Category Archives: opinion

“Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer” by Bettina Stengneth— Another Look at Evil without Banality

eichmann

Stangneth, Bettina. “Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer”, translated by Ruth Martin, Knopf, 2014.

Another Look at Evil without Banality

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt shocked the world with her idea that evil could be banal. It is quite scary to think that something as horrible as genocide could be perpetrated by simple people who are not evil or bad intrinsically. Arendt claimed that there was another moral category after she observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann as he was questioned about his role in the Holocaust and this is what eventually became her theory that caused a tremendous backlash from which she was never able to recover. I just finished teaching a course in which I maintained that much of what Arendt had to say has since proven to be true and now I am eating humble pie. Of course this new book was not yet published and, in fact, I had not heard that it was even in the process of being written. When Arendt published her book some 50 years ago, critics assumed that by trying to understand Eichmann’s particular kind of evil, Arendt was somehow excusing his actions. Since then there have been ongoing debates as to whether evil can indeed be banal and it seemed that Arendt had the last word on the subject. She had shaped the way we understand man. Now Bettina Stangneth, an independent German philosopher living in Hamburg, has just completely overturned conventional wisdom about the man Arendt observed  in Jerusalem in the glass cage.

Her book, “Eichmann Before Jerusalem,” shows that Eichmann was a hugely successful liar and a performer who managed somehow to convince Arendt and many others that he had no motive other than advancing his career and that he was simply following orders. Stangneth has uncovered Eichmann’s own writings from before his capture in Argentina that prove him to have been deeply anti-Semitic and very committed to the Nazi’s war on race; that he was, indeed, an ideologue who knew and understood exactly what he was doing. What we see here is damning new evidence that will change the way we think not only about Eichmann but also about Hannah Arendt, one of the brilliant minds of the modern age.

Every book that has been written since the Eichmann trial has been a dialogue with Hannah Arendt. Arendt was the only observer of the Eichmann trial in 1961 in Jerusalem who saw the fundamental ethical problems it presented. What she discovered is very important when looking at evil. The term “banality of evil” is an important concept in modern times. Her discovery of an important concept of evil — the banality of evil — is indispensable for discussions about modern crimes. She provided us with what we need to know to understand evil and that alone is a tremendous contribution. We cannot, by any means, ignore what she had to say.

Arendt’s characterized Eichmann in this way: “Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal….” Arendt could not find any sign of ideological convictions or specific evil motives in Eichmann. We now know that he had a strong ideological conviction as well as criminal motives. How could anyone claim that a man who would not deny that the clear decision to kill millions of people and continued to lecture about anti-Semitism to his colleagues and create institutions that had no aim but to realize mass murders are could be anything less than evil and criminal? What is disturbing about Eichmann is that he had the ability to use great diligence so that others would realize that he was indeed a murderer. He understood that the “inability to think” was something very useful. Without it, crimes of the state would be impossible, because one would never find enough convinced helpers. Eichmann understood that he had to use normal men and women. It seems that Eichmann understood the concept of the “banality of evil” very, very well.

It is possible to have people who are simply parts of an evil and murderous machine and seek just a regular life and are not concerned with the larger picture of which they are part. However a machine that murders is more than just the sum of its parts; engineers must make the machine run. When the crimes are completed, the engineer can then pretend to be just a worker and hide behind those that actually made the machine function.

Arendt was obviously very taken with Eichmann at the trial and this also says something about others who watched it. There were those who saw Eichmann as a sad and pathetic weak man. Another reporter saw him as a buffoon and many agreed with these two depictions. Arendt repeated these descriptions and people were aghast. In 1961, Eichmann seemed to be a man without his own thoughts and convictions. When Arendt restated this in 1963, it provoked a scandal. This tells us that Arendt was not willing to deny the public astonishment of the year 1961; she wanted to understand it.

Some of us seem to have forgotten that Life Magazine published Eichmann’s memoirs in 1970 that included statements he made while living in exile in Argentina. But we could not discern his true nature from them. There seemed to be some kind of camouflage. There is the statement that in 1950 he told a reporter that he met in a bar in Buenos Aires and the world who he was and it was regarded as nonsense. In the newspapers of Argentina there was the testimony of a large project conducted by a group of Nazis to bring the idea of National Socialism back to power. Eichmann, himself, was a part of this group and he was consulted because of what he knew firsthand about the “Jewish question.” Members of the group wrote their own drafts for discussions, and Eichmann planned to publish his own book together with Willem Sassen, who was the head of this supposed club of historians. Right there in the Argentinean Press is the portrait of a radical Nazi group with incredible international connections, as well as Eichmann’s thoughts and eloquence that he did not mention in his trial in Jerusalem.

We cannot deny that Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is a brilliant report of the trial. However, Arendt was a political philosopher, and philosophers cannot write about anything without philosophical interest. Some called this a kind of weakness or a mistake but it is an excellent way to write history.

In this new book, Eichmann, the man is secondary to evil and to the lies he told. Stangneth states that it was not her goal to write about Eichmann— she had agreed with Arendt and had read everything about him up until the year 2000. It was then that many unused sources were discovered and she began to consider the man, but from the philosophical point of view. She attributes her ability to write this book to the great philosophers that preceded her—and she includes Arendt along with Aristotle and Kant. We must understand that thought is unlike any other subject studied. Thought cannot be isolated in a laboratory or left behind and then picked up again. Thought enters the mind of the thinker and he studies it. With Eichmann there was a bit of a tremendous difference. Philosophers must examine dangerous thoughts of dangerous people and in this process we arrive at Eichmann before Jerusalem and a duel of philosophies and a breakdown of philosophical power.

Post # 8000— A Meditation on Peace

shalom

This is my post number 8000 which means that there are 7.900 review posts here and several others. I wanted it to be something special and I decided that with the war in Israel and Gaza going on as I write perhaps a nice poem about peace would do it. Here it is—let’s hope for the best.

When Peace Comes: A Meditation

Alden Solovy

 When peace comes,

When the tunnels are gone and the walls come down,

When we sing together as brothers and sisters,

We will remember these days of sorrow and grief,

Of rockets and terror,

Of longing and despair,

As a memorial to those who were lost,

As a remembrance of our mourning,

As a monument to our yearning,

On the road to wholeness,

On the road to wisdom,

On the road to our days of rejoicing.

 

Oh you children of Abraham,

You sons and daughters of Sarah and Hagar,

What will you become?

How long before shalom and salaam

Echo in these hills,

In these valleys and on these shores,

As shouts of awe and amazement?

How long before we remember

To hold each other dear?

 

One God,

Maker of All,

Banish war from our midst.

Speedily bring forth justice, understanding and love.

Bind these wounds and heal our hearts.

On that day the children of Isaac

And the children of Ishmael

Will dance as one.

Joy will rise to heaven

And gladness will fill the earth.

Ryan Field—need a laugh?

field bbb

Field, Ryan. “Bad Boy Billionaires: The Ivy League Rake”, Ravenous Romance, 2012.
Need a Laugh?

Amos Lassen

Ryan Field “has a long list of publishing credits that include over 100 works of lgbt (sic) fiction, some with pen names in various sub-genres”. Most of these have not been reviewed and those that have been reviewed rarely have more than from one to three reviews of one to three sentences. That kind of says it all. Yet he is quick and eager to criticize others. If this sounds like sour grapes, it could be because it probably is. In the past I have reviewed him several times favorably hoping to give him a bit of a sense of self-confidence but I see I was wrong and his writing has continued to be mediocre. Everyone wants to be a writer today and one of the easiest way to do so is to publish your own books. Yet Field sits on his self-constructed throne in his self constructed “queendom” surrounded by his poodles and his bouffant blonde hairdo and he is quick to criticize others. His followers hang on his every word as if he speaks from heaven. It must be nice to boost your ego that way. How very, very sad.

Below are two of the “stunning” reviews he received for “Bad Boy Billionaires”. Does it seem like to you that these reviewers did not even read the book? What they say could be gleaned from the blurb. Notice that the first review is actually written in four “sentences”, one of which is a fragment. The second review, like the first does not even mention the title of the review and both “reviewers” call the author by his first name, a practice looked down upon in reviewing. Did I mention that Ryan Field also equivocally states that depending upon his market he writes under assumed names so that people will not be confused by the gender of the author. Let him who walks on the white carpet be sure he has not stepped in dog shit first. But then this is not the first time he has challenged me and certainly not the last. He keeps his fingernails sharp for that and especially so when he is writing straight romance. I am glad to take him on any day—he forgets all I know about him.

 Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Bad Boy Billionaires: The Ivy League Rake (Kindle Edition)

Yes, this could really turn into another series for Ryan. The read was good and the characters flowed through. Each chapter. Luis and Jase would like to meet them I’m sure. THANKS … KEEP IT COMING ! ! !

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5.0 out of 5 stars

Bad Boys done Well, February 22, 2013

By 

Teddytoy (Florida) – See all my reviews

 

Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Bad Boy Billionaires: The Ivy League Rake (Kindle Edition)

Ryan hits the ball out of the park again with this story. While it is not part of the ‘Virgin Billionaires’ series, it is a great stand alone story that could lead into it’s own series.

Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 

 I find it fascinating that the time that Ryan Field could use to perfect his poor writing skills instead is used on vindictive endeavors to try to disagree with everything I say or do. On his Amazon page he wrote and I quote:

 “Ryan Field is a gay fiction writer who has worked in many areas of publishing for the past 20 years. He’s the author of the bestselling “Virgin Billionaire” series and the short story, “Down the Basement,” which was included in the Lambda Award winning anthology titled “Best Gay Erotica 2009.” Though not always, he sometimes writes gay parodies of *straight* mainstream fiction/films in the same way straight fiction and Hollywood has been parodying gay men for years, without apology. He also writes hetero romances with pen names, and has edited several short story anthologies. He has a long list of publishing credits that include over 100 works of lgbt fiction, some with pen names in various sub-genres”.

Wow—over a hundred works of lbgt (sic) fiction, quite an accomplishment—until you go through them and find that the same stories appear under different titles and by “different” author names. For anyone, 100 titles in 20 years is quite an accomplishment although looking again at the output, I do see a single title later than 2013. I just find it awfully sad that anyone could waste so much time trying to discredit someone else. I was always been taught that if you cannot look at yourself, then do not look at others. With a little more investigation, I can dig up so much more but why would I bother? He does so well by himself. He has a whole series of blogs that he has written about me—he also has one serious story in an anthology that was nominated for a Lambda Book Award. He was not nominated—a story in a book that he wrote was nominated. Check out his publishers as well—they all are his companies. I stopped playing with Ryan years ago but he cannot seem to let go. That says something about him although I am not really sure what. I wonder if he thought I would sit back and take his crap. Anyway when he is man enough to face me, I am ready—but he must leave his chorus of teeny-bopper devotees at home.

I have copies of letters he has sent me thanking me for my reviews and then he turns around and makes something nasty over it:

“Thanks so much, Amos. I really appreciate it. I hate to cross genres because it’s scary as hell and it’s out of my comfort zone. But this review helped me a lot on a personal level.

 

Ryan”

 

Ryan Field

Romance Author

 

 

         ‪RfieldJ@aol.com‬

         Dec 12, 2010

To

         alassenamos@yahoo.com

“Hi Amos,

 

I know we had a slight difference in opinion, but I just heard about what happened with amazon and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am. It’s unbelievable.

 

I hope this doesn’t discourage you and I hope you keep reviewing as much as you can. I always thought all your reviews were professional.

 

Ryan Field”

         lassenamos@yahoo.com

“Hi Amos,

 I’ve attached a copy of THE VIRGIN BILLIONIARE. I don’t think I’ve sent it to you before. But if I did, let me know and I’ll do something else.

 You don’t have to review this if you don’t want to. I’m not sending for this reason (Seriously…I’m not…so stop shaking your head and saying, “yeah right.” 🙂 I’m only sending as a thank you for all the nice things you’ve done.

 Ryan”

  

“End of Gays?” by Mark Simpson— What Will Happen Next?

end of gays

Simpson, Mark. “End of Gays?” ADS, 2014.

What Will Happen Next?

Amos Lassen

 In the 1980s, when the United Kingdom Government of Margaret Thatcher outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, gays were still semi-criminal. They were also considered immoral, ridiculous, disgusting, diseased and after children. But then gays in the United Kingdom began to be promoted more rapidly and giddily than almost any persecuted, despised group in history. In just one generation, they have achieved legal equality, civil rights and even respectability. Today, the Conservative Prime Minister marries gays. “Homosexuality has joined the golf club”.

But it is not all “over the rainbow”. English writer Mark Simpson in a provocative and personal essay tells us that gay people are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. Perhaps the biggest problem they face in the UK and much of the West is no longer overt homophobia, but rather the rapid falling off of it. They have lost the need for survival as a distinct group with their own identity, culture, clubs and sensibility. It is possible that they have moved beyond gay?

 Gays have been shaped and defined by their long struggle against prejudice and their experience of their difference. But what’s left of gayness when the homophobia stops? I have wondered if the same can happen here in America. Simpson, here, shows some good insight into the gay movement and what it has brought about and some of what Simpson says it true. Are we giving up our uniqueness to be part of the larger picture and will that hurt us as a movement? In just 17 pages we get a lot to think about and I know there are those who are already doing so.

Jewish Female Impersonators Discover Comedy in Their Heritage

Why Being Barbra Streisand Can Be a Drag

Jewish Female Impersonators Discover Comedy in Their Heritage

Berle-Esque: The Kinsey Sicks label themselves as a ‘Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet.’

Courtesy of the Kinsey Sicks
Berle-Esque: The Kinsey Sicks label themselves as a ‘Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet.’

 

By Simi Horwitz

Published in The Forward, January 31, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.

 

Steven Brinberg does not want to be called Ms. Streisand, Barbra or Babs before he steps onto the stage fully transformed into the singing icon. Until that moment, address him as Steven, please.

Indeed, it takes 90 minutes for the metamorphosis to be completed, starting with layers of makeup, followed by dress and wig. The last bit of costuming is the long nails. “The nails really make me feel very Barbra!” he said.

Brinberg is undoubtedly the premier Streisand impersonator. “It’s Barbra at prices you can afford,” he quipped during an interview with the Forward. “I always had an affinity for Barbra. She’s our leader. Now she’s played Israel.”

Along with performing on the cabaret circuit and trendy hot spots across the country, Brinberg frequently does his shtick at temple and Jewish Community Center events. Being Jewish shapes his humor while at the same time forces him to avoid Jewish caricatures that might be construed as anti-Semitic. And as a gay man, he is able to view Streisand from the outside, but identify with her in a way that a straight man could not. “I’m once removed,” he said.

Female impersonators — though some prefer to think of themselves as actors — may be playing real life divas, while others inhabit fictional creations. They may not reference their ethnicity at all, or they may lightly incorporate it into their stage personas or make it their act’s centerpiece. The most notable example is Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross, who was a motivational speaker and life coach and used biblical stories as object lessons. The act has now been retired.

Jewish cross-dressing goes back to medieval performances; early Purim shpiels routinely featured men playing all the female roles, including Queen Esther, says David Shneer, author of “Queer Jews,” and the Louis P. Singer chair in Jewish history at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In the 1950s, Milton Berle was legendary for his drag performances. “Though I can’t help thinking of it as burlesque, more than drag,” said Shneer, suggesting that cross-dressing straight men emerge from a somewhat different sensibility than their gay counterparts.

Drag, as we know it today, was defined by such vaudevillians as Julian Eltinge and Bert Savoy, who made their mark in the early 20th century. Lesser known names of the era created a more sexualized genre that continues to influence contemporary performers.

According to Shneer, Jewish drag entered the public imagination with Harvey Fierstein’s 1982-83 Tony Award-winning “Torch Song Trilogy,” whose gay protagonist Alan Beckoff made his living as a female impersonator.

Fierstein’s newest play, “Casa Valentina,” slated to be produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club this spring, is inspired by the real-life but little known community of cross-dressing Jewish heterosexuals who gathered each weekend to don women’s clothes at a 60s-era Catskills resort.

Like good burlesque, successful drag is comic, flamboyant and subversive. It’s arguably an expression of rebellion, but the artists we interviewed say their Jewish heritage is not a target. Keith Levy, aka Sherry Vine is pure Borscht Belt with a campy overlay. “I’m a little sassy, a little trashy, but not cheap. I’m Barbie on crack,” she says in her act.

“It’s heightened theater and the humor is self-deprecating,” she told the Forward. “I’ve never been told I’m offensive.”

All the artists come from homes that are accepting of their homosexuality and careers. Alexander Heimberg, who was formerly a drag performer by the name of Miss Understood and runs the 20-year-old booking agency, Screaming Queens, says that gentile drag queens tend to have a harder time because Jews aren’t subject to Christian dogma and its concept of hell. “No one ever told me I was going to burn in hell,” he said.

Brinberg says he understands that a man in drag could make some people uncomfortable without knowing exactly why. “It forces them to think about sexuality,” he said.

Discomfort can exist on several levels, not least watching a performer who is twice marginalized (as a Jew and as a gay man) and often over-the-top in his presentation of self, especially on stage.

“Jewishness is visible in gestures, in the voice, in the body’s compartment, and it’s often seen as excessive — too much, too big, too loud,” said Stacy Wolf, professor of theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of Princeton Atelier at Princeton University. “Similar descriptions can be made about drag performance.”

“Drag brings together Jewish irony and homosexual camp,” added Shneer. “Satire and irony are a deep part of drag and one could say that comes from Jewish humor. The seams are supposed to be visible.”

Gay men and Jews also have similar relationships with their audiences, Shneer said. They both seek community with theatergoers who share with them common experiences, values, references and language.

