States, through the enhancement of the Western corporate interests with which they were associated.” (p.140) (back)
6. While Mother Jones receives the bulk of their funding from liberal philanthropists, they still rely upon advertising ascertained from nonprofit organizations. Thus in the May/June 2010 issue, page 11 of the magazine is filled by an advert for CARE, a controversial “humanitarian” organization that progressive magazines ought to be critiquing not supporting. (back)
7. Bob Feldman, “Report from the Field: Left Media and Left Think Tanks — Foundation-Managed Protest?” Critical Sociology, 33 (3), 2007, p.427; also see Michael Barker, “Who Funds the Progressive Media?” Center for Research on Globalization, July 7, 2008. (Article was removed from their Web site the same day, but has been reposted here in Spanish, and has been linked to by the editor of Open Media Boston.) (back)
Whitney Harris, who was a member of the US legal team that prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg after World War II, has died. He was 97.
Harris was the last surviving of the three Nuremberg prosecutors, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Harris died Wednesday at his home in a St. Louis suburb, according to his stepdaughter, Theresa Galakatos. She said he had been battling cancer for three years and had been in and out of the hospital since suffering a fall in his home about six months ago.
Harris was lead prosecutor in the first of the Nuremberg war-crime trials in 1945 and tried Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the senior surviving leader of the Nazi Security Police. He also helped cross-examine Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second-in-command, and helped get the confession of Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, head of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In his later years, Harris was an author and gave speeches on human rights. In 1980, he established the Whitney R. Harris Collection on the Third Reich of Germany at Washington University in St. Louis. He also is the namesake of the university’s Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute.
“He basically dedicated his life to trying to develop an international justice system to deal with war crimes against humanity and genocide,” said his son, Eugene Harris, 45.
This year is the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, Eugene Harris noted, “and people are forgetting. As each of these important participants die, there’s a big amount of knowledge that’s being lost in the process.”
Harris was born in Seattle on Aug. 12, 1912. He graduated in 1933 from the University of Washington and received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1936. He joined the Navy after the start of World War II, and following the war was put in charge of investigating war crimes.
In August 1945, he became one of the first members of the European staff for the trial of major German war criminals. The court tried 22 high-ranking Nazis, convicted 19 and sentenced 12 to death. Harris was the only prosecutor who attended the executions.
After the war he became a professor of law at Southern Methodist University, and served as chairman of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association in 1953-54.
Harris is credited with writing the first comprehensive book on the Nuremberg trials, “Tyranny on Trial, the Evidence at Nuremberg,” which was described by the New York Times as “the first complete historical and legal analysis of the Nuremberg trial.”
Curious George Saves the Day H.A. Rey’s creation is featured at the Jewish Museum.
You don’t really think about Curious George saving the day, as the title of the new exhibition at the Jewish Museum puts it. A “good little monkey,” he is called in the classic series of picture books by Margret and H. A. Rey, but he was no savior. He was a mischief maker, an innocent, born in the jungle and lured into the strange world of humans.
He imitates gestures, examines objects. He sees a hat, he puts it on his head; he sees a seagull and is determined to fly himself; he sees a telephone and dials, accidentally summoning the fire department; he sees house painters and decides to paint.
His misadventures, particularly in the early books, are ignited by impulse and inquiry, the consequences of wanting to see and to know, and the books’ charm is that they don’t condemn this curiosity; they relish it. Reality’s hard knocks — the chases, the falls, the breaking of limbs and objects — are ultimately taken care of by the nameless man in the yellow hat, who never seems to learn that you don’t leave such a childlike creature alone with a new bike, saying, “Keep close to the house while I am gone.”
But as the exhibition points out, at least outside of the books’ frames, Curious George really did save the day, and more than once. In early September 1939, just after World War II began, the Reys — a husband-and-wife team of German Jews living in Paris — sought refuge at Château Feuga, an old castle owned by some friends in southern France.
At such a time, Hans A. Rey wrote in a letter, “it feels ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books.” But that is what they were doing, prolifically, including a book about a monkey named Fifi, who later became known as Curious George.
When suspicious villagers reported the strange couple in the old castle to the authorities, gendarmes searched the place for expected bomb-making material, but the studio with pictures of the mischievous monkey convinced them of the Reys’ innocence.
Apparently, Fifi/George served much the same function when, in more serious straits in June 1940, his creators fled Paris on bicycles Hans Rey built from parts. As Louise Borden described in her 2005 picture book, “The Journey That Saved Curious George,” they left two days before the Nazis entered Paris and rode 75 miles in three days. Their four-month journey on bicycle, train and boat led them to Lisbon, then to Rio de Janeiro and New York, the drawings offering proof of their occupations when they sought American visas.
Surely Curious George could not have more deftly escaped the elevator operator, the firefighters, the farmers, the cook and the zookeepers who at one time or another pursued him through a series of seven books selling almost 30 million copies (thus saving the day for the Reys again).
Yet there is something curious here, in the sense of peculiar: a meaning that, the exhibition tells us, prevented the Reys’ British publisher from following the American example in naming the monkey. The suggestion of “strange George” would have also seemed a tasteless allusion to George VI, then the British king (which is why the character became known as Zozo in Britain).
At first, the peculiarity is not apparent. The material for this show was gathered by the museum’s curator Claudia J. Nahson, who combed through the extensive archives left by the Reys to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. It is an enticing, appealing, intelligent show, for which Ms. Nahson has included personal memorabilia (including a wedding invitation sent out in 1935, soon after Hans Augusto Reyersbach shortened his last name to Rey, and Margarete Waldstein shortened her first name to Margret; Hans depicted himself as an artist’s palette, and Margret, a photographer, as a camera).
There are letters (including some fascinating prewar correspondence with the French publisher Jacques Schiffrin, who tested out one of the Reys’ early books on his son, André) and watercolors of George at his best, along with little-known characters from other books (like Raffy the giraffe, on whose neck a George-like monkey rides to sunlit safety above the clouds). In all, there are about 80 drawings and watercolors, along with photographs Margret took of Paris in the 1930s.
The exhibition is also true to its pictorial subject. It playfully expands some drawings into full-scale sets (you enter the first gallery through a portal resembling the entrance to a French hotel in one of the Reys’ prewar books), creates a children’s reading room (with pillows shaped like Georgian creatures) and features a gallery of the Reys’ later work, whose sets evoke the places they ultimately considered home: first Greenwich Village, then Cambridge, Mass.
And the peculiarity of the Curious George books? Like the Babar tales (which also grew out of the milieu of 1930s Paris) they have an almost colonial-era vision of the uncultivated naïf at large in the imperial world. But George is far more childish. One appeal of these volumes is their almost manic celebration of innocent desire.
“Little monkeys sometimes forget,” we read of the warnings he regularly violates. Seeing something interesting, George, of course, “could not resist.” He lifts a lid on a pot of spaghetti, plays tricks on his bicycle, races down a fire escape, climbs a tree in a natural history museum. His curiosity is clever, but consequences are never foreseen: he seems to be a fearless 5-year-old.
Yet his romps began at a place and time —Europe in 1939 — when consequences were all, when almost nothing about the world could be relied on, and when curiosity had to take second place to survival. One reason the Jewish Museum has created this exhibition (and why the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco will later show it) is that the Reys were not only Jewish, but they also had lives whose trajectory was a consequence of their identity.
But was their work also linked to that identity and their experience? Though the show points out the analogies we might make between the Reys’ adventures and Curious George’s, ultimately, of course, those suggestions are fairly trivial. There is simply nothing in these books that gives a clue of the dark times in which the first of them was conceived or the second one written, nor of the personal facts that led to the Reys’ escape. There is nothing in any of the documents here — and Ms. Nahson said there was nothing in any of the material she examined, either — that indicated the Reys gave much thought to their Jewish origins; nor is there much to suggest an awareness of the wider world in which they were moving.
There is a letter here from 1939, written by Hans Rey from the Château Feuga, where the couple had taken temporary shelter; he expresses concern about the war, but notes that “life goes on, the editors edit, the artists draw, even during wartime.”
And yes, it does indeed go on, if you can find shelter, though generally, artists and editors have been deeply affected by their experiences. That letter to Schiffrin, in fact, went unanswered for months, since the editor had been drafted into the French Army; he later had to flee for his life as well.
But Curious George and his world seem almost to have been a refuge in which historical forces were held at bay by a focus on the timeless innocence of childhood, sensed in the artificial world of this strangely tailless monkey.
We know that both the Reys must have enjoyed adventure and exoticism. Hans had moved from Hamburg to Rio de Janeiro as early as 1924, and sold bathtubs and sinks along the Brazilian Amazon. Margret, eight years his junior, went to Rio in 1935; the two were soon married (their families had known each other in Hamburg) and opened Rio’s first advertising agency. Their belated honeymoon in Paris in 1936 turned into a four-year residence. They had taken their two pet marmosets on the voyage, but both had perished.
You can sense George’s jungle origins in these facts, along with the almost restless enterprise the monkey displayed. But where is the rest of the world? In the books, it is present mainly by its absence. In the first Curious George book, the exhibition notes, “the ship’s arrival with the yellow-hatted man and George happily displaying their identification papers, stands in contrast to the Reys’ plight at the time.” The drawing was created “when they were struggling to secure the necessary papers to leave France.”
There is also a fair number of H. A. Rey’s journals on display here — miniature notebook/calendars — but their main function seems to have been to keep track of expenses in difficult times. The ones selected for display are, presumably, among the most interesting, but their comments are cryptic and unrevealing. It is almost as if there were very little inner life to account for.
The duo must have been terrific together; Margret Rey explained how she would often act out George’s gestures as her husband drew. The man in the yellow hat, the exhibition explains, was like Hans Rey, even smoking a pipe. Was George, then, a sort of joint cocoon for them, shaping a world secure enough to exist independent of the forces that gave them chase?
The show points out that George’s later stories may reflect some of his creators’ experiences of America, invoking Hollywood, rocket ships, newspapers — the bustle of American commercial and social life. Somehow, the trials of the past must have been subsumed into these books and (judging from the exhibition) other volumes less well known. And whatever darkness they had experienced was displaced by the “disarming innocence,” “buoyant colors” and “unstinting optimism” the show correctly notes that we find in the artwork.
For me, this simplicity makes the books less interesting than those of other children’s book writers and illustrators of their era — from Robert McCloskey to Maurice Sendak — but it is still no small achievement to capture the thrills and risks of curious innocence even if they couldn’t capture the real human world surrounding them.
The Reys never had any children themselves, though many young readers may have pledged familial allegiance. Later in life, we read, Margret Rey told of a little boy who came to meet them, thinking they were the parents of Curious George. With “disappointment written all over his face,” the boy said, “I thought you were monkeys too.”
Not quite, of course — any more than the world in which George moved was the world the Reys knew, all too well.
“Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey” is on view through Aug. 1 at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, at 92nd Street; (212) 423-3200, thejewishmuseum.org.
Nell Irvin Painter’s title, “The History of White People,” is a provocation in several ways: it’s monumental in sweep, and its absurd grandiosity should call to mind the fact that writing a “History of Black People” might seem perfectly reasonable to white people. But the title is literally accurate, because the book traces characterizations of the lighter-skinned people we call white today, starting with the ancient Scythians. For those who have not yet registered how much these characterizations have changed, let me assure you that sensory observation was not the basis of racial nomenclature.
Some ancient descriptions did note color, as when the ancient Greeks recognized that their “barbaric” northern neighbors, Scythians and Celts, had lighter skin than Greeks considered normal. Most ancient peoples defined population differences culturally, not physically, and often regarded lighter people as less civilized. Centuries later, European travel writers regarded the light-skinned Circassians, a k a Caucasians, as people best fit only for slavery, yet at the same time labeled Circassian slave women the epitome of beauty. Exoticizing and sexualizing women of allegedly inferior “races” has a long and continuous history in racial thought; it’s just that today they are usually darker-skinned women.
“Whiteness studies” have so proliferated in the last two decades that historians might be forgiven a yawn in response to being told that racial divisions are fundamentally arbitrary, and that deciding who is white has been not only fluid but also heavily influenced by class and culture. In some Latin American countries, for example, the term blanquearse, to bleach oneself, is used to mean moving upward in class status. But this concept — the social and cultural construction of race over time — remains harder for many people to understand than, say, the notion that gender is a social and cultural construction, unlike sex. As recently as 10 years ago, some of my undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin heard my explanations of critical race theory as a denial of observable physical differences.
I wish I had had this book to offer them. Painter, a renowned historian recently retired from Princeton, has written an unusual study: an intellectual history, with occasional excursions to examine vernacular usage, for popular audiences. It has much to teach everyone, including whiteness experts, but it is accessible and breezy, its coverage broad and therefore necessarily superficial.
The modern intellectual history of whiteness began among the 18th-century German scholars who invented racial “science.” Johann Joachim Winckelmann made the ancient Greeks his models of beauty by imagining them white-skinned; he may even have suppressed his own (correct) suspicion that their statues, though copied by the Romans in white marble, had originally been painted. The Dutchman Petrus Camper calculated the proportions and angles of the ideal face and skull, and produced a scale that awarded a perfect rating to the head of a Greek god and ranked Europeans as the runners-up, earning 80 out of 100. The Englishman Charles White collected skulls that he arranged from lowest to highest degree of perfection. He did not think he was seeing the gradual improvement of the human species, but assumed rather the polygenesis theory: the different races arose from separate divine creations and were designed with a range of quality.
The modern concept of a Caucasian race, which students my age were taught in school, came from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach of Göttingen, the most influential of this generation of race scholars. Switching from skulls to skin, he divided humans into five races by color — white, yellow, copper, tawny, and tawny-black to jet-black — but he ascribed these differences to climate. Still convinced that people of the Caucasus were the paragons of beauty, he placed residents of North Africa and India in the Caucasian category, sliding into a linguistic analysis based on the common derivation of Indo-European languages. That category, Painter notes, soon slipped free of any geographic or linguistic moorings and became a quasi-scientific term for a race known as “white.”
Some great American heroes, notably Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, absorbed Blumenbach’s influence but relabeled the categories of white superiority. They adopted the Saxons as their ideal, imagining Americans as direct and unalloyed descendants of the English, later including the Germans. In general, Western labels for racial superiority moved thus: Caucasian → Saxon → Teutonic → Nordic → Aryan → white/Anglo.
The spread of evolutionary theory required a series of theoretical shifts, to cope with changing understandings of what is heritable. When hereditary thought produced eugenics, the effort to breed superior human beings, it relied mostly on inaccurate genetics. Nevertheless, eugenic “science” became authoritative from the late 19th century through the 1930s. Eugenics gave rise to laws in at least 30 states authorizing forced sterilization of the ostensibly feeble-minded and the hereditarily criminal. Painter cites an estimate of 65,000 sterilized against their will by 1968, after which a combined feminist and civil rights campaign succeeded in radically restricting forced sterilization. While blacks and American Indians were disproportionately victimized, intelligence testing added many immigrants and others of “inferior stock,” predominantly Appalachian whites, to the rolls of the surgically sterilized.
In the long run, the project of measuring “intelligence” probably did more than eugenics to stigmatize and hold back the nonwhite. Researchers gave I.Q. tests to 1,750,000 recruits in World War I and found that the average mental age, for those 18 and over, was 13.08 years. That experiment in mass testing failed owing to the Army’s insistence that even the lowest ranked usually became model soldiers. But I.Q. testing achieved success in driving the anti-immigration movement. The tests allowed calibrated rankings of Americans of different ancestries — the English at the top, Poles on the bottom. Returning to head measurements, other researchers computed with new categories the proportion of different “blood” in people of different races: Belgians were 60 percent Nordic (the superior European race) and 40 percent Alpine, while the Irish were 30 percent Nordic and 70 percent Mediterranean (the inferior European race). Sometimes politics produced immediate changes in these supposedly objective findings: World War I caused the downgrading of Germans from heavily Nordic to heavily Alpine.
Painter points out, but without adequate discussion, that the adoration of whiteness became particularly problematic for women, as pale blue-eyed blondes became, like so many unattainable desires, a reminder of what was second-class about the rest of us. Among the painfully comic absurdities that racial science produced was the “beauty map” constructed by Francis Galton around the turn of the 20th century: he classified people as good, medium or bad; he categorized those he saw by using pushpins and thus demonstrated that London ranked highest and Aberdeen lowest in average beauty.
Rankings of intelligence and beauty supported escalating anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism in early-20th-century America. Both prejudices racialized non-Protestant groups. But Painter misses some crucial regional differences. While Jews and Italians were nonwhite in the East, they had long been white in San Francisco, where the racial “inferiors” were the Chinese. Although the United States census categorized Mexican-Americans as white through 1930, census enumerators in the Southwest, working from a different racial understanding, ignored those instructions and marked them “M” for Mexican.
In the same period, anarchist or socialist beliefs became a sign of racial inferiority, a premise strengthened by the presence of many immigrants and Jews among early-20th-century radicals. Whiteness thus became a method of stigmatizing dissenting ideas, a marker of ideological respectability; Painter should have investigated this phenomenon further. Also missing from the book is an analysis of the all-important question: Who benefits and how from the imprimatur of whiteness? Political elites and employers of low-wage labor, to choose just two groups, actively policed the boundaries of whiteness.
But I cannot fault Nell Painter’s choices — omissions to keep a book widely readable. Often, scholarly interpretation is transmitted through textbooks that oversimplify and even bore their readers with vague generalities. Far better for a large audience to learn about whiteness from a distinguished scholar in an insightful and lively exposition.
Linda Gordon is a professor of history at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits.”
Conservative radio host Michael Savage canned at S.F. radio station KNEW-910
By Randy McMullen
Contra Costa Times
09/11/2009 11:33:59 AM PDT
Fifteen years after launching his radio career in the Bay Area as a starkly conservative and dramatically outspoken commentator who drew fiercely loyal fans and myriad complaints and protests, Michael Savage finds himself without a San Francisco station to call home.
Radio station KNEW-AM 910 announced Thursday it had yanked Savage’s show from its 3-7 p.m. time slot the day before. “We have decided to go in a different philosophical and ideological direction, featuring more contemporary content and more local information,” said a note on the Clear Channel-owned radio station’s Web site. “The Savage Nation does not fit into that vision.”
The “more contemporary content and local information” will now be supplied by the “John and Ken Show,” which is syndicated out of radio station KFI-AM in Los Angeles. The show features conservative commentators John Chester Kobylt and Kenneth Robertson Chiampou.
Savage’s supporters quickly began posting missives on the station’s Web site, accusing programmers of lacking the courage to support a radio host who frequently drew controversy for his incendiary remarks on such topics as gay rights, immigration, autism, the Middle East and feminism.
“Michael Savage is the only person who speaks the truth about what is really going on,” read one comment on the site. “Shame on you for bowing to the communist White House.”
It was not clear what impact KNEW’s move would have on Savage’s syndicated
show, which claims to reach between 8 and 10 million listeners on more than 400 stations nationwide.
The station also did not mention any other moves it was taking as part of its new direction. It still carries trendy and controversial commentatorGlenn Beck, for example, and its Web site still boasts the “Babe Page,”featuring curvaceous models in skimpy outfits.
There was no comment from Savage Thursday on his dismissal.
According to Shlomo Sand, everything you ever thought you knew about the Jewish people as a nation with ethno-biological origins is false. Israel Bartal, however, says Sand didn’t do his homework
Mattai ve’ekh humtza ha’am hayehudi?
(When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?), by Shlomo Sand
Resling (Hebrew), 358 pages, NIS 94.
