On Tuesday, we looked briefly at the long and extraordinary career of the British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who may have done more than any other individual since Einstein to expand human understanding of the nature of the universe – and to try to spread that understanding, through books, television programs, and lectures, to the ordinary citizen.
And he did all this, as we noted, while bravely enduring the daily destruction caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the cruel wasting disease that he contracted as a very young man and, against all odds, managed to live with for half a century.
But ALS was not Hawking’s only affliction. As we pointed out on Tuesday, Hawking, who usually exhibited a high degree of respect for his fellowman, had one very large blind spot when it came to his fellowman. It had to do with Israel, and with Jews. He was, alas, hostile to Israel, and, many would argue, to the Jewish people generally.
It was not a lifelong affliction. In early and mid career, Hawking visited Israel several times. On one occasion he was a guest of honor at a reception held by the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities; on another, he traveled to the Jewish state to accept the Wolf Prize in Physics, which is awarded by an Israeli foundation. Most notably, he studied black-hole entropy and developed the theory of Bekenstein-Hawking radiation in collaboration with Jacob Bekenstein, a theoretical physicist at Hebrew University.
More recently, however, Hawking fell under the baleful influence of Noam Chomsky, the world-class linguist turned massively influential far-left political commentator who is a notorious Israel-hater and fan of Palestine. According to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, it was Chomsky who persuaded Hawking to turn down an invitation to a May 2013 conference in Jerusalem hosted by the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres. In a Guardian article that appeared shortly thereafter, however, Hilary and Steven Rose maintained that Hawking boycotted the conference at the behest of Palestinian academics.
This claim is supported by the letter Hawking wrote to the conference organizers, in which he warned that the “policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster,” said that he had accepted their invitation so that he could “express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement” and “lecture on the West Bank,” and stated that he was withdrawing in accordance with the advice of “Palestinian academics,” who “are unanimous that I should respect the boycott.” This fracas did not mark the end of Hawking’s engagement with the Palestinians: last year, according to Al Jazeera, “he asked his millions of Facebook followers to contribute financially to the Palestinian Advanced Physics School – a physics lecture series for masters students in the occupied West Bank.”
For all his scientific brilliance, Hawking’s palpable contempt for the only democracy in the Middle East cannot be described as anything other than sheer foolishness. Add to this foolishness a considerable dose of hypocrisy: as Jean Patrick Grumberg wrote after his death, Hawking professed to be observing the boycott of Israel promoted by the so-called BDS movement; in fact, however, the computer system that allowed him to communicate after the loss of his voice was a product of Israeli technology – specifically, of the Israeli branch of Intel. Hawking had been using the system since 1997, and by using it he was clearly violating the boycott. The moral inconsistency here, in short, is stark. To quote Grumberg’s summing-up: “It was through an Israeli communication system that Professor Hawking was able to announce a boycott of Israeli science and Jewish scientists.”
Richard Falk (b. 1930) is a famous Princetonian, although his fame doesn’t derive primarily from his connection to Old Nassau. Rather, his worldwide celebrity is rooted mainly in his nefarious activities in association with the UN.
Now a professor emeritus at Princeton (as well as a research professor at UC Santa Barbara), Falk boasted the grand-sounding title of Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2008 to 2014. His job, specifically, was to look into “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967.”
The Rapporteur became a subject of controversy even before he got around to issuing his first report. Jewish groups opposed his appointment, as did the Israeli ambassador to the UN. A former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was outspoken about the selection, complaining that Falk had been picked “not to have an objective assessment” but “to find more ammunition to go after Israel.”
What was it about Falk that gave Bolton such an impression? Well, let’s just say that Falk had a long track record. He started teaching at Princeton in 1961, by which time he’d already publicly identified himself as Communist, expressed his hostility to the concept of nation states, and declared his fealty to world government. He’d been a big macher in such groups as the American Movement for World Government and the World Federalist Institute.
In 1973 he’d served as defense counsel for an activist who had bombed an army research lab at the University of Wisconsin, killing one and injuring four; in the murderer’s defense, Falk stood up for the use of violence by war resisters. In 1979, after visiting the Ayatollah Khomeini in France, Falk wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring that the widespread “depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false.” On the contrary, Khomeini was surrounded by a “moderate, progressive” entourage” and would likely provide Iran with a “model of humane governance.”
Years later, he’d compared America’s 2003 intervention in Iraq to the Nazis’ actions in World War II. In 2004, he’d written an introduction to a book claiming that George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks. In 2008, he’d suggested that American neoconservatives might have helped plan those attacks. During much of this time, Falk had served on the editorial board of The Nation and written for Al Jazeera and for that kookiest of radical rags, CounterPunch.
