Category Archives: Totalitarianism

Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman

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[H/t to ZWord. Michelle Sieff’s interview with Paul Berman is well worth reading. An excerpt is below.]

How have you judged Israel’s actions against Hamas? Do you think Israel used disproportionate force against Hamas?

There is an obligation to live, which means that Israel has not just the right but the obligation to defend herself. Judging the proportionality of the Israeli actions runs into a complication, though – something of a logical bind.

It is now and then noted in the press that Hamas, in its charter, calls for the elimination of Israel – though, actually, the charter goes further yet, which is almost never noted. Article Seven of the charter, citing one of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, makes clear that Hamas acknowledges a religious duty to kill the Jews. It’s all pretty explicit. Which Jews in particular must be killed, in order to bring about, as the charter puts it, the “Last Hour?” Article Seven merely stipulates “the Jews” – which leaves open the possibility, I would think, of killing all of the Jews, or at least (judging from other sections of the charter) the Jews who inhabit any place that is now or used to be Islamic. In any case, the Jews of Israel.

What is Israel trying to fend off, then? Two possibilities. First: it’s not so hard to imagine that, if Hamas were allowed to prosper unimpeded, and if its allies and fellow-thinkers in Hezbollah and the Iranian government and its nuclear program likewise prospered, the goal announced in Article Seven could be largely achieved. History has some experience with political movements that proclaim in their founding documents the intention of killing the Jews. And so, a first possibility is that Israel is up against military enemies who have every intention of committing a genocide, and who might conceivably succeed. The possibility that Israel is defending itself against a genocide ought to lead any reasonable person to grant the Israelis a degree of latitude in judging what is a proportionate action – even if, as Michael Walzer points out, an invocation of genocidal dangers could also end up as a justification for doing too much.

However, a second possibility. The Hamas charter is full of wild language – not just the part about killing the Jews, but also the invocation of the Protocols of Zion and of an antisemitic theory of history. But maybe all of this stuff should be regarded merely as an overwrought cry of pain – an expression of powerlessness. Maybe there is a kind of pathos of victimhood and suffering in Hamas’ ideas, and not much more.

[Read it all here]

Petition in Support of Chinese Writer Liu Xiaobo

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liu-xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo, a dissident writer and intellectual based in Beijing, and a former president of Chinese PEN was arrested in December. His charges, suspicion of inciting subversion of state power after co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration that calls for greater human rights and democracy in China. If convicted he faces up to three years in prison.

Please sign this petition in defense of Liu. Time is very much of the essence, so please add your name as soon as possible.

Added:

[From Michael Craig, China Rights Network, Toronto]

For details about Liu & Charter 08 situation, including text in English of the charter, check out Liu Xiaobo, RELEASE HIM NOW Facebook site.

You Gotta’ Be Kidding Me

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What a crazy, upside down world we live in. The Iranian government wants an apology from Hollywood for “insults and accusations against the Iranian nation.”

The L.A. Times reports:

A delegation of Hollywood actors and producers that arrived in Tehran over the weekend to meet with their counterparts has also been met by sharp government criticism.

A top Iranian cultural official Sunday demanded that the group from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including academy President Sid Ganis and film stars Annette Bening and Alfre Woodard, apologize for Hollywood’s “insults and libel” against the Islamic Republic.

I haven’t seen The Wrestler but apparently Mickey Rourke’s character tears an Iranian flag and fights against a villain named “The Ayatollah.” They are also upset about the movie 300 for depicting Persians as “bloodthirsty and cretinous.” Haven’t seen that one either.

Need I remind readers this is the same regime that has been burning, stomping and mutilating American flags while denigrating us as the “Great Satan” for three decades. It is all more than a bit ironic.

This should be just the sort of catalyst that connects conservative talk-radio hosts and Hollywood liberals together. I know it won’t happen. But it should.

Films that upset the regime (the Guardian):

The Wrestler Caused offence when its main character, Mickey Rourke, smashed a pole carrying Iran’s national flag across his knee. It also featured a wrestler called the Ayatollah – apparently after Iran’s religious rulers – who wore a skimpy leotard in the country’s colours.

The Stoning of Soraya M A woman is stoned to death under Iran’s sharia law after being convicted of adultery.

Alexander The 2004 biopic about Alexander the Great, directed by Oliver Stone, was criticised for its sympathetic portrayal of the ancient Macedonian king, whom Iranians blame for the destruction of Persepolis in 330BC.

Body of Lies A 2008 Ridley Scott film in which Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani’s hair is shown.

300 Upset Iran by portraying ancient Persians as bloodthirsty and violent.

Not Without My Daughter A 1991 film depicting the escape of a real-life American, Betty Mahmoody, from Iran. The government condemned it as projecting a negative image and banned the book on which it is based.

Added:

Simply Jews: Mahmoud the Mad vs. 300

Contentious Centrist: Thucydides and Herodotus were Zionist stooges

Thoughts on the Israel-Hamas Conflict

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I did not write much about the conflict in Gaza over the past few weeks. I provided a lot of links, perhaps too many, and generally avoided articulating what I think and feel about the situation. Part of this was due to concerns and fears. The fear that young friends in Israel will be called up for reserve duty and a concern about appealing callous to readers whose opinions I hold dear.

To be perfectly clear, I hoped and prayed for Israel’s overwhelming victory against Hamas. I doubted the political leadership of Israel was willing to go that far, but as others have pointed out, the primary means to achieve peace when one is at war with a totalitarian movement is overwhelming force against the enemy. A crushing blow is necessary.

Obviously, international opinion, especially in Europe, would be against Israel. The Muslim world would be calling for jihad. But isn’t this always the case? Hasn’t this been going on for decades? Whether Israel shows great restraint or not, its actions will be condemned by the “international community.” Every anti-terrorist operation conducted by Israel is condemned as some sort of “massacre” or “war-crime” by practically every country in the world except the U.S. while Palestinian terrorism is rationalized as “resistance”.

It does not surprise me that the radical/loony/leftover left supports Hamas just as they supported Hezbollah in 2006. At this point, “anti-imperialism” and above all, anti-Zionism, is their guiding ideology and raison d’être .

As with the previous conflict with Hezbollah,  some of my lefty friends and fellow bloggers strove to take a third position, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. These good people—call them the sensible left (or perhaps the sensitive left?)—despise Hamas and everything it stands for, but they see the suffering of the elderly and children of Gaza and cannot bear it. They call for a cease-fire and more humanitarian aid (see Bob from Brockley, Flesh is Grass, and Modernity Blog. Also see Bob’s “Henry Siegman’s Lies” here and at Engage).

None of this is shocking. These are good folks, after all. What is surprising is many of these people support the broader war against Islamist totalitarianism, the Global War on Terror, or whatever you want to call it. As they know, this war requires positive action, not reactive self-defense.

Sometimes you have to take sides. Israel is on the front lines of the conflict and anti-totalitarians of the left, right or center should all be supporting Israel’s swift and total victory over Hamas. Not a cease-fire that allows Hamas to rearm and start this deadly game all over again. As Sultan Knish writes, “Israel must win by winning“:

Had Israel destroyed Hamas and Hizbullah, the criticism would quickly die down to an annoyed mutter. The fanatics would retire to raving in a corner. But Israel turned back from doing so, and so the hate will increase, the incitement will grow viler and the attacks will grow more dangerous. Because nothing emboldens the enemy like failure.

Also see the Sultan’s, “America and Israel Declare a Unilateral Ceasefile Against Terrorism.”

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[Negotiate with me?]

Ernest Sternberg: A Revivified Corpse, Left-Fascism in the Twenty-First Century

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Ernest’s Sternberg’s review of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (New York: Random House, 2008 ) in Telos (A Revivified Corpse: Left Fascism in the Twenty-First Century) is well worth reading (also check out Fred Siegel’s review in Democratiya here).

