Category: Richard Baehr

David Horowitz Explains the Ruling Ideas of the Left


The Black Book of the American Left

The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz

Volume IX: Ruling Ideas (purchase here)

Many people I know grew up in liberal households, and at some point in their lives, they gravitated to the right politically.  Many others were nurtured in conservative homes and moved left politically.  These shifts are not too surprising.  What made someone start in one place and move one way or the other is a function of many things, including the political thinking of one’s spouse or partner; the community where one lives; the schools one attended; the company where one works; the political environment of the country, which has shifted left and right at different times; and whether someone was religiously observant and became more secular or moved in the other direction.  In general, most people are not obsessed with politics.  They may have strong political views, but they don’t choose politics as a career path or live and breathe it to the exclusion of other interests or passions.

David Horowitz has had a fundamentally different life experience.  He grew up in a communist household with parents who were true believers in the superiority of Marxist-Leninist thinking and the model of the Soviet Union as a pathway to a better world for those who could break the bonds that held them captive to ruling-class capitalist ideology and government.  Horowitz’s parents were committed ideologues whose allegiance to the hard left never wavered.  While they were momentarily upset with the revelations in 1956 of the mass murders committed by Stalin’s government in previous decades, they considered this at worst an aberration, not a reflection of the tyranny and destruction routinely associated with Marxist regimes.  Their lives were too tightly wound in the narrative of the communist collective in the Queens neighborhood where they lived as public school teachers to allow themselves to rethink or reconsider their ideological faith.

David Horowitz, on the other hand questioned things from the start of his politically conscious years.  While he remained on the left for another two decades after the news of Stalin’s crimes, his allegiance was never so tight or his mind so closed as to be unable to challenge his belief system when presented with new evidence or arguments.

Horowitz’s path from left to right, and then his role as a spokesman for conservative ideas, has been documented through his enormous collection of articles and books, a full bibliography of which totals 56 pages in this ninth and final volume of his Black Book of the Left.  The Horowitz catalog includes nearly 80 books authored, co-authored, or edited.  While David Horowitz once enjoyed critical acclaim from the book-reviewers of America’s elite newspapers and magazines, since his shift to the right, his books are never even considered for review.  Why would the New York Times Book Review waste time finding a reviewer to combat Horowitz’s arguments when it is so much easier to fill pages with laudatory reviews of those who have stayed on the left’s plantation and parrot its talking points?  Ignoring someone is also a way to say that such person and his views do not matter. And certainly no left-wing media outlet cares to encourage apostasy by others.

This last volume in Horowitz’s series of books on the American left reinforces his central argument that the left is different from the right in the totality of its commitment to advancing its agenda and destroying its enemies.  Conservatives are conservative not only in political orientation, but in how they do battle.  Preservation of what is good requires a different kind of motivation and energy from revolution or upheaval. The battle is not between two sides who agree on ends, but see different ways of getting there.  The left, according to Horowitz, is ruthless both in pursuit of victory and when given the reins of authority.

Naturally, there are gradations on the left as there are on the right.  There are moderate, centrist Democrats, a declining group for sure, who remain committed to some of the same things as many on the right.  These “collaborationists” are despised by the true believers on the left.  The energy and the firepower on the left belong to more absolutist types, who accept far less of any consensus view of what American represents, its uniqueness, the trajectory of its history, and what needs to be preserved or destroyed.  There is little or no pride in America on the left, since so much remains to be fixed and so much power remains in the wrong hands.  The resistance to Donald Trump is a reflection of how grating the concept of American greatness is to the left.

Volume 9 of the Black Book series contains four chapters written by Horowitz and one chapter by Jamie Glazov, which provides a history of Horowitz’s political evolution as seen through his writings.  The longest chapter, “The Fate of the Marxist Idea,” includes two letters Horowitz wrote to former friends and mentors in the communist movement, and were initially published in 1998.  The first is to a member of the Sunnyside, Queens collective whose parents worshiped communism in the same “church” as David’s parents.

Horowitz’s former friend chose not to attend the memorial service after the death of David’s father in 1987, seeking to ignore any need to debate any of the political ideas that both had once absorbed and that Horowitz had since abandoned.  Instead, she wrote a short letter saying the personal and the political cannot be separated, that socialism is better than capitalism, that she had abandoned Stalinism (what courage!) and socialism had not really been tried, the real reason why it had “not worked” so far.  And then she added the insults, accusing Horowitz of having lost the compassion and humanism of his youth, which always motivated their parents, evidenced by his support of Ronald Reagan’s vile policies.  Horowitz’s lengthy point-by-point refutation of her letter was never answered except by threat of a lawsuit.

A more comprehensive analysis of the failures of the left was sent to Ralph Milliband, a Marxist writer who was a mentor to Horowitz when he lived in London in the ’60s.  The letter outlines the cold reality of communist-socialist rule wherever it had been tried and the enormous death toll attributable to the tyrannies and tyrants associated with these regimes – whether in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela, North Korea, or Cuba among others.  These countries are not and were not similar to the social welfare states of Western Europe that emerged after World War 2.  These states have moved much farther along the continuum toward higher taxes, and a larger government share, and bureaucratic control of the economy than in the United States, but they still sustain a reasonable commitment to preserving the political freedoms of individuals and the belief in democracy and a free people. 

The true believers on the left say they want nothing more than equality and better lives for the masses, but communist equality has always meant equalizing the suffering, reducing living standards, and eliminating dissent or political opposition.  Milliband also ignored engaging with Horowitz, obviously a lost cause in his eyes as far as rejoining the legions on the left.

Horowitz devotes two chapters to issues concerning black Americans.  The first provides a commentary on the campaign for reparations, advanced by Randall Robinson, among others, 15 years back, and now getting new life from support by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the current black intellectual designee by the major media and their partners in universities.  Coates is the author of a commentary on the 9-11 attacks that concluded that the police and firefighters who died “were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.”  So the men and women who entered burning buildings, and climbed dozens of flights of stairs with 75 pounds of equipment on their backs to try to get people out of the buildings before they collapsed, were really just biding their time until they could get on to their real task of destroying black bodies.  This is what qualifies one as a thought leader in elite circles these days.

Horowitz destroys the argument for reparations, and in a second chapter, he challenges the victimization logic that offers white racism as the excuse for any “underperformance” by the black community.  There is no one alive today who held any slaves or personally was a slave.  Many black Americans in the country today have no ancestors in America who were slaves.  A majority of Americans are descended from people who came to the United States after the Civil War and bear no guilt for the ugly practice in one region of the United States two centuries ago.  Those who are descended from people who lived in the states that did not join the Confederacy have 400,000 dead Union soldiers, plus many hundreds of thousands injured, as their sacrifice to liberating the slaves and preserving the Union.  Reparations for Japanese-Americans in the United States or Holocaust survivors in Europe were paid to people who had themselves lived through specific horrors or criminal behavior by governments.  Must all Americans today pay for something that ended over 150 years ago and for which a bloody war was fought?  Are all African-Americans equally entitled to compensation for something that impacted some of their ancestors seven generations back?

The victimization theme – that white racism is solely responsible for the economic situation of black Americans, their higher crime rates and poor academic performance, eliminates any agency for individuals to beat the odds or take advantage of the increased opportunities that are now available, including trillions spent on social welfare programs over the past half-century, much of that designed to address the needs of African-Americans.  These programs include affirmative action admissions to universities and similar approaches to hiring by corporations and other firms.  Martin Luther King was aware that racism and discrimination were present in 1960s America, as was segregation in large parts of the country, but he believed that these should not be an excuse for black American behavior that only worsened their plight.  Charlatans and race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have dominated the civil rights movement since King’s death, always pushing the white racism bogeyman, while those more in line with King’s legacy, including Jason Riley, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and Glen Loury, are ignored or condemned as sell-outs.  Arguing that cultural norms within a community can be damaging to the success of future generations is simply a forbidden theme – witness the recent campaign against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax.

Horowitz’s final chapter is a review of Christopher Hitchens’s book Hitch-22 and the British author’s political path from a Trotskyite of sorts to something a bit more nuanced and sane.  Horowitz is clearly disappointed that Hitchens’s movement did not follow his own trajectory, which resulted in abandonment of the left and a commitment to fighting it.  Instead, Hitchens’s politics at the time of his death from cancer was something of a confused palette: anger at Islamic extremism and hostility to Israel, appreciation for American uniqueness but fondness for the collectivist ideal.  Hitchens tried to hold a place in two camps – not an easy task, and one that can lead to incoherence.  Most people would not get too upset or frustrated about someone who moved some way toward their worldview, but Horowitz’s life experience has been consumed with politics, first from the left, and for the last three decades from the right, and he prefers enlightenment to cautious mush. 

There is a passion among the politically most active, and when their politics shift, they often have a story to tell about the illusions and lies they encountered and addressed that motivated the change in allegiance.  The nine-volume series, The Black Book of the America Left, including this final volume, is a unique outline, filled with many chapters and verses, about why the left has been consistently wrong and produced so much destruction in its wake.  Someone who never started on the left, and did not understand its convictions, its messaging, and its tactics, could not have written such a series.

The Black Book of the American Left

The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz

Volume IX: Ruling Ideas (purchase here)

Many people I know grew up in liberal households, and at some point in their lives, they gravitated to the right politically.  Many others were nurtured in conservative homes and moved left politically.  These shifts are not too surprising.  What made someone start in one place and move one way or the other is a function of many things, including the political thinking of one’s spouse or partner; the community where one lives; the schools one attended; the company where one works; the political environment of the country, which has shifted left and right at different times; and whether someone was religiously observant and became more secular or moved in the other direction.  In general, most people are not obsessed with politics.  They may have strong political views, but they don’t choose politics as a career path or live and breathe it to the exclusion of other interests or passions.

David Horowitz has had a fundamentally different life experience.  He grew up in a communist household with parents who were true believers in the superiority of Marxist-Leninist thinking and the model of the Soviet Union as a pathway to a better world for those who could break the bonds that held them captive to ruling-class capitalist ideology and government.  Horowitz’s parents were committed ideologues whose allegiance to the hard left never wavered.  While they were momentarily upset with the revelations in 1956 of the mass murders committed by Stalin’s government in previous decades, they considered this at worst an aberration, not a reflection of the tyranny and destruction routinely associated with Marxist regimes.  Their lives were too tightly wound in the narrative of the communist collective in the Queens neighborhood where they lived as public school teachers to allow themselves to rethink or reconsider their ideological faith.

David Horowitz, on the other hand questioned things from the start of his politically conscious years.  While he remained on the left for another two decades after the news of Stalin’s crimes, his allegiance was never so tight or his mind so closed as to be unable to challenge his belief system when presented with new evidence or arguments.

Horowitz’s path from left to right, and then his role as a spokesman for conservative ideas, has been documented through his enormous collection of articles and books, a full bibliography of which totals 56 pages in this ninth and final volume of his Black Book of the Left.  The Horowitz catalog includes nearly 80 books authored, co-authored, or edited.  While David Horowitz once enjoyed critical acclaim from the book-reviewers of America’s elite newspapers and magazines, since his shift to the right, his books are never even considered for review.  Why would the New York Times Book Review waste time finding a reviewer to combat Horowitz’s arguments when it is so much easier to fill pages with laudatory reviews of those who have stayed on the left’s plantation and parrot its talking points?  Ignoring someone is also a way to say that such person and his views do not matter. And certainly no left-wing media outlet cares to encourage apostasy by others.

This last volume in Horowitz’s series of books on the American left reinforces his central argument that the left is different from the right in the totality of its commitment to advancing its agenda and destroying its enemies.  Conservatives are conservative not only in political orientation, but in how they do battle.  Preservation of what is good requires a different kind of motivation and energy from revolution or upheaval. The battle is not between two sides who agree on ends, but see different ways of getting there.  The left, according to Horowitz, is ruthless both in pursuit of victory and when given the reins of authority.

Naturally, there are gradations on the left as there are on the right.  There are moderate, centrist Democrats, a declining group for sure, who remain committed to some of the same things as many on the right.  These “collaborationists” are despised by the true believers on the left.  The energy and the firepower on the left belong to more absolutist types, who accept far less of any consensus view of what American represents, its uniqueness, the trajectory of its history, and what needs to be preserved or destroyed.  There is little or no pride in America on the left, since so much remains to be fixed and so much power remains in the wrong hands.  The resistance to Donald Trump is a reflection of how grating the concept of American greatness is to the left.

Volume 9 of the Black Book series contains four chapters written by Horowitz and one chapter by Jamie Glazov, which provides a history of Horowitz’s political evolution as seen through his writings.  The longest chapter, “The Fate of the Marxist Idea,” includes two letters Horowitz wrote to former friends and mentors in the communist movement, and were initially published in 1998.  The first is to a member of the Sunnyside, Queens collective whose parents worshiped communism in the same “church” as David’s parents.

Horowitz’s former friend chose not to attend the memorial service after the death of David’s father in 1987, seeking to ignore any need to debate any of the political ideas that both had once absorbed and that Horowitz had since abandoned.  Instead, she wrote a short letter saying the personal and the political cannot be separated, that socialism is better than capitalism, that she had abandoned Stalinism (what courage!) and socialism had not really been tried, the real reason why it had “not worked” so far.  And then she added the insults, accusing Horowitz of having lost the compassion and humanism of his youth, which always motivated their parents, evidenced by his support of Ronald Reagan’s vile policies.  Horowitz’s lengthy point-by-point refutation of her letter was never answered except by threat of a lawsuit.

A more comprehensive analysis of the failures of the left was sent to Ralph Milliband, a Marxist writer who was a mentor to Horowitz when he lived in London in the ’60s.  The letter outlines the cold reality of communist-socialist rule wherever it had been tried and the enormous death toll attributable to the tyrannies and tyrants associated with these regimes – whether in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela, North Korea, or Cuba among others.  These countries are not and were not similar to the social welfare states of Western Europe that emerged after World War 2.  These states have moved much farther along the continuum toward higher taxes, and a larger government share, and bureaucratic control of the economy than in the United States, but they still sustain a reasonable commitment to preserving the political freedoms of individuals and the belief in democracy and a free people. 

The true believers on the left say they want nothing more than equality and better lives for the masses, but communist equality has always meant equalizing the suffering, reducing living standards, and eliminating dissent or political opposition.  Milliband also ignored engaging with Horowitz, obviously a lost cause in his eyes as far as rejoining the legions on the left.

