Yet again, the Rosenbergs

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Just over a year ago we revisited the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953. Back then, their case attracted worldwide attention, both because of the seriousness of the charge – they had played a key role in delivering the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, an action that entirely altered the balance of power on planet Earth – and because they were a married couple with two children. More than a few Americans were eager to see them pay the ultimate price for what was, unquestionably, treason; others opposed their execution, either because of a defensible opposition to the death penalty, or to the idea of making orphans of two small boys, or, less justifiably, because they actually viewed the Rosenbergs’ crimes as insignificant, or believed them (despite all the evidence to the contrary) to be innocent, or even, in a great many cases, because they regarded Julius and Ethel as heroes precisely because they were secret agents for Stalin.

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Tony Kushner

The notion that the Rosenbergs were heroes – or, at least, that Ethel, the junior partner in the spy operation, could somehow be regarded as a heroine – was a major animating tenet of the American far left for many decades after the couple’s execution, and endures to this day. (In Angels in America, Tony Kushner turns Ethel into a veritable saint.) The notion has even survived the opening of archives that have provided absolute proof of the Rosenbergs’ activities on behalf of the Kremlin. In 2011, faced with this mounting evidence, one of the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert Meeropol, broke down and acknowledged his father’s guilt, while reasserting his mother’s innocence; but at the same time he expressed pride in both of them, saying that they had “acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals.” Needless to say, those ideals, as Rosenberg expert Ronald Radosh pointed out at the time, included “forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, [and] the establishment of the Gulag.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
The Meeropol brothers holding copies of the New York City Council proclamation lauding their mother

In October of last year, in yet another example of the continuing far-left compulsion to idealize one or both of the Rosenbergs, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring Ethel on what would have been her hundredth birthday, praising her “bravery,” and identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” As we observed at the time, such actions are the work of people who “still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless ‘hysteria.’”

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E. L. Doctorow

Unsurprisingly, the same people on the far left who have persisted in viewing the Rosenbergs as heroes have also depicted the Rosenbergs’ sons as victims. And, yes, they were victims – of their parents’ fanatical devotion to an evil ideology. But the aim on the far left has always been to paint them as victims of a vengeful, heartless America, of “anti-Communist hysteria,” of anti-Semitism, and of other systematic societal ills purportedly afflicting the West. The most notable instance of this effort has been E. L. Doctorow‘s 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, whose memory-haunted title character is based on the Meeropol boys; the novel’s manifest objective is to blame the young protagonist’s woes not on the boy’s Communist parents but on their capitalist executioners.

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The Meeropol brothers

The spin continues. On October 16, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment featuring both Rosenberg sons. The title, “Finding Refuge,” suited the segment’s angle: it was less an objective report on the facts of the Rosenberg case than yet another effort to whip up public sympathy for Michael and Robert Meeropol. The boys (who are now elderly men) admitted that after decades of insisting on their parents’ innocence, they finally came to accept that their father, at least, was a full-fledged spy. But this doesn’t bother them: as one of the sons said, he finds it “more palatable” to see his parents not as victims but as politically committed people who acted on their beliefs.

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Anderson Cooper

Now, pause for a moment and reflect on that statement. If the son of a couple of long-dead Nazis had spoken in this admiring way about their “commitment,” you can bet that Anderson Cooper would have responded on-camera by sharply challenging the idea that there could be anything “palatable” whatsoever about Nazism. But Cooper let that one pass by without a challenge, reminding us that while (of course) admiring Hitler is universally recognized as utterly appalling, in the corridors of Western media power it’s still considered acceptable to admire people for their unwavering dedication to Stalin.

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Ronald Radosh

During his interview with the Meeropol brothers, Cooper reminded them of what the judge in their parents’ case had said: “The Rosenbergs loved their cause more than their children.” Cooper characterized this as “a very cruel thing to say.” No; it was a plain and simple fact. As Radosh, who was also interviewed on the program, underscored, the U.S. government did not want to have to electrocute the Rosenbergs: it was trying to use the threat of execution to pressure them to provide information about their spy network. But they wouldn’t talk. Their loyalty to their comrades – to their fellow acolytes of Stalinist totalitarianism, and, of course, to Stalin himself – was greater than their loyalty to their children. That, not the judge’s statement, was the cruel element in this story. Plainly – and, perhaps, understandably – the Meeropol brothers are still unable to accept the terrible reality that their parents loved Stalin more than them. They still insist on seeing themselves as the victims of their parents’ executioners; in fact they are the victims of nothing other than the breathtaking power of useful stoogery.

Celebrating treason in the Big Apple

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
Rosenberg sons Robert and Michael Meeropol, hold the proclamations, flanked by Daniel Dromm and Gale Brewer, outside City Hall

It’s only been a few days since we finished up our three-parter on the Rosenbergs, but we’ve got to return to them today because New York City’s City Council has done something truly remarkable. On Monday, September 29, which would have been Ethel Rosenberg’s 100th birthday, the City Council issued an official proclamation honoring her “life and memory,” praising her “bravery,” and describing her as having been “wrongfully” executed. The man behind this initiative was Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside in Queens. At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also a Democrat, issued a separate proclamation, declaring September 29 the “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”

The putative reason for this official tribute to Ethel Rosenberg is that she was a pro-union activist who took part in a 1935 strike. But the real reason, which neither Dromm and Brewer sought to disguise in their remarks at a public ceremony outside City Hall, was to portray both Rosenbergs, in time-honored fashion, as innocent victims of American anti-communist hysteria.

When the Rosenbergs were executed, said Dromm, “it was a time of Jew-baiting, it was a time of McCarthyism, a time of anti-Communist hysteria.” These are familiar words. For certain people on the left, even all these decades later, it’s McCarthyism, not Stalinism, that was the real horror of the early postwar years. They still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless “hysteria.”

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Ethel Rosenberg

Then there’s Dromm’s reference to “Jew-baiting,” which is, of course, a total diversion. The Rosenbergs weren’t targeted because they were Jews; they were arrested, prosecuted, and executed because they were consciously betraying their country, and threatening its security, on behalf of a totalitarian enemy.

Fortunately, some savvy observers called Dromm and Brewer out on their reprehensible actions. “In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York,” wrote Seth Barron the other day in City Journal, “the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, received a proclamation (pictured) from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.

The editors of the New York Post were disgusted, too.  The City Council, they charged, had “yet again proved itself one of New York’s biggest political embarrassments.” The City Hall ceremony, they aptly put it, was “the latest installment in the left’s decades-long drive to pretend Ethel and her husband Julius didn’t spy for Moscow.”

But Dromm and Brewer weren’t alone in celebrating the Rosenbergs – and condemning their executioners. At Raw Story, Katie Halper, a contributor to such outlets as The Nation, MSNBC, Jezebel, and Russia Today, rhapsodized over Julius and Ethel and confessed that Ethel’s farewell letter to her sons had made her “cry on live radio.” This is the famous letter in which Ethel lied to her kids, insisting that she and their father were innocent and perversely representing their devotion to Stalin as a commitment to “freedom.” The City Hall ceremony was attended by members of the Rosenberg family, including the traitors’ granddaughter Rachel and her seven-year-old daughter. “The execution left two children orphaned,” we were solemnly reminded at the ceremony. But it wasn’t the fault of America that those two boys grew up without parents; Julius and Ethel made the conscious choice to put their allegiance to a monstrous, bloodthirsty tyrant above their duty to their children.

Hamas’s, Castro’s, and Mugabe’s pal in the New York Assembly

9.12.02   Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks at the podium in the City Council Chamber of City Hall.
Robert Mugabe addresses New York’s City Council in 2002

Yesterday we flashed back to 2002, when most members of the New York City Council chose to boycott a City Hall speech and reception by the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe; but Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, didn’t. He stayed. He attended. One assumes he applauded at the end of Mugabe’s speech. Years later, presumably for reasons of political expediency, he – or one of his flunkies – decided that it was a good idea for him to apologize for having shown up to honor the Zimbabwean despot; but it’s not as if de Blasio didn’t know at the time who the man was and what he stood for. (Then again, the mayor deserves full marks for ideological consistency: back in the day, he also supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and honeymooned in Havana.)

Councilman Charles Barron fights with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld at Groundbreaking ceremonies for CUNY's new $259 Million Fiterman Hall. The original Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron

How, you might wonder, did Mugabe ever come to be honored at New York’s City Hall in the first place? The answer: Charles Barron, a former Black Panther member who spent twelve years in the City Council, and then, after making unsuccessful runs for mayor, governor, and the U.S. Congress, won the election last year to succeed his wife, Inez, in the New York State Assembly. Barron, described by the New York Observer as “among the most flamboyant and inflammatory figures on the New York political scene,” is notorious for his virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and has been arrested and jailed several times for acts of harassment, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass, all carried out in the guise of civil-rights activism. It was Barron who, back in 2002, arranged for Mugabe to be fêted at City Hall.