The review is a pithy summary of many of the issues that concern me today including the collusion and alliances of the extreme left and extreme right, the development of Islamist totalitarianism, and the increasing frequency of antisemitism cloaked as anti-imperialism. Observing events in his native France since the fall of the Soviet Union and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Lévy asks, “what happened to the secular, liberal, left?” In answering this question, Sternberg notes two ideas at the core of Lévy’s conception of contemporary neo-progressive thought:

One is the Good (a poorly chosen word, an insult to classical thinking about the good): the idea that here and now our troubled society can be upended to create a shining new and just society. It’s the end for which it’s worth sacrificing a generation to starvation, reeducation camps, and the police state (p. 66).

Perhaps a better term is “the perfect” as in “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or simply, utopianism.

The review continues:

The other is the Evil: that filth and corruption in which we are now trapped. Leading from one to the other is the “boulevard of history.” Driving us along it is that dialectical machine, that curative force, that “political medicalism” (Lévy quoting Foucault) that carries us from our miserable existence into this fabulous future, with such certainty that we need not fret about lives discarded along the way.

How far we have drifted from May ’68, Lévy mourns. It had seemed then that the Left had shorn itself of communism, devoted itself to anti-fascism and anti-racism, and agreed to work for human rights through imperfect liberal-democratic regimes. It is this non-Marxist Left that had Lévy’s allegiance. But after the collapse of communism and all the more so after 9/11, Lévy saw the coalescence of a new ideology, a new degenerate Left. It first seemed to him pointless, just something cobbled together from defunct ideologies. But then he understood that it was a revivified Left, which was once again acceding to totalitarian temptation. The outcome is today’s neoprogressivism.

Sternberg has more substantial critiques of Lévy’s analysis. In particular, his “failure to comprehend mainstream Anglo-American conservatism.” For Lévy:

conservatism brings to mind those martinets who persecuted Dreyfus: those whose highest values were Authority, Order, Nation, State, Tradition, and Social Body (his capitalizations) as against intellectuals, freedom, democracy, parliament, and rights of man (p. 24). Unable to extricate himself from hoary Left-Right dichotomy, even as he reveals its bankruptcy, Lévy claims the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, whose sin was to be a conservative, as one of the origins of the historical path to Nazism (p. 92).

The irony is that Lévy himself has taken a Burkean turn. Lévy identifies the essence of the anti-totalitarian spirit as one that conceives of politics “as a world of indecision, indetermination, which takes into account the complexity of human affairs, the need for deliberation and compromise” (p. 70)…

American conservatives aren’t interested in Burke because he admired the French queen but because he formulated a powerful argument for incremental reform in light of society’s overwhelming complexity, an argument not so far removed from Lévy’s own…

…Most versions of American conservative thought look for inspiration and tradition not to an ancien régime, but to the American revolution, the Founding Fathers, the constitution, Lincoln’s reforms, and incremental development of America as the original liberal, anti-absolutist state.

Intellectual historian George Nash covers this in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945. Nash argues that the ideology of American conservatism is difficult to pin down. For European conservatives, things were (are?) much easier. Generally speaking, European conservatives were against radical political and social change—better known as revolution—and they supported a national church. In the United States, a country founded on revolution, such a political idea would be regarded as anti-American and the establishment of a state Church–whether Protestant or Catholic–also ran counter to American political culture.

A more serious deficiency is Lévy:

lacks an explanation for the rise of neoprogressive barbarism. Despite much intellectual name-dropping, the book is short on theory. Yet, his initial outline of totalitarian articles of faith gives a hint. The new totalitarians must envision a Good as well as an Evil, only Lévy is silent on what their Good might be.

