In the ‘Forward,’ Pogrebin condemns the ‘un-Jewish’ smear campaign of Goldstone by Jews

As an admirer of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, for nearly 40 years, I was dismayed by her fervent defense of Hillary Clinton in a debate over the 2008 election with her daughter, Abigail Pogrebin, who supported Barack Obama. I was disappointed that someone who’d helped the country envision the liberation of women could define HRC as a “revolutionary” rather than an “establishment” figure.  

(Now we know how false a choice that was, a fact soon exposed by Obama’s outlandish pledge–violating generations of U.S. government policy, as well as International Law–to AIPAC that, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.” Or in his picks of, first, Biden as Veep and, then, Clinton as Sec. of State.)

Meanwhile, I questioned whether in my youth I had misjudged Cottin Pogrebin’s positions: as seeking liberation for all, when she actually advocated a tokenish careerism that masked something yet more sinister: empire’s corporatism. Myself, I learned to care about freeing Palestine from Israeli Occupation at about the same time that I became a “women’s–and humans’–libber,” and now I wondered where she’d been all this time. I was only partially reassured by this essay on the Judaization of East Jerusalem

Now Letty Cottin Pogrebin comes through, defending Judge Richard Goldstone and the U.N. Report in the Forward (a piece that is also included in the Goldstone Report book editors of this site have helped put out). Pogrebin points out a crucial wrong in both the Israel lobby and the U.S. corpo-public media’s refusal to deal with the report:

“Rather than discuss the contents of the report — which concluded that during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, Israel (as well as Hamas) may have committed war crimes — Israel’s defenders launched an all-points campaign to bury it.”

Pogrebin condemns the Israel lobby for its denigration of Goldstone, as “both indecent and profoundly un-Jewish.” Because I’m a skeptic who reveres literary prophets rather than conventionally religious ones, I’m always interested by how others define the spiritual obligation to liberate Palestinians from Apartheid. So I was captivated when Pogrebin repeated that distinction: “the smear campaign against [Goldstone]” was “Appalling enough in human terms, [but] I believe it should be condemned on specifically Jewish grounds.” Pogrebin informs us that,

“There’s a Hebrew word for what these people did to Richard Goldstone: They put him in cherem, meaning he was not just persona non grata in the eyes of our religious arbiters, he was totally cut off from the Jewish community. From the moment the report was released, he was treated like a leper — shunned, defamed, disowned — and the worst was yet to come.”

Pogrebin discusses the effort “tantamount to banning” Goldstone from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. The fact that, “After an international outcry,”  ”Goldstone was able to attend the bar mitzvah,” Pogrebin argues, “hardly absolves Jews worldwide for the smear campaign against him.”

Pogrebin asserts that,

“The most Jewishly observant …of Goldstone’s attackers surely knew that speaking ill of another human being (“hate speech” in current parlance) violates one of Judaism’s most sacrosanct laws, the prohibition against lashon hara (the Evil Tongue — i.e., gossip), which Maimonides defined as any utterance (true or not!) that might cause a person physical or monetary damage, or shame, humiliation, an-guish or fear.

“The Talmud’s famous story of the Oven of Achnai goes even further. It establishes that onaat devarim — verbal torment or abusive speech — is a more heinous infraction than physical assault. The story opens with a dispute among the sages of the Sanhedrin over the ritual purity of a clay oven. Most of the decisors agree that the oven is unclean, but Eliezer, a respected voice, though in this instance a minority of one, insists it is clean and summons four astounding miracles to prove his position. The sages dismiss these divine signs, proclaiming the Torah ‘is not in heaven’ — meaning, the law is to be interpreted by human thinkers on earth — so the majority rules. God apparently agrees since the heavenly voice laughs and, disarmed by the sages’ logic, says, ‘My sons have defeated Me.’ To underscore their victory, the sages set fire to the disputed oven and everything else Eliezer had declared clean, then they vote to excommunicate him.

