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

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat