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Several weeks ago, Richard Cohen, a columnist for The Washington Post
wrote a piece entitled “Bonding with Bigotry”
about my endorsement of Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential
nomination. As you can tell from the title, it was an attack piece
repeating the refrain that mutual opportunism and not agreement on
issues of political reform, anti-globalism and anti-imperialism brought
us together.

But Mr. Cohen took things a step further than most antagonists of our
left/right coalition. He leveled charges of extreme anti-Semitism
against my close friend and colleague, Dr. Fred Newman, who is an
important strategist in the independent political movement.

Jacqueline Salit, the political director for the Committee for a
Unified Independent Party, Inc., wrote a letter to Cohen’s boss, Fred
Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, to inform him of the extreme
inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Cohen’s column. Because this is
such an important subject surrounded by such an explosive controversy, I
have reproduced, with Salit’s permission, the entire text of her letter
to Hiatt. I’d be interested in your comments.

April 4, 2000

Dear Mr. Hiatt,

I write to you regarding a number of statements made by Richard Cohen
in an opinion piece titled “Bonding with Bigotry,” published in The
Washington Post. I am the Political Director of the CUIP, Inc. Dr.
Lenora Fulani is our chair and Dr. Fred Newman is active with the
committee.

Mr. Cohen made his claim that Fred Newman is an anti-Semite based on
a set of quotes that were misidentified and taken so dramatically out of
context as to give them virtually an opposite meaning. I refer to the
following by Mr. Cohen:

“… One other thing you should know about Newman. He’s Jewish.”

“This is important — at least to Newman. He and Fulani both maintain
that since Newman is Jewish he cannot also be an anti-Semite. If so, he
does a pretty good imitation of one. For instance, in the newspaper
published by a political party Newman once founded, he is quoted as
saying, ‘The Jew, the dirty Jew, once the ultimate victim of
capitalism’s soul, fascism, would become a victimizer on behalf of
capitalism.’”

The quote to which Cohen refers was not, in fact, a statement made by
Newman in a political party newspaper. It is a line from a play written
by Newman in 1989, which premiered at the Castillo Theatre in New York
that year. The play is entitled “No Room for Zion” (A Kaddish by a
Communist Jew). Rabbi Zion, from whom the name of the play is drawn, is
described by one of the play’s two characters, both working-class Jews,
to be a “gentle man who lived through the murder of our people by the
Aryan scum.” Rabbi Zion had as well survived the spiritual outrage of
abandonment by Jews and non-Jews alike, in Europe and America, in the
face of Hitler’s big dollars and gas chambers.

Abandonment and betrayal of Jews and by Jews is the theme of the
play. In the above referenced soliloquy, the character “Rie” describes
how Europe regarded the Jews and sets the stage for the playwright’s use
of the term “dirty Jew”:

RIE: “… Sick European civilization, even in its heyday, had nothing
but loathing for the Jew (and not even that for people of color!). When
it was not attempting an inquisition, it was finding functions for the
non-Christians, which further exacerbated the image of the Jew as
fundamentally, i.e. spiritually, inferior. The dirty Jew, after all, is
not hygienically filthy but spiritually so, and could never be saved,
indeed is not even a candidate for salvation. It has always been dirty
work for the dirty Jew. That Jews have survived and even flourished over
centuries is no thanks to the Euro-Christians any more than the survival
and creative contribution of the African-American people is to be
attributed in any way to white racist America. Dirty work for the dirty
Jew. It has always been so.”

Toward the very end of the play, the second character, “Fred,”
concludes:

FRED: “… In exchange for an unstable assimilation, Jews under the
leadership of Zionism would ‘do-unto-others-what-others had-done
unto-them.’ The others to be done to? People of color. The doing?
Ghettoization and genocide. The Jew, the dirty Jew, once the ultimate
victim of capitalism’s soul, fascism, would become a victimizer on
behalf of capitalism, a self-righteous dehumanizer and murderer of
people of color, a racist bigot who in the language of Zionism changed
the meaning of ‘Never Again’ from ‘Never Again for anyone’ to ‘Never
Again for us — and let the devil take everyone else.’”