“It’s a chance for all of us to drop the mask,” said writer, actor and drag artist Charles Busch who, early on in his career, was known for playing wild Hollywood divas and even one raging Upper West Side Jewish matron, Miriam Passman, who had her sights set on a cabaret career. “You loosen up when you’re with your own,” he said.

But Busch also suggests that as a Jew he brings an inherent “gravity” to the proceedings despite the hilarity.

Ira Siff, founder of the now defunct legendary drag opera company, La Gran Scena, says that through parody he and his colleagues were protesting what they saw as the homogeneity of art at the time. “We were poking fun in an affectionate way, but it came out of deep caring,” he stressed. “That’s Jewish.”

Even his comically grotesque diva persona, Vera Galupe-Borszkh, hinted at a certain dark side. Though the comedy emerged from a Catskills universe, her one-liners were invested with an unspoken backstory, according to Siff. Vera never stated that she was Jewish, he says, but she was conceived as such, starting with her generic Eastern European accent. “The audience understood she wasn’t a sunny gen tile,” recalled Siff, who now serves as a commentator on Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. “There was that element of loss.”

Similarly, the Kinsey Sicks, a Beauty Shop Quartet,” are constantly driving home political or cultural commentary with such songs as “Christmas Carols and Other Jewish Music.” Diversity and tolerance are built into the material, says Irwin Keller, who is one of the founders of the 20-year-old troupe and plays a controlling, prim lesbian.

But Jewish mothers, “Jewish American Princesses,” the Holocaust and Israel are off-limits. “Israel is just too painful to Jews, whatever side they’re on,” noted Irwin, who also serves as a Reconstructionist rabbi. Most of the quartet’s audiences are Jews of all stripes, he says.

Indeed, the drag artists interviewed all have large Jewish followings, even among the Orthodox. Brinberg recalls performing at a birthday party for an Orthodox Jewish woman whose husband hired him because even in drag, Brinberg was still a man and therefore the husband could watch him perform.

The fact that Brinberg is a gay man prancing about as a female was either not acknowledged, or simply considered low on the blasphemy scale compared with a biological woman strutting her stuff on stage.

So what are female impersonators saying about gay men in general and Jewish gay men in particular? The effeminate Jewish man is not a new stereotype. Now add the homosexual/drag element.

The performers insist stereotypes are not necessarily negative and that if anything, their schtick is an expression of homage to women. They own, embrace and celebrate the stereotypic image. They also vehemently deny the existence of any misogyny in their performance, asserting that drag gives them permission to have fun with their own femininity by, at least in some instances, playing women sporting overstated makeup and cartoonishly large boobs that resemble bookshelves.

Shneer does not entirely agree. “Misogyny is built into the performance,” he admitted. “But because it is embedded in a gay context the misogyny has gone away. It is misogyny without the teeth.”

He says it’s no fluke that the gay man’s icon is Judy Garland — not simply because she was a larger-than-life fabulous singer, but because of the underlying pathos of her story.

Brinberg sees no underlying pathos in either Streisand or himself, just a strong New York Jewish connection. They could be pals, he says, and only half-kiddingly speculates that should he ever meet her, he’d ask her where in New York he could get good old-fashioned chow mein, suspecting she would have the answer and might even join him on a trip to some obscure outer borough Chinese restaurant that still serves grandma’s fare.

Streisand has not yet come to see him perform, but Brinberg is sure she knows who he is. He says he’d like to believe he has become a role model for her.

A former writer for Backstage, Simi Horwitz writes frequently about show business for the Forward.

The Unhinging of Andrew Sullivan ~How one of Israel’s most ardent supporters became a vicious detractor—and why we should have seen it coming.

The Unhinging of Andrew Sullivan

 

Liam Hoare

Liam Hoare

Freelance writer based in the United Kingdom

click for full bio >>

~How one of Israel’s most ardent supporters became a vicious detractor—and why we should have seen it coming.

The movement for same-sex marriage in the United States owes a great deal to one Englishman in particular. In 1989, when the notion of civil gay marriage was barely even considered, Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay for The New Republic entitled, “Here Comes the Groom: A (conservative) case for gay marriage.” In this landmark piece, he asserted that same-sex marriage would “foster social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence.” The arguments set forth in his essay became the foundation of the liberal case in favor of marriage equality and the basis of Sullivan’s work for the next twenty years or more.

His dedication to the struggle for equal marriage has earned him much well-deserved admiration, as has his pioneering role in legitimizing the blog as a form of journalism. Since he initiated the weblog The Daily Dish in 2000, Sullivan succeeded in making the practice of blogging credible while it was still in its infancy, and helped mold it into a place where serious ideas could be shared and discussed. By extension, he opened up a space for younger writers to not only blog but accumulate a certain cachet for doing so. Indeed, such is Sullivan’s online following that he has been able to disassociate himself from The Daily Beast – with whom he had a relationship from April 2011 until the end of 2012 – in order to strike it out on his own using a subscription-based model. On November 1, The Dish reported having over 30,000 subscribers which account for some $791,000 in revenue (the budget for The Dish last year at The Daily Beast was $900,000), as well as 1.2 million unique visitors and 7.7 million page-views for the month of October.

All of this is to say that, even after going behind a paywall—often a death sentence for an online publication—Sullivan remains a source of fascination for a dedicated cadre that has followed and evolved along with his own extraordinary if jarring political transformation. Over two decades or so, Sullivan has veered from the Left to Right to the Left, along the way becoming one of the most vehement supporters of Barack Obama, said to be occasionally read by the President himself.

But he has also adopted some even less reputable ideas—and not just his vocal, seemingly obsessive conspiracy theories about Sarah Palin’s child. To have monitored the Dish over the past few years is to have seen it become a forum for ceaseless Israel-bashing. On Israel, Zionism, and the issue of Palestinian statehood, Sullivan—once the most zealous of Zionists—has transformed into someone who today can barely contain his equally zealous, often irrational, contempt for Israel and her American supporters.

It is a werewolf-style mutation that has not gone unnoticed by former friends and colleagues. Sullivan has gone from “wild-eyed Zionist to vitriolic Israel-basher,” the influential journalist Jeffrey Goldberg has written, adding that Sullivan sometimes uses his blog “to disseminate calumnies that can cause hatred of Jews and of Israel.”

Leon Wieseltier, one of Sullivan’s former editors at The New Republic and an ex-personal friend of the writer, has accused Sullivan of “intellectual shabbiness” and “venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews.”

In retrospect, Sullivan’s noxious mix of hysteria and hate seems like a premonition of darker things to come.

Less commented upon, however, is the bitterness and general absence of nuance that have characterized much of Sullivan’s writing from the beginning of his career. The reckless ferocity of his ire and the rapid-fire expression of his views, quotes, and links without forethought show that blogging provides Sullivan with a convenient veil behind which he can hide—the misplaced link and the crude superficiality is in the nature of the form—and an editor-free platform that suits his angry, convulsive writing.

This is not just the case of the one feeding the other—that belligerent rhetoric and lack of curiosity can lead to shifting madly from pole to pole on Israel and the Palestinian question. Rather, it is that these deplorable characteristics manifest themselves in more insidious and troublesome ways; ways that corrupt a writer’s work and call his motives into question.

Sullivan’s undignified ferocity has manifested itself numerous times during his career. One of the ugliest came five days after the September 11 attacks, when Sullivan saw fit to turn his ire against those insufficiently aligned with his own sensibility. “The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column,” he wrote in the UK’s Sunday Times. The same day, Sullivan would blog about “a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column that will surely ramp up its hatred in the days and months ahead.” In retrospect, this noxious rhetorical mix of hysteria and hate—the stark division between good and bad and the implication of disloyalty—reads like a premonition of darker things to come.
Andrew Sullivan speaking at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. Photo: Chad Norman / flickr

Andrew Sullivan speaking at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. Photo: Chad Norman / flickr

This particular version of Andrew Sullivan, the one decrying the “fifth-column” among us, was a Sullivan greatly affected by the attacks of September 11 and strongly in favor of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The trauma of 9/11 appeared to solidify not only Sullivan’s commitment to the centrality of American exceptionalism, but his support of Israel as well.

“The United States’ defense of the only democracy in the Middle East is one of the reasons that I’m proudest of the United States,” he said in a C-SPAN appearance on February 1, 2002. “I admire Israel,” he commented. “I admire the Israeli people, and I admire their tenacity to defend democracy in the face of exactly the kind of fascism that [hit] the United States.”

At the time, Sullivan believed the fates of the United States and Israel were intertwined, their experience one and the same. Israel faces, he said on November 8, 2002 (once again on C-SPAN), “the same problem that we do of terrorism, of suicide bombers, of people who are not interested whatsoever in making peace with Israel but in destroying Israel.” Hezbollah, the PLO, and other Arab states propagate a “fanatical, Hitlerian anti-Semitism,” he asserted. “These surrounding powers want Israel to be destroyed. Almost none of them even acknowledge its right to exist and are fomenting terrorism against its civilians which is exactly the same as the terrorism fomented against us.”

Taken in the context of these remarks, Sullivan’s transformation over the past decade is indeed remarkable. Fast forward to January 6, 2010 and Sullivan is “sick” of Israel—not just the government, but of the nation and its people. “I too am sick of the Israelis,” he wrote,

for their contempt for the interests of their most important ally, their continuation of brutalizing colonization of the West Bank, their shameless ethnic engineering in East Jerusalem, their pulverization of Gaza, the direct manipulation of domestic American politics by their ambassador, and on and on.

“I’m sick of having a great power like the US,” he continued, “being dictated to in the conduct of its own foreign policy by an ally that provides almost no real benefit to the US, and more and more costs.” Israel, he asserted on October 5, 2012, is an “ungrateful ally,” rather than a victim of those who, as he once put it, won’t “even acknowledge its right to exist and are fomenting terrorism against its civilians.” Worse still, he now wrote, Israel has become “a liability, undermining US foreign policy in the most important struggle we still face: Jihadist violence.” Not yet finished, Sullivan would add,

We give the Israelis everything they ask for and they give the US nothing in return. In fact, they have operated as a foe, not friend, greeting Obama with the Gaza assault, deliberately destroying Obama’s Cairo outreach to the Arab-Muslim world with their settlement policy, confirming every conspiracy theorist in the Middle East, and in a particular moment of hubris, the Israeli prime minister lectured the US president in front of the cameras in the Oval Office as to what US policy should be. My view is quite simply that Netanyahu, in alliance with neocons and Christianists, has had one main policy these past four years: getting rid of Obama so he can control Greater Israel for ever and get the US to bomb Iran for him.

The style of this rant is the same that Sullivan has always practiced; it is the enemy that has changed.

In Sullivan’s mind, Israel has gone from virtuous to irredeemable, from an object of love to an object of contempt. Disillusionment and disenchantment would be one thing; Israel, as the product of a dream, or a spectrum of dreams, will always have a slight taste of disappointment about it, whatever one’s ideology. But to veer from one extreme to the other, from blazing light to total darkness, cannot be the result of a rational evaluation of any country. Something else, something more sinister, is at work here.

The irrationality of Sullivan’s devolution shows itself in the manner of his turnaround. It has a great deal to do with context and not a lot to do with fact. When Sullivan wrote in August 2001 that, “The notion of a negotiable peace with the murdering hoodlums who run the PLO was always a fantasy,” it was in the midst of the second intifada. In June of that year, 21 Israeli teenagers were murdered when a suicide bomber exploded himself in the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv. In August, another suicide attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem killed 15 civilians. This, as well as the failure of peace negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, makes Sullivan’s reaction ugly but understandable.
Sullivan frequently uses the Road Runner quote “meep meep” when he thinks Republicans have gone off the rails. Illustration: Jed Hunsaker / Picasa

Sullivan frequently uses the Road Runner quote “meep meep” when he thinks Republicans have gone off the rails. Illustration: Jed Hunsaker / Picasa

But in the years since, Sullivan’s views have shifted 180 degrees while Israel’s security situation has not changed a great deal. While the looming, unpredictable danger of suicide bombings in restaurants and nightclubs has been suppressed, it has been superseded by the looming, unpredictable danger of rocket attacks, mostly from the Gaza Strip but also from Sinai, southern Lebanon, and the Syrian-controlled sector of the Golan Heights. More generally, no Arab nation has recognized Israel’s right to exist since 1994, and the Arab Spring has made an unstable and unpredictable neighborhood even less stable and predictable, especially in Egypt and Syria.

Nor have the problems that bedevil the Israeli-Palestinian peace process altered. The occupation and the settlements, for example, were a secondary concern for Sullivan in 2001. Now he sees them as “brutal colonization,” in response to which all aid to Israel should be suspended. It is true that the settlements today are larger and the settlers more numerous, but their rate of expansion has not changed since Sullivan was largely indifferent to the issue. The moral and legal status of the settlement enterprise has not changed either, which is to say, if it is illegal and immoral for Israel to construct houses and build roads in Elon Moreh today, the same was true in 2001.

Since the conditions on the ground in Israel are largely the same, it seems that something has changed in Sullivan, and not the country he now despises. To be fair, this has been true of Sullivan’s positions on a great many issues, but as in the past, these changes appear to be more emotional than intellectual. His slide from interventionism to isolationism, for example, is clearly tied to his disgust over the way in which the intervention in Iraq played out, particularly the substantial loss of American lives and the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. In a recent appearance on CNN, Sullivan called the Iraq War “the most catastrophic disaster in American foreign policy,” cutting off Leon Wieseltier, who was advocating intervention in Syria, by saying that Wieseltier’s arguments “sound if as the Iraq War never happened.” Sullivan now appears to see all American policies in the Middle East through the prism of Iraq.

But on Israel specifically, his hatred has more to do with the 2008 election and the extent to which Sullivan became enthralled by Barack Obama and appalled by his opposition (to the point that he publicly embraced a conspiracy theory that Sarah Palin faked her last pregnancy). Sullivan’s view of Obama in regard to the Middle East was almost messianic. “President Obama is one the best things to happen to Israel in a long time,” he said in an October 6, 2011 videoblog, saying that the president had within him the potential to bring peace to Israel and Palestine and somehow succeed where all his predecessors had failed.

“As long as Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister,” Sullivan wrote in 2012, “Israel is not our ally.”

Having found a hero, Sullivan—as he often had in the past—also found an enemy: It was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, Sullivan now believed, had thwarted and undermined Obama’s efforts. “As long as Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister,” he wrote on October 5, 2012, “Israel is not our ally.” On November 16 of the same year, Sullivan asserted that the failure of the Netanyahu government to “seize the opportunity Obama offered them four years ago—indeed to treat the United States president with contempt combined with an open attempt to elect his opponent—will haunt the Jewish state.” It seems that so long as Obama is president and Netanyahu prime minister, Sullivan will have nothing good to say about Israel and will cease defending their actions, however justifiable they may be.

Sullivan’s vitriolic rhetoric also seems to be fueled by something that his writing makes embarrassingly clear: The truth is, he doesn’t know very much about Israel.

He is, for example, very angry about the rise of religious Zionism as represented by the Bayit Yehudi (“Jewish Home”) party. But he seems to know little or nothing about the historical schisms in Israeli society—which is often intensely divided along political, religious, and ethnic lines—that have both supported and opposed that rise. Nor does he seem to grasp how these divisions contribute to the make-up of the Knesset and the workings of Israel’s political system. Most surprisingly, he seems remarkably uninterested in finding out.

Photo: Big Think / YouTube

Photo: Big Think / YouTube

Sullivan’s completely erroneous coverage of Israel’s most recent general election displayed all of these flaws in their most extreme form. In a January 18, 2013 post entitled, “Israel’s Fundamentalist Temptation,” for example, he wrote:

Next week’s Israeli election will almost certainly mean the end of even the illusion of any two-state solution ever happening—and of a secular country able to make peace with its neighbors, let alone relent in its aggressive repopulation of the occupied territories. It looks as if it will empower the fundamentalist, racist far right in ways we have not yet seen. Which is to say: If you fear a nuclear-armed theocracy emerging in the Middle East, Iran should not be your only worry. The slick and truly modern theo-fascism of a man like Naftali Bennett bears all the hallmarks of modern fundamentalism. Including its tendency toward violence when challenged.

This prediction proved to spectacularly wrong. There were indeed gains for Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party, but the biggest story of the 2013 elections was a spectacular surge in support for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) party, whose platform favored the two-state solution and an avowedly secular approach to Israeli politics and governance. Labor, Hatnua, and Meretz—all of which are secular and firmly in the peace camp—also made gains. The official policy of the government coalition that followed became, in spite of the inclusion of Jewish Home, one of negotiations with the Palestinians the outcome of which would be a division of the land and a Palestinian state. Hardly the death of the two-state solution Sullivan predicted.

What is truly bizarre, however, is that Sullivan’s views appear to have been completely unaffected by the outcome of the elections. Indeed, Sullivan continued to advance his theory that Israel must be saved from imminent theocracy. “In America, Obama has saved us by defusing the theo-authoritarians,” he wrote on January 24. “In Israel, no Obama has yet emerged since Rabin.” It is very difficult to understand what Sullivan is trying to say here. In what way is Obama like Rabin? How did Rabin “defuse theo-authoritarianism”? Rabin certainly challenged both the religious and the secular Right over the peace process, but reducing the role of religion in Israeli life and politics was never part of his agenda; certainly, Rabin was never identified with the issue. Put simply, Sullivan appears to know little or nothing about Rabin and his policies.

Sullivan’s newfound hatred of Israel is buttressed by a startling ignorance about the country and its policies.

Nor does Sullivan appear to know very much about Israel’s long term policy goals. In a May 7, 2012 post entitled, “Greater Israel and ‘Soft Ethnic Cleansing’” Sullivan claimed that Israel’s ultimate desire is a one-state solution in which the Palestinians will be expelled. “I think that’s where Israel is eventually headed: ethnic cleansing by a variety of means,” he wrote. And it got a great deal uglier. Israel, he said, had sealed “its abandonment of the Western tradition for pure tribalism—and worse.” Needless to say, such statements have a very ugly pedigree indeed.