Sternberg will discuss “Left Fascism” at the 2009 Telos Conference in NYC (Jan 17). Details below:

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From the conference website:

The conference topic will be New Administration: War, Class and Critical Theory, which will consider both the new administration in Washington and political shifts abroad, viewed in light of Telos‘s long-standing concern with “administered society,” expansive bureaucracies, and the role of the “new class.”

Conference Schedule

Saturday, January 17

9:00 Greetings: Mary Piccone, Introduction: Russell Berman

New Class and Capitalism:
Beyond Welfare and State and Neo-Liberalism

Chair: David Pan

9:15 Jim Kulk: “Political Divisions and the Financial Crisis”

10:00 John Milbank: “Revived Red Toryism: The New Political Paradox”

10:45 Break

11:00 Neil Turnbull: “Federal Populism and its Failure as Regionalism”

11:45 Michael Marder: “In the Name of the Law: Schmitt and the Metonymic Abuses of Legitimacy”

12:30 Lunch

Old Wars, New Wars

Chair: Tim Luke

1:30 Joseph Bendersky: “Horkheimer, ‘Militant Democracy,’ and War”

2:15 David Pan: “World Order and the Decline of U.S. Power: Soft or Hard Landing?”

3:00 Break

3:15 Adrian Pabst: “The Berlin Doctrine: Rethinking the Euro-Atlantic Community”

4:00 Ernie Sternberg: “Left Fascism”

4:45 Closing Discussion

American Forces Attack al Qaeda Cell in Syria

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United States Special Operations Forces crossed the Syrian border in an operation targeting the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian network that smuggled jihadists, arms and money into Iraq. In February (2008) the U.S. Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiyah as head of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) facilitation network:

which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq. Former AQI leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI’s Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi’s death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy.

The attack was conducted by four helicopters with accounts varying whether ground forces were involved. The NYT cites an unnamed source claiming “two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters…fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell.” Syrian witnesses describe two Arab men taken aboard helicopters and flown out of the area. The Associated Press notes:

U.S. authorities have said Abu Ghadiyah’s real name is Badran Turki al-Mazidih, an Iraqi in his early 30s who served as al-Qaida in Iraq’s head of logistics in Syria since 2004. His job included providing foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq and made their way to Baghdad and other major cities where the Sunni insurgency was raging.

In the past weeks, U.S. forces in western Iraq have been stepping up their efforts to control the flow of foreign fighters over the Syrian border. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, describes Syria as “a transit station for al Qaeda foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq.” While the numbers of foreign fighters caught and killed in Iraq has been on the decline since the advent of the surge and the Sunni Awakening, the region where the operation occurred has remained a primary route for money, weapons and men supporting the Sunni insurgency. As long as he stayed in Syria, Abu Ghadiyah remained out of reach of U.S. and coalition forces. That is, until Sunday.

Syrian officials condemned the attack as an act of “serious aggression” and government controlled newspapers claimed the U.S. had committed “war crimes.” The Russian government, set to sell new missile systems to Syria, has accused the United States of “fuelling dangerous tension in the Middle East”. This attack sends a clear message to the Syrian government: If you are providing safe passage for terrorists, the U.S. will take unilateral action.

Ahmadinejad in NYC

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In case you didn’t see this

Jodi Evans, a founder of the radical anti-war group Code Pink and “bundler” for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday.

“It’s rare for a head of state to take time during an official U.N. visit to meet with the peace community, especially in a situation where the host government—represented by the Bush administration—is so hostile,” Evans said in a statement. “The fact that the meeting took place and was so positive is, in itself, a major step forward.”

[Read it all here]

This is some of what Ahmadinejad had to say at the United Nations General Assembly:

The Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters…

The only sustainable way to the betterment of mankind is the return to the teachings of the divine prophets, monotheism, respect for the dignity of humans and the flow of love and affection in all relationships, ties and regulations, and to reform the present structures on this basis…

To fulfill this objective, I invite everybody to form a front of fraternity, amity and sustainable peace based on monotheism and justice under the name of “Coalition for Peace”, to prevent incursions and arrogance and to promote the culture of affection and justice.