Does he now have regrets? Far from it. In September, Barron told the Observer that now that he’s living in Albany and serving in the state legislature, he “would love” to host a visit by Mugabe to the state capital. “I would love for him to come anywhere in the United States, really,” Barron added, calling Mugabe a “freedom fighter” and a “shining example of an African leader on the African continent.” Far from being disturbed by Mugabe’s distribution to black Zimbabweans of farmland seized from whites for purely racist reasons, Barron explained that he considered this policy especially admirable. “He was one of the few African leaders who had the courage to take the land back from the settlers,” said Barron, who went on to fault Nelson Mandela for not taking away more property from white South Africans.

Like de Blasio, Barron is consistent. He’s a fan of the Castros, a defender of Hamas; when Qaddafi was alive, Barron admired him, too. “All my heroes were America’s enemies,” he has helpfully explained. Moreover, as Michael Moynihan observed in a 2012 profile, Barron

barronis obsessively hostile to Israel—a country whose founding he rejects as historical crime. After a 2009 trip to Gaza with British MP George Galloway’s anti-Israel group Viva Palestina, Barron told reporters that the Gaza Strip was a giant “concentration camp.” Considering this description a touch understated, he traded Dachau for Auschwitz, comparing the Palestinian territories to a modern “death camp.” Israel, he added, “deliberately cause[s] the death of innocent children” and is guilty of “genocide.”

Moynihan summed up Barron’s politics as consisting of “a deep illiberalism and contempt for democracy, an almost pathological hatred of Israel and fondness for dictatorship.” Yep, that pretty much says it.

Tyrant Mugabe’s American buddies

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Robert Mugabe

Yesterday, we looked at hedge funder Daniel Och‘s  “intimate, mutually profitable, and utterly unconscionable transactions with some of the most brutal tyrants of our time” – among them Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Now 91 years old, Mugabe is the longest-lasting head of state in Africa, and arguably the worst. Banned from traveling to the U.S. and EU, he has a human-rights record that Human Rights Watch has called “abysmal.” Under his regime, journalists are routinely kidnapped and beaten, and aid money is stolen in massive amounts. During the 2008 election campaign, Mugabe’s hirelings killed at least 200 opposition supporters and tortured around 5,000 of them. Mugabe routinely demonizes gay people, whom he’s threatened to punish with beheading, and may well be the most openly racist current leader of any nation on earth, depriving his country’s white citizens of property and due process for no other reason than their skin color. Every international human-rights group agrees: this man is a menace, a monster.

A man holds up d 200 million and 500 million Zimbabwe dollar notes in the capital Harare December 12, 2008.   REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwean banknotes for 200 million and 500 million dollars, now worth less than one U.S. cent.

And he’s an abominable steward of his country’s economy, too: a couple of weeks ago his government discarded its “virtually worthless” currency and allowed citizens to exchange every 250 trillion Zimbabwean dollars they held for one U.S. dollar.  

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Daniel Och

As we’ve seen, these inconvenient truths haven’t kept Daniel Och from doing (shady) business with Mugabe. And Och, as it turns out, is far from the only friend, fan, or enabler that Mugabe has in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Recently, the San Francisco Bay View, which identifies itself as a “National Black Newspaper,” published a fulsome tribute to Mugabe by one Obi Egbuna Jr., who identifies himself as a U.S.-based journalist and as a member of something called the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association. “Mugabe’s pan-Africanist and internationalist vision,” Egbuna wrote, “makes him connect with Africans at home and abroad.” Describing Mugabe as a hero of “freedom-loving people” who “has spent a lifetime fighting for the empowerment of the African woman,” Egbuna gushed that the president’s “best attributes” include “his loyalty to the poor and dispossessed in not only Zimbabwe but among Africans everywhere.”

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Bill de Blasio

It’s not only relatively obscure characters like Egbuna who have given Mugabe props. Take Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City, who, back in 2002, while serving in New York’s City Council, attended a reception welcoming the tyrant to City Hall and was present when the man delivered a speech in the council’s chamber – an honor that no legislative body in a democratic nation should ever have accorded to such a thug. After all, as New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman later observed, Mugabe, by 2002, was already “a certified human rights disaster.” Another journalist, Joel B. Pollak, has put it this way: “By the time Robert Mugabe visited New York’s City Hall in 2002, he was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe. His regime was torturing its opponents brutally…and cracking down on the media as it pushed white farmers off their land, destroying the country’s economy and plunging it into hyperinflation and starvation.” But de Blasio celebrated him. 

More about this unconscionable act tomorrow.