Horowitz devotes two chapters to issues concerning black Americans.  The first provides a commentary on the campaign for reparations, advanced by Randall Robinson, among others, 15 years back, and now getting new life from support by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the current black intellectual designee by the major media and their partners in universities.  Coates is the author of a commentary on the 9-11 attacks that concluded that the police and firefighters who died “were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.”  So the men and women who entered burning buildings, and climbed dozens of flights of stairs with 75 pounds of equipment on their backs to try to get people out of the buildings before they collapsed, were really just biding their time until they could get on to their real task of destroying black bodies.  This is what qualifies one as a thought leader in elite circles these days.

Horowitz destroys the argument for reparations, and in a second chapter, he challenges the victimization logic that offers white racism as the excuse for any “underperformance” by the black community.  There is no one alive today who held any slaves or personally was a slave.  Many black Americans in the country today have no ancestors in America who were slaves.  A majority of Americans are descended from people who came to the United States after the Civil War and bear no guilt for the ugly practice in one region of the United States two centuries ago.  Those who are descended from people who lived in the states that did not join the Confederacy have 400,000 dead Union soldiers, plus many hundreds of thousands injured, as their sacrifice to liberating the slaves and preserving the Union.  Reparations for Japanese-Americans in the United States or Holocaust survivors in Europe were paid to people who had themselves lived through specific horrors or criminal behavior by governments.  Must all Americans today pay for something that ended over 150 years ago and for which a bloody war was fought?  Are all African-Americans equally entitled to compensation for something that impacted some of their ancestors seven generations back?

The victimization theme – that white racism is solely responsible for the economic situation of black Americans, their higher crime rates and poor academic performance, eliminates any agency for individuals to beat the odds or take advantage of the increased opportunities that are now available, including trillions spent on social welfare programs over the past half-century, much of that designed to address the needs of African-Americans.  These programs include affirmative action admissions to universities and similar approaches to hiring by corporations and other firms.  Martin Luther King was aware that racism and discrimination were present in 1960s America, as was segregation in large parts of the country, but he believed that these should not be an excuse for black American behavior that only worsened their plight.  Charlatans and race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have dominated the civil rights movement since King’s death, always pushing the white racism bogeyman, while those more in line with King’s legacy, including Jason Riley, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and Glen Loury, are ignored or condemned as sell-outs.  Arguing that cultural norms within a community can be damaging to the success of future generations is simply a forbidden theme – witness the recent campaign against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax.

Horowitz’s final chapter is a review of Christopher Hitchens’s book Hitch-22 and the British author’s political path from a Trotskyite of sorts to something a bit more nuanced and sane.  Horowitz is clearly disappointed that Hitchens’s movement did not follow his own trajectory, which resulted in abandonment of the left and a commitment to fighting it.  Instead, Hitchens’s politics at the time of his death from cancer was something of a confused palette: anger at Islamic extremism and hostility to Israel, appreciation for American uniqueness but fondness for the collectivist ideal.  Hitchens tried to hold a place in two camps – not an easy task, and one that can lead to incoherence.  Most people would not get too upset or frustrated about someone who moved some way toward their worldview, but Horowitz’s life experience has been consumed with politics, first from the left, and for the last three decades from the right, and he prefers enlightenment to cautious mush. 

There is a passion among the politically most active, and when their politics shift, they often have a story to tell about the illusions and lies they encountered and addressed that motivated the change in allegiance.  The nine-volume series, The Black Book of the America Left, including this final volume, is a unique outline, filled with many chapters and verses, about why the left has been consistently wrong and produced so much destruction in its wake.  Someone who never started on the left, and did not understand its convictions, its messaging, and its tactics, could not have written such a series.



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1940: American Inaction and the Tragedy of European Jewry


Many fewer people are aware today of Jabotinsky than of Weizmann or Ben Gurion. Richman provides an illuminating portrait of this exceptional Jewish leader and his work, which will serve as an introduction for many. Nearly 40 years after Jabotinsky’s death, Menachem Begin became the first Israeli Prime Minister whose politics were rooted in his vision.

In World War 1, the British had allowed the creation of a Jewish legion, 15,000 strong, that had fought on their side in various places, with Jabotinsky having a leadership military role. Weizmann, a highly respected British chemist with many British government contacts, parlayed the Jewish help for Britain in the war to gain support for creation of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine, laid out in the Balfour Declaration, and eventually leading to the British mandate for Palestine between the wars.

The visits to America in 1940 were designed in part to get American help to change British policy in Palestine, which had shut the door on Jewish migration, in defiance of their mandate to allow Jewish settlement of the land in Palestine. This was an urgent goal given the enormous and growing number of Jewish refugees in Europe following the invasion of Poland in September,1939 by the Germans and the Soviet Union, and the collapse in the spring of 1940 of a number of Western European countries with sizable Jewish populations of their own – the Netherlands, and France, among them. Already, the Jewish communities of Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia were dealing with severe discrimination and worse following the Nazis taking control, each in the 1930s. The Zionist leaders hoped that after the war, the Jewish contribution to the war effort would enhance the chances for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, as promised in the Balfour Declaration.

The United States was on the sidelines of World War 2 throughout the year 1940, with minimal support provided to Great Britain, the last of the democratic holdouts after the French capitulation in June 1940. Most Americans, most Jewish Americans, and an overwhelmingly majority in the Congress, were wary of getting involved in the war in Europe. In the case of many Jewish Americans, they were reluctant to appear as warmongers, making special pleas for their beleaguered religious brothers and sisters abroad, thereby risking American lives and treasure in another conflict. While the supply of war material to Britain grew in 1941, it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 to awaken Americans to the catastrophe already underway across the oceans.

The visits to America by the three Jewish leaders were uncoordinated, and never overlapped. In retrospect, they were a failure, though they did create much more interest in Zionism in America. Jabotinsky held public rallies with large enthusiastic crowds, and was by far the most direct about the enormous threat to the world’s second largest Jewish community in Poland. The dislocation was particularly severe in the German zone of occupation, where the brutal anti- Semitism of the Nazis was on full display. The Russians treated everyone badly, but Jews were not a target in quite the same way. Jabotinsky had warned of the severe danger for Jews in Eastern Europe before the war started. As Hitler built his power, his expansionist desires became obvious, and other Eastern European countries adopted similar fascist leadership. Jabotinsky talked of the need for more than a million or even several million Jews to be absorbed in Palestine. While the threat to the Jews grew, Britain, catering to the Arabs, adopted new restrictions on Jewish emigration to Palestine with its issuance of a white paper, which Weizmann fought to no avail.

The Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg estimated that by the end of 1940, fewer than 100,000 of Europe’s Jews (out of a population of 9 million), had already perished. In the next two years, the toll would be horrific – about 4 million murdered, over two thirds of that number in 1942, the first year in which the United States was fully engaged in the war. The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 led to the most intense period of Jew killing, utilizing both einsatzgruppen gunmen and various means of slaughter in the death camps, from gas to starvation. 

Could the visits of the Zionist leaders to America have led to actions which prevented or minimized the enormity of the destruction of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis? This seems highly unlikely in one sense, given that most of the murdered Jews were located deep in Eastern Europe, where neither the British nor Americans had much chance to influence events on the ground in 1941 and 1942. However, had the British been more welcoming of Jews to Palestine, or America to Jewish immigration in 1940 and the 1930s, there is no real argument that many more could have been saved among those willing to leave.