And he’d made clear, over and over again, that he was one more Jew who despised the State of Israel. Only a year before his appointment by the UNHRC, he had written an article, “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,” in which he used the word “Holocaust” to describe actions by Israel.
He assured his critics that he’d be objective. But Israeli authorities weren’t fooled – especially after he publicly declared their blockade of Gaza a “flagrant and massive violation of international human law.” Falk went on and on about the subject, while remaining silent about Palestinian actions. A few days later, when he flew to Ben Gurion Airport on the first leg of what was supposed to be his first UN fact-finding mission to Gaza and the West Bank, Israel threw him out of the country. And banned him from coming back.
The New York Times and other major media had conniption fits. How could Israel subject such an august personage, dispatched by such an unimpeachable organization, to such abominable treatment? Never mind that the UNHRC has been dominated from its inception by countries considered “unfree” by Freedom House and that, as of 2008, when Falk took up his UN job, those members included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Zambia, Senegal, Mali, Qatar, Pakistan, and several other countries whose names, when it comes to human rights, do not even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Israel.
Yesterday we looked at a handful of terrorist apologists and enemies of Israel (and of Jews) who spew their bile from university sinecures in northern California. Today, moving further south, we’ll meet a couple more members of the breed.
An anthropology professor at UC Santa Cruz and director of its Center for Emerging Worlds, Lisa Rofel specializes in “feminist anthropology” and “gender studies.” A Jewish woman who considers Israel a “regime of racial hierarchy that spawns racial violence” and who defends the firing of terrorist rockets at Israeli cities as a response to “systematic injustice” by people from whom Israel had stolen its land. At a 2015 conference, she innocently described the recently deported Sami Al-Arian – a former University of South Florida professor and leader of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad – as having merely been “active in bringing attention to the situation of Palestinians” and lamented his prosecution of Al-Arian as an effort to “suppress academic freedom.” In 2014, she compared an anti-Hamas operation by the IDF to the Nazis’ Warsaw ghetto massacre.
Down at UC Santa Barbara, Avery Gordon is a professor of sociology and Feminist Studies (in addition to being a Visiting Faculty Fellow at Goldsmiths College in London) whose fields of expertise, according to UCSB’s website, are “social theory, race, gender, culture and art, radical theory and politics.” She was a member of the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) in 2013 when it unanimously voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel. Three years later, Gordon and her fellow National Council members were sued by rank-and-file ASA members for boycotting Israel in their name – an action that the plaintiffs described as utterly unrelated to the organization’s purposes.
Over at UC Irvine, Mark LeVine teaches Modern Middle Eastern History. Like Rofel, he is a virulently anti-Israeli Jew. In 2002, he encouraged activists from Europe and the U.S. to serve as “human shields”; in 2009, he stated in a column for the Al Jazeera website that Israel “has reached the level of collective mental illness”; in 2010, he applauded Irvine students for disrupting a speech at the university by a former Israeli ambassador; in 2014, Cinnamon Stillwell reported on a “profanity-laden” Facebook posting in which LeVine accused Israel of genocide, called it “racist” and “psychopathic” and “not legitimate,” described it as “feeding off the destruction of another people,” and insisted that it “must be dismantled”; in 2015, he wrote that he would want his son to throw rocks at IDF soldiers; last year, he repeated false Palestinian charges that Israel had cut off drinking water to Gaza. He’s also repeatedly stood up for Hamas, dishonestly claiming in 2009 that it would accept Israel’s existence (an action its own charter explicitly forbids) and minimizing its bloodthirsty 2014 murder of three Israeli high-school boys.
In May of last year, we spent a couple of days on this site contemplating a young political writer named Malcolm Harris, who in a stupid article for the New Republichad actually tried to rehabilitate Communism. When we looked into Harris’s background, we discovered him to be a child of privilege (his father had been a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer” and then a diplomat) who had thrown himself into what leftist journo Mark Ames called a “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism,’” helped found Occupy Wall Street, and then, quite amusingly, rushed to cash in on his newly minted radical celebrity, signing up with a speakers’ bureau and charging $5000 fees to speak to his alleged fellow members of the fabled “one percent.” During one OWS demo in 2011 he led his flock onto Brooklyn Bridge and held up traffic. OWS soon died down, but Harris, alas, has kept going, churning out drearily predictable pieces (for Al Jazeera, no less) with titles like “Wealthy Cabals Run America” and “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.”