[Feel the love? You can read the full text here]

Editorial from the New York Sun on Ahmadinejad’s visit to our fair city:

The American Jewish community has fallen into a paroxysm of recrimination in the aftermath of Senator Clinton‘s dropping out of the rally against Iran, and of the disinvitation to Governor Palin that followed. A long article in the newspaper Yated Ne’eman asserts that “the real culprits in this story” were “the die-hard Democrat partisans within the three sponsoring groups” — the United Jewish Communities, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs — “who were determined to block Palin’s appearance at the rally.”

Some Palin fans are blaming the rally’s organizers, including, improbably, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, one of the most tireless and shrewdest American Jewish leaders we know, and a longtime pioneer in confronting Iran.

Others are blaming Mrs. Clinton for dropping out or the Obama campaign for not making Senator Obama or Senator Biden available to appear at the rally with Ms. Palin. And we don’t mind saying it’s an important moment. We characterized it in an earlier editorial as a “disgrace” that the political constellation couldn’t figure out a way for Ms. Palin to express her sentiments and those of Senator McCain before the thousands of demonstrators making a protest against Iran.

Amid all the searching for villains within America, we’d venture a reminder that it is important to keep an eye on those we’d call the real culprits, President Ahmadinejad of Iran and the supreme leader to whom he reports, Ayatollah Khamenei. Mr. Ahmadinejad made his purpose clear with his speech at the U.N. General Assembly seeking to blame the Jews for the financial crisis. The key for all Americans concerned about stopping Iranian terrorism and the Iranian nuclear program will be to keep our eyes on the real enemy.

Communism and Treason: Lessons of the Cold War, I

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[This post is written as a response to Sultan Knish’s “Does Anyone Understand the Meaning of Treason Anymore?” If you haven’t read it, have a look. I’ve reprinted an excerpt below.]

The quest to redeem the Rosenbergs cannot and is not separable from the quest to minimize the evils of Communism. The revisionism of the Rosenberg defenders is no different than that of David Irving, Pat Buchanan or any historical revisionist trying to redeem the Nazis by finding chinks in history’s armor.

Anyone who objects to this analogy should go and dig in the frozen fields of the Gulags for the corpses of two generations of Jews brutally murdered by the Communists, or the remaining millions who were spared only by the chaos in the aftermath of Stalin’s death. Those were the monsters whom the Rosenbergs, as loyal Communist party members served, and they deserve no mercy.

Had the Rosenbergs done nothing more than simply been members of the Communist party, they would have deserved to die for it. Can anyone seriously argue that that being a member of an organization responsible for the brutal murders of millions deserve anything less? The same thing goes for Nazis or for Islamists.

Right now many of the people reading this will be wincing at what I just said. It seems much too brutal and ruthless. After all we can’t kill people just for joining a “political” organization. And that wince is a sign of just how much Communism has been legitimized and how the very idea that someone who works to overthrow the United States and murder its citizens should be somehow sacrosanct because his motivations are political or religious, has become sacrosanct.

When you dedicate yourself to mass murder by being a dedicated member of an organization meant to destroy that country, that country has every reason to execute you and no reason to let you go on living.

A political organization that seeks to end democratic rule and impose a tyranny, is not a political organization. It is a totalitarian organization seeking to achieve its objectives by political means. An organization that makes it clear that it has and will kill numberless amounts of people to fulfill its goals is a terrorist organization that must be destroyed, root, branch and leaf.

I don’t agree with the automatic death penalty for communist party membership. But I find myself agreeing with the overall message of Sultan’s post. Members of the Communist Party (CPUSA).