Putting that aside for now, the post made clear that Sullivan hasn’t really been observing the Israeli political scene at all. The one-state solution is a minority view in Israel, publicly advocated by widely disliked politicians like Moshe Feiglin and other polarizing figures. Indeed, members of Otzma Le’Yisrael, which is perhaps the most extreme Right-wing party in Israel, were unceremoniously voted out of the Knesset last January.

Andrew Sullivan at Gettysburg College. Photo: Gettysburg College / YouTube

Andrew Sullivan at Gettysburg College. Photo: Gettysburg College / YouTube

The truth is, the two-state solution is now a mainstream, largely consensus issue in Israel. In other words, the political Left has essentially won the argument over territory and peace. Today, the Israeli center debates only the process and the contours of the final agreement. “The settlement movement failed during the first Palestinian uprising,” historian and analyst Yossi Klein Halevi said in a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. “Israelis realized then the price of the occupation; that there was no such thing, as settler leaders promised, as a benign occupation. That kind of illusion went in the late 1980s.” Prime Minister Netanyahu has now endorsed a two-solution and negotiations toward that goal. Even if Sullivan does not trust the prime minister, the significance of such a move by the leader of the Likud should be obvious to any knowledgeable observer of Israeli politics.

Ignorance cannot explain everything about Sullivan’s views, however. As Leon Wieseltier titled his critical February 2010 essay on Sullivan in The New Republic, there seems, sadly, to be “Something Much Darker” at work.

Ironically, one of the most telling displays of this appeared in Sullivan’s reply to Wieseltier, under the equally ironic title “Something Much Sadder.” He slammed, “This assertion that I subscribe to some dark conspiracy theory that ‘the Jews control Washington.’”

I’m sorry but this really is a vile lie, a stark accusation of anti-Semitism, unsupported by any evidence…. I have also noted that many, many other powerful lobbies exist…. But somehow criticizing AIPAC is something forbidden for non-Jews—for fear of being labeled an anti-Semite or, if you are Jewish, a “self-hating Jew.” I refuse to be cowed by such bullying tactics.

The term “bullying tactics” is an especially telling one. It is a theme that comes up again and again in Sullivan’s writings. Put simply, Sullivan seems to believe that in criticizing Israel, AIPAC, or their Jewish-American supporters, he and others are saying something that must be but, paradoxically, cannot be said, even when it is put in shockingly ugly terms. When Maureen Dowd, for example, implied in a column last September than Dan Senor was the “puppet master” behind Paul Ryan’s foreign policy views—a claim redolent with stereotypes that can only be called appalling—Sullivan could not wait to leap to her defense.

“You are not allowed to say this in Washington without being accused of anti-Semitism,” he complained. “Let me repeat: you cannot write this. If you are a columnist and blogger, like, say, Tom Friedman or yours truly, the consequences are an immediate accusation that you are another Hitler.” Such self-pity is frankly difficult to understand when the things Sullivan claims he isn’t allowed to say or write are in fact being said and written by himself, as well as read and shared by others on a blog he owns and profits from.

It should also be noted that Sullivan’s assertion is clearly not true. Critiques and, indeed, conspiracy theories about the “Israel Lobby” have been repeated endlessly since the beginning of the second intifada, showing up on mainstream news channels, in mainstream newspapers and publications, all over the internet, and—most famously—a widely read book by two prominent professors. Claims of silencing and censorship by Sullivan and others simply do not accord with the facts.

Indeed, Sullivan himself has become one of the most diligent critics of Israel’s American supporters while remaining consistently popular and admired. The power of the Israel Lobby and the American Jewish Establishment (such shadowy organizations are always capitalized lest readers fail to understand the extent of their ostensibly enormous influence) has become a frequent subject on the Dish. Most recently, the subject came up in regard to the debate over American intervention in Syria and AIPAC’s decision to support Obama’s policy of targeted strikes on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities.

Without providing any concrete evidence, Sullivan theorized that what AIPAC really wanted was to push “Obama to war against Iran,” and in so doing resurrect “a neoconservative foreign policy that will effectively undo a huge amount of the progress this president has so far managed to build.” All of this seemed inevitable to Sullivan, since voting against engagement in Syria is “something many Republicans and perhaps a few Democrats will be prepared to do. But turn down AIPAC? That’s another matter entirely.” As everyone now knows, the United States did not strike the Assad regime. AIPAC’s immense powers apparently failed on this particular occasion.

Photo: Daily Dish / YouTube

Photo: Daily Dish / YouTube

Interestingly, whenever he writes inaccurate and at times inflammatory stuff like this, Sullivan almost always appears to feel compelled to assert that he isn’t doing a thing wrong. At times, there seem to be more articles on the Dish justifying posts on the Israel Lobby than on the supposed Lobby itself. For example, in a post published on April 25, 2012 about how the NRA and AIPAC are discussed in the media and Congress, he wrote:

Yes, language describing nefarious lobbies behind the scenes pulling strings to get their way has been used in the past by anti-Semites. But if that kind of language is barred with sole respect to the Greater Israel Lobby, then the debate is effectively crippled—which is, of course, the point. For so long, the anti-Semitism card has been disgracefully, cynically played so that we can be stopped from debating the undemocratic distortion of our politics by special interest groups—in this case arguing for a foreign country’s brutal pounding of a de facto refugee camp.

Sullivan’s claims sound simply bizarre when juxtaposed with such ugly and at times hysterical rhetoric. He condemns anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and then all but engages in one by accusing Jewish groups of undemocratically distorting American politics. In other posts, he has referred to the United States as a “slave of the expansionist Jewish state,” as if America were not by far the most powerful country in the world; referred to “the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress”; and accused U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power of giving in to “the powers that be” when she repudiated earlier statements about Israel and the peace process. The implications of Sullivan’s claims about the extent of Jewish-American and Israeli power are, quite frankly, deeply disturbing.

There is something even more disturbing about certain things Sullivan has said that hint at far uglier beliefs. Sullivan once made a point of writing, for example, that “the Greater Israel lobby” complained about Chuck Hagel in “this familiar, exhausted, ridiculous whine.” Then there is his catalogue of posts about circumcision, which he refers to as “the barbaric practice of involuntary male genital mutilation.” To comment on where all this is coming from is best left to a former friend of Sullivan’s, who said, “Watching Andrew’s descent from steadfast defender of Israel and brave opponent of anti-Semitism into an ‘Israel Lobby’ conspiracy theorist and disseminator of anti-Semitism has been a sad spectacle.”

It is indeed a spectacle and it is indeed sad. I was reminded of just how sad when, on the day the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act was finally struck down, Sullivan took to the Dish to pen something beautiful and eloquent about the historical significance of the decision. To have same-sex marriage “recognized by the wider community,” he wrote, “protected from vengeful relatives, preserved in times of illness and death, and elevated as a responsible, adult, and equal contribution to our common good is a huge moment in human consciousness.”
I remember being told in the very early 1990s that America was far too bigoted a place to allow marriage equality—just as I was told in 2007 that America was far too bigoted a place to elect a black president. I believed neither proposition, perhaps because I love this country so much I knew it would eventually get there. I trusted the system. And it worked. From 1989 (when I wrote the first case for this on the cover of a national magazine) to today is less than a quarter century. Amazing, when you think of how long it took for humanity to even think about this deep wound in the human psyche.

As well as being poignant and true, there was something deeply tragic about this piece. It was a reminder of an Andrew Sullivan of another time and place; an Andrew Sullivan that doesn’t exist anymore. Today, we have an Andrew Sullivan who has largely given up on his intellectual integrity and forgone his greatest talents in favor of a ferociously violent hostility toward Israel. On this subject, his writing has become shabby, vapid, and shallow; his blog has become a forum for crankiness and conspiracy, a space where links to respected columnists rest alongside quotes from hate-sites like Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada. The truth is, Sullivan’s writings on Israel are now very nearly unreadable.

It is at once disheartening, befuddling, and downright maddening. It is time that he was told: On this subject, enough.

Andrew Sullivan declined to be interviewed for this article.

Banner Photo: StuckInCustoms / flickr  

 

 

Why Gay Marriage—Not AIPAC—May Determine Whether Bibi Bombs Iran

Why Gay Marriage—Not AIPAC—May Determine Whether Bibi Bombs Iran

Supporting Israel requires American evangelical Christians to square their theological beliefs with the modern Jewish state. Can they?

By Lee Smith|November 6, 2013 12:00 AM

Christian Evangelicals march in celebration of Sukkot in Jerusalem on Oct. 6, 2009. (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

With the Geneva talks between Iran and the United States kicking off on Thursday, the common working assumption among Middle East experts and other members of the foreign policy establishment is that the outlines of a deal are already in the bag. Such a deal—which is expected to be framed as a “partial” or “interim” agreement that will be announced sometime before the end of the year—will leave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a historically tough choice: either watch helplessly as the Iranians move toward a nuclear bomb, or risk Israel’s friendship with its longtime superpower ally with an attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

Bibi’s possible choice of a military option would be premised in part on the assumption that Israel enjoys a strong bedrock of support in the United States—not Jews, but Christian evangelicals. The problem with the assumption that Israel can rely on its Christian supporters—and the majority of Congress that is reliant on their votes—is that some younger evangelicals are now tilting against support for the Jewish state. Oddly, the issue that may decide whether Israel can count on the United States in the future is not President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, but the evangelical schism on the issue of gay marriage.

American evangelical support for Israel is based on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, in particular this passage from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 12, Verse 3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The political expression of the mainstream evangelical exegesis of this passage is John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which is the country’s largest pro-Israel organization—a fact that is hardly surprising, given that, according to the recent Pew study, more evangelicals believe that God gave Israel to the Jews than American Jews do, 82 percent to 40 percent.

“It’s partly a matter of self-interest,” says Peter Pettit, a professor of religion studies specializing in early Bible and Jewish-Christian relations at Muhlenberg University. “Evangelicals translate this to mean that Christians who bless Israel will be blessed by God. If we want our nation to be strong, blessed by God, then our foreign relations with Israel have to be a blessing.” The problem, says Pettit, is that they never explain their hermeneutic principles. “They read God’s message to Abraham as a message to modern-day Christians in America. They never explain why that’s the case but just take it as self-evident. Can you apply this kind of reading to the rest of the Bible? If so, you might run into problems.”

One obvious problem is that, for Christians, a literal interpretation of the Bible is keyed to the New Testament, which announces God’s covenant with man through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The people that evangelicals are supposed to bless, the Jews, don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah. At a certain point, evangelical support for Israel based on a literal reading of scripture has to confront the thorny question: Why support a state that by definition rejects Christ?

“That’s precisely the question some pro-Palestinian evangelicals are asking,” says Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. “Evangelical support for Israel and the fact that Jews don’t believe in the risen Christ is always going to be in tension,” says Van Zile.

Another reason pro-Palestinian evangelicals are gaining some ground, as Robert W. Nicholson explained in a long, thoughtful essay last month in Mosaic, is “the growing influence of Middle Eastern voices within evangelical Christianity,” including Christian Palestinian clerics and activists. In a June 2011 Pew survey of evangelical Protestant leaders, 30 percent of evangelical leaders sided with Israel and 13 percent with the Palestinians, with almost half expressing equal sympathy for both. The effort to erase Jesus’ Jewish identity and turn him into a Palestinian, one who suffered at the hands of the Romans and the Jews, just as Palestinians currently must endure the depredations of the Israeli occupation, is the motive force behind the Christ at the Checkpoint conferences, the last held in Bethlehem in March 2012, with another scheduled for spring 2014.

However, the real issue that might be changing the complexion of the evangelical movement and its support or Israel isn’t eschatology—that is, how the world ends—or even Middle Eastern politics. Rather, it’s a strictly American affair—one that has moved the dial on historic changes in American history before: Protestant sectarianism. Contrary to what many liberals believe, and many conservatives like to pretend, the fundamentalist movement, like Judaism, is not a unitary political or theological force. Evangelicals lack a single guiding leader, as Catholics have in the pope, and as a result schisms in their movement have played a large if often understated role in American history. One such historic schism may be opening up beneath the feet of the pro-Israel community right now.

* * *

The evangelical movement was divided most significantly with the Scopes Monkey Trial when Darwinism split fundamentalists who believed in the literal interpretation from modernists who while they were committed to a life of faith didn’t want to isolate themselves from the modern world. The issue that divides younger evangelicals from the older generation today—the contemporary version of the Scopes Monkey Trial—is gay marriage. “The younger evangelicals are embarrassed by the faith of their fathers,” says Van Zile. “They don’t have a problem with gay marriage, but the teachings are so clearly laid out in the Bible that you can’t really come out in favor of gay marriage without excommunicating yourself from the evangelical movement. So, what message can you send to show that you’re not one of these retrograde, conservative, gay-hating evangelicals? One way they’ve found to go against the conservative tide is to embrace anti-Zionism.”

This is hardly the first time that Christian Zionism has sat on the fault line dividing American Protestants. In the early part of the 20th century, Darwinism was the main issue, but Zionism was also part of the debate—because of how the idea reflected differing concepts of America and its place in the world. Many progressive Protestants believed the Great War had shown that nationalism was the scourge of modern history, a lesson further underscored by WWII when ideologies based on blood and land slaughtered millions in Europe. Any form of nationalism—even a nationalism advocated by those who suffered most dearly in Europe—was a retrograde force to be resisted at all costs. Evangelical support for a Jewish homeland was also founded on a fundamentalist reading of scripture—which, from the perspective of the modernists, was the same sort of ill-conceived hermeneutic that had led evangelicals to back the wrong side in the Scopes decision.

The upshot of the American Protestant civil war was that the fundamentalists, who sided with William Jennings Bryan, came off as the big losers. Not only did the Scopes trial show them to be ill-educated boobs who were ridiculed by H.L. Mencken, their support of Zionism also showed them to be bad Christians. From this perspective, God calls his servants to transcend nations and national interests and embrace all mankind in a grand ecumenism. Zionism, on the other hand, was a particularist doctrine, about one nation, the Jews. Today we’re seeing the same sort of debate hashed out among Evangelicals around the issue of gay marriage.

The apparent irony of course is that Israel is one of the most gay-friendly countries in all the world. Indeed, just last week one Israeli faction introduced a law legalizing civil marriage that would extend to same-sex couples. However, just like every other aspect of Israel’s free society—from its free-market economy, free press, equal rights for women and minorities—that might be expected to win admiration from Western progressives, Israel’s actual record on gay rights and gay marriage is unlikely to affect the debate between American evangelicals. That’s because the argument has nothing to do with Israel, but rather with Israel as a symbol within the context of inter-American debates about what this country should look like—as is the case with almost every other American debate concerning the Jewish state, from the very beginning of American debates about the ingathering of the Jews.

If there’s one upside to the recent rift between evangelicals it’s that American support for Israel has less to do with what Christians, evangelical or otherwise, think about Israel than what Americans do. The men and women who founded this country drew their inspiration from the examples of the determined men and women who populate the Old Testament. In turn, Israel came to model itself in part after America’s adventurous and pioneering ethos. The kinship between the two countries transcends governments and even God; it is an inextricable part of the cultural DNA, individually and together, of both nations.

“Hannah Arendt” by Julia Kristeva— Kristeva on Arendt

arendtkristevsa

Kristeva, Julia. “Hannah Arendt”, (translated by Ross Guberman), Columbia University Press, 2003.

Kristeva on Arendt

Amos Lassen

When I was a graduate student working in feminist literary criticism I was introduced to the writings of Julia Kristeva, a world famous psychoanalyst and critic who is professor of linguistics at the University of Paris VII. I was so smitten by her writing and ideas, that I began an intensive study of the French language so I could read her in her own voice and she became my personal goddess. The joke around the university bookstore was whenever there was news of a new Kristeva book, there was a general announcement to call Lassen and there was a time before Hurricane Katrina that I owned everything she had published. My mind was geared to interpret any new idea from two points of view, the Kristevan and the Foucaldian as I was also studying Foucault’s theories on the raising of gay consciousness and while the two philosophers were worlds apart in thought, they were the holy couple in my mind. Many times I trod on shaky ground and then, I moved on and both writers became part of my past. For whatever reason I decided to change my academic interest to the study of the language of the Torah and with that existential philosophy and feminism went on the back burner.

Then after seeing the new film about Hannah Arendt, I decided that the time had come to return to my original area of interest and I began to read everything I could on one of the most reviled people in the history of the Jews and discovered that my old hero had written a book about Arendt. I believe I was actually shaking when I opened the package that Kristeva’s “Hannah Arendt” came in and I found myself victim to several sleepless nights as I literally devoured every word. I should have realized that an Arendt phase was coming when a couple of years ago, I read Deborah Lipstadt’s observations of Arendt in her “The Eichmann Trial” (2011). The true importance of what Lipstadt had to say, however, remained in the back of my mind until I saw Margarethe Von Trotta’s film, “Hanna Arendt”. I was actually lucky enough to see the film some weeks before it went into general theatrical release and immediately reached the conclusion that there was material there for a wonderful course about the woman that has been portrayed as an anti-Semitic Jew. Arendt was not an anti-Semite; rather she saw things in ways that her fellow Jews could not accept.

Kristeva reminds us that still today some 35 years after Arendt’s death that we are still trying to deal with her, a woman every bit as controversial as Charlotte Corday and Ethel Rosenberg. Kristeva looks at Arendt through her life as a world citizen and as one of the seminal 20th century philosophers (who just happened to be a woman). What she gives us (Kristeva) is an elegant and sophisticated look at Arendt and at her life which was filled with historical and philosophical insights. Her basic theme is as just as I had expected to me, a look at a female genius. Kristeva talks about three major issues— first; she explores Arendt’s critique of St. Augustine and her biographical essay on Rahel Varnhagen which shows how Arendt was totally committed to writing about and recounting lives. The second issue is about Arendt and Judaism, anti-Semitism and Arendt’s own ideas about “the banality of evil. Finally thirdly Kristeva shows Arendt’s own intellectual journey with emphasis on social phenomena and political events and how they became part of Arendt’s life.

Kristeva had access to Arendt’s correspondence with her one time lover Martin Heidegger and with her second husband Heinrich Blucher as well as Arendt’s diary. In that way Arendt becomes a visionary in academia and in a world dominated by men.

 I see this book as, in part, a tribute to Arendt, one of a series in which Kristeva looks at female genius. Kristeva brings her considerable scholarly arsenal, which includes linguistics, literary criticism, philosophy, feminism, aesthetics, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis. In particular, her psychoanalytic bent makes for an incisive look at Arendt because as she says she was “gripped from the start by that unique passion in which life and thought are one…. [She] consistently put life–both life itself and life as a concept to be analyzed–at the center of her work.”

I have no doubts that Arendt is and remains one of the 20th century’s brightest intellectual luminaries. In The Human Condition” and “Eichmann in Jerusalem, she wrote her accounts of philosophy with a unique penchant for narrative and personal reflection, vivified by her extraordinary life. Kristeva uses Arendt’s life to illuminate her thought. By turns she examines Arendt’s use of narrative, her thoughts on being Jewish and anti-Semitism, and her political philosophy. This is an intellectual biography of a woman with a passion for life and thought and who was able to unite the two.

Kristeva delineates certain aspects of Arendt’s political philosophy, including her idea of the political, the vita activa/vita contemplative distinction, and the influences of various thinkers, especially Aristotle and Heidegger on Arendt’s body of work. Kristeva’s focus is on Arendt’s conceptions of language, the self, “political space,” and the body, addressing all with a particular focus toward their deployment and usage in political life.

 

Out In Lubavitch— Growing up and coming out in the Chabad Lubavitch community of Crown Heights

Out In Lubavitch

Growing up and coming out in the Chabad Lubavitch community of Crown Heights

by Chaim Levin

The atmosphere buzzed with energy and talk about who we are as Chassidim and disciples of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe at a farbrengen (gathering) for a former classmate’s birthday a few months ago. While familiar with these affairs, I hadn’t been to one in quite awhile. As at any good farbrengen and after a few shots, I started talking about growing up Chabad and gay. Some did not deign to acknowledge the topic at all; others approached it with anxiety and trepidation. It is simply not normal to discuss such things at these get togethers — but, hey, I didn’t become an activist by remaining silent. After we started peacefully discussing different aspects of homosexuality in the Jewish community, I tried to make an important point. I observed to an individual, who had expressed homophobic leanings and tried to minimize the issues that LGBTQ people face within more orthodox communities, that, while I may very well be the only out gay person sitting at this table of 20, it is very unlikely that I am the only gay person there. He tried to refute me claiming that he knew for a fact that I was the only http://reviewsbyamoslassen.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=statsgay person there — the all too common, blanket, unfounded denial that feeds alienation and isolation of queer people within the Chassidic community.

But, my statement was assured; we are here, many still struggling in silence and fear, and we are not alone.

Many people from frum/Orthodox communities have contacted me seeking guidance and advice. Like me at one time, they’ve felt alone and had never spoke to an out gay person. They’ve thought it might just be a phase that would hopefully go away if only they met the “right girl”. Trying my best to be objective and honest, I answer their questions about what it is like living as I do with the “whole world” knowing and how people have reacted towards my being openly gay.

It hasn’t always been a picnic. Coming out especially in Chassidic communities can be detrimental to one’s self, family and overall sanity if not prepared. Sometimes I feel as if I were pushed out. I had confided in a friend while at yeshiva in Brunoy, France, at the age of 16 (yes, I really was a Brunoy boy). Soon the entire school of more than 400 found out about me. Publicly humiliated by some and ignored by most an ocean away from home, I was seen as a diseased person who did not belong. During those 8 trying months at yeshiva, some denial about the gossip and hatred helped me to survive, not to mention the support of the very few who I would dare say were real Chassidim — those who, despite the fact that they had never heard of such a thing in their lives, remained my friends and were supportive of me, genuine, accepting and inviting unconditionally.

Still I felt isolated and was unaccepting of myself until, paradoxically, I sought out reparative ‘therapy’, hoping to become straight in order to be accepted by the only community I had ever known. I had never interacted with anyone who wasn’t a fellow Lubavitcher until I was 18. Trying everything I could to assure my place in my family and community, I inadvertently ventured into the outside world, met others who were struggling and developed a somewhat different perspective. I learned there were other kinds of Chassidim and Jewish people out there — ones like me. I found myself exploring a new world. Yet, I did not fully accept who I am until I was 20. Some skeptics and critics try to convince me that by living my life honestly, I’m hurting my family and my soul. Until I was 20, I had wrenched, wrung and racked my soul, praying, pleading, begging for some miracle to turn me straight during weekly trips to the Ohel (the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s resting place). The best thing that ever happened to my soul was finding peace when I stopped fighting against, not a “desire” or “inclination” as some would describe it, but an inalienable part of me.

Even though I was able to accept myself, experience made me pessimistic about my community. Fortunately though, living in Crown Heights has gotten easier and easier by the day. Today 6 years after I was outed, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by people on the street, patting on the back and letting me know that they’re supportive of me and my journey. And, once dismissive, long time family friends have told me on many occasions, “Chaim, I love you and accept you as you are.” A very Lubavitch attitude indeed. This is the message Chabad tries to spread and instill around the world — that every single Jewish soul is worthy, a ray of light with something to offer. Still, I never thought I would experience this attitude usually reserved for those who drive to shul on Shabbos and but nonetheless try to return to Orthodoxy at Chabad houses around the world — certainly, not among our very own friends, family and community in Crown Heights, in “the Rebbe’s schunah” (neighborhood).

In Crown Heights, I have occasionally had the great displeasure of bumping into people like Molly Resnick, whom many consider one of the greatest, most public examples of intolerance and bigotry within the Lubavitch movement today. Nonetheless, the voices of the Molly Resnicks are being drowned out by the people, including my own family, who have grown, not just to tolerate me, but to embrace me fully for who I am.

 

“Once a Chassid, always a Chassid” is often heard at the Chabad schools, camps and farbrengens. Still, I do not consider myself as religious as I once was. However, when I started dating someone a year and a half ago, I did take some pride in having grown up Orthodox and being able to tell him about it. He had grown up in a rural area with no Jewish upbringing or identity, but, the more I told him, the more interested he became in Judaism. A year later, he bought his first pair of tefillin in a Crown Heights Judaica store as I stood with him eagerly, despite the negative experiences I had had.

Some people have facetiously identified me as the Rebbe’s shliach (emissary) to the LGBTQ community — no doubt others would argue.

Six years ago, I could have never imagined being gay Jewish voice nonetheless welcome at farbrengens. I didn’t think I’d be proud to walk the streets of Crown Heights even despite some intolerance. The negative voices are slowly dying out, and more positive and accepting voices are being heard louder and louder. Everyone should be able to live openly and honestly without pretense nor fear of losing family, friends and community. I truly hope and believe that there will come a day when anyone who is LGBTQ can be accepted as they are and know that they are not alone.

Afterword
I was delighted to be invited to write about growing up Chabad and gay for a blog devoted to issues relating to the Chassidic community, sometimes discussing more controversial issues, such as “why do some people attack Chabad?” The blogger informed me that, while this piece “brought him to tears” and despite his sympathy for gay people, he cannot publish it because he doesn’t want to get too “political.” He explained “they believe it’s against halacha (religious law) and that’s what I mean by political,” elaborating “because gay sex is against halacha, it becomes a difficult issue to deal with.”

 

Of course, I did not mention any personal, private behavior considered a violation of halacha. I discussed having found after much difficulty some acceptance within the Chabad community. I discussed not hating, but loving our fellows, not oppressing the weak, and not standing idly by as another’s life is in danger. As have many others, I had struggled with suicidal ideation because I felt hated and unwanted and was oppressed; the danger is real. These are important issues that must be dealt with. I hoped to shed some light on the experience of growing up gay within Chabad and give a voice to those suffering in and because of silence. Many community leaders have ignored us and pretended that we don’t exist, and others equate our mere existence with unspeakable violation of halacha.


Ironically, the blogger had questioned whether the ending was too positive and “preachy” prior to deciding not to run it. Now, I cannot help but have some doubt myself. Still, I am proud, and I am hopeful. I am impressed with the blogger’s sympathy and consideration despite his religious convictions, but I fail to see how a story of finding some acceptance could controvert those convictions. His refusal does not actively affirm halacha, but passively disaffirms thousands of gay Jews who are still living in fear.

Testing My Faith—- I’d left Orthodoxy. But as I waited for HIV test results, I looked to God and the Talmud for comfort. By Matt Goodman

Testing My Faith

I’d left Orthodoxy. But as I waited for HIV test results, I looked to God and the Talmud for comfort.

By Matt Goodman|November 30, 2012 7:00 AM|
(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The clinic looked like many clinics I’d visited before as part of my work around HIV and AIDS: rainbow flags, earth-tone décor, and stacks of literature urging people to “Know Your Status!” and “Get Tested!” This time, though, I was in the clinic as a patient, getting tested for HIV, and that made my heart race.

My finger was pricked to draw blood for the test, and I was sent to the empty waiting room for 20 minutes to await the results. I’d come in feeling guilty, but now that guilt was replaced with a sharp sense of anxiety. Vulnerable before a power I could not change, I felt like it was neilah and the rabbi was urging me to make my final appeal. What does one do during those moments while your fate is being sealed?

I turned to God. At that moment in the waiting room, he was the only one who could help and comfort me.

***

Every Dec. 1, World AIDS Day gets a lot of people thinking about HIV, but I didn’t need a special day to think about it. It’s been on my mind for years, wrapped up in a whole complex of guilt and anxiety. Like any other Jew, I trace those feelings, which led to that moment in the waiting room, to my mother—specifically how she handled my coming out six years earlier. In fact, she had been the one who prompted me to come out in 2006 at age 17. My parents had been divorced for four years, and I was living in Atlanta with her.

One afternoon during my senior year of high school, she asked, “Are you gay?”

I had known since I was 12. I had always felt different from the other guys I grew up with—I never fit into the football-playing crowd that talked about girls more and more as they got older. Instead, as I reached middle school, I realized I was attracted to those guys. I spent a year struggling with it and pleading with myself to change, but by 14 I accepted it and a year later came out to my friends. The rest of the students in our southern, conservative prep school made assumptions, because of my natural flamboyance, and I didn’t correct them. By 17, I had a boyfriend, my first amorous dalliance. I wasn’t exactly in the closet. Still, I hadn’t planned to tell my mother yet, because I didn’t want to share my dating life with her; but then she asked. And so I answered her honestly: “Yes.”

She broke down, sobbing that I was “going to die of AIDS.” That was her first reaction.

Later that afternoon, she came back into my room and hurled a Costco-sized box of condoms at my head. “You’re not dying of AIDS on my watch!” she screamed.

My mother’s words would resound in my head for years to come. I didn’t want her to be right. From that moment on, my guilt and anxiety around getting tested and knowing my HIV status became fully operational.

The ironic part is that my mother-instilled guilt about sex and anxiety about my HIV status rarely led me to get tested myself. I was too scared. It wasn’t like I used intravenous drugs or had a sex life filled with anonymous one-night stands. I didn’t have many sexual partners and always used protection; my guilt and anxiety had conditioned me to be extremely cautious. I knew the risk of infection from what I was doing and knew it was pretty slim. Yet, I couldn’t let the anxiety go. I’d imagine finding out that I was HIV-positive, my dating life imploding, my desire for the perfect Jewish family shattered. My own dream of a husband, two kids, and a well-decorated house in Brookline, Mass., would go up in smoke. Then I’d think of my previous partners. What if I infected them? How would I tell them?

Maybe my mother, in that annoying way, was once again right. Maybe I was going to die of AIDS. I was worried that I was positive, yet too scared to find out for sure.

The first time I got tested was unexpected. I was a freshman at Boston University and went for a regular check-up at the student health clinic. The experience was uncomfortable due to the doctor’s awkward bedside manner. His questions about my sex life went beyond what I considered to be professional, inquiring about my coming out, whether I’d told my parents, and, most awkwardly, what sexual position I preferred. (I don’t think I even responded to that final question.) He concluded the exam by suggesting I get a full battery of STD tests. I couldn’t say no, even though what I most wanted to do was just leave. The results came back negative, but I didn’t share them with anyone and attempted to bury the memory of the whole experience in the back of my mind.

Around the same time, I started to engage more deeply with religion. I’d grown up in a secular family, but while I was in college, I got involved with Conservative Judaism, and later Orthodox Judaism. Ultimately, I was drawn to Orthodoxy for its theology, practice, and community. I spent the summer of 2009 in Israel, studying at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. The summer of 2010, I returned to study more. As I got more involved in Orthodoxy, my worldview started to change. While I never questioned my sexuality or sexual activity, I did start to view life through whether other things, from friendships to career choices, were kosher or Jewish or in line with mitzvot. While I didn’t view this negatively at the time, my life got more restricted and insular.

In early 2011, when I was a senior in college, I experienced a near-lethal allergic reaction to antibiotics that depleted my white blood cell count to Bubble Boy levels. The doctors feared the worst: leukemia. But the minute the doctors mentioned that I might have a “compromised immune system,” my mind instantly shot instead to HIV. My fear of HIV far outweighed my fear of leukemia. My mother’s dire warning, playing on repeat in my head, matched the tempo of my pounding heart. The doctors decided to perform a full battery of tests for seemingly every hematological illness imaginable, which I assumed would include HIV/AIDS. I hadn’t been tested since that first bad experience in college.

While I waited for the results in the hospital, I called my father, himself a doctor, to ask him my most pressing question: “Could this be an immunodeficiency disease … like HIV?”

My father and I never had the relationship that facilitated the “I’m gay” conversation. In fact, I was still officially in the closet to him, so I felt the need to code my language in a poor attempt to disguise my urgent request. He still got the picture and responded with what sounded like a disinterested “No.” I felt the guilt and anxiety subside slightly. Four days later, when my white-blood-cell count returned to normal, the feelings resumed their dormancy. This second test pacified my raging guilt and anxiety for a while. Yet it also reinforced the fact that I didn’t actually know my status because I didn’t know if the “battery of tests” included an HIV/AIDS test specifically. I assumed it did but never wanted to check to make sure.

The day after that test, I moved abroad to Switzerland for my last semester. It was not easy living and traveling abroad and being Orthodox—between the food, Shabbat, and the chagim. Often times I found myself without a community and alone. It started to seem like Orthodoxy was keeping me from realizing what I wanted in terms of my career goals and personal interests. So, I stopped keeping Shabbat, watching what I ate so closely, and believing that mitzvot are check marks on a list that is required to consider myself a Jew. I realized that I didn’t need to be shomer mitzvot to reaffirm my commitment to God and the Jewish people. I chose my secular life over being Orthodox.

But I never lost my faith. I still believe in God, pray, and celebrate the chagim in my own way. I still believe that there is a lot of truth and resilience to be found in Jewish tradition.

This summer, I was working for the U.S. Department of State in Mexico, and LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS were two of my portfolios. I met with numerous advocacy groups dedicated to both issues and talked endlessly about testing campaigns, treatment options, and HIV/AIDS patient discrimination, even visiting clinics and centers where I met HIV-positive patients. Each meeting and visit brought a new wave of guilt and anxiety over my own unknown status, leaving me feeling hypocritical discussing these issues and programs when I myself was willfully ignorant. I was given a tour of one facility where they proudly showed off their waiting room for people who were waiting to hear their results. I looked at it with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and desire to be in there. I saw it as a preview of the end of a tunnel that I wasn’t willing to go through yet.

A few months later, back in Washington, D.C., I got an email from my graduate school, with the subject line: “Free HIV tests!” Like clockwork, the guilt began and the horror score that chimed the ignorance of my status played.

But I’d had enough. It was time to confront my guilt, fear, and my mother’s prediction. I frantically Googled rapid HIV testing centers and went the next day.

***

With the 20 minutes ticking away in the waiting room, I remembered all those seminary girls I used to jostle over Egged buses in Israel—oblivious to the world around them while they furiously recited Tehilim—and I decided that I needed to do something. Like on Yom Kippur, I needed to show a commitment to the Power so as to warrant inscription in the Book of Life. I couldn’t find Tehilim for my iPhone, so I settled instead on daf yomi—something I never even did when I was studying in Israel.

So, there I was, in an LGBT HIV/AIDS clinic, surrounded by condoms, rainbow flags, and reassuring pamphlets about life with HIV/AIDS, reading a section of the Talmud about candlewicks in Aramaic. Within minutes, the anxiety was banished and the horror score that chimed a death sentence slowed. I felt like I was again performing my end of the bargain with God. I was making a sacrifice. It was by no means a religious reawakening, but it was definitely a salve. And then, just like that, the candlewick discussion was over and the gates were closed. The results were in.

Negative.

Baruch Hashem,” I said to myself. Scientific reasoning for my negative results aside, my status reaffirmed my belief in a higher power when your life stands a chance of being significantly altered. I might go to Starbucks on Shabbat, and I might ignore the lard in my tortillas. I might lie with men like other men do with women. But when it all comes to the end and I can’t change anything: He is still all that I’ve got.

***

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