The failure of the Zionist leaders to influence either American or British policy is not surprising. The three leaders were at odds with each other. Ben Gurion, the leader of the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine, and a committed socialist, headed the Labor Zionist movement. He and Jabotinsky had not communicated with each other for years. The Zionist Organization of America, was a rival of Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organization. The ZOA largely boycotted Jabotinsky’s New York City rallies. Jabotinsky’s more public calls for actions contrasted with Weizmann’s quiet diplomacy.

Weizmann, who was the first of the leaders to visit the United States, and had little expectation that America or American Jews would be able to do much to influence the British.

Jabotinsky sounded the loudest alarm about the fate of European Jews and created the greatest stir, but his sudden death from a heart attack in upstate New York in early August 1940, in the middle of his American trip, seemed to sap the energy of the movement he was creating.

Ben Gurion seemed to alienate most American Jews he met with on his trip, the final of the three visits.

Jabotinsky thought Zionism’s quest for the establishment of a Jewish state, was a singular goal, not a socialist paradise in Palestine, a goal Ben Gurion supported.

In 1940, FDR was planning to run for a third term, something no former President had ever done before. The eventual Republican nominee, Wendell Willkie, a businessman, warned that Roosevelt would take the nation to war if re-elected. The race was expected to be much closer than the first two Roosevelt victories, and FDR, a consummate and cautious candidate, was reluctant to allow Willkie to establish much space from Roosevelt as the peace candidate. Jewish Americans were overwhelmingly Democrats, and big fans of Roosevelt, and many in the Jewish leadership, were hesitant about putting Roosevelt in a difficult position by lobbying for anything connected to the war effort. As for Jewish immigration to America, that door had been largely shut in 1924 with the immigration act passed that year, five years before the Great Depression. Now with millions of Americans out of work, and widespread poverty, there was little sympathy among Americans for reopening the immigration door to anyone and creating more competition for the few jobs to be had.. There was also open and broad based public anti-Semitism on radio and in newspapers, in the corporate world, and in the Roosevelt administration itself and among members of Congress.

Roosevelt proved himself generally uninterested in the plight of European Jews until the last year of the war, when assistance was provided to the remains of the Hungarian Jewish community, one of Europe’s largest. His successor as President, Harry Truman, took decisive action, recognizing Israel in 1948, the day it declared itself a new nation. That action was to a large extent due to the efforts of Chaim Weizmann to convince Truman to support the Jewish state, after a long time Jewish friend of Truman’s from Missouri, Eddie Jacobson, had facilitated a meeting between the two.

In the end, Jabotinsky was the most prescient about the threat to the Jews of Europe, the most clearheaded about a Jewish army and the most inspiring of the three. Weizmann had a major role in two of the key formative moments in the creation of a Jewish state: getting the Balfour Declaration and gaining American recognition of the new state of Israel. Ben Gurion led the Jews of Palestine single-mindedly on the path to nationhood and in the war of independence and for years after.

In 1940, Jews were almost 5 million in number in America, about 4% of the population, double their share today. But their political influence was not great; there were only a handful of Jewish members of Congress and Zionism was not a cause for many. And Jews were divided and at each other’s throats, fighting over policy and power in the community. It was not a surprise, given the lack of coordination among the three visitors to America accompanied by the divided state of the American Jewish community, that an America reluctant to enter the European war would show much interest in a Jewish army to fight overseas, no matter how it was organized and staffed. 

Today, the Jewish community and the state of Israel face different threats, but some things remain the same. Most Jews in America are still on the left politically and will rally behind Democrats, whether or not their policies are supportive of Israel and a close relationship between the two countries, or other Jewish causes. Different issues than Israel matter more to most Jews, just as in 1940.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the Reform movement, the largest denomination among American Jews, recently criticized President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital for nearly 70 years , even though Congress had overwhelmingly passed legislation in 1995 on a bipartisan basis directing such a move. Jacobs apparently could only support such a move if it were undertaken by a Democrat.

Naturally, Jacobs and many reform members, and most Jewish members of the Senate and House of Representatives, supported President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and are reluctant to criticize it today. Some have also been passive in showing support for Iranian demonstrators on the streets, though it is obvious that the nuclear deal did not improve conditions for Iranians, but merely funded more extensive international aggression by Iran and its proxy armies, and greater theft by the Iranian leadership and its Revolutionary Guard.

It is clear that the Zionist leaders in 1940 understood correctly that the Jewish future depended on having one’s own state. Had Israel existed before World War 2, many European Jews would have been saved. Israel now has a larger Jewish community than the United States, with the highest birth rate among the Western democracies. The nation has a strong economy, has become a technology powerhouse, and maintains a respected military capability.

The push for a Jewish army to fight the Nazis did not succeed, except for a very small operation in 1944 by one 5,000-member brigade which fought with the British in Italy. It was certainly not that effort that led to the creation of Israel, and even a much larger operation, such as Jabotinsky envisioned: an over 100,000-member Jewish army. Even that would still have been only a tiny percentage of the total combat forces on the allied side in the war.

The news about the nature and extent of the Holocaust and the large displaced Jewish population in Europe at the end of the war made more people and governments sympathetic to a Jewish state. That, plus the low level war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and between each group and the British, finally led to the partition resolution, and Britain’s abandonment of Palestine in 1948. It was only then that a Jewish army could fight for Palestine, which they did successfully, to create a new State of Israel.

 

During 1940, three of the most significant Zionist leaders in the world – Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and David Ben Gurion , all visited the United States , hoping to gain a measure of American Jewish support or US government support for the creation of a Jewish army to help fight the Nazis. Rick Richman’s new book, Racing Against History, provides an interesting and very carefully researched history of these visits, the leaders’ goals, what they accomplished, and what prevented greater success. Richman’s book is a fascinating look at a moment in time, different seemingly from our own, but with some of the same issues.

Many fewer people are aware today of Jabotinsky than of Weizmann or Ben Gurion. Richman provides an illuminating portrait of this exceptional Jewish leader and his work, which will serve as an introduction for many. Nearly 40 years after Jabotinsky’s death, Menachem Begin became the first Israeli Prime Minister whose politics were rooted in his vision.

In World War 1, the British had allowed the creation of a Jewish legion, 15,000 strong, that had fought on their side in various places, with Jabotinsky having a leadership military role. Weizmann, a highly respected British chemist with many British government contacts, parlayed the Jewish help for Britain in the war to gain support for creation of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine, laid out in the Balfour Declaration, and eventually leading to the British mandate for Palestine between the wars.

The visits to America in 1940 were designed in part to get American help to change British policy in Palestine, which had shut the door on Jewish migration, in defiance of their mandate to allow Jewish settlement of the land in Palestine. This was an urgent goal given the enormous and growing number of Jewish refugees in Europe following the invasion of Poland in September,1939 by the Germans and the Soviet Union, and the collapse in the spring of 1940 of a number of Western European countries with sizable Jewish populations of their own – the Netherlands, and France, among them. Already, the Jewish communities of Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia were dealing with severe discrimination and worse following the Nazis taking control, each in the 1930s. The Zionist leaders hoped that after the war, the Jewish contribution to the war effort would enhance the chances for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, as promised in the Balfour Declaration.

The United States was on the sidelines of World War 2 throughout the year 1940, with minimal support provided to Great Britain, the last of the democratic holdouts after the French capitulation in June 1940. Most Americans, most Jewish Americans, and an overwhelmingly majority in the Congress, were wary of getting involved in the war in Europe. In the case of many Jewish Americans, they were reluctant to appear as warmongers, making special pleas for their beleaguered religious brothers and sisters abroad, thereby risking American lives and treasure in another conflict. While the supply of war material to Britain grew in 1941, it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 to awaken Americans to the catastrophe already underway across the oceans.

The visits to America by the three Jewish leaders were uncoordinated, and never overlapped. In retrospect, they were a failure, though they did create much more interest in Zionism in America. Jabotinsky held public rallies with large enthusiastic crowds, and was by far the most direct about the enormous threat to the world’s second largest Jewish community in Poland. The dislocation was particularly severe in the German zone of occupation, where the brutal anti- Semitism of the Nazis was on full display. The Russians treated everyone badly, but Jews were not a target in quite the same way. Jabotinsky had warned of the severe danger for Jews in Eastern Europe before the war started. As Hitler built his power, his expansionist desires became obvious, and other Eastern European countries adopted similar fascist leadership. Jabotinsky talked of the need for more than a million or even several million Jews to be absorbed in Palestine. While the threat to the Jews grew, Britain, catering to the Arabs, adopted new restrictions on Jewish emigration to Palestine with its issuance of a white paper, which Weizmann fought to no avail.

The Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg estimated that by the end of 1940, fewer than 100,000 of Europe’s Jews (out of a population of 9 million), had already perished. In the next two years, the toll would be horrific – about 4 million murdered, over two thirds of that number in 1942, the first year in which the United States was fully engaged in the war. The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 led to the most intense period of Jew killing, utilizing both einsatzgruppen gunmen and various means of slaughter in the death camps, from gas to starvation. 

Could the visits of the Zionist leaders to America have led to actions which prevented or minimized the enormity of the destruction of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis? This seems highly unlikely in one sense, given that most of the murdered Jews were located deep in Eastern Europe, where neither the British nor Americans had much chance to influence events on the ground in 1941 and 1942. However, had the British been more welcoming of Jews to Palestine, or America to Jewish immigration in 1940 and the 1930s, there is no real argument that many more could have been saved among those willing to leave.

The failure of the Zionist leaders to influence either American or British policy is not surprising. The three leaders were at odds with each other. Ben Gurion, the leader of the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine, and a committed socialist, headed the Labor Zionist movement. He and Jabotinsky had not communicated with each other for years. The Zionist Organization of America, was a rival of Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organization. The ZOA largely boycotted Jabotinsky’s New York City rallies. Jabotinsky’s more public calls for actions contrasted with Weizmann’s quiet diplomacy.

Weizmann, who was the first of the leaders to visit the United States, and had little expectation that America or American Jews would be able to do much to influence the British.

Jabotinsky sounded the loudest alarm about the fate of European Jews and created the greatest stir, but his sudden death from a heart attack in upstate New York in early August 1940, in the middle of his American trip, seemed to sap the energy of the movement he was creating.

Ben Gurion seemed to alienate most American Jews he met with on his trip, the final of the three visits.

Jabotinsky thought Zionism’s quest for the establishment of a Jewish state, was a singular goal, not a socialist paradise in Palestine, a goal Ben Gurion supported.

In 1940, FDR was planning to run for a third term, something no former President had ever done before. The eventual Republican nominee, Wendell Willkie, a businessman, warned that Roosevelt would take the nation to war if re-elected. The race was expected to be much closer than the first two Roosevelt victories, and FDR, a consummate and cautious candidate, was reluctant to allow Willkie to establish much space from Roosevelt as the peace candidate. Jewish Americans were overwhelmingly Democrats, and big fans of Roosevelt, and many in the Jewish leadership, were hesitant about putting Roosevelt in a difficult position by lobbying for anything connected to the war effort. As for Jewish immigration to America, that door had been largely shut in 1924 with the immigration act passed that year, five years before the Great Depression. Now with millions of Americans out of work, and widespread poverty, there was little sympathy among Americans for reopening the immigration door to anyone and creating more competition for the few jobs to be had.. There was also open and broad based public anti-Semitism on radio and in newspapers, in the corporate world, and in the Roosevelt administration itself and among members of Congress.

Roosevelt proved himself generally uninterested in the plight of European Jews until the last year of the war, when assistance was provided to the remains of the Hungarian Jewish community, one of Europe’s largest. His successor as President, Harry Truman, took decisive action, recognizing Israel in 1948, the day it declared itself a new nation. That action was to a large extent due to the efforts of Chaim Weizmann to convince Truman to support the Jewish state, after a long time Jewish friend of Truman’s from Missouri, Eddie Jacobson, had facilitated a meeting between the two.

In the end, Jabotinsky was the most prescient about the threat to the Jews of Europe, the most clearheaded about a Jewish army and the most inspiring of the three. Weizmann had a major role in two of the key formative moments in the creation of a Jewish state: getting the Balfour Declaration and gaining American recognition of the new state of Israel. Ben Gurion led the Jews of Palestine single-mindedly on the path to nationhood and in the war of independence and for years after.

In 1940, Jews were almost 5 million in number in America, about 4% of the population, double their share today. But their political influence was not great; there were only a handful of Jewish members of Congress and Zionism was not a cause for many. And Jews were divided and at each other’s throats, fighting over policy and power in the community. It was not a surprise, given the lack of coordination among the three visitors to America accompanied by the divided state of the American Jewish community, that an America reluctant to enter the European war would show much interest in a Jewish army to fight overseas, no matter how it was organized and staffed. 

Today, the Jewish community and the state of Israel face different threats, but some things remain the same. Most Jews in America are still on the left politically and will rally behind Democrats, whether or not their policies are supportive of Israel and a close relationship between the two countries, or other Jewish causes. Different issues than Israel matter more to most Jews, just as in 1940.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the Reform movement, the largest denomination among American Jews, recently criticized President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital for nearly 70 years , even though Congress had overwhelmingly passed legislation in 1995 on a bipartisan basis directing such a move. Jacobs apparently could only support such a move if it were undertaken by a Democrat.

Naturally, Jacobs and many reform members, and most Jewish members of the Senate and House of Representatives, supported President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and are reluctant to criticize it today. Some have also been passive in showing support for Iranian demonstrators on the streets, though it is obvious that the nuclear deal did not improve conditions for Iranians, but merely funded more extensive international aggression by Iran and its proxy armies, and greater theft by the Iranian leadership and its Revolutionary Guard.

It is clear that the Zionist leaders in 1940 understood correctly that the Jewish future depended on having one’s own state. Had Israel existed before World War 2, many European Jews would have been saved. Israel now has a larger Jewish community than the United States, with the highest birth rate among the Western democracies. The nation has a strong economy, has become a technology powerhouse, and maintains a respected military capability.

The push for a Jewish army to fight the Nazis did not succeed, except for a very small operation in 1944 by one 5,000-member brigade which fought with the British in Italy. It was certainly not that effort that led to the creation of Israel, and even a much larger operation, such as Jabotinsky envisioned: an over 100,000-member Jewish army. Even that would still have been only a tiny percentage of the total combat forces on the allied side in the war.

The news about the nature and extent of the Holocaust and the large displaced Jewish population in Europe at the end of the war made more people and governments sympathetic to a Jewish state. That, plus the low level war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and between each group and the British, finally led to the partition resolution, and Britain’s abandonment of Palestine in 1948. It was only then that a Jewish army could fight for Palestine, which they did successfully, to create a new State of Israel.



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The Real Lesson from Last Week’s Two Special Elections for Congress


There has been no shortage of effort by pundits and big data analysts to try to draw conclusions on whether the results of the two special elections for open House seats in Georgia and and South Carolina last week meant that Democrats or Republicans had (choose one) underperformed or overperformed, as compared to the recent district votes for President and Congress in 2016. Similar analyses followed the special elections in Kansas and Montana earlier.  

In all four cases, new Trump administration Cabinet  members who had won their district races comfortably in 2016 were replaced by Republicans who won the open seat races far less comfortably. In 3 of the 4 races, the margin for the winning Republican in the special election was narrower than Trump’s margin of victory in the district in the Presidential race last year (Georgia 6 the exception — Trump won by a smaller percentage margin than Karen Handel).

It is highly likely, however,  that if the four new Cabinet members — Tom Price, Mike Pompeo, Ryan Zinke and Mick Mulvaney — had stayed in the House and would run again in 2018, they all would win easily.  In essence, special elections  are a lot different than races where incumbents are running for re-election in regular cycles, especially from generally safe districts.

Special elections are open seat races, meaning there is no incumbent.  Normally, they are held on  a day when this race is the only contested one. Turnout is usually far lower than the turnout in a normal midterm, much less a presidential year.  In the two contests last week, in districts with the same approximate population, 260,000 votes were cast for the candidates in Georgia and 87,000 for the two candidates in South Carolina.  The difference is accounted for by the amount of fundraising and media attention lavished on the Georgia, but not on the South Carolina race. Each race however wound up with a margin of victory of between 3% and 4%.

In regular election cycles, there is a big advantage to incumbency. When House seats turn over, the percentage of open seats that shift between the parties is usually far higher than the percentage of seats that turn over among the incumbents running for re-election.  If you were running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for 2018, a district where the incumbent Republican is retiring and which provided a 55% to 45% margin in the last cycle, would be a far better target than a seat in which the incumbent Republican is running for re-election and also won by that same margin last time around. 

The major impact of the races last week for the GOP, particularly the closely followed Georgia election, is that it may encourage more Republicans who may have thought of retiring to stick around (They told potential candidates that the world is not ending, yet), and may slightly discourage some Democrats from thinking 2018 is a sure thing to win a Republican-held seat, damaging the party’s candidate recruitment efforts.

Why would the Georgia race have drawn three times as many voters as the South Carolina race? The weather on election day may have been worse in Georgia, where about half the votes were cast before the date of the special election.  Clearly, the media ignored the South Carolina race, assuming it was safe for the Republicans, but thought Georgia 6 would be the Democrats’ breakthrough.  The enormous campaign spending on the race on both sides, and the constant TV and radio ads, door knocking, and phone banking, seems to have fired up Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans to vote for Ossoff, but also encouraged many Republicans to show up to protect the seat for their party, particularly on Election Day. 

Winning the seat became the biggest election battle since Trump’s victory in November, and the first real chance for the left and Democrats and their media partners to slay the dragon.  The enormous amount of San Francisco and Hollywood campaign money spent in the district, made it easy to produce some clever ads for Handel mocking the out of state deluge, which may have encouraged local Republicans to show up and beat back the perceived California-funded challenge.

In South Carolina, Republicans seemed to feel the party’s control of the seat was not threatened, and stayed home, and Democrats failed to take advantage of a large African American population (near 30%) in the district to build their turnout. If $50 million has been showered on this district, turnout would likely have been far higher on both sides, maybe more so for the Republicans.

In any case, what matter is victories, and in special elections, they are not assured, even in districts which normally are strong for one party or another.  Turnout is a crapshoot, and there is no incumbency advantage.  Trump’s approval scores remain in the 40% range, but Republicans are winning open seat House contests narrowly, with 51% to 53%  of the total vote. There is simply no way to extrapolate from these four contests to 435 races 16 and a half months from now. 

Tell me how many Republicans are retiring and where their seats are, and it will be a little easier to predict the party’s chances of holding the House.  Even more important is how much legislation is passed by Congress, how the public reacts to the legislative achievements, and how far afield the special counsel chooses to go to damage the President. In any case  the percentage margin in a special election in the spring of 2017 will not matter at all.

There has been no shortage of effort by pundits and big data analysts to try to draw conclusions on whether the results of the two special elections for open House seats in Georgia and and South Carolina last week meant that Democrats or Republicans had (choose one) underperformed or overperformed, as compared to the recent district votes for President and Congress in 2016. Similar analyses followed the special elections in Kansas and Montana earlier.  

In all four cases, new Trump administration Cabinet  members who had won their district races comfortably in 2016 were replaced by Republicans who won the open seat races far less comfortably. In 3 of the 4 races, the margin for the winning Republican in the special election was narrower than Trump’s margin of victory in the district in the Presidential race last year (Georgia 6 the exception — Trump won by a smaller percentage margin than Karen Handel).

It is highly likely, however,  that if the four new Cabinet members — Tom Price, Mike Pompeo, Ryan Zinke and Mick Mulvaney — had stayed in the House and would run again in 2018, they all would win easily.  In essence, special elections  are a lot different than races where incumbents are running for re-election in regular cycles, especially from generally safe districts.

Special elections are open seat races, meaning there is no incumbent.  Normally, they are held on  a day when this race is the only contested one. Turnout is usually far lower than the turnout in a normal midterm, much less a presidential year.  In the two contests last week, in districts with the same approximate population, 260,000 votes were cast for the candidates in Georgia and 87,000 for the two candidates in South Carolina.  The difference is accounted for by the amount of fundraising and media attention lavished on the Georgia, but not on the South Carolina race. Each race however wound up with a margin of victory of between 3% and 4%.

In regular election cycles, there is a big advantage to incumbency. When House seats turn over, the percentage of open seats that shift between the parties is usually far higher than the percentage of seats that turn over among the incumbents running for re-election.  If you were running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for 2018, a district where the incumbent Republican is retiring and which provided a 55% to 45% margin in the last cycle, would be a far better target than a seat in which the incumbent Republican is running for re-election and also won by that same margin last time around. 

The major impact of the races last week for the GOP, particularly the closely followed Georgia election, is that it may encourage more Republicans who may have thought of retiring to stick around (They told potential candidates that the world is not ending, yet), and may slightly discourage some Democrats from thinking 2018 is a sure thing to win a Republican-held seat, damaging the party’s candidate recruitment efforts.

Why would the Georgia race have drawn three times as many voters as the South Carolina race? The weather on election day may have been worse in Georgia, where about half the votes were cast before the date of the special election.  Clearly, the media ignored the South Carolina race, assuming it was safe for the Republicans, but thought Georgia 6 would be the Democrats’ breakthrough.  The enormous campaign spending on the race on both sides, and the constant TV and radio ads, door knocking, and phone banking, seems to have fired up Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans to vote for Ossoff, but also encouraged many Republicans to show up to protect the seat for their party, particularly on Election Day. 

Winning the seat became the biggest election battle since Trump’s victory in November, and the first real chance for the left and Democrats and their media partners to slay the dragon.  The enormous amount of San Francisco and Hollywood campaign money spent in the district, made it easy to produce some clever ads for Handel mocking the out of state deluge, which may have encouraged local Republicans to show up and beat back the perceived California-funded challenge.

In South Carolina, Republicans seemed to feel the party’s control of the seat was not threatened, and stayed home, and Democrats failed to take advantage of a large African American population (near 30%) in the district to build their turnout. If $50 million has been showered on this district, turnout would likely have been far higher on both sides, maybe more so for the Republicans.

In any case, what matter is victories, and in special elections, they are not assured, even in districts which normally are strong for one party or another.  Turnout is a crapshoot, and there is no incumbency advantage.  Trump’s approval scores remain in the 40% range, but Republicans are winning open seat House contests narrowly, with 51% to 53%  of the total vote. There is simply no way to extrapolate from these four contests to 435 races 16 and a half months from now. 

Tell me how many Republicans are retiring and where their seats are, and it will be a little easier to predict the party’s chances of holding the House.  Even more important is how much legislation is passed by Congress, how the public reacts to the legislative achievements, and how far afield the special counsel chooses to go to damage the President. In any case  the percentage margin in a special election in the spring of 2017 will not matter at all.



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When Are Bystanders Complicit?


The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust by Amos N. Guiora, Ankerwycke, April, 2017

Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah,  was born in Israel, moved to America as a child with his family, and  later  moved back to Israel, where he had a long career in the Israeli Defense Forces, serving in the Judge Advocate General Corps.  In recent years he has been a faculty member at several American law schools. For the record, Amos is a friend, and we both attended Kenyon College.

Guiora’s grandparents on his father’s side were murdered at Auschwitz. Both his mother and father had near death experiences in Nazi occupied Hungary and Yugoslavia towards the end of World War 2. In his new book, Guiora examines the role of the bystander during the course of the years when Germany and its proxies slaughtered approximately six million Jews in Europe, nearly 2/3 of the prewar Jewish population on the continent.

Guiora’s key question surrounds whether this Nazi extermination program could have succeeded without the complicity of many people in the countries of Europe, who were not themselves perpetrators of the crimes against the Jews.  Were they innocent bystanders or guilty themselves for failure to assist those in immediate need, oftentimes their neighbors.  The author clearly believes that many more Jews could have been saved had bystanders intervened, and the bystanders were in many cases guilty of the crime of complicity.

Guiora extends his analysis to a more general approach to evaluate complicity of bystanders to crimes that they see  in the modern world, including suggested language for when standoffish behavior by bystanders  is in effect unacceptable, and subject to  penalty of some sort.

My major problem with Guiora’s  analysis relates to whether his suggested approaches to complicit behavior by bystanders today would have had any impact during the dark days of 1939-1945. The United States is a country with the rule of law and established procedures to deal with those who break the law — either as perpetrators, or as bystanders when the laws were changed in many places to make bystander complicity (however it should be defined) illegal.  In Nazi occupied or controlled Europe, the idea that bystander behavior would have been  better — more intervention to help the beleaguered Jews marching or being rounded up had there only been laws on the books to punish those who did not help the bystander if there were no physical risk to themselves — seems highly unlikely. At the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem,  there are dedications to the righteous among those in Europe who took personal risks in order to shelter or assist in some other way  the Jews of Europe.  In essence, there were those whose values, ethics, or personal moral code required or enabled them to act. These people were a distinct minority among many others who were either indifferent or worse — in some cases creating additional pain for  the Jews in distress.

Anti-Semitism in Europe during the pre war period and in World War 2 was widespread, more open than is acceptable today for most Europeans, (though  that seems to be changing), and had a long ugly history in many of the countries where the highest percentage of pre-war Jews perished during the Holocaust.  It is interesting that Guiora’s parents had little or no confidence in their neighbors or countrymen behaving any better than they actually did.  Guiora’s father was saved from death by an attack by Yugoslav partisans on  a march toward Hungary from a camp in Serbia.  Yugoslav history during World War 2 was one of the bloodiest in all of Europe (10% killed), and resembles to some extent modern Syria, with shifting alliances and targets among ethnic groups with long histories of  grudges toward others in their country carried over centuries.  That his father was saved was more happenstance than noble behavior by a group. Tito’s partisans wanted to defeat the Nazis, not look out for the Jews.

Guiora lays out examples of where appropriate bystander behavior today might involve nothing more than using a cellphone, if one is in the presence of a crime, to notify authorities that someone was at risk of physical harm.  No intervention is required which would impose the risk of physical harm to the bystander or his family.  There could be other extenuating circumstances as well. He suggests that bystander complicity might result in a $500 fine upon conviction.

The type of legal approach suggested by Guiora is certainly a mainstream suggestion,  already in existence in a few states, and would draw both proponents and opponents, depending on how one feels about personal autonomy and personal responsibility.  But Guiora is certainly correct  that doing nothing is often a contributing factor to creating harm for victims of attacks.  This week, there was a report of a gang rape in Chicago seen by 40 people on Facebook, none of whom thought to notify authorities.

Violent crime rates in the United States  are on the rise again after a long period of decline, and the clearance rate is way down from earlier periods.  People won’t “snitch” on their friends or neighbors or volunteer to correct a fake news record (e.g. Michael Brown was an innocent victim walking with his hands up when  shot by a policeman).  But it is likely that police could identify who watched and did nothing on a social media site whose primary beneficiary at this point appears to be the company receiving  ad revenue.

Guiora believes that laws that make bystander complicity legally liable will have a deterrent effect, making it more likely that fewer crimes are committed with wide public exposure.  However, whether this is likely depends on whether the sanction is sufficient to change bystander behavior and or perpetrator behavior. Will the possibility of a $500 fine cause someone to call 911 when they see a crime being committed on Facebook, something they get to view because one is linked to at least one of the perpetrators who was proud to send video around of his “accomplishment”?

When I was a young child of 12 or 13 in New York, I was robbed on a subway train by three adults with knives and clubs while coming back home from Madison Square Garden to the Bronx. So too were two friends who were with me.  The train car was an express during the robbery, with no stops, and no one else in the car lifted a finger to intervene. They buried their heads in their newspapers (this was back when people read newspapers). We all surrendered what we had, and that seemed enough for the robbers. But what if the perpetrators had been more malicious and had decided to pound us physically?  My guess is that would have created even a greater inhibition for action by the bystanders on the train, none of whom would have been identifiable in any case after the event.  The idea of bystander complicity being punishable will only work if there is no risk of physical harm to an intervener and the requirement for action is something as simple as a call to 911. But will a statute requiring such behavior result in  more intervention (this occurs at times today with no legal sanction for non-intervention), or more people disappearing while crimes are being committed to avoid ever being questioned or judged?