“When Eliezer weeps and grieves, God, despite having ruled for the sages, responds to their mistreatment of him by withering harvests across the land, spoiling dough and incinerating every object Eliezer looks upon. The president of the Sanhedrin meets an untimely death, taking the hit for his minions’ sin of onaat devarim. The gravity of this forbidden activity becomes crystal clear: God nearly destroyed the world because of the ‘wounded feelings’ of Eliezer, an honorable man.”

Pogrebin adds, “the tradition that similar behavior caused the calamity of calamities, that the Second Temple was demolished for only one reason, sinat chinam (baseless hatred), Jew hating Jew, an infraction so severe that it merited an exile of almost 2,000 years.”

Pogrebin condemns those “dumping verbal sludge on a fellow Jew whose only crime was to pursue justice and demand that Israel live up to its founding principles. Yet Israel’s fanatical defenders won’t let up on Goldstone until he is irreparably destroyed,” detailing how critics then turned to Goldstone’s “his years as a South African judge,” accusing him of “sid[ing]” “with the racist policies of the Apartheid regime”; “Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said,” of Goldstone’s acceptance of his position in the South African court system,  ”‘these are the same explanations we heard in Nazi Germany after World War II.’ Alan Dershowitz sank to a new low. ‘That’s what Mengele said, too.’”

Pogrebin appeals to Jewish conscience, “Anyone claiming to espouse Jewish values ought to be outraged by the avalanche of attacks on Richard Goldstone. But they should be deeply conscience-stricken by the possibility, just the possibility, that the Israeli army committed atrocities in Gaza. Yet many in our community are still vilifying the judge, and almost no one is talking about his findings: Thousands of Palestinian homes reduced to rubble. Gaza’s infrastructure in ruins. Women and children burned by white phosphorus bombs. A man shot while his arms were shackled and left to die. Civilians shot and killed while carrying white flags. Twenty-two members of one family killed in Gaza City.”

That contrast between distraction and fact seems critical to reforming organized religion’s timidity in the face of the crisis caused by the crimes of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. Pogrebin concludes by identifying anew a crucial challenge posed by the lobby’s influence over our American government and dominant media:
“It would have been ‘good for the Jews’ and for Israel had the report’s substance been frankly confronted and debated, however the only game in town is ‘Kill the message, trash the messenger.’ In that sense, Goldstone is the Eliezer of our age — a judge pledged to defend the law in the face of arrogant opposition, excoriated for holding Jews to their principles, excommunicated for speaking truth to power. One can only hope the contemporary story doesn’t end as badly as the one in the Talmud.”

Now I hope Pogrebin will write again, extending her compassion not just to an “exemplary” Jew, of “stellar” “Jewish credentials,” who is “a proud, self-identified Zionist, [who] served on the board of governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; as chair of the advisory board of Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life; and as president of World ORT, the international Jewish educational organization….[who] also was a dogged investigator of Nazi war criminals in Argentina,” and to trying to protect Israel from its own worst ambitions.  

I hope Letty Cottin Pogrebin will articulate not just what Jewish people owe to other Jews, but all people’s obligation to all, and, specifically, what our traditions teach that we Americans owe the people of Palestine.

About Susie Kneedler

Who reads and sometimes writes....
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 47 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Antidote says:

    If, as LCP argues, what happened to Goldstone is so ‘profoundly un-Jewish’, why is there a Hebrew word – cherem – for it?

    • seafoid says:

      I read in the Guardian years ago some rabbi who opined that if Yiddish had been the language of Israel the country would be more kind and tolerant. Hebrew has been a disaster.

      • Antidote says:

        I read somewhere that if Swabian, which is close to Yiddish, had been adopted, German history would have followed a different path. Hochdeutsch has been a disaster:)

        Compare: ‘Achtung!’ to the kind and gentle ‘Bass uff!’

        one of my favorite comedy skits, on German(s) abroad

        announcement to Vatican visitors in different languages (@ 1:58)

        cracks me up every time

    • eljay says:

      >> If, as LCP argues, what happened to Goldstone is so ‘profoundly un-Jewish’, why is there a Hebrew word – cherem – for it?

