A “nice Jewish girl”…who loves Iran

Medea Benjamin

Code Pink’s occupation of the Venezuela Embassy in Washington, D.C., about which we’ve written a couple of times, naturally drew our attention to the group’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who had somehow managed to fly under our radar until this current escapade. Who, we wondered, is this woman? And did her parents name her for Medea – a Greek mythological figure who, in the play Medea by Euripides, kills her children in revenge – or did she take the name herself?

Medea at the OAS

The answer to the name question was easy enough to find out. Medea Benjamin’s birth name is Susan. She has described herself as a “nice Jewish girl from Long Island.” She took the name Medea while in college, which was also when she joined the radical group Students for a Democratic Society. During the Vietnam War she supported the Viet Cong. Later she lived in Cuba, where she felt, she said, “like I died and went to heaven.” Alas, she was expelled from Eden after she wrote an article criticizing Cuban censorship. As much as she cottoned to Communism, she apparently didn’t fully grasp the concept at the time.

Medea in Iran

In 1983 she moved to San Francisco, where she worked for an leftist group that is believed to have sent aid to the Sandinistas. (Her daughter is named after a Sandinista rebel.) She co-founded the radical group Global Exchange in 1988, co-founded Code Pink, a feminist response to the War in Iraq, in 2002, and co-founded Iraq Occupation Watch in 2004. Over the years, often in cahoots with out-and-out Communist groups such as the Workers World Party or with funders of jihadist terror, she’s engaged in a great deal of disruptive behavior around the world, racking up an impressive number of arrests on several continents. She’s also disrupted speeches by both Obama and Trump. Global Exchange organized riots against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and Benjamin was a leader of protests that resulted in Starbucks introducing “Fair Trade Certified” coffee.

On Capitol Hill

Naturally, she’s an Israel hater, having taken part in the 2008 protests against Israel’s invasion of Gaza and in the 2011 Gaza flotilla. She’s also a longtime fan of the Castro regime in Cuba and of the chavistas in Venezuela – hence her occupation of the embassy. Under Hugo Chavez, she has said, Venezuela was “the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.” She’s also had at least one friendly meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and collaborated on one of her initiatives with agents of the North Korean government. In 2014 she took part in an anti-Israeli conference in Tehran that was organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry and that featured panels on “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat, “Zionist Fingerprints on the 9/11 Cover-up,” “9/11 Truth Movement Strategies and the Zionism Issue,” “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public Myths,’” and “Islam as Authentic Universal Religion vs. Zionist Memes of Islam.”

How, you may wonder, has Benjamin managed financially to spend her life traveling the globe denouncing capitalism and waving homemade signs in the faces of politicians and diplomats? Answer: family money. She’s funded her one-woman war on capitalism with the proceeds of her father’s capitalist endeavors.

To Israel, with hate

Netta

Every year, the Eurovision Song Contest, that annual marathon of mostly horrible songs from countries all over Europe, plus Israel and Australia, is held in the homeland of the previous year’s winner. Last year, the winner was Netta, a spunky, offbeat chanteuse from Israel who came out on top with an absolutely abominable tune called “Toy.” So this year the show is being broadcast from Tel Aviv. The first semifinal was on Tuesday; the second is tonight; the finals are on Saturday.

Julie Christie

Cue the protests! As we noted in February, the BDS crowd was quick to protest the plans to hold Eurovision in Israel. In Britain, fifty-odd people who described themselves as laboring in the “creative industries” wrote a letter to the Guardian urging Eurovision officials to relocate the show to some other country and expressing concern about Israel’s “crimes against…freedom.” Among these people who cherish freedom so deeply were directors Ken Loach and Roy Battersby, both former members of the Workers Revolutionary Party; actress Maxine Peake, a former Communist Party member and winner of a 2014 award for an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism; stand-up comedian Alexei Sayle, also a former Communist Party member; actresses Julie Christie and Miriam Margolyes, both of whom are pro-Palestinian activists; playwright Caryl Churchill, whose play Seven Jewish Children has been described as “anti-Jewish agitprop” that seeks “to demonize the Jewish people”; and musician Roger Waters, whose deeply sick obsession with Jews we’ve written about a number of times on this site.

Hatari

Fortunately, the protests were unsuccessful. On Tuesday, the first semifinal went off without incident, but not without controversy. Among the performers was Hatari, a self-described BDSM band from Iceland whose entry is a hideous three-minute stretch of noise entitled “Hate Will Prevail” that expresses the band’s disapproval of the rise of populism in Europe. Note, by the way, that BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism, and should not be confused with BDS, the anti-Israeli movement that calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions; in this case, however, BDSM and BDS went hand in hand. For Hatari is not only into sexual kinks but also into the delegitimization of the Jewish state, the overthrow of capitalism, and the introduction of Communism. For we all know how tolerant Communism is of sexual deviance.