The CPUSA was not only dedicated to the ideology of communism it was an appendage of the Soviet Union, an enemy state. CPUSA cadre constantly worked to further the foreign policy goals of the USSR against the capitalist world, especially the US. All one needs to do is read their newspaper, The Daily Worker, to read this firsthand. But a large part of the strength of the US—and all free societies—is the ability to allow these crackpot groups to exist and express their views. Let them have their newspapers.

Problems developed when members of the CP began to occupy positions of authority in the unions (especially the CIO), produce media and educational materials, and infiltrate the federal government. They were ultimately driven out of the unions but the level of government infiltration was much greater than many realize today. The Rosenberg case is still fairly well-known but many people have forgotten about Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers.

Lastly, in addition to fellow travelers we should not forget the useful idiots. As is always the case, there are usually far more of the latter than the former. The numbers of card-carrying communist party members and other radicals in the US was never that high. But the various communist front organizations (Including International ANSWER/ISO, Workers World Party, etc.) were and remain adept at rallying large numbers to their demonstrations. Look at the “anti-war” demonstrations in the US today.

[Image from Zombietime]

If any of this is of interest, you should also have a look at historian Ronald Radosh’s op-ed, “Case Closed: The Rosenbergs were Soviet Spies” in the Los Angeles times (and elsewhere):

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed 55 years ago, on June 19, 1953. But last week, they were back in the headlines when Morton Sobell, the co-defendant in their famous espionage trial, finally admitted that he and his friend, Julius, had both been Soviet agents.

It was a stunning admission; Sobell, now 91 years old, had adamantly maintained his innocence for more than half a century. After his comments were published, even the Rosenbergs’ children, Robert and Michael Meeropol, were left with little hope to hang on to — and this week, in comments unlike any they’ve made previously, the brothers acknowledged having reached the difficult conclusion that their father was, indeed, a spy. “I don’t have any reason to doubt Morty,” Michael Meeropol told Sam Roberts of the New York Times.

With these latest events, the end has arrived for the legions of the American left wing that have argued relentlessly for more than half a century that the Rosenbergs were victims, framed by a hostile, fear-mongering U.S. government. Since the couple’s trial, the left has portrayed them as martyrs for civil liberties, righteous dissenters whose chief crime was to express their constitutionally protected political beliefs. In the end, the left has argued, the two communists were put to death not for spying but for their unpopular opinions, at a time when the Truman and Eisenhower administrations were seeking to stem opposition to their anti-Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War.
To this day, this received wisdom permeates our educational system. A recent study by historian Larry Schweikart of the University of Dayton has found that very few college history textbooks say simply that the Rosenbergs were guilty; according to Schweikart, most either state that the couple were innocent or that the trial was “controversial,” or they “excuse what [the Rosenbergs] did by saying, ‘It wasn’t that bad. What they provided wasn’t important.’ “

Indeed, Columbia University professor Eric Foner once wrote that the Rosenbergs were prosecuted out of a “determined effort to root out dissent,” part of a broader pattern of “shattered careers and suppressed civil liberties.” In other words, it was part of the postwar McCarthyite “witch hunt.

But, in fact, Schweikart is right, and Foner is wrong. The Rosenbergs were Soviet spies, and not minor ones either. Not only did they try their best to give the Soviets top atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, they succeeded in handing over top military data on sonar and on radar that was used by the Russians to shoot down American planes in the Korean and Vietnam wars. That’s long been known, and Sobell confirmed it again last week.

To many Americans, Cold War espionage cases like the Rosenberg and Alger Hiss cases that once riveted the country seem irrelevant today, something out of the distant past. But they’re not irrelevant. They’re a crucial part of the ongoing dispute between right and left in this country. For the left, it has long been an article of faith that these prosecutions showed the essentially repressive nature of the U.S. government. Even as the guilt of the accused has become more and more clear (especially since the fall of the Soviet Union and the release of reams of historical Cold War documents), these “anti anti-communists” of the intellectual left have continued to argue that the prosecutions were overzealous, or that the crimes were minor, or that the punishments were disproportionate.

The left has consistently defended spies such as Hiss, the Rosenbergs and Sobell as victims of contrived frame-ups. Because a demagogue like Sen. Joseph McCarthy cast a wide swath with indiscriminate attacks on genuine liberals as “reds” (and even though McCarthy made some charges that were accurate), the anti anti-communists came to argue that anyone accused by McCarthy or Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover should be assumed to be entirely innocent. People like Hiss (a former State Department official who was accused of spying) cleverly hid their true espionage work by gaining sympathy as just another victim of a smear attack.

But now, with Sobell’s confession of guilt, that worldview has been demolished.

[Read it all here.]

Added (more on the Rosenberg Case):

Intellectual Conservative: Rosenberg Guilt Tip of Iceberg

New York Sun: Morton Sobell and Me

NYT: Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying

Ron Radosh: The End of a Lie

WaPo: Cold War Spy Testimony Released

Were the Jewish Partisans Stalinist Dupes?

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[H/t to A.L. for bringing this to my attention. Above image of Jewish Partisans from Vilnius is from the Holocaust Research Project]

Nazi hunter: Lithuania hunts ex-partisans, lets war criminals roam free

By Yossi Melman

A few months ago, Lithuanian policemen and agents from the security service knocked on Rachel Margolis’ door in Vilna. Fortunately she was not home, and was thus saved the humiliation of an interrogation. Margolis, almost 90, was a Jewish partisan during World War II, and is finding it difficult to recover from the trauma even now, when she is living in her daughter’s home in Rehovot.

“My sin in the eyes of the nationalists and the anti-Semites in the Lithuanian government,” she says, “was that I was a partisan and fought against the Nazis and their collaborators.”

The Lithuanian policemen and agents wanted to interrogate her about her memoir, in which she told about her partisan colleagues who in January 1944 attacked the village of Koniuchy (or in Lithuanian, Kaniukai).

The Lithuanian partisans, who operated under the aegis of the Central Partisan Command of the Soviet Union, had information that there was a German garrison in the village. After the fact, it turned out that the Germans had abandoned the place. In the battle that ensued, 38 villagers were killed, including women and children. In independent Lithuania, with a tendency to rewrite history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they describe this attack as a “massacre,” and a special prosecutor opened an investigation.

Margolis says she was not even in Lithuania at the time of the attack, and was active in another partisan unit in White Russia.

“I wrote a book about the war, and in it I mentioned in a few lines that I had heard from partisan friends about the attack,” she says.

In the book she mentions another partisan friend who was among the attackers, Fania Brantsovsky, and another partisan, Sara Ginaite, both of whom are also suspects and wanted for interrogation.

“That’s Lithuanian chutzpah,” says Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “To date, Lithuanian governments have not punished a single Lithuanian war criminal. In spite of our considerable efforts and the large amount of information we have given them, they handled three cases with astonishing slowness. Not one of the three served a single day in prison. On the other hand, they’re not ashamed to persecute and harass Lithuanian partisans who fought the Nazis. What is common to all these cases is that they’re all Jews. Instead of punishing Lithuanian criminals who collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews, they’re harassing the partisans, Jewish heroes.”

Perhaps the height of chutzpah was the attempt by Lithuania to investigate Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust historian and one-time partisan, a former brigadier general and a chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces, and the chairman of the board of Yad Vashem.

The Lithuanian claim against Arad was that he served in a Soviet security services, the NKVD, which engaged in murder and looting, and that he was involved in the murder of innocent Lithuanians. In the Lithuanian newspaper, Republika, they even published an article two years ago entitled “The expert with blood on his hands.”

Arad explained that the Lithuanian claims against him were false. The Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem sharply protested the Lithuanian demand, and refused to cooperate with the request.