      Because contrary to subjective and custom-tailored mytho-religious beliefs, Jews is jes reg’lar folk. :-)

  2. Chaos4700 says:

    Pogrebin condemns the ‘un-Jewish’ smear campaign of Goldstone by Jews

    If it reaches the point that most Jews are participating in such smear campaigns, does it cease to be “un-Jewish?”

    • Philip Weiss says:

      there are now many many jews condemning the majoritarian smear, so it’s not all jews

      • Chaos4700 says:

        I was actually asking that as a rhetorical question — you have a better notion of where the ratio stands. But you’ve rather confirmed my suspicion.

        I respect what you’re trying to do here, Phil. But I don’t see that you’re succeeding.

        • Philip Weiss says:

          ok, so what’s your conclusion: I shall be an anti-Semite, and put an asterisk next to some Jews’ names? Gosh. many people have been subject to messianic movements

        • LeaNder says:

          Phil,I didn’t read your note carefully about your sister in laws note carefully. Sorry, anyway. Although I still have the slight feeling it was somehow tongue in cheek. But I realized I am quite able to comment without reading carefully. (Are you listening RW?)

          But concerning this context. Obviously Letty Cottin Pogrebin is addressing the Jewish community, so it is absolutely appropriate to use Jewish ethics /scriptures in the argument, just as a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist would use the ethic rules known and understood by the community she addresses.

          And to Chaos. How do you extrapolate from several distinct members of the Jewish community to all Jews? What does your rhetorical GOTCHA game succeed in other than confirm your initial suspicion or prejudice?

          Do you think the world would be a better place if all adhered to the same belief set / ideologies? Isn’t that the core ideology of WWIII/IV / The War on Terrorism? Why don’t you lean back and appreciate a tiny glimpse into the highly interesting ethic universe of Judaism and God’s role in it. I have to admit I like it. Individuals matter, isn’t that the core of the story?

        • eee says:

          Phil,

          In what sense is Zionism a messianic movement? You may think it is a bad ideology say like communism or manifest destiny, but it does not display any of the hallmarks of messianic movements. It is a secular ideology built on pragmatic principles (“a goat and then one more goat”) and European institutions. Nothing messianic about it.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          You could fight back a bit harder against this. It is the character and, ultimately, the fate of Judaism that is at risking of changing permanently. Letting people steamroll past you (or over you) while you’re trying to engage them in a debate when they’re merely interested in achieving their goal by any means necessary — no matter who gets mowed down — isn’t accomplishing much. At least in that specific department.

          I’m not a fan of messianic movements. In my experience, martyrs accomplish little except making themselves posthumously famous.

        • Taxi says:

          Let’s just imagine good old Abraham is sitting on a cloud with good old god and they’re both looking down on the whole hebrew happening shebang thang in the holy land.

          I bet my farm and all my unborn goats eee that Abraham’s scratching his head bewildered and saying: Oooaah! Look it down there how these miserable europeans have taken over my land and my grandchildren! Why dear lord I never even imagined white people from such faraway, cold continents would even hear of me and my family saga. Just look down there how these people who prefer to call themselves zionists instead of hebrews, how they use and abuse my message, my very name, my desert dreams and hard-earned wisdoms, use them as lethal weapons against my very own Arabian people! Oh dear lord how did these impostures get to be in charge of our holy land?!! I mean I trust in your wisdom and justice dear god, but explain to me how could you let this happen?!

          And god sheepishly whispers: Verily, I answer to Aipac.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Ahem. And it’s good to see that you actually will reply to that, Phil. If only briefly.

        • Shingo says:

          In what sense is Zionism a messianic movement? You may think it is a bad ideology say like communism or manifest destiny, but it does not display any of the hallmarks of messianic movements.

          Are you sure you’re an Israeli eee, or even Jewish?

          The organization’s claims infuriated many Mizrahi Israelis who defined themselves as Zionists. As early as 1975, at the time of WOJAC’s formation, Knesset speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu declared: “We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations.”

          link to haaretz.com

          Nothing messianic bout it hey eee? Apaprently the real Jewish people think otherwise.

