By the time I began developing a political consciousness in the early 1980s, I didn’t have any choice but to be on the right side of the political spectrum. By the early 1980s, the political Left in the US had already abandoned support for Israel.
When I grew up in what would later become Barack Obama’s neighborhood in Chicago, the black political machine in the neighborhood and the city, led by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan was openly anti-Semitic and pro-Muslim. The white Left was also hostile. The Communists were anti-Israel. The media was anti-Israel.
As a proud Jewish girl, it was clear to me from adolescence on that I could only locate myself on the political Right.
This was not the case for people who came of age in the 1950s and early 1960s. At that time, the USSR had not yet cut off its relations with Israel. The civil rights movement was a joint Jewish-black movement.
For those of you who don’t know the history, the NAACP was founded by Jews. The plaintiff in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark Supreme Court decision from 1954 that opened the path to school desegregation, was represented by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund’s legal team of Jack Greenberg and Thurgood Marshall. The famous Mississippi Burning incident where three civil rights workers were lynched in 1964 involved the murder of one black civil rights worker James Earl Chaney and two Jewish civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwermer.
But starting sometime around 1965, the blacks began the process of expelling the Jews from the Civil Rights movement, as they embraced anti-Semitism and the Arab war for the destruction of Israel. In New York City, this period reached a culmination in the 1968 teachers strike. The strike was caused by the decision of a black school board in Brownsville, Brooklyn to fire many of the Jewish teachers and administrators from the local schools and replace them with black separatist teachers and administrators.
The head the teachers union Albert Shanker dated the end of Jewish-black cooperation to the strike.
While researching my book, yesterday I came across a fascinating FBI report from 1970 that was declassified under the Freedom of Information Act in 2009. Titled, “FBI Monograph: Fedayeen Impact – Middle East and United States, June 1970,” it is focused on the PLO, and Fatah’s penetration of the American political Left.
In the section on PLO operations in the US, The monograph discussed its outreach to the African American political leadership and the radical white establishment. These sections of the report are fascinating and I recommend you take an hour or so to read the entire document yourself.
As the report puts it, “Since the June 1967, war, reports emanating from various sources have suggested that the Arabs have co-opted black extremists in the United States to assist the ‘struggle’ against Israel in the Middle East and in the United States.”
The report makes specific mention of the co-optation of the Black Panther Party, (BPP), the Student National Coordinating Committee, (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael, and the Nation of Islam.
Several BPP leaders participated in anti-Israel conferences in Africa and the Middle East where they gave stridently anti-Semitic speeches calling for the destruction of Israel. In one speech in Algeria in 1969 BPP “Minister of Information” Eldridge Cleaver, “Proclaimed BPP support for the Arab position and criticized ‘US-Zionists,’ mentioning Arthur Goldberg, Henry A. Kissinger, and Judge Julius Hoffman. He also expressed BPP admiration for Yasir Arafat and al-Fatah. Cleaver and Arafat reportedly hugged and kissed each other and received a standing ovation from those at the conference.”
In an interview with the New York Times on August 15, 1967, SNCC leader Ralph Featherston launched an all-out assault against Israel and Jews.
According to the FBI report, in the interview he said that “SNCC is drawn to the Arab cause because it is working toward a ‘third world alliance of oppressed people all over the world – Africa, Asia, Latin America – and considers the Arabs have been oppressed continually by Israelis and by Europeans as well in such countries as Algeria.’ He denied that SNCC was anti-Semitic, but was interested in indicting only ‘Jewish oppressors,’ a category he applied to Israel, and ‘to those Jews in the little Jew shops in the ghettos.'”
Stokely Carmichael sang from the same song sheet and did so not in Algeria but on US college campuses such as George Washington University and Harvard beginning in 1970.
The Soviet Union openly sided with the Arabs in the Six Day War and cut off relations with Israel immediately following the war. The radical American Left, populated by the Communist Party USA and other Communist front groups and New Left groups abandoned Israel at the same time. This mass abandonment included the Progressive Labor Party; Students for a Democratic Society, (SDS); SDS-Weathermen; the Socialist Workers Party; Workers World Party; and the Communist Party – USA, (CPUSA).