However, there are some in Israel who believe that neither the Foreign Ministry nor Yad Vashem are acting with the determination expected of them, and are demonstrating weakness. There are voices who believe that Israel should lower its diplomatic contacts with Lithuania if it continues harassing Jewish and Israeli partisans. One of the critics is Zuroff.

“In the State of Israel, they prefer to let Jewish organizations do the dirty work and fight against the rewriting of history in Lithuania,” Zuroff said. “The State of Israel and those involved in the issue should have made it unequivocally clear to the Lithuanian government that it is crossing all the red lines.”

Another harsh critic of Israeli policy is historian Prof. Dov Levin, an expert on Lithuanian Jewry. Levin chronicles in his books how more than 200,00 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, mainly by the Lithuanian collaborators who were eager to engage in murder without the German Nazis having to convince them.

Levin, himself a partisan in Lithuania and a member of the Yad Vashem council, was opposed to the decision about 10 years ago by the Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem to cooperate with Lithuania in the study of the history of World War II. His view was not accepted, and a joint international committee of Israeli, Lithuanian and other historians was established.

The committee, actually two subcommittees, is studying the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust in Lithuania as well as the murder of Lithuanians, during the period of the Soviet occupation of the country from 1940-1941 – as part of the infamous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as well as the Soviet period from 1945 until independence in 1991.

By doing so, the committee is unfortunately helping the Lithuanians equate the two historical developments. Levin believes that Yad Vashem should have severed any connection with the Lithuanian government and ended its activity.

I dissed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in a previous post (and at numerous comments on other blogs) for being Stalinist dupes rather than principled anti-fascists. I stand by that assertion. But this article in Haaretz regarding Jewish communist partisans displays the complexity of these issues. Were the Jewish partisans dupes as well? If not, why not?

I think not. For one thing, the situation of Jews in Lithuania was not analogous to the situation of the volunteers in the U.S. Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis and Lithuanian civilians participated in the Holocaust. Jews had four options in Lithuania. First, resistance; second, collaboration in the hopes of personal and family survival; third, seeking refuge where that was possible; and fourth, deportation to the camps. In the case of Lithuanian resistance, the communist partisan units were the only option.

Jews had choices in other countries. The Jewish Fighting Organization in Poland (more below) is one example and escapees from the Slovakian Novaky labor camp formed an independent Jewish brigade affiliated with the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair.

Regarding Lithuania, the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation notes:

In 1943, Lithuanian Jewish partisans became unified under the direction of Soviet Lithuanian partisan movement. Admission of Jews to the partisans was limited for political and military reasons as well as because of antisemitism. Even in some of the mixed units Jews experienced discrimination. Yet the partisan movement was their only vehicle to actively fight against the Nazis. In some cases, all-Jewish units were formed within the larger organization of Lithuanian partisans.

Poland was a different situation:

Because of the widespread Nazi hunts for escaped Jews, and centuries old antisemitism among some locals, many Polish Jewish partisans sought affiliation with Polish partisan groups. This was a difficult and dangerous task-a Jewish partisan could be robbed of his weapon, or killed for approaching a partisan unit. However, numerous Polish partisan units welcomed Jews, such as the People’s Guard. In the Generalgouvernement area of Poland (divided into four districts Warsaw, Cracow, Radom, and Lublin), hundreds of Jewish partisans belonged to Polish units of the People’s Guard, to the Home Army (AK), and to other groups. Considerable numbers of these Jewish partisans operated in commando units, and dozens of Jews took leadership roles as commanders.

Jews also fought as partisans in all-Jewish units, such as the ZOB (the Jewish Fighting Organization), which was active throughout occupied Poland. Against incredible odds, thousands of Polish Jewish partisans fought back, and most lost their lives. Many did not expect to survive, as reflected in the motto of one Jewish partisan group: “For those who seek life, we are not the address.”

Here is a map describing Jewish partisan activity in ten countries.

For more information on Jewish partisans, click on the image that says “Resist” on the left column of this blog or click here.

Read more about antisemitism in Lithuania here.