  3. Jim Holstun says:

    I like Ms. Kneedler’s non-sectarian conclusion here. I always feel queasy when I hear progressive and humane sentiments defended along the lines of “This ostensibly Muslim sentiment is actually anti-Muslim,” or “This hyper-Americanism is actually un-American,” or “This Zionist outrage is actually anti-Jewish.” I understand the need for people inside some faith or community or nation to define and fight for their vision of the best that community has to offer, its truest principles, etc. I do that too, and find myself saying or thinking “That’s not American!” or “That’s not marxist!”

    But people outside those communities have the right to look at actual history and see, for instance, the Muslim sectarian cleansing of each other in Iraq and of Copts in Egypt, the American anticommunist megadeaths in SE Asia, and the Stars of David on the sides of those F16s waging Jewish holy war on Palestinian peasant children. All too often, even the most righteous contemporary Jewish Jeremiah denouncing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, in a blazing jeremiad, and in the name of True Jewishness, still preserves some hint of an implicit double standard.

    Pogrebin names Goldstone, the “Eliezer of his age,” and laments the dirt done to him as a fellow Jew; this is deeply felt and very moving. But Pogrebin doesn’t name or talk about Mustafa Khader Saber Abu Ghanima, a sixteen-year-old boy, listed in the tally of the Gaza dead compiled by the Palestine Centre for Human Rights, or christen him with a biblical epithet. This excerpted essay is moving and important, but I am more moved by Max Ajl’s passionate intellectual and bodily solidarity from Gaza. link to maxajl.com.

    I’m not sure about what I’ve written here, and I know how important religious conviction is in whatever we have of a left in the US (as Alexander Cockburn has noted). But there’s nothing keeping people of faith from using universalist arguments and rhetoric.

    • Philip Weiss says:

      thanks jim, smart, appreciated

    • I think for anyone who is a part of a community defined in terms they are uncomfortable with, sending the message that those terms do not define their particular conception of that community’s values is an important mental exercise. Whether a community’s values are being misidentified, co-opted or are authentically negative in their own right, dissident voices are important to hear, regardless of how outsiders feel.

      Having said that, I agree with you that outsiders should be comfortable making inferences, provided that they leave room for nuance, orientalism, and don’t treat entire groups like monolithic blocs. At the same time, these statements should be made cautiously so as not to lend credibility to hate-movements. Example: You are perfectly warranted in discussing “Muslim sectarian cleansing of each other in Iraq and of Copts in Egypt” but I would step carefully when doing so, because some might confuse you with the current wave of Islamophobia.

      I had a similar argument with a Ma’an News Agency reporter. He was lambasting B’tselem and Amnesty International for not covering the incarceration of a Palestinian blogger who criticized Islam, praising NGO monitor in the same breath. I told him that I understood his frustration but he should be very careful with his words, considering someone could easily take his comments out of context or misinterpret them to lend credibility to a despicable organization.

      It’s the same with a lot of “green movement” Iranians who are perfectly warranted in their quest to end human rights violations but who unfortunately give ammunition to neocons and zionists, etc.

  4. MRW says:

    the prohibition against lashon hara (the Evil Tongue — i.e., gossip), which Maimonides defined as any utterance (true or not!) that might cause a person physical or monetary damage, or shame, humiliation, anguish or fear.

    Isn’t that what the Rabbi videographer did to Helen Thomas?

    • Antidote says:

      Not to mention Foxman, but also Obama (in a more subdued but nevertheless appalling way, complicit in her shunning and removal from public life). And for exactly what S. Kneedler suggests LCP might do:

      “I hope Letty Cottin Pogrebin will articulate not just what Jewish people owe to other Jews, but all people’s obligation to all, and, specifically, what our traditions teach that we Americans owe the people of Palestine.”

      What woman/feminist/journalist wants to end up like Thomas? Or like Goldstone, if you’re Jewish?

  5. eee says:

    Goldstone is a huge douche bag that has no problem advocating Jews get killed while fighting according to his standards as a lawyer. Let him send his sons or fight himself before helping Israel’s enemies condemn it. Same goes for all other aholes that preach to Israelis how to fight wars from their bench in Central Park.