Since President Obama’s political world is populated by individuals from all these groups, and since Obama launched his political career in the living room of SDS-Weathermen terror commanders Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, it is worth noting that in the SDS-Weathermen magazine “SDS Fire” December 6, 1969 issue, contained an editorial stating that “Arab peoples, above all the Palestinian people, will not and cannot accept the existence of Israel, a colonial-type creature imposed by outside forces on the area.”
A notable exception to the far Left’s abandonment of Israel and embrace of anti-Semitism was Ramparts Magazine, the New Left publication founded by David Horowitz and Peter Collier. Among other pro-Israel Ramparts articles the FBI report cites, it notes in particular one by then Harvard Professor Martin Peretz from July 1967.
In his article, Peretz took on the propaganda claims against Israel one by one and discredited them. Among other things, he said that Israel is not a colonialist state; there is no similarity whatsoever between the US war in Vietnam, which as a self-proclaimed radical he opposed, and Israel; the creation of Israel was not sponsored by imperialist powers; Nasser is not a socialist.
Peretz excoriated the Third World and Communist countries for their failure to recognize the Arab threat to Israel’s existence, calling their behavior “disgusting.”
The FBI report notes that the CPUSA’s support for the Arabs against Israel caused massive dissention in the ranks of the party, mentioning that some 75 percent of CPUSA’s members were Jewish. Jewish Communists in Chicago collected blood and plasma for Israel and donated money. Dissenters were also heard loudly in New York.
The reason I entitled this post “Martin Peretz, an appreciation,” is not for what he wrote in 1967, but because of what has happened to the Left, the Jewish Left and to Peretz in the 46 years that have passed since he wrote that article.
In the late 1960s, Peretz wasn’t alone in defending Israel against the radical Left – white and black. In 1967, even Jewish Communists were willing to break ranks to support Israel. And as the 1968 New York Teachers Strike showed, at the time, liberal Jews in general were willing to defend themselves from attacks by black anti-Semites.
But in the intervening years, fewer and fewer voices on the Left, and specifically on the Jewish Left were willing to take such positions and pit themselves against their movement. And so as the decades passed, what were the positions of the radical Left in the 1960s became increasingly the positions of the mainstream Left, until by last summer, they became the positions of the majority of delegates at the Democratic National Convention.
When I was growing up in Chicago, the local Jewish establishment’s refusal to support Israel in the 1982 Lebanon War is what made me decide to make aliyah. By the time I arrived at Columbia in 1987, and the Palestinian uprising broke out, it was hard to find Jewish leaders who were willing to stand up for Israel without stuttering.
Today the situation has become simply untenable. Suffice it to say that Bill Ayres’s political protégé Barack Obama’s success in garnering 70 percent of the Jewish vote is not an aberration.
Yet through it all, Martin Peretz has rarely wavered. Despite his attempts to support the Palestinians, he has not allowed his desire to see the Arab conflict with Israel resolved diminish his support for Israel. He has remained a staunch, loyal defender of Israel. When I was growing up, I relied on his New Republic for its reporting on Israel and the Middle East. Peretz was one of my intellectual heroes.
In recent years, I’ve felt more bemused by than respectful of Peretz. A colleague of mine quipped some years back that Peretz and Allan Dershowitz live in an intellectual universe populated only by Peretz and Dershowitz and they refuse to acknowledge that they are alone. That quip has probably anchored my thinking on both men ever since.
But even if my colleague’s remark was more true than false, reading the FBI report, I decided I should discard its snide diminution of Peretz. The fact is, he has been fighting this fight for nearly fifty years. As a man of the Left, he has fought the fight for Israel and Jewish rights, increasingly alone for nearly fifty years, and has done so despite what must have been enormous personal costs as his comrades all jumped ship, and in many cases, joined the cause of Israel’s enemies.
Cervantes’s Don Quixote is generally reviled as a fool for his futile battle against windmills. By the same token, Leftists who insist that their movement — which long ago parted company with the ideals it claims to represent, and serves as a warm political home for totalitarian anti-Semites — must side with good against evil, necessarily call up the image of Don Quixote fighting the forces of nature.
But when you think about it, there is something heroic about keeping up a battle even if it is doomed to fail, simply because it is the right thing to do. So hats off to Peretz for keeping true.