In Mr. Cohen’s haste to express his views on Dr. Newman, he
misrepresents both the source and the substance of the quote he
referenced. In Newman’s play (not to mention in history), the “dirty
Jew” is the creation of the anti-Semitic world of European Christianity.
“No Room for Zion” is a theatrical exploration of that — not an
endorsement.

Newman holds up a mirror to that ugly history and asks his audiences
to consider it and its impact on contemporary politics and life in the
Jewish community after the Holocaust. Mr. Cohen appears to have no
knowledge of either the meaning or the context of the statement he
quotes.

Mr. Cohen’s citation of Newman’s reference to Jews as “the storm
troopers of decadent capitalism” is similarly disembodied. The actual
quote, which was part of a speech Newman gave at Small’s Paradise in
Harlem in 1985, is:

“The Jewish people, my people, were almost destroyed. I’m saying all
this because I want you to know what happened, what the Jewish people as
a people did in response to almost being destroyed. I want to share this
with you honestly and openly, because it’s very painful to say aloud. As
a people, we responded to that genocide by selling our souls to the
devil. The name of the devil is international capitalism, and don’t
forget it! Now people want to know, ‘How come the Jewish people did
that?’ Well, you ask yourself what kind of bargaining position you’re in
when the choice is selling your soul to the devil or going into the
ovens. Ask yourself that question. That’s not to defend it. That’s not
to applaud it. It is simply to insist that we understand why they made
the deal.

“And the contract with the devil has been clear-cut. It becomes
clearer every day. And we have to hear it in New York, and we have to
hear it in Johannesburg, and we have to hear it in the Middle East; we
have to hear it throughout the world. The contract with the Jewish
people, with the Jewish leadership, has been: ‘We’re going to let you
live. We’re going to let you survive. We’re going to make sure it never
happens to you again as long as you function throughout this world as
the storm troopers of decadent capitalism against people of color the
world over!’ That’s the goddamned deal with the devil. I want you to
hear that dilemma. I’m not asking for pity. I’m asking that people
understand. And I want to let you know why I as a Jew am right here.
Because I know that the liberation of Jewish people can only come to
pass behind the leadership of people of color the world over.”

Newman was appealing to the audience, mainly African-Americans, to
understand the history of the Jewish experience in and after the
Holocaust, and to consider what choice they would have made in parallel
circumstances. This was not offered, as Newman says, to excuse the
Jewish abandonment and betrayal of people of color but to place it in
its historical context. Again, one would never know this from Mr.
Cohen’s presentation.

In calling Jews “the storm troopers of decadent capitalism,” Newman
is painting a picture of how the world’s post-war powers — and in
particular, the United States — bargained with international Jewry to
reposition itself as the buffer against Arab nationalism, against
socialism, and against anti-capitalist liberation movements by people of
color. Is this an indictment of Zionism? Unquestionably. Is it
anti-Semitic? No. Cohen never explains how it is; he just assumes that
it is.

Instead, Mr. Cohen, in his efforts to be polemical and provocative,
which is of course his right, makes the point that while Pat Buchanan
may be “sometimes a touch anti-Semitic,” this contrasts with Newman
whose alleged anti-Semitism is “anti-Semitism at its purest.” At the
risk of being polemical myself, Mr. Cohen’s largesse towards Pat (maybe
he feels a “touch of anti-Semitism” is socially acceptable) and
intolerance towards Newman (who is, after all, a communist Jew) probably
has more to do with Cohen’s political sympathies and antipathies than a
properly researched treatment of Newman’s views on Judaism, Zionism,
abandonment and betrayal.

Much of the press coverage of Newman has contained substantial
misreporting, been poorly researched and was used for political polemic
rather than being respectable journalism. Perhaps Mr. Cohen was a victim
of the Lexis/Nexis axis of this legacy. In any event, his piece was a
violation of The Washington Post’s normally solid journalistic
practices.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Salit

Political Director

Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc.

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