    What Goldstone did I take personally. He is shooting me, my sons and any Israeli that ever served in the IDF in the back. He is a real low life. And for any American Jew that thinks differently, I say go f*** yourself. Go become a Christian or a Muslim or whatever. What are we, your mercenaries? You who are not in the front line are going to tell us how to fight? If you can do better, come do it yourself. And if you don’t like it, go kiss Ismail Haniya.

    • Philip Weiss says:

      the gloves come off.
      eee, could you reserve terms like “huge douche bag” for your cow barn, thanks, phil

    • bijou says:

      whoah

      so much for the “rule of law” eh?

    • Taxi says:

      eee,

      The thing is, you ARE european mercenaries pretending to be mideasterners.

      The zionist Halloween party of death and blood and destruction will FOREVER be documented AND exposed. You can’t go around mass-murdering CHILDREN (412 Gaza children killed in under three weeks, for example) and expect the world to BE QUIET just because these kids aren’t jewish!!

      Ya think you can arm-wrestle with documented history and win, l’il Herculeeees?

      Get the hell outa dodge eee – the sheriff is armed with the FACTS!!

      And he sure damn hell don’t care if you’re muslim, xtian or jew!!

    • Potsherd2 says:

      No, eee, we’re telling you not to fight. To stop making wars. But this is a concept that Israelis can’t grasp.

    • Shingo says:

      eee,

      So what you’re essentially admitting is that you and your idea of Israel is threatened by exposing the truth. You’re also admittign to being a fascist, who won’t tolerate dissenting opinions from Jews and that anyone who breaks ranks is your enemy.

      We knew that already, but we appreciate your candor.

      Just for the record, you and your sons were NEVER in any danger from Gaza. Your sadistic little state broke a ceasefire beccause there was too much peace for their liking and statrted a war. Your sadistic little state rejected calls to return to a ceasefire.

      Your sadistic little state had every opportunity to return to calm, but chose not to.

      You have provided a masterful illustration of the irrationality, reactionary ideology, rascism, isolationism and entitlement that embodies Zionism and Israel.

  6. MRW says:

    This was one of the smarter things Letty Cottin Pogrebin has ever written. But it was about time, because she is about to be eclipsed by Max Blumenthal and a bunch of other younger journalists who are far more moral and magnanimous. (I mean, who can beat Blumenthal’s recent steely-eyed and boot-in-your-crotch article on the Islamophobic Crusade?)

    Letty Cottin Pogrebin has it in her when she wants to; when she wants to lock and load, watch out prairies and big animals.

  7. Shingo says:

    This sounds like a very promising analysis by Pogrebin with this exception:

    Pogrebin condemns those “dumping verbal sludge on a fellow Jew whose only crime was to pursue justice and demand that Israel live up to its founding principles.

    Israel’s founding principals were at the very least layered under heavy elements of denial, if not manevolent.

    • seafoid says:

      Israel’s “founding principles” boil down to 3

      -The world owes us something
      -The Arabs don’t belong here
      -Democracy but only if jerrymandered

  8. A PERTINENT FACEBOOK GROUP
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    Category: Common Interest – Beliefs & Causes
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    Open: All content is public.
    LINK – link to facebook.com

  9. yourstruly says:

    troublemaker

    seems like our paths have crossed lots of times

    you alone

    against the odds

    always with your fact based

    truth

    that a better world not only is possible

    it’s doable

  10. seafoid says:

    I don’t buy this notion that there is some noble “Jewish” culture that stands apart from the world and especially the dirty work that Zionism does in order to keep Israeli Jews in the agreeable standard of living to which they have become accustomed. If only there weren’t those
    beastly Liebermans Israel would be a source of tikkun olam .

    The notion of those born Jewish as some sort of superior crowd who are not of this grubby world was possibly fine back in the shtetl when the people were excluded from power and needed some myths to hold the whole story together.

    Israel was a game changer. It brought Jewish policemen and Jewish farmers and Jewish ministers into the picture. For the first time since Khazaria Jews had political power. And guess what? They are the same as the goys at arsing things up.

    What’s Jewish about torture, home demolitions,. hasbara, white phosphorous, racism, lobbying, shoot to kill policies, environmental degradation, imprisonment of minors or cluster bombs?