Harris had dropped off our radar for a bit when he became a part of the story of the attempted mass assassination, on June 14, of those baseball-playing Republican Congressmen by a Bernie Sanders fan from Ohio. Harris wrote a couple of tweets that, Betsy Rothstein of The Daily Caller suggested, “may be the most heinous reaction” to that horrible event. In one tweet, Harris noted that Congressman Steve Scalise was in stable condition, “but a lot of Americans die from hospital errors so keep crossing your fing[ers].” In another, he asked: “If the shooter has a serious health condition then is taking potshots at the GOP leadership considered self defense?” The point apparently being that the GOP’s replacement for Obamacare, whatever it turns out to be, will leave people in dire medical straits high and dry. In yet another tweet, Harris wrote: “Nope nope nope you can’t use ‘respect for human life’ to defend GOP house leadership. That’s just bad math.” Funny how far-left ideologues who claim be so fanatically concerned about the welfare of fellow human beings turn out, in fact, to care about people in the abstract but not necessarily about specific individuals.
Harris’s Twitter account identified him as a writer for Vox. Although he has written for that site, Vow was quick to disavow any formal relationship with him.
Harris wasn’t alone in responding to the attack with coldblooded snark. Others, too, took to social media to suggest that the violence of the Ohio socialist constituted a legitimate reaction to GOP policy positions, because those policy positions are themselves, in essence, acts of violence. As Tiana Lowe noted in National Review, this is a particularly dangerous way of turning reality upside down: “the notion that passionate political discourse is violence while actual violence can be excused,” she write, “is beyond Orwellian; it’s barbaric.” Yep. Unfortunately, it’s also received opinion on today’s loony far left.
After being widely criticized for his tweets, Harris refused to apologize. And why should he? Those nasty tweets put him back on the map. To be sure, he’s been doing other writing. Since OWS faded away, he’s supposedly rebranded himself as an expert on the younger generation. On June 9 the ever-declining Washington Post ran a silly think piece in which he contemplated the question “Why do millennials keep leaking government secrets?” He also supposedly has a book forthcoming in November from Little, Brown entitled Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials. We can’t wait.
Yesterday we examined a recent New Republic piece in which a writer named Malcolm Harris, who’s connected with an online rag called New Inquiry, stroveto pull off a one-man rehabilitation of Communism.
Who, we wondered, is this audacious fool? And what, for that matter, is New Inquiry? Well, the New York Times provided an answer to the latter question back in November 2011, when (for reasons we cannot begin to fathom) it ran a full-length profile of the “scrappy” Upper East Side “literary salon” cum online journal whose members, all recent college grads, uniformly came off as obnoxious, privileged brats. One of them whined about not getting a job “at a boutique literary agency”; another (“an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009”) resented having to work at a real job (sweeping movie theaters); yet another had actually secured a job at the New Yorker only to walk away from it in boredom. Harris, then 22, was described as a young man who’d been “sifting through grad-school rejection notices a year ago” but had since “written for N + 1 and Utne Reader.”
The Times didn’t mention it, but to many observers Harris is best known not an aspiring littérateur but as an early leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a September 2012 postmortemon OWS, Mark Ames, a veteran of MSNBC and The Nation – in other words, a solid left-winger – waxed cynical about the movement, whose failures he attributed largely to Harris, whom he mocked as a self-seeking “twenty-something hipster” and poster boy for a certain “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism.’” Wrote Ames: “one look at Malcolm Harris – his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses – and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.”
Ames provided some bio: Harris’s father was a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.” As for Harris himself, he “was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.” Only a month after OWS got off the ground, it turns out, Harris signed up with a speakers’ agency; when a California branch of the movement, Occupy Redlands, asked him to come address its members, Harris’s agent replied “that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses.” The news that an OWS “anarchist” was trying to squeeze five-grand payments out of allied groups around the country spread like wildfire, apparently, and did not exactly make Harris a movement hero.
Then came the lawsuit. In December 2012, after denying for over a year that he and other OWS activists hadn’t been warned by police to stay off the Brooklyn Bridge during an October 1, 2011, march – and hinting through his lawyer that, on the contrary, police had deliberately lured protesters onto the bridge – Harris’s own tweets from that day, which he’d fought to keep secret but which Twitter had provided to the court, showed that he was lying. Facing trial on a charge of disorderly conduct, he pleaded guilty. Even his lawyer was reprimanded for having played fast and loose with the facts.
Harris has continued writing prolifically – and in a thoroughly predictable vein. In January he contributed an article to Al Jazeera’s website entitled “Wealthy Cabals Run America”; in February the same site ran a piece of his entitled “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.” He’s also contributed plenty of articles to Jacobin, “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” That there are nasty corners of the Internet prepared to give space to this mendacious young stooge is hardly surprising; but it’s depressing that The New Republic, once known for its staunch liberal anti-Communism, should welcome him into its pages.
We thought we’d wind up 2015 by revisiting some of the folks we’ve covered on this website during the last year. No, these definitely aren’t the ten worst human beings we’ve written about; they’re just some of the people whose activities during 2015 we found despicable in distinctive ways, and we thought that, as the year moves toward a close, they just might be worth looking at one more time.
Russell BrandLast year, the holier-than-thou British comedian came out with an inane book, Revolution, in which he celebrated Castro and Che Guevara, whose transformation of Cuba he presented as a model for the 21st century. This year, his image took a big hit when it was discovered that his line of sweatshirts – which he’d represented as being manufactured in the UK – were, in fact, made by laborers in Bangladesh who worked up to eleven hours a day for 25p an hour. Also, while he’d claimed that the profits went entirely to charitable causes, it turned out that only £1.37 of the take on a £65 sweatshirt was going to charity – and the “charity” in question was a trendy London café Brand opened in March.
Stella McCartney In June, flibbertigibbet clothes designer (and daughter of the immortal Beatle) threw an exceedingly high-profile party with the theme “Cuba Libre.” In the garden of her Manhattan townhouse, such guests as Alicia Keys, Liv Tyler, and Maggie Gyllenhaal sipped rum-and-cokes, grooved to the rhythms of a salsa band, and mingled with two guys dressed up as – we kid you not – Fidel and Che. McCartney’s explanation for this obscene trivialization of totalitarianism: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” Almost unanimously, the fashion media applauded what Women’s Wear Daily described as McCartney’s “nod to Cuba.”
Max BlumenthalThe spawn of unsavory D.C. operator Sidney Blumenthal, young Max has made a career out of slandering Israel in particularly nasty ways while cheering on some of its most violent enemies. This year, in collaboration with Electronic Intifada and Al Jazeera contributor Rania Khalek, he co-wrote a long piece smearing several U.S. journalists for criticizing Putin – among them Liz Wahl, a reporter who’d recently quit her anchor job at the Kremlin-run TV “news” channel RT America because she was sick of serving up pro-Putin, anti-American propaganda. Writing in Commentary, Seth Mandel called Blumenthal’s attack job “a textbook example of character assassination.”
Lanny Davis In 2015, regular viewers of cable news saw a great deal of this shifty creep, a longtime Clinton crony and spinmeister who, during the current presidential campaign, has spent a great deal of his expensive time trying to extinguish the many scandals that have been swirling around Hillary Clinton. (During a March appearance on Fox News, Chris Wallace asked Davis, “Do you ever get tired of cleaning up after the Clintons?”) When he’s not engaged in this unenviable task, Davis keeps busy shilling for some of the planet’s most corrupt and brutal despots, including Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire.
Gloria Steinem In May, the 81-year-old Ms. founder traveled to North Korea “to say we care by being physically present” because “conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together.” She then led a group of women on a “walk for peace” across the DMZ. The whole thing came off as a PR stunt to polish Pyongyang’s image. It didn’t help that the feminist icon stayed mum about the Kim regime’s treatment of women – and chose as her partner in this dubious undertaking one Christine Ahn, an open admirer of Juche ideology who routinely blames the U.S. and South Korea for North Korea’s problems.
We’ll get to the next five tomorrow. Happy New Year!
American journalist Liz Wahl, whose grandparents fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising was crushed by the Soviets, worked at the Russian TV network RT America for two years. Her job ended on March 5, 2014, when she quit live on-camera, denouncing her employers for serving up Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Her resignation made headlines; she was widely interviewed. “RT is not about the truth,” she told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda. And I can tell you firsthand, it’s also about bashing America.”
Her action drew predictable condemnation from her ex-bosses at RT America, who called it “a self-promotional stunt.” But that wasn’t all. The far-left website Truthdig.com ran a bizarre attack on Wahl co-authored by fanatical Israel-basher Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Clinton family bagman, consiglieri, and all-around political operative Sidney Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, a freelancer for such unsavory outlets as Al Jazeera America and the anti-Israeli propaganda website Electronic Intifada.
In a staggeringly long article that read as if it had been dictated by Putin himself, Blumenthal and Khalek concocted a conspiracy scenario out of whole cloth, representing Wahl’s resignation not as an act of individual conscience but as a put-up job, orchestrated by a “cadre” of Putin-hating U.S. conservatives, chief among them journalist James Kirchick.
