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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Jews And Cold War Politics: A Rumination

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

For obvious reasons, the disproportionate number of Jews who were either members of the old American Communist Party or otherwise active in left-wing politics during the Cold War has always been a sensitive issue for the Jewish community.

Even now, with the Soviet Union dead and buried and Marxism thoroughly discredited just about everywhere outside of liberal-arts departments of elite (and not-so-elite) universities, the subject still tends to make people uneasy, if not defensive and hostile.

It is, however, a subject that will not go away anytime soon; if anything, the release in the 1990’s of previously classified documents by both Washing-ton and Moscow gave new life, and provided several unexpected twists, to the debate over such questions as the extent of Soviet espionage in America and the true loyalties of American Communists.

Jews actually predominated on both sides of the 20th century’s epic political controversy. The old Jewish affinity for leftist causes notwithstanding, many of America’s leading anti-Communist intellectuals were Jews, from the liberal and socialist anti-Stalinists of the 1940’s and 50’s to the original neo-conservatives of the 1970’s and 80’s.

Some of the most trenchant criticism – past and present – of American Communists has come not only from Jewish intellectuals who, like the prolific author and conservative activist David Horowitz, started out on the left and gradually moved right, but also from those who, despite a sense of growing disillusionment, chose to maintain their political affiliation with the left.

In fact, the most widely-accepted debunking of two of the more durable left-wing myths of the Cold War – the supposed innocence of Soviet agents Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – was accomplished in the 1970’s not by right-wing Jews at all, but by Jews – most famously Allen Weinstein (Hiss) and Ronald Radosh (the Rosenbergs) – who commenced their investigations fully intent on exonerating their subjects.

And that was much the way things had gone for the first two decades or so of the Cold War, a time when many of the most vocally anti-Communist Jews were found on the left: socialists or liberals who had little patience with those, like FDR’s third-term vice president and 1948 presidential candidate Henry Wallace, whom they considered dangerously sympathetic to the Soviet Union – “fellow travelers,” in the day’s parlance.

Not that there weren’t Jews in the 1940’s and 50’s who forthrightly identified as political conserva-tives. Some even worked as lawyers and investigators for the House Committee on Un-American Ac-tivities and on the staff of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

And no fewer than seven Jews – Frank Chodorov, Marvin Liebman, Eugene Lyons, Frank Meyer, Morrie Ryskind, William Schlamm and Ralph De Toledano – were members of William F. Buckley’s inner circle when Buckley launched Na-tional Review, his groundbreaking conservative magazine, in 1955.

But as intellectuals who came of age when Judaism in America was paid little public regard and Orthodox Jews in particular were thought to be a near-extinct species, the National Review Jews had at best a superficial knowledge and understanding of their religious heritage and therefore failed to see in Judaism a spiritual bulwark against the encroachments of moral relativism.

Not surprisingly, those Jews were profoundly influenced by the intensely Roman Catholic milieu of National Review. Liebman and Mayer ended up baptized as Catholics; Schlamm was buried with Catholic rites; De Toledano came close to converting but held back out of a sense of loyalty to his Sephardi ancestors who had been victimized by the Inquisition.

It remained for the next generation of Jewish conservatives – or more precisely those one-time liberal Democrats like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who in the 1970’s became known as neoconservatives (and whose political heirs would reach their pinnacle of power and influence during George W. Bush’s first term as president) – to bring a more affirmative Jewishness to their conservative politics.

Though theirs was, for the most part, a cultural Jewishness rather than a religious one, it nonetheless was a significant departure from the rejection of Judaism that defined so many politically conservative Jews of an earlier era.

Where Right And Left Meet

Wednesday, March 20th, 2002

For those of us who came of age in the 1960′s and 70′s, a time when the Cold War was still very much a daily life-and-death concern, there was never much confusion about what Right and Left stood for in terms of U.S. foreign policy.

But that state of affairs, morally and intellectually bracing though it was, tended to obscure the fact that it had not always been that way - and that even then, at the height of the Cold War, one only had to make one’s way far enough along the political spectrum to discover where Right met Left in mutual antipathy to America and American interests.

With the U.S.-led war on terrorism now well into its fourth month, a hard, even hysterical, opposition to American policy is in full bloom in the fever swamps of both the far left and the far right. Of course, those on the left who habitually oppose U.S. foreign policy tend to do so because they believe in the myth of an irredeemably evil America, while those on the right tend to do so because they believe in the ideal of a pristinely neutral America. Different trains, same destination, and it brings to mind the isolationist impulse that, pre-Pearl Harbor, brought together leftists and rightists fiercely opposed to American intervention against Hitler.

Contrary to liberal revisionism, the now notorious America First Committee, formed in 1940, was hardly a right-wing phenomenon. As Kevin Coogan noted in Dreamer of the Day (Autonomedia, 1999), his masterful study of the links between postwar fascism and communism, “America First supporters included such leading liberals as Protestant theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., and Dorothy Detzer, head of the Women’s International League for Peace….America First also received support from Philip La Follette, Wisconsin’s three-time governor and Progressive Party leader, who regularly appeared at its rallies.”

And contrary to the perception that those protesting America’s post-Sept. 11 foreign policy come almost exclusively from the ranks of left-wing academics and addle-brained actresses, there are in fact a fair number of right-wing commentators and intellectuals who take a back seat to no one in loudly advertising their displeasure with U.S. policy.

Much the same as their counterparts on the left, not a few of these right-wing dissenters are at least as hostile to Israel as they are to their own country’s actions. Actually, because most of America’s current enemies happen to reside in Israel’s neck of the woods and would just as soon kill Israelis as they would Americans, it makes it all that much easier for the ideological swamp-dwellers to connect the dots and discern some conspiratorial invisible hand at work.

Exhibit A: Joseph Sobran, the right-wing essayist whom the Monitor has previously dealt with in some detail. Asked to leave his position at National Review over a decade ago because of his incorrigibly anti-Israel writing which, critics charged, was at times indistinguishable from outright Jew-baiting, Sobran has never let up on his seeming obsession with Jews and Israel, as should be evident to anyone visiting his website and going through the archives of his columns.

“Judging from President Bush’s State of the Union message,” starts a recent and typical Sobran broadside, “what began as the War on Terrorism will be now broadened to become a War to Crush Israel’s Enemies.”

Echoing the infamous statement made by Pat Buchanan at the time of the Gulf War, Sobran charges that “Israel’s ‘amen corner’ in the American press - spearheaded by Charles Krauthammer, William Safire, William Kristol and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal - has been calling for war on Israel’s enemies (not just Afghanistan, which is remote from Israel) since September 11. For a while Bush seemed to be resisting calls for a dangerous wider war, which friendly European governments opposed; but now he is in alignment with Israel against Europe.”

Asking “Why the change?” Sobran responds to his question with the following bizarre outburst: “We may never know. But politicians are often subject to powerful backstage pressures that are hidden from the public. We can never discount the possibility of blackmail.”

Next week: More on Sobran, including his letter to the Monitor.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/media-monitor-35/2002/03/20/

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