Tuesday night’s semifinal

Anyway, before going to Tel Aviv, the members of Hatari felt compelled to make a statement about the idea of holding Eurovision in Israel. They called it a whitewash. “Eurovision is, of course, a beautiful thing in that it is based on ideas of peace and unity,” band member Tryggvi Haraldsson told the Guardian, “and this year it’s held in a country that’s marred by conflict and disunity….Letting the narrative of the fluffy, peace-loving pop contest go on unchallenged in this context in our view is extremely political. Everyone who takes part in this is taking part in a political statement whether they are aware of it or not.” As a show of solidarity with the Palestinians, the members of Hatari went to Hebron, on the West Bank, and spoke out against what they called “apartheid in action.”

All of which raises one big question: if Hatari hates Israel so much, why didn’t it boycott Eurovision? Why is it in Tel Aviv now? It’s a question Palestinians and BDS campaigners have asked. Haraldsson’s answer: if Hatari hadn’t traveled to Israel, it would have missed out on “an opportunity for a critical discussion.” But has Hatari actually sought to engage anyone in Israel in critical discussion? Not that we know of. Besides, Haraldsson added, if Hatari had refused to go to Israel, Iceland would’ve sent somebody else. It’s not exactly the world’s most principled-sounding position, but, hey, it’s a mistake to look to Israel-haters for principle. Finally, asked by the Guardian what’s next for the group, Haraldsson said they wanted to perform “in countries where there currently is not an illegal occupation taking place.” Why not try one of Israel’s neighbors, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, or the United Arab Emirates? Or why not set something up in Hebron or Gaza? Since you care so much about them, we’re sure their response to your act will be, um, explosive.

Oh, by the way: on Tuesday, international voters sent Hatari on to the final. So it’ll be performing again and may actually go home with the gold. Tune in on Saturday, if you have a high threshold of tolerance for bad music.

The Code Pink embassy takeover continues

A back door of the embassy

When we last checked in on the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 2, it was being illegally occupied by the radical leftists of Code Pink, who support the socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó, recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Also in the building are members of other far-left groups such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Popular Resistance, and Black Alliance for Peace. Most if not all of the occupiers are Americans with no apparent connection to Venezuela other than their ideological alliance with the country’s destructive, despotic chavista regime. Their goal, they said, was to keep the embassy from being entered by any of Guaidó’s people or by U.S. officials. To that end, reported the Washington Post, they “padlocked the front entrance and secured other doors with chains.”

Juan Guaido

Outrageously, these extremists are still occupying the embassy. Meanwhile, hundreds of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans who oppose the embassy takeover – and many of whom have experienced firsthand the dire consequences of so-called Bolivarian rule – have continued to gather outside the embassy day and night, protesting the protesters and doing their best, as one of them told the Post, “to prevent further trespassers from entering our building.” They have also tried to prevent anybody from getting food supplies to the occupiers. There have been scuffles – and an episode or two that rose to the level of dangerous violence – between the occupiers and the protesters outside, and at least one of the Venezuelan demonstrators, Naylet Pacheco, was hospitalized after being attacked without provocation by several men from inside the embassy, one of whom has been arrested.

Medea Benjamin

The evening of May 8 brought a new development: as the sun set over the leafy Georgetown neighborhood, the lights inside the embassy went off. While Code Pink protested that the embassy’s electric bill had been fully paid by the Maduro regime, Pepco, the local power company, replied that it had shut off the juice to the embassy at the request of the U.S.-backed Guaido government. The cutoff not only meant no lights – it also meant that the Code Pink misfits would no longer be able to recharge the computers and cell phones that they’d been using to send out tweets, videos, and the like to the world. Though the protesters outside expressed the hope that this new turn would drive the occupiers out, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who herself left the embassy over a week ago and has been prevented by the protesters outside from re-entering it, vowed that her cohorts were determined to stay. “They’re saying, ‘No matter what happens, you can cut off the electricity, you can cut off the water, we’ll still stay here,’” she told the Post. “Even if they have to be without eating.” Many observers savored the deliciousness of the irony that the embassy occupiers now have at least some idea of what life has been like for people in Venezuela who have lived for months, in some cases years, without adequate meals or reliable power supplies. As one demonstrator, Daniela Bustillos, put it: “They’re getting a little taste of what Venezuela has been experiencing.”

One detail in the Post’s May 9 account seemed puzzling. On the previous evening, according to the report, “police cordoned off 30th Street NW to allow several neon-shirted men down a manhole in the middle of the street. Code Pink said it showed police are taking sides, though a spokeswoman for the Secret Service said the agency is committed to protecting both sides’ “right to protest.” The right to protest is one thing – but are the police and Secret Service actually behaving as if the clowns of Code Pink have a right to occupy an embassy?

Churchill as anti-Semite?

John Broich

“Allied leaders were anti-Nazi, but not anti-racist. We’re now paying the price for their failure.” That was the headline on an April 29 Washington Post op-ed by John Broich, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. His beef with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt was that, yes, they led the Western Allies to victory in World War II, but while they both delivered memorable wartime speeches in which they eloquently adduced the enemy’s evil, they “rarely attacked the core tenet of Nazism: the belief in a master race.” By way of defending this assertion, Broich explained that in a recent class on World War II,

I had my students pore through the speeches and letters of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the years around the war’s start in 1939, searching for his basis for opposing the Nazis. They found Churchill wanted to stand up to the Nazis’ expansionism, fight their anti-democracy posture and resist what he called (but largely left undefined) their anti-Christianity. What he did not do, however, was call for the destruction of the essence of Nazism: race supremacy.

FDR, too, according to Broich, “either failed to comprehend the basic nature of German fascism or chose not to rally Americans to oppose Nazism as Nazism. In his prewar correspondence, he made no secret of his dislike of Hitler and his belligerent regime, but like Churchill, he never framed his opposition to Germany as a rejection of race hierarchy or race nationalism.” Broich then went a step further, citing America’s racial segregation laws and FDR’s placement of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II as evidence that when it came to racism set in system, Roosevelt’s America and Churchill’s Britain were scarcely better than Hitler’s Germany. Which, of course, is an obscene view to teach to college students or to preach to newspaper readers.

Let’s be clear: Jim Crow and Manzanar were deplorable. But even to hint at moral equivalence between the Western Allies and the Nazis is insipid.

Winston Churchill

After reading Broich’s article, we turned to Andrew Roberts’s recent bestseller Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book’s first reference to Hitler appears on page 95, in a passage about Churchill’s attitude toward Jews. Churchill, Roberts tells us, was a “philosemite” – an active admirer of the Jewish people. In 1904, he denounced a bill that would have restricted immigration by Russian Jews because, in his own words, it sought “to appeal…to racial prejudice against Jews.”

Churchill’s philosemitism was not just a public stance but a private conviction: Roberts lists several Jewish causes to which Churchill generously contributed (and this at a time when he and his wife, Clementine, were having trouble making ends meet). It was, Roberts writes, Churchill’s deep respect for Jews that enabled him, in the 1930s, “to spot very clearly and early on what kind of a man Adolf Hitler was.” In other words, Churchill, far from being unaware of or indifferent to Hitler’s antisemitism, recognized his evil earlier than others did precisely because it expressed itself as Jew-hatred.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Broich’s charge against Churchill, then, is a calumny. As for FDR, it’s absolutely true that he was the president who rounded up Japanese-Americans, turned away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and chose not to bomb the railroad line to Auschwitz. Yet while FDR was a Democrat and a so-called progressive, Broich made a point of linking his racist views and policies to the present-day American right, rather than to today’s left, whose obsession with group identity, fondness for segregation (e.g. gay-only and black-only dormitories), and mounting antisemitism (as reflected in the recent Nazi-style New York Times cartoon showing Donald Trump as a blind Jew and Benjamin Netanyahu as his guide dog) is very much in the “progressive” tradition.

Muhammed Najati Sidqi

Compounding the duplicity and offensiveness of Broich’s op-ed was his attempt to draw a moral contrast between, on the one hand, Churchill and FDR and, on the other hand, one Muhammad Najati Sidqi, “a Palestinian leftist activist” whom Broich praised for recognizing Hitler early on as a racial supremacist. In fact Sidqi wasn’t just a “leftist” – he was, though Broich omits to mention this fact, an out-and-out Communist – a devotee of a totalitarian ideology every bit as evil as Nazism. Sidqi studied in Moscow at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (Ho Chi Minh’s and Deng Xiaoping’s alma mater), was a regular contributor to the Communist newspaper Mundo Obrero, and is today memorialized by the Najati Sidqi Competition, a literary prize awarded by the Palestinian Minister of Culture.

This is the man whom Broich held up as morally superior to Winston Churchill and FDR.