Kirchick had known Wahl for several months. In an interview with her posted at The Daily Beast shortly after her resignation, Kirchick wrote that he’d been aware of her growing ethical concerns about working for RT, and that he’d “encouraged her to follow her conscience in making a decision about her professional future.” Any decent human being who was even glancingly familiar with Kirchick’s record of courageous reporting from world trouble spots and of principled opposition to tyranny everywhere would have no trouble accepting his account at face value.
But Max Blumenthal, as he has already conclusively established, is far from the most decent of human beings. He’s made a career of slandering Israel and exculpating some of its most violent enemies. He’s also, as mentioned, the spawn of master manipulator and spinmeister Sidney (“Sid Vicious”) Blumenthal – the ultimate professional behind-the-scenes creep, the guy who gives pond scum a bad name, the man who was recently described by Reason editor Nick Gillespie as one of those “barely human” characters whose “rottenness ultimately overtakes and deforms whatever humanity they once might have possessed.” For Sidney’s scion, whose own oeuvre so far has demonstrated that he didn’t fall far from the tree, it’s only second nature, when confronted by an act of genuine moral principle on the part of an ideological opponent, to set about depicting it as a low scam, motivated by a lust for power, money, and/or attention. (To be fair, given Max’s family background, it’s fully possible that he’s incapable of believing there is such a thing as an act of genuine moral principle.)
Thus the argument, made at epic length by Blumenthal and Khalek, that Kirchick was behind Wahl’s on-air resignation – and that Kirchick, in turn, was acting as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, motivated not by principle but by an iniquitous desire to rekindle the Cold War. After all, look at Kirchick’s repellent connections: he “worked for part of 2011 out of Prague for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a media network funded by Congress (formerly backed by the CIA) that functions like the American answer to RT in Russian-aligned Eastern European countries.” (This is really all you need to know about Max Blumenthal: he’s the kind of guy who can equate Radio Free Europe with RT.)
But he and Khalek were just warming up. Kirchick, they pointed out, is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is linked to something called FPI, which has ties to something called ECI, among whose advisers is some guy who lobbies for the “U.S.-oriented” (horrors!) Republic of Georgia. Aha! See? Gotcha! Kirchick is opposed to Putin not on principle but because he’s on the Georgian payroll. Blumenthal and Khalek backed up their fairy tale with nasty quotes about Wahl from RT employees, who were risibly presented as reliable sources with “no particular affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin or his policies.”
Kirchick, by the way, wasn’t Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s only target. Also smeared was Rosie Gray, a writer for Buzzfeed, who’d committed the offense of writing a splendid, thoroughgoing exposéof RT entitled “How the Truth Is Made at Russia Today.” Like Kirchick, Gray – whose article on RT was as honest, fact-filled, and solidly reported as Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s was duplicitous and packed with innuendo – was also accused by them of being a Georgian tool.
Seth Mandel, writing in Commentary,summed up Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s piece quite aptly: “a textbook example of character assassination.” Indeed, their article made it crystal clear that Max has learned his father’s lessons well: namely, when you’re facing off against upstanding people who have the truth on their side, get to work misrepresenting the facts, inventing new ones, and throwing mud, confident that even the most outrageous lies, if repeated often enough, will convince at least some of your audience.
Although Blumenthal does, admittedly, devote more of his time to reviling Israel than to vilifying Putin’s enemies, the article he co-wrote with Khalek wasn’t his only effort in this genre. In a February 2014 piece, he faithfully echoed the Kremlin line that the Euromaidan revolution – which, it will be recalled, overthrew a despotic, Russia-friendly oligarch and replaced him with a democratic Western-leaning government – was engineered by fascists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Two months later, in a New York Times op-ed, Polish sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski gave Blumenthal’s vile charges the response they deserved:
True, such people were present at the square, but they were marginal figures, and slogans about ethnic purity never gained popularity. Yes, generally speaking, Ukraine has its skinheads and its anti-Semites and even serial killers, pedophiles and Satanists. They are not present in smaller or larger numbers than in any other country, even in the most mature European state.
None of which truths, needless to say, can be expected to deter Blumenthal in his efforts to serve Putin as loyally as his wily ol’ dad has served the Clintons.
Wahl, by the way, wasn’t the last RT reporter to resign for ethical reasons. Four months later, Sara Firth quit the network, admitting that she and her colleagues “work for Putin” and “are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth.” And just a few days ago, Konstantin Goldenzweig, the Berlin correspondent of Russia’s state-run domestic news channel, NTV, was fired after criticizing Putin in an interview with a German TV station. Goldenzweig said afterward that he was ashamed of having spread “propaganda,” which, he said, included being forced to report Kremlin-invented “news” that had no basis in fact and that had been concocted to defame Ukraine and its leaders.
Funny how some people are capable of being ashamed – while others make a career out of never feeling any shame whatsoever.