The first sentence of “When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?” reads: “This book is a historical study, not a work of pure fiction. Nevertheless, it will open with a number of stories rooted in a collective memory that has been adulterated with a considerable degree of imagination.” I recalled these words when I found myself utterly astounded by the statements of the author of this learned, fascinating study, concerned with the “period of silencing” in the “Jewish-Israeli collective memory,” a period that, to quote Sand, gave rise to a total avoidance of “any mention of the Khazars in the Israeli public arena.”
This assertion, according to which an entire chapter in Jewish history was deliberately silenced for political reasons, thrust me back to my days as a ninth grader, in the late 1950s. I recalled the Mikhlal Encyclopedia, an almost mythological reference text that nearly every Israeli high school student relied on in those years, the flagship of what is termed “mainstream Zionism,” in the lean Hebrew of 21st-century Israel. My ears still reverberate with the introduction to the encyclopedia’s entry on “Khazars”: “A source of consolation and hope for the scattered Jewish communities of the Diaspora during the Middle Ages, the story of the Khazar kingdom today has the ring of pure mythology. Nonetheless, that story is one of the most wonderful chapters in Jewish history.”
Sand suggests that it was “the wave of decolonization of the 1950s and 1960s [that] led the molders of Israeli collective memory to shield themselves from the shadow of the Khazar past. There was a profound fear that, should the Jews now rebuilding their home in Israel learn that they are not direct descendants of the ?Children of Israel,’ the very legitimacy of both the Zionist enterprise and the State of Israel’s existence would be undermined.”
With considerable trepidation, I returned to my yellowing copy of volume IV of the Mikhlal Encyclopedia. Could I perhaps have been mistaken and could it be that my teachers in the Socialist-Zionist city of Givatayim wanted to brainwash me with an ethno-biological perception of my parents’ origin?
When I reread the entry on the Khazars, my mind was put at rest. It was not the Zionist education to which I, as an Israeli teenager, was exposed that tried to make me forget the fact that the members of gentile tribes converted to Judaism in the Khazar Kingdom; instead, it is the author of this book about the “invention of the Jewish people” who has invented an ethno-biological Zionist historiography.
Here is what was written about the conversion of the Khazars, a nation of Turkish origin, in the Zionist Mikhlal Encyclopedia that the State of Israel’s Zionist Ministry of Education recommended so warmly during that “period of silencing”: “It is irrelevant whether the conversion to Judaism encompassed a large stratum of the Khazar nation; what is important is that this event was regarded as a highly significant phenomenon in Jewish history, a phenomenon that has since totally disappeared: Judaism as a missionary religion…. The question of the long-term impact of that chapter in Jewish history on East European Jewry — whether through the development of its ethnic character or in some other way — is a matter that requires further research. Nonetheless, although we do not know the extent of its influence, what is clear to us today is that this conversion did have an impact.” Sand, a professor of modern European history at Tel Aviv University, comments further on the silence of the historians: “Israel’s academic community developed a violent attitude toward this issue…. Any mention of the Khazars in the public arena in Israel was increasingly considered eccentric, a flight of fancy, even an open threat.”
Zionist historiography, he claims, concealed the possibility that the millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews were actually descendants of the Khazars and that even today Israeli historians deny the existence of an early Jewish nucleus that was augmented by immigrants who moved from Ashkenaz (present-day northern France and western Germany) to Eastern Europe.
These claims are baseless. Sand, for example, does not mention the fact that, from 2000 onwards, a team of scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem labored on a monumental task: the production of a three-volume study on the history of the Jews of Russia.
In the first volume, which will shortly be published in Hebrew by the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History (another “Zionist” institution), considerable attention is devoted to the question of the origin of the East European Jews and to their link with the history of the Khazar kingdom.
Sand repeats the method he employs vis-a-vis the place of the Khazars in Jewish historiography in connection with other topics as well, presenting readers with partial citations and edited passages from the writings of various scholars. Several times, Sand declares what his ideological position is. Like him, I am not one of those who support the injustices committed by a number of Israeli government agencies against minority groups in this country in the name of arguments pretending to represent “historical values.” However, critical readers of Sand’s study must not overlook the intellectual superficiality and the twisting of the rules governing the work of professional historians that result when ideology and methodology are mixed.
Sand’s desire for Israel to become a state “representing all its citizens” is certainly worthy of a serious discussion, but the manner in which he attempts to connect a political platform with the history of the Jewish people from its very beginnings to the present day is bizarre and incoherent.
Descendants of pagans
What is Sand trying to prove in this study? In his view, the homeland of the Jewish people is not Palestine, and most Jews are descendants of the members of different nations who converted to Judaism in ancient times and in the medieval period. He claims that the Jews of Yemen and Eastern Europe are descendants of pagans.
According to Sand, this historical truth was concealed by Zionist thinkers, who developed an ethno-biological ideology, and the so-called “Jewish people” was invented as late as the 19th century. Furthermore, he argues, the idea of a “nation” that was exiled from its homeland in ancient times and which is destined to return to it in the modern age so as to rebuild its independent state is merely an invented myth.
Sand also maintains that, in the era preceding the emergence of European nationalism, the Jews were an ethnic group, not a nation. In his eyes, the argument promulgated by the Zionists and by their successors in the Israeli political arena concerning our “right to this land” rests on a biological-genetic ideology; that argument became the “narrative of the ruling group” thanks to the fact that the “authorized scholars of the past” have concealed the truth concerning the real, impure origin of the Jews.
My response to Sand’s arguments is that no historian of the Jewish national movement has ever really believed that the origins of the Jews are ethnically and biologically “pure.” Sand applies marginal positions to the entire body of Jewish historiography and, in doing so, denies the existence of the central positions in Jewish historical scholarship.
No “nationalist” Jewish historian has ever tried to conceal the well-known fact that conversions to Judaism had a major impact on Jewish history in the ancient period and in the early Middle Ages. Although the myth of an exile from the Jewish homeland (Palestine) does exist in popular Israeli culture, it is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions. Important groups in the Jewish national movement expressed reservations regarding this myth or denied it completely.
Sand’s references to “authorized” historians are absurd, and perpetuate a superficial pattern of discussion that is characteristic of a certain group within Israeli academe. The guiding principle in this pattern of discussion is as follows: “Tell me what your position is on the past and I will tell you the nature of your connection with the agencies of the regime.”
The kind of political intervention Sand is talking about, namely, a deliberate program designed to make Israelis forget the true biological origins of the Jews of Poland and Russia or a directive for the promotion of the story of the Jews’ exile from their homeland is pure fantasy.
Sand points to three components in the structuring of the Jewish national past. First, the national historical narrative, especially the Zionist narrative, emphasizes the “ethno-biological” identity of those who belong to the imaginary Jewish nation.
Second, this identity is directly connected with a nationalist ideology that is a substitute for the religious link between Jewish communities in the Diaspora that has considerably weakened in the present era of secularization. Third, an aggressive political establishment that controls the dissemination of knowledge is concealing vital information on what really happened in the past, preventing the publication of sources that can serve as an alternative to the recommended national narrative, and censoring dangerous passages in published texts.
The central book of the Zionist “Jerusalem School,” “Toldot am yisrael” (“History of the Jewish People,” published in 1969), speaks extensively of the Jewish communities that existed in the Diaspora before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and whose total population exceeded that of the tiny Jewish community in Palestine. As one would expect from a work that reflects a profound knowledge of scholarly studies in the field, the Zionist “Toldot am yisrael” explains that the number of Jews in the Diaspora during the ancient period was as high as it was because of conversion, a phenomenon that “was widespread in the Jewish Diaspora in the late Second Temple period …. Many of the converts to Judaism came from the gentile population of Palestine, but an even greater number of converts could be found in the Jewish Diaspora communities in both the East and the West.”
Choosing to ignore all this, Sand categorically states in his book that, “the mass conversions that created such huge Jewish populations throughout the Mediterranean region are scarcely mentioned in Jewish national historiography.” Apparently, he is obsessed with the idea of proving that the Zionist historians (including Nahum Slouschz, who wrote about the North African Jewish warrior-queen Dahia
al-Kahina) were “ethnocentric nationalists.” It is irrelevant to Sand what these historians actually wrote: To hell with the facts — the argument is what really counts!
Sand bends over backwards to prove that the great Jewish historians (such as Simon Dubnow, Salo Baron and Benzion Dinur), who, in their works, linked Jewish nationalism with liberalism, radicalism and socialism, were simply racists. Here’s what he writes, for example, about Israeli historian Haim Zeev Hirschberg (1903-1974), who studied the Jews of North Africa: “His continual attempts to prove that the Jews were a race of people that had been displaced from its ancient homeland and which had been condemned to wander from country to country as an exiled nation … dovetail beautifully with the directives of mainstream Zionist historiography.” According to Sand, Hirschberg never managed to liberate himself from a “purifying substantive ideology.” Does this sound familiar? When and where did you last read that Zionism was a racist movement?
I will now refer briefly to the connection between the book’s conceptual underpinnings and the author’s main historical argument, namely, that, prior to the modern period, the Jews constituted only a group of “scattered religious communities.” Sand defines national identity in the spirit of the ideas of the French Revolution. Not only does he reject the concept of an ethnic identity that is not dependent on the existence of a political entity confined within clearly defined borders, he even rejects an identity whose possessors’ claim is founded on a cultural or political entity that is not subject to control or management by the agencies of the central regime. In his view, such identities are merely “invented identities” and he does not believe that pre-modern identities can survive in the modern era. In fact, Sand advocates the position that was heard in the French National Assembly in December 1789: “The Jews must not be allowed to constitute a special political entity or to have a special political status. Instead, each Jew must on an individual basis be a citizen of France.” However, whereas the champions of the Emancipation in Paris did recognize the non-religious essence of the pre-modern Jewish nation, Sand does not.
I was unable to find in Sand’s book any innovations in the study of nationalism. The author is stuck somewhere between historians such as Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner — a generation behind what is happening today in the field. As far as I can discern, the book contains not even one idea that has not been presented earlier in their books and articles by what he insists on defining as “authorized historians” suspected of “concealing historical truth.” “When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?” is a marvelous blend of clearly modernist arguments, drawn from the legacy of 18th-century European Enlightenment, with a moderate, but disturbing (because of its superficiality), pinch of Foucaultian discourse from a previous generation.
Moreover, the author’s treatment of Jewish sources is embarrassing and humiliating. What serious reader who knows the history of modern Hebrew literature can take seriously the views expressed in a book that defines “Bohen tsadik” (Investigating a Righteous Man), a satirical (fictional!) work by the Galician intellectual and supporter of the Haskalah Yosef Perl (1773-1839), as something that was written by a person named Yitzhak Perl and which “contains 41 letters from rabbis that relate to various aspects of Jewish life”? Who would attest to the accuracy of facts in a research study where it is stated that historian Joseph Klausner (1874-1958) — a scholar who never was (despite his burning ambition to do so) a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and who, instead, served there as a professor of Hebrew literature — “was in fact the first official historian of the ?Second Temple period’ at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem”? Does such sloppiness reflect the author’s attitude to the subject of his research? Or, perhaps, because everything is an invention anyway, it does not really matter whether the “imagined object” is black or white?
The lugubrious Israeli combination of aggressive one-dimensional conceptuality and blatant disrespect for details (a characteristic mix among writers at both ends of the political spectrum) will undoubtedly captivate the hearts of the public relations executives of the electronic media. However, we, the skeptical historians, who are buried between mountains of books and piles of archival files, can only continue to read what has really been written and to write about what has really been read.
Prof. Israel Bartal is dean of the humanities faculty of the Hebrew University. His book “Cossack and Bedouin: Land and People in Jewish Nationalism” was published by Am Oved in its Ofakim series (Hebrew).