Interestingly, it was not until the end of his op-ed that Broich mentioned, parenthetically, our other wartime enemy, the Japanese Empire whose subjects, like Hitler’s, were guided largely by a conviction of their own racial superiority. Given that the orthodox view in today’s humanities departments is that all whites are racists and that non-whites can’t be racists, Broich deserves a thumbs-up for even daring to mention Japanese racism, however fleetingly. But what a low bar to have to clear!

“Democratic socialist”? Nonsense.

Bernie Sanders

It was never a secret that Bernie Sanders was a socialist. In college he belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League. After graduating he lived on an Israeli kibbutz that flew a red flag and was founded by Stalinists. During his unsuccessful 1970s runs for the U.S. Senate and for Governor of Vermont, he called for the nationalization of all banks and utilities. Later he produced “radical film strips,” i.e. propaganda, for distribution to schools and made a hagiographic documentary about Socialist icon Eugene V. Debs.

Noam Chomsky

Finally managing to get elected to public office, he served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989, during which time he openly identified as a socialist, established price controls, hosted a foreign-policy speech by Noam Chomsky, made life difficult for local business people with his chronic hostility to free enterprise, worked with the Soviets and East Germans to defeat Reagan’s military build-up, went to Nicaragua to attend a celebration of the Sandinista government, visited Cuba, publicly praised Fidel Castro, and honeymooned in the USSR.

In 1990 he ran for the U.S. House on the Socialist ticket and won, becoming the only Socialist in Congress. During most of his tenure in the House and then in the Senate, he was a voice for radical-left ideas but, until his run for present in 2016, maintained a relatively low national profile, although he did promote and support measures to cut the U.S. intelligence budget, praised the socialist regimes in Venezuela and Ecuador, and became the first U.S. Senator to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Fidel Castro

Yet despite his radicalism, and despite his lifelong acknowledgement that he is a socialist, Sanders has always called himself a “democratic socialist,” a term which is plainly intended to distinguish him from out-and-out Communists. At a TV forum in April, he told a questioner that he never supported the Soviet Union. For anybody who is even superficially familiar with his personal history, this seemed a highly dubious claim. It became even more dubious, however, when, just a couple of days later, a film emerged of a 1986 lecture in which Sanders praised the Cuban Revolution. In the lecture, given at the University of Vermont while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he recalled “being very excited when Fidel Castro made the revolution in Cuba,” adding that “it seemed right and appropriate that poor people were rising up against ugly rich people.” In the same speech, Sanders also said that he had been disgusted by President Kennedy’s anti-Communism.

John F. Kennedy

Reporting on the film, which was posted on Twitter, the Daily Mail noted that this was “not the first time that 30-year-old clips have surfaced showing Sanders making controversial remarks about American foreign policy toward communist countries in Latin America.” During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2015-16, recalled the Mail, somebody had dug up a 1985 video “in which Sanders is seen heaping praise on Castro,” celebrating the dictator’s “policies on education, health care and society in general.”

Needless to say, such video evidence makes it hard to take seriously Sanders’s insistence on qualifying the socialist label, when applied to him, with the word “democratic.” There was, after all, nothing democratic about Fidel Castro. No lover of freedom who knew the truth about Castro and his regime could possibly admire him. And no freedom-lover could possibly have responded to JFK’s hard line on Soviet totalitarianism with anything but approval. That Sanders, a man with such a manifest and enduring affection for Communist tyranny, could be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States is reason for alarm.

The Code Pink chavistas

The Venezuelan embassy on Tuesday

This week, in Venezuela, lovers of liberty have been courageously taking to the streets in an effort to oust their illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro. Meanwhile, in a free country to the north – specifically, on 30th Street N.W. in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. – members of the far-left group Code Pink, a gaggle of mostly American women who, yes, believe it or not, fanatically support the Marxist tyrant’s brutal effort to cling to power, faced off at the Venezuelan embassy against actual Venezuelans who support the attempt by Juan Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and over fifty other countries as their homeland’s legitimate president, to oust the former bus driver and restore democracy to that long-beleaguered country.

Juan Guaido

For the past several weeks, it turns out, Code Pink has illegally occupied the Venezuelan embassy, which should by rights have been handed over to the Guaido camp after President Trump announced America’s backing for him. On Tuesday, while the citizens of dozens of Venezuelan cities braved gunfire and armored tanks to publicly declare their support for Guaido, freedom-loving Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in the Washington area made their way to their country’s embassy in hopes of being able to take back their embassy from the far-left American interlopers. Giuliano Gandullia, a Venezuelan-American, told Alex Pappas of Fox News that “We want to enter. We want to take over. And demonstrate that it belongs to us.”

Nicolas Maduro

But Code Pink wouldn’t budge. Police closed the street and Secret Service officers formed a barrier between the Code Pink activists and the Venezuelans. Signs and banners at the embassy, and posts on the radical group’s Twitter account, spelled out their take on the issue. No, they insisted, it wasn’t socialist economic policies that, first under the late Hugo Chavez and then under his protégé, Maduro, had steadily transformed one of the world’s richest countries into one of its poorest. The cause of this drastic decline was – what else? – Trump. No, they don’t do a very good job of explaining how Trump had managed to destroy Venezuela, or why he would want to. Nor do they take into account the fact that Venezuela was already sliding downhill fast well before Trump became president. But no matter. Forget the facts: in the ideologically rooted view of Code Pink, the collapse of Venezuela and the movement to transfer presidential authority from Maduro to Guaido are nothing more or less than part of a cynical effort by the Trump administration to steal Venezuelan oil.

A Venezuelan supermarket

The motives of the Venezuelans who gathered outside the embassy were also clear. “Venezuela wants Democracy…not another Cuba” read one sign. The whole thing was striking: at the heart of the action by the Code Pink women was the claim that Trump was a bully out to impose his will on Venezuela. In fact it was the Code Pink women themselves who were the bullies in this situation. They had taken over the embassy of a country that most of them had probably never been to and with which they had no particular connection, and they were denying entry into it by actual citizens of that country. It is ironic to note that, according to the academic identity hierarchies to which Code Pink surely subscribes, these American women (most of whom, to judge by photographs, were white) were privileged members of an ethnic oppressor class who, like their imperialist, colonialist ancestors, were subjugating members of a recognized victim class. Clemente Pinate, another Venezuelan-American who spoke to Pappas outside the embassy, expressed appropriate ire at the intrusion of the Code Pinkers into Venezuelan affairs. “They are communists, socialists with Maduro,” he said. “I’m anti-Maduro. And I’m here representing my people.”

How to improve New Orleans? Copy Cuba!

Some of New Orleans’ housing stock.

New Orleans has a load of problems. It’s a city whose economy is based largely on letting tourists drink beer in the street and urinate in public. It has one of America’s highest poverty levels and one of the world’s worst murder rates. Property taxes and home insurance costs are prohibitive. Much of the housing stock is very rundown. Public transit is crap. The streets are filled with potholes and the sewage system is so inadequate that the place floods every time there’s a serious rainstorm. The schools are lousy. Political corruption is endemic. High local taxes and excessive regulations discourage business development. There are no major art museums and there’s no real high-culture scene to speak of. Rats, roaches, and termites abound. In short, the Big Easy is in desperate need of a massive influx of business activity that would provide jobs and fund civic improvements, but it’s not going to experience that kind of renaissance unless it makes itself more attractive both to established corporations and small start-ups.

The mayor.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell knows what NoLa needs. So where did she travel in early April in order to pick up tips on economic development? Give up? Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. According to press secretary LaTonya Norton (yes, the mayor is named LaToya and her press secretary is named LaTonya), Cantrell flew to Havana to “see firsthand how [Cuba’s] history has produced unique opportunities and challenges in the areas of economic development, trade, health care, education and other quality of life issues.” Accompanying Cantrell was a group of 35 people, including both public officials and private citizens. Among her planned stops during the trip were a medical school, the Literacy Museum, and the University of Havana, because the mayor and her crew have, like many American progressives, bought into the propaganda about Cuba’s wondrous achievements in medicine and education. Indeed after arriving in Cuba, Cantrell told her hosts that New Orleans’s maternity mortality rates are up, and she was therefore eager to learn the secrets of Cuba’s first-rate community health care. Of course, anyone in the know could have told Cantrell that while Cuban elites do enjoy pretty good health care, the hospitals for ordinary Cubans are backward, with severely limited supplies, primitive equipment, and a narrow range of available treatments.

The mayor at a Havana hospital

To its credit, the editors of the local paper, the Times-Picayune, raised questions about the junket. “Mayor LaToya Cantrell didn’t even try to explain why she’s in Cuba this week,” they wrote in an editorial. “She didn’t announce the trip at all.” Nor did city officials “provide an itinerary or the cost of the trip.” Noting that this wasn’t the first time Cantrell had taken major action without informing the public beforehand, the editors concluded: “The lack of transparency of this administration is astounding. In fact, it’s a lot like Cuba.”

This one’s of Havana.

Commenting on the trip, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and longtime critic of the Castro regime, pointed out that “learning about ‘quality of life’ from a place that saw multiple times as many desperate people die trying to escape it, as died trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, sounds like shameless click-bait, or even a Saturday Night Live or Monty Python skit.” Fontova reminded readers that Cantrell’s hosts “converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants, and workers who enjoyed the 8th highest industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians….and in the process jailed and tortured the most and longest-suffering BLACK political prisoners in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.” True enough. But such facts, it seems, will never overcome the illusions of certain starry-eyed folks who’ve been seduced by Cuban propaganda.

Baba Wawa & Fidel: a love story?

Okay, so she’s not a full-fledged, 100%, dyed-in-the-wool stooge. As we noted in a posting in December 2016, Barbara Walters was one of perhaps two of the upscale Manhattan guests at Leonard Bernstein’s 1970 Black Panthers fundraiser – the one that Tom Wolfe made famous in Radical Chic – who didn’t drool all over the thugs in a repulsive display of limousine liberalism and nostalgie de la boue. While glamorous folks like high-society bandleader Peter Duchin and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers oohed and aahed over the Panthers’ plans for an armed revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, Walters actually asked a sensible question: “I’m talking as a white woman who has a white husband, who is a capitalist, or an agent of capitalists, and I am, too, and I want to know if you are to have your freedom, does that mean we have to go?” No, she didn’t give them a dressing-down and then storm out of the party, but at least she stood apart from fellow guests who looked at the gun-toting gangsters and, somehow, saw angels about to usher in a golden utopia.

Similarly, when she interviewed Fidel Castro in 1977, she at least – to her credit – said on the record that she disagreed with him on “the meaning of freedom.” But that statement came at the end of a nauseating puff piece in which Walters did a marvelous job of presenting the murderous dictator as a world-class charmer. She interviewed him again in 2002. And over the years she spoke frequently about her encounters with the Caribbean tyrant, her main point invariably being that he was, as she told Harpers Bazaar in 2014, “very charismatic – very charming and funny.” (Following his death, she said the same thing:“The word ‘charismatic’ was made for him.) Once her 1977 interview with Fidel was in the can, she recalled, “Castro took us into his kitchen and made us grilled cheese sandwiches.” Walters laughed. “That’s an experience you don’t have anymore.” Adorable! During the same Cuba trip, Walters and Castro “dined outdoors on roast pig and Algerian wine at Castro’s mountain retreat.” It’s good to be the dictator. That night, at least two people in Cuba ate well.

As the Harpers Bazaar writer observed, “One thing that seemed clear to everyone was the chemistry between Walters and Castro.” Walters herself said: “People did tease me after that, asking if this was a romance.” When he dropped her at the Havana airport, “I reached up to kiss him on both cheeks, and he all but pushed me away. It was a friendly European goodbye, but I was in Cuba, not France.” We checked with a couple of friends who’ve been interviewed by major newspapers and TV networks. They say that the reporters who interviewed them didn’t lean in for a smooch at the end of the interchange – not once! Interesting that Castro seemed to understand, as Walters didn’t, that, under such circumstances, osculation (European or not) was unprofessional.

“Cuba is a very different country because of Fidel Castro,” Walters told Harpers Bazaar, “and I don’t know what he is proudest of or what he wishes he could have accomplished.” Proudest of? Accomplished? What planet has this woman been living on for the past half century? Even to think along such lines is to buy into this despot’s propaganda. Looking back on her meetings with Fidel, we’d have loved to see her lean over with a smile, put a hand on his knee, and coo confidentially: “What’s your favorite prison?” or “Whose execution made you happiest?” We certainly wouldn’t expect this fatuous talking head – this purported feminist media pioneer who long ago gave up any pretense of being a real journalist and has spent the last few decades lobbing softballs at airheaded celebrities and chatting about the latest gossip on morning TV – to actually interrogate somebody like Fidel, confronting him boldly about his monstrous crimes, his outrageous hypocrisy, and his blatant propaganda. Instead, Walters parroted his propaganda, echoing the oft-repeated claim that he’d given his people first-rate health care and education. Lies, lies, lies. And although she did, yes, admit that he was an autocrat who’d robbed his people of their freedom, nobody has given Fidel and his regime better press in the U.S. than this silly, overrated woman.

