While reading the letters in the December 2014/January 2015 issue commenting on Nat Hentoff’s article in the previous issue, I wondered why the edit ors of a journal dedicated to humanism and devoted to using science, fact, and reason to understand the universe and solve human problems would publish commentary that was virtually indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. Neither Barry Seidman’s nor Guillermo Kuhl’s letter added to the discussion of Hentoff’s piece. Instead, both writers used it as a platform to promulgate their antisocial views, not just of Israel but also the Jewish people.
Unlike Seidman and Kuhl, who just made unsubstantiated, abhorrent charges, I will respond with specific examples using their writings. But, first, I want to mention some of my philosophy with respect to critical thinking about religion and hate and some observations on human behavior pertaining to hate.
I have no qualms about challenging the illogic and unsubstantiated claims of any religion. I did so during my working years in classrooms, in churches, in public forums, and on radio and television, as well as in letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. I still do it, although I am retired. I have always considered it an insult to human intelligence when people in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries resort to supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. I consider this antisocial behavior—inimical to the health and welfare of the public and the economic and political growth and stability of society, as well as to the safety and security of the nation.
However, when it comes to criticizing Judaism, there is a great tendency on the part of angry, ideologically driven people to use that opportunity to cross the line between legitimate religious and even political criticism and the realm of anti-Semitism—the specifically directed animus toward Jews and Judaism, the world’s oldest and continuous hatred. There are good reasons Maurice Samuels called anti-Semitism “The Great Hatred” and Harry Golden referred to it as the one constant in Western civilization. From its earliest beginnings, incipient Christianity used anti-Semitism as a tool to separate itself from its Judaic roots. Later, the Roman Catholic Church and its numerous Christian derivatives, as well as its sacred Scripture, drove anti-Semitic attitudes deep into all aspects of Western culture. There are counterparts to all of this behavior in the Muslim world. Along with its own versions of anti-Semitism, Muslims also incorporated aspects of Christian anti-Semitism into Islamic culture.
Anti-Semitism may be characterized as an infectious social disease primarily but not solely afflicting Gentiles. There is no antibiotic to cure it nor vaccine to prevent it. The Jewish people bear its brunt. The closest approximation to a preventive is education, but however important education may be, it is imperfect in its results. This is not the time or place to explore the reasons for such failings. Periodically, a pandemic of anti-Semitism breaks out, such as the recent, rapid rise and spread of an anti-Semitic infection throughout Europe and the Muslim world, which is slowly “crossing the pond” to the United States. An interesting observation is that this infection has occurred even in the absence of Jews in some places.
Certain stereotypical characterizations of Jews have become part of normal speech, even when people don’t realize the hurtful and harmful nature of their ignorant comments. A number of people, here and abroad, have felt my wrath for having used certain expressions such as “Jew me down.”
I have an aversion to unwarranted hate, especially when it is ideologically driven. Not surprising, the theme of my book The Naked Mind is the deadly influence of such ideology in society. I also have a very special abhorrence of unsubstantiated and unwarranted hate, such as that which manifests itself in anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism—which, in truth, is just another way of expressing hatred of Jews and Judaism under the guise of political criticism. I respond to articles or letters to the editor that appear in magazines or newspapers that express such antisocial thoughts or behavior. Indeed, I have quite a collection of such publications.
I have spent a good part of my adult life fighting ignorance, with particular reference to science and its effects on all aspects of the environment and life. I have had a special interest in educating the public on unwarranted hate, not just of Jews but of all people, irrespective of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and so forth. I have tried to encourage people to replace the condescending word tolerance with the word respect in their speech.
Most of this activity has occurred not just in my classrooms but also in public appearances in churches and before various civic groups, as well as on radio and television in communities in which I have lived. My philosophical approach to teaching involved my introducing students to broad personal and societal perspectives as I presented on whatever subject matter was at hand. Both science and nonscience students demonstrated a greater interest when they were shown how each aspect of a subject shaped and affected their personal lives, as well as that of society. Such was the case even when discussing the intricacies of metabolism, membranes, or genic phenomena and the like. Unfortunately but not surprisingly in the Bible Belt, problems arose when teaching evolution.
I find it despicable and unpardonable when supposedly intelligent and educated people permit politically motivated ideologies and hate to trump reason and fact.
Barry Seidman’s enmity toward Israel manifested itself by the heartburn he apparently has over the fact that Israel exercises its natural right to self-defense against the terrorist attacks by Hamas that Hentoff referred to. Instead, Seidman claimed that it is the “Palestinians” (my quotes) who have the right to defend themselves, since Israel has engaged in crimes against humanity. Instead of concrete examples to buttress his argument, he referenced the anti-Israel Marxist, Noam Chomsky, as his source of information. Yet Chomsky’s views on foreign affairs, especially on the Arab Muslim war of extinction against Israel, have been debunked endlessly: time and again, Chomsky’s arguments against Israel have been proven to be based on lies, disinformation, omissions, and the misrepresentations of the writings of other people.* Honest scholars, in contrast to political ideologues expressing a specific animus, do not reference lies and misrepresentations as their sole source of information.
Guillermo Kuhl demonstrated an apparent anti-Semitic animus, not only against Israel but against the Jewish people generally, when he wrote his version of the ancient anti-Semitic canard about Jews and the media: “It boggles the mind how Israeli propagandists infiltrate every medium in the United States, including what I thought to be a skeptical magazine such as Free Inquiry.” Kuhl seems to think it is not permissible for Jewish propagandists to infiltrate the media but that it is permissible for anti-Israel, pro-“Palestinian” propagandists to do so. How did the editors of FI not recognize this animus for what it is? Negative stereotypical statements about Jews in the media, like accusations about Jews affecting the economic life of communities and nations, are examples of hateful expressions of traditional anti-Semitism. Such stereotypical characterizations more than imply that Jews do not act as individuals but only as agents of a larger Jewish conspiracy. They are shades of the vicious anti-Semitism expressed in the greatest hoax/forgery ever composed, The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion.
Kuhl continued his letter with sweeping generalizations filled with Chomsky-like falsehoods and misinformation—common in anti-Semitic discourse—of presumed crimes of Israel against “Palestinians”—“I can go on and on and enumerate the hundreds of crimes. . . .”—for which, of course, there is not a shred of evidence. Apparently, he made these statements for just one purpose: portraying Israel and Jews in a negative light.
Thus, when the editors of FI, a magazine devoted to skepticism, fact, reason, science, and humanism, hypocritically publishes drivel, which knowledgeable and reasonable people would find indistinguishable from anti-Semitism and which adds nothing to a conversation, as learned commentary (see my remarks above regarding the failure of education), how can I not help but wonder about their motives and whether there is hope for the rest of society?
* See Stefan Kanfer, “America’s Dumbest Intellectual,” http://www.city-journal.org/printable.php?id=831; Paul Bogdanor, “The Chomsky Hoax,” http://www.paulbogdanor.com/chomskyhoax.html; and “The Top 200 Chomsky Lies,” http://www.paulbogdanor.com/chomsky/200chomskylies.pdf.
Sheldon F. Gottlieb is a retired physiologist and professor of biological sciences who writes on science for professional and public consumption. He is the author of The Naked Mind (Best Publishing Company, 2003).