    • Polly says:

      Couldn’t agree more seafoid. My wishes that religious dogma would vanish won’t happen any time soon but oh boy could this site do with a little more “we’re basically all the same” sentiment.

  11. David Samel says:

    Jim Holstun, I think you have it right. I would only add that Jews act pretty much the same way everybody else does; some are selfish and some selfless, some murderous and some pacifist, etc. But Judaism, like most other religions, aspires to make people do good and avoid evil. To me, the argument that Israel and some Jews act contrary to Judaism or “Jewish values” does not resonate. Of course they do. Virtually every act of evil or corruption is committed in violation of religious principles. It’s like analyzing Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as anti-Christian, even though he claims to be very religious. Duh. Pogrebin’s essay can be summed up as “Jews should act better than that.” True, but so should everyone.

    Pogrebin’s criticism of the smear against Goldstone is admirable, but does the Jewish religion/tradition/values perspective add anything? Not to me. Whether Goldstone is a hero or villain depends on the integrity of his report, and the same is true for his critics. Should the Jewish community’s attacks on Goldstone be analyzed from a peculiarly Judaic perspective, qualitatively different from the attacks by non-Jewish govt officials on Assange and Manning? I don’t see why. But then again, as Jim concludes in the end, if Pogrebin’s type of anaylsis is considered persuasive by others, we shouldn’t go out of our way to reject it, even if it just leaves me cold.

    • Antidote says:

      “Judaism, like most other religions, aspires to make people do good and avoid evil”

      Judaism, or any other religion, is not an agent with intentions and goals. It does not exist in a sphere untouched by human intentions and goals reflected in interpretation, which is subject to change, synchronically and diachronically. What’s good, what’s evil? God only knows. See Genesis. The tree and serpent story.

  12. Thanks, all, for such thoughtful comments, that remind me how I should have continued my post a step beyond, to:

    “Pogrebin’s parting wish is: ‘One can only hope the contemporary story doesn’t end as badly as the one in the Talmud.’ But for the Palestinian people, ‘the contemporary story’ has already ‘ended’ far more ‘badly’ than ‘the one in the Talmud.’

    “Now I long to hear Pogrebin and ever more reporters notice that out of such ‘ends,’ the people of Palestine continually prepare new beginnings of peace. Then they can join so many of us in asking our government, ‘When will we help them as we ought?’”

  13. HRK says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what Pogrebin did. I’m a Christian and you hear Christians all the time say, “This is Christian, after all,” or “This isn’t Christian.” It doesn’t mean we’re denying that other people might have the same motivation even if not a member of our faith community. It doesn’t even mean that you can’t arrive at the conclusion through universally attainable reason.

    And, I believe, as someone noted she is writing specifically to members of her own community–so given the context what she’s doing makes sense.

  14. Goldstone did make a difference. As the Jerusalem Post reported recently, “In what some in the IDF are banking on as the key to preventing another Goldstone Report, the IDF this week wrapped up its first-ever training course for a new military post aimed at helping Israel minimize harm to civilians during future operations in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.” (My boldface; see here).

    I.e., it was the Goldstone report, not any internal self-criticism, that moved Israel to train specialized military personnel, for the first time ever, in how to kill fewer civilians. That alone justifies the report, as well as further international criticism of Israel.

    • Shingo says:

      That’;s debatable HB.

      Israeli officer claims Goldstone report will not restrict IDF in future war
      link to uruknet.com

      What’s you’re alluding to is a PR campaign, nothing more.

      • annie says:

        a PR campaign, nothing more.

        as far as i can tell that is the extent of israel’s willingness to change, ever ..just reframing the image and debate. it certainly seems to be the focus of the knesset lately. check out dimi reider’s latest. yuk

  15. russgreen says:

    Thanks Susie for bringing Pogrebin’s article to our attention and for your wonderful, very insightful analysis of it. Her article is one more piece of evidence that the tide of discourse is turning in our favor. This turning tide of public opinion is what our opponents call the “delegitimization of Israel” and what I call “waking up to the reality” of Israel’s appalling human rights record.