A  state of nature  existed in Europe during World War 2, given the constant fighting,  the German occupation, and their obsession with killing Jews, ratcheted up when victory in the war itself became impossible. Add to that the longstanding hatred for Jews, particularly in the nations of Eastern Europe where most of the Jews lived before the war and where the casualty count and percentage of Jews killed were the highest. It is hard to imagine the kind of popular uprising or resistance that would have changed the course of history for many of the victims, and certainly the threat of legal action for bystander inaction was not a serious consideration.  Nonetheless, widespread bystander misbehavior added to suffering.

Guiora is right to raise the issue and consider the legal argument. His investigation into what happened to the Jews in various places in Europe during the war is compelling. But the question of how to deal with bystander complicity today is one that the author concedes is hardly a laydown in terms  of making the case.  Do we need the threat of sanction to behave better? How serious does the sanction need to be? Will police really prosecute these cases of bystander complicity rather than those committed by the perpetrators, for which their closure rate is so poor? 

The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust by Amos N. Guiora, Ankerwycke, April, 2017

Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah,  was born in Israel, moved to America as a child with his family, and  later  moved back to Israel, where he had a long career in the Israeli Defense Forces, serving in the Judge Advocate General Corps.  In recent years he has been a faculty member at several American law schools. For the record, Amos is a friend, and we both attended Kenyon College.

Guiora’s grandparents on his father’s side were murdered at Auschwitz. Both his mother and father had near death experiences in Nazi occupied Hungary and Yugoslavia towards the end of World War 2. In his new book, Guiora examines the role of the bystander during the course of the years when Germany and its proxies slaughtered approximately six million Jews in Europe, nearly 2/3 of the prewar Jewish population on the continent.

Guiora’s key question surrounds whether this Nazi extermination program could have succeeded without the complicity of many people in the countries of Europe, who were not themselves perpetrators of the crimes against the Jews.  Were they innocent bystanders or guilty themselves for failure to assist those in immediate need, oftentimes their neighbors.  The author clearly believes that many more Jews could have been saved had bystanders intervened, and the bystanders were in many cases guilty of the crime of complicity.

Guiora extends his analysis to a more general approach to evaluate complicity of bystanders to crimes that they see  in the modern world, including suggested language for when standoffish behavior by bystanders  is in effect unacceptable, and subject to  penalty of some sort.

My major problem with Guiora’s  analysis relates to whether his suggested approaches to complicit behavior by bystanders today would have had any impact during the dark days of 1939-1945. The United States is a country with the rule of law and established procedures to deal with those who break the law — either as perpetrators, or as bystanders when the laws were changed in many places to make bystander complicity (however it should be defined) illegal.  In Nazi occupied or controlled Europe, the idea that bystander behavior would have been  better — more intervention to help the beleaguered Jews marching or being rounded up had there only been laws on the books to punish those who did not help the bystander if there were no physical risk to themselves — seems highly unlikely. At the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem,  there are dedications to the righteous among those in Europe who took personal risks in order to shelter or assist in some other way  the Jews of Europe.  In essence, there were those whose values, ethics, or personal moral code required or enabled them to act. These people were a distinct minority among many others who were either indifferent or worse — in some cases creating additional pain for  the Jews in distress.

Anti-Semitism in Europe during the pre war period and in World War 2 was widespread, more open than is acceptable today for most Europeans, (though  that seems to be changing), and had a long ugly history in many of the countries where the highest percentage of pre-war Jews perished during the Holocaust.  It is interesting that Guiora’s parents had little or no confidence in their neighbors or countrymen behaving any better than they actually did.  Guiora’s father was saved from death by an attack by Yugoslav partisans on  a march toward Hungary from a camp in Serbia.  Yugoslav history during World War 2 was one of the bloodiest in all of Europe (10% killed), and resembles to some extent modern Syria, with shifting alliances and targets among ethnic groups with long histories of  grudges toward others in their country carried over centuries.  That his father was saved was more happenstance than noble behavior by a group. Tito’s partisans wanted to defeat the Nazis, not look out for the Jews.

Guiora lays out examples of where appropriate bystander behavior today might involve nothing more than using a cellphone, if one is in the presence of a crime, to notify authorities that someone was at risk of physical harm.  No intervention is required which would impose the risk of physical harm to the bystander or his family.  There could be other extenuating circumstances as well. He suggests that bystander complicity might result in a $500 fine upon conviction.

The type of legal approach suggested by Guiora is certainly a mainstream suggestion,  already in existence in a few states, and would draw both proponents and opponents, depending on how one feels about personal autonomy and personal responsibility.  But Guiora is certainly correct  that doing nothing is often a contributing factor to creating harm for victims of attacks.  This week, there was a report of a gang rape in Chicago seen by 40 people on Facebook, none of whom thought to notify authorities.

Violent crime rates in the United States  are on the rise again after a long period of decline, and the clearance rate is way down from earlier periods.  People won’t “snitch” on their friends or neighbors or volunteer to correct a fake news record (e.g. Michael Brown was an innocent victim walking with his hands up when  shot by a policeman).  But it is likely that police could identify who watched and did nothing on a social media site whose primary beneficiary at this point appears to be the company receiving  ad revenue.

Guiora believes that laws that make bystander complicity legally liable will have a deterrent effect, making it more likely that fewer crimes are committed with wide public exposure.  However, whether this is likely depends on whether the sanction is sufficient to change bystander behavior and or perpetrator behavior. Will the possibility of a $500 fine cause someone to call 911 when they see a crime being committed on Facebook, something they get to view because one is linked to at least one of the perpetrators who was proud to send video around of his “accomplishment”?

When I was a young child of 12 or 13 in New York, I was robbed on a subway train by three adults with knives and clubs while coming back home from Madison Square Garden to the Bronx. So too were two friends who were with me.  The train car was an express during the robbery, with no stops, and no one else in the car lifted a finger to intervene. They buried their heads in their newspapers (this was back when people read newspapers). We all surrendered what we had, and that seemed enough for the robbers. But what if the perpetrators had been more malicious and had decided to pound us physically?  My guess is that would have created even a greater inhibition for action by the bystanders on the train, none of whom would have been identifiable in any case after the event.  The idea of bystander complicity being punishable will only work if there is no risk of physical harm to an intervener and the requirement for action is something as simple as a call to 911. But will a statute requiring such behavior result in  more intervention (this occurs at times today with no legal sanction for non-intervention), or more people disappearing while crimes are being committed to avoid ever being questioned or judged?

A  state of nature  existed in Europe during World War 2, given the constant fighting,  the German occupation, and their obsession with killing Jews, ratcheted up when victory in the war itself became impossible. Add to that the longstanding hatred for Jews, particularly in the nations of Eastern Europe where most of the Jews lived before the war and where the casualty count and percentage of Jews killed were the highest. It is hard to imagine the kind of popular uprising or resistance that would have changed the course of history for many of the victims, and certainly the threat of legal action for bystander inaction was not a serious consideration.  Nonetheless, widespread bystander misbehavior added to suffering.

Guiora is right to raise the issue and consider the legal argument. His investigation into what happened to the Jews in various places in Europe during the war is compelling. But the question of how to deal with bystander complicity today is one that the author concedes is hardly a laydown in terms  of making the case.  Do we need the threat of sanction to behave better? How serious does the sanction need to be? Will police really prosecute these cases of bystander complicity rather than those committed by the perpetrators, for which their closure rate is so poor? 



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