Owen Jones: the self-delusion endures

Owen Jones

He still looks like a high-school kid – in fact, he’s 34 – but he’s been called “by far and away the most influential left of centre commentator” in all of Britain. To read him is to be baffled by the thought that anyone, anywhere, could possibly be influenced by him. The son and grandson of card-carrying Communists, he’s the ultimate knee-jerk ideologue, who, in his columns for the Guardian, his zillions of tweets, and his endless TV appearances, never comes out with anything remotely surprising, nuanced, perceptive, or thought-provoking. As we noted when we first wrote about Owen Jones on August 2, 2016, he has actually written the following sentences: “Modern capitalism is a sham.” “Democratic socialism is our only hope.” These two statements are at the core of his belief system. He is a fan of Cuban Communism and for a long time was a staunch defender of chavismo in Venezuela.

There’s more, to be sure. Jones is gay, and never tires of railing against right-wing homophobia; at the same time, however, he’s a big booster of Islam, and consequently a sworn enemy of right-wing “Islamophobia.” But what about the fact that sharia law calls for gays to be executed, and that several Muslim countries do indeed punish homosexuality with death, while others prescribe long prison terms and/or various forms of torture? Well, when confronted with those facts, he had this to say: “I’m done with people only mentioning LGBT rights when Islam is involved.”

The big walk-off.

This self-contradiction came to a head in June 2016 when a jihadist killed dozens of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Discussing the massacre on Sky News, Jones attributed the murders to the perpetrator’s homophobia, but refused to discuss the Islamic roots of that homophobia, claiming that to do so would be to diminish the atrocity’s horror. Jones further insisted that neither the host of the Sky News program, Mark Longhurst, nor his fellow panelist, Telegraph journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, were, as Hartley-Brewer later wrote, “entitled to venture any opinion on any issues arising out of this crime because we were straight and therefore could not presume to care as much about the deaths of 50 gay people as Owen.” In short, to quote our own summing-up of the exchange, “Jones was trying to use his gay identity to shut down any effort to link this mass murder to Islam.” Pressed on his refusal to face the simple fact that Islam has a problem with homosexuality, Jones walked off the show, later asserting that he’d done so because Longhurst had “repeatedly refused to accept that this was an attack on LGBT people” – which, as Hartley-Brewer put it, was “a blatant flat-out lie.”

Katie Hopkins

Jones’s walk-out drew many other media comments. In the Spectator, Rod Liddle, wrote that “the reliably idiotic left-wing columnist Owen Jones had a temper tantrum,” storming off the TV set because neither Longhurst nor Hartley-Brewer “would accept that the tragedy [in Orlando] was all about Owen.” In the Mail, Katie Hopkins drew a clear line in the sand: “Until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam….LGBT rights or Islam….It is a binary thing.” Fellow gay writer Douglas Murray tweeted: “I’m sorry for Owen Jones. I would also feel guilty if I’d spent my life covering for the ideology that just killed 50 LGBT people.”

Douglas Murray

What happened on that Sky News show, of course, was that Jones was confronted with the irreconcilability of his pro-Islam and pro-gay stances. A more mature and honest commentator would have felt compelled to acknowledge this conflict and to do some serious rethinking. Instead, Jones sought to distract the TV audience from his predicament by throwing a fit and lying about his interlocutors. You might have thought that this pathetic display would have put a dent in his growing fame. On the contrary: it only enhanced his celebrity. Too many British newspaper readers and TV viewers, apparently, prefer his self-referential, ideologically reliable, and often hysterical commentaries to the views of more sophisticated, intelligent, reflective, well-informed people.

Margaret Thatcher

Anyone who expected that Jones, after his Sky News crisis, would actually work out his self-contradictions on Islam and homosexuality has been sorely disappointed. Incredibly, nearly three years after the Orlando massacre, he’s still toeing the same exact line. “Muslims and LGBTQ people should stand together, not fight each other,” read the headline on his Guardian column for April 11. In the piece, he took on a current controversy in Britain, where primary schools have announced plans to introduce “LGBTQ-inclusive education” and Muslim families have protested, in many cases successfully pressuring the schools to withdraw their plans. Jones harked back to “Section 28,” the long-dead law introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 to prevent the “promotion of homosexuality in schools.” Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and the prejudices that gave rise to it have almost entirely disappeared from English society – except, of course, in the rapidly growing Muslim community, where the reigning views of gay people are far more chilling than those held three decades ago by even the most bigoted member of Thatcher’s government.

British Muslims protest “inclusive education.”

But Jones is still unwilling to go there. Anent the ongoing Muslim campaign against “LGBTQ-inclusive education,” he writes: “The dangerous conclusion to draw from this saga is that Muslims and LGBTQ people are on a collision course.” But Islamic doctrines being what they are, how can he deny that these two groups are in fundamental conflict? As has been the case for years, Jones, being unable to honestly address this question, instead dodges it entirely and makes this move: “That is certainly the battle cry of ever more emboldened Islamophobes, who never talk of LGBTQ rights except when it becomes convenient artillery in their bigoted war on Muslims.” Note the wily wording here: Jones doesn’t exactly deny that being gay is a capital crime under sharia law; he just shifts ground, shoving Islamic homophobia out of the way and changing the topic to right-wing “Islamophobia.” There should, he insists, “be bonds of solidarity between two oppressed groups who are liable to have had abuse yelled at them on the streets by the same people.” But how often are Muslims in Britain actually victims of public abuse – and how often are Muslims the abusers? Is a gay person in Britain more likely to be harassed or beaten up by a Muslim or by a right-winger of British extraction? Jones doesn’t dare to ask these questions, the honest answers to which would upset his base, threaten his Guardian gig, and slow his meteoric rise to the top of the commentariat pack.

Che as Jesus?

Everyone’s favorite psychopath.

We’ve been working the Useful Stooges beat for a few years now. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that you might imagine that we’re no longer remotely capable of being shocked by the high levels of self-delusion, evil-worship, and all-around moral depravity of which some of our fellow homo sapiens are capable. On the contrary, even we do the occasional double or triple take.

Kunzel’s book

Consider this story, courtesy of Arik Schneider at Campus Reform. On April 4, David Kunzle, a professor emeritus in art history at UCLA, gave a talk under the auspices of that university’s Department of Religion. In the talk, based on his book Chesucristo: The Fusion Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, Kunzle described Che as a “hero of the Cuban Revolution” and a “quasi-divine cosmic force.” Sharing various artworks in which Che is depicted in Christ-like fashion, Kunzle said that “Che Guevara, once the epitome of armed struggle, has evolved to an avatar of justice, peace, and love, as Jesus always was but no longer is exclusively.” Both Jesus and Che, maintained Kunzle, were leaders of “armed guerilla struggle[s].” Kunzle further stated that “[a]s God created light – is light – Che is radiance” and that his nickname, Che, is a “sacred trinity of letters.”

Still a bestseller.

Now, the fact is that in the half century since his death, images of Che Guevara actually have become iconic. We don’t deny that this makes the topic a legitimate subject of study for historians, social scientists, and students of art. Kunzle might have performed a genuine and multifaceted public service if he had been thoroughly honest about the life, ideology, and actions of Che Guevara, a bloodthirsty murderer who was dedicated to promoting a totalitarian dictatorship, and had provided a legitimate scholarly account of his posthumous transmogrification, on millions of t-shirts, posters, and other objects, into “an avatar of justice, peace, and love.” It doesn’t sound, however, as if Kunzle brought to his UCLA discussion very much in the way of aesthetic judgment, moral perspective, or historical objectivity. Yes, we gather that Kunzle realizes that there is at least some degree of tension between this image and the original reality. But the term “armed struggle” is so insufficient as a means of summing up the totality of Che’s career that it amounts to sheer whitewash. Did Kunzle, one wonders, use the word torture? Did he mention summary executions? Did he say anything whatsoever to indicate an awareness of Che’s profound sadism, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he butchered innocents by the score? Apparently not, especially given that his presentation “was followed by a thirty-minute Q&A period, where some of the attendees mentioned their own visits to Cuba and one faculty member ruminated on his experiences personally meeting Guevara.” The audience, reported Schneider, “appeared to approve of the depiction of Jesus and Guevara, going so far as to call the latter individual a ‘martyr’ in some of their own remarks in the Q&A portion.” It sounds, in short, like a lovefest, a fan club meeting, an exercise in nostalgia for the early days of the Castro Revolution.

The catalog for Kunzle’s 1997-98 exhibition

Schneider writes that “Kunzle seems to have hosted the talk at least once before, in 2011.” In fact it turns out that his interest in – obsession with? – this topic goes back a long way. Over two decades ago, in 1997-98, the Fowler Museum at UCLA held an exhibition curated by Kunzle under the title Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message. And more than two decades before that, in 1975, Art in America ran an article by Kunzle about Che posters. As for Kunzle’s other writings, their topics include murals celebrating the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, art associated with Chilean Communist guerrilla movements, and Soviet film posters. Are you sensing a theme? Then there’s the fact that, in articles and reviews written before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kunzle, in accordance with preferred Soviet and Maoist usage, routinely referred to Communist tyrannies as “revolutionary” societies and to the nations of the Free World as “bourgeois countries.” His politics, then, are clear enough. And his decades-long attraction to the idea of Che as Jesus is manifest – and, yes, even after all these years, shocking in its utter abhorrence.