Opinion: Responses to readers on the left

I am devoting this column to responding to letters published in response to my last column, “Our Golden Calf” (March 9), because the topic is so important. If American Jewry’s embrace of leftism has not been a blessing for the Jews, then Jewish life is in trouble. On the other hand, if this embrace has been a blessing, Jewish life should be in great shape. It is hard to imagine, however, that many concerned Jews believe that American Jewish life is in great shape.

I salute The Jewish Journal for welcoming such dialogue. There is virtually no publication with a largely liberal readership that allows for non-left writers to interact with readers.

For some reason, I was shown only Doug Mirell’s letter prior to publication, so I responded to him in the last issue.

I will therefore begin with Barbara H. Bergen, whose blood pressure, she writes, both I and Red Bull raise.

Ms. Bergen’s letter illustrates the point of my article — that leftism causes decent people to say or do bad or foolish things.

Take, for example, her defense of Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s statement that he respects the Muslim veil (which, I wrote, is “one of the most dehumanizing behaviors to women practiced in the world today”). How does she defend it? By comparing the veil to “Orthodox women in our own community who wear heavy wigs and headscarves along with ankle- and wrist-covering clothes in the California heat.”

“Could we find that equally ‘dehumanizing?’ ” she asks.

Only leftism — with its commitment to never harshly judging Islam and to multiculturalism — can explain how an intelligent person can morally compare wearing a wig, a headscarf, long sleeves or ankle-length skirts with never being allowed to show one’s face in public.

Martin A. Brower writes that it is not leftism that is our golden calf, but “Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s definition of the golden calf — ultimate truths, especially those ‘truths’ held by the right.”

This is another example of leftism causing people to say awful and irrational things. Ultimate truths constitute a false god? Do these people really believe that there are no ultimate truths? Is that what years at a Jewish seminary taught a rabbi, and what a college education taught Mr. Brower? How about, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Or, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”? Or, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …”? And what is the claim that there are no ultimate truths, if not something that purports to be an ultimate truth? I cannot think of a more morally distortive teaching than that there are no ultimate truths. This is how the left has created the moral relativism of our time — by teaching a generation that there are no moral truths because good and evil are purely a matter of opinion.

Leonard Kass begins his letter with: “Dennis Prager has written articles that consistently conflate liberalism with communism.”

There is no truth to that charge. I specifically wrote: “Leftism, not liberalism, has been the Jews’ golden calf… .”

Moreover, my reference to communism was to not to conflate liberalism, or even leftism, with communism but to note how many Jews have supported communism. I offered as examples the Yiddish press in the 1920s, which was the most pro-Soviet press in the Western world, and the many Jews who were leading communists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. One might add that many leftists who were not communist found more to hate in anti-communism than in communism.

Jacob Cherub writes: “Throughout history there have been repugnant dictatorships on both the left and right,” and their “repression and brutality is really no different than communist repression and brutality.” He then cites, among other examples, fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Nazi Germany, various Latin American dictators, the shah in Iran, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Ne Win in Burma and Sudan’s Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir.

This is close to constituting a perfect example of how leftist teachings pervert history and thereby distort the thinking of those who believe those teachings.

It is morally indefensible that anyone would write — after the communist genocides in China (65 million to 75 million), Ukraine (5 million to 7 million), Russia (about another 20 million to 30 million), North Korea and Cambodia — that there is no difference between communist regimes and other kinds of dictatorships.

There are two rather significant things wrong with Mr. Cherub’s list of dictators: Many are not rightists, and none came close to communism in terms of the number of people murdered and enslaved. Yet, nearly everyone on the left thinks as Mr. Cherub does, namely, that left and non-left dictatorships (they label all non-left dictatorships “right”) are morally equivalent. That is why so many on the left supported the Khomeini revolution — anything would be an improvement over the right-wing shah, the left reasoned. But, of course, what replaced the shah has led to incomparably more suffering among Iranians than under the shah — not to mention the first threat of Jewish genocide since the Holocaust.

But it’s not only about the shah that Mr. Cherub is so wrong.

While Mugabe is indeed a monster, he is no rightist. In fact, he is a self-described Marxist. And his destruction of Zimbabwe has been done entirely in the name of African solidarity and fighting white racism.

So, too, Sudan’s al-Bashir is not a rightist; he is an Islamist.

And as regards Nazism, it was neither right-wing nor left-wing (even though Nazism stood for “National Socialism”). It was sui generis, a unique racial, not rightist, doctrine.

Mr. Cherub ends his letter: “It seems Prager wants to paint anyone politically to his left as evil and comparable with Stalin and the like.