Samuel H. Friedman: An Anti-Communist, Zionist, Synagogue-Going Socialist

With U.S. politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib creating renewed interest in socialism, Elliot Jager reminisces about Samuel H. Friedman (1897-1990), who was the Socialist candidate for vice-president in the 1952 and 1956 elections. Late in his life, Friedman became a regular at the synagogue the young Jager attended on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He writes:

Friedman, like many left-leaning Jews during the 1960s, engaged in civil disobedience on behalf of African-American and Puerto Ricans. To my mind, at the time, this agenda seemed perverse. Yet in this respect, he was very much in the acculturated Jewish mainstream.

Here is the place to point out that, for poor working-class Jews like me living in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side, it was not the blacks and Puerto Ricans who needed help from the Jews; it was we who needed to be saved from them. During the 1960s and 1970s, [these] communities were the main source of violent anti-Semitism in New York City.

There were 10,000 mostly elderly Jews living under the poverty level in my neighborhood. Most Jewish establishment organizations (the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, for instance) were spending the money they raised within the Jewish community on programs and institutions (like the Educational Alliance) that mostly catered to non-Jews—at a time when these monies were needed, desperately, in our community to fight poverty, to relocate at-risk elderly people, and help with yeshiva tuition. . . .

Like all democratic socialists, [Friedman] loathed Stalin for creating a genocidal totalitarian polity. By contrast, the U.S. Communist party led by Gus Hall was slavishly pro-Moscow. We once had a conversation about the Lower East Side congresswoman Bella Abzug who served in the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977. . . . Friedman disparaged Abzug as a Stalinist fellow-traveler, [while] he supported NATO as a bulwark against Soviet aggression. I doubt [Friedman] would have been comfortable with the direction taken by today’s American socialists and self-identified progressives as they maneuver to realign the Democratic party into an illiberal and anti-Zionist orbit.

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More about: American Jewish History, American Zionism, Civil rights movement, Communism, History & Ideas, Lower East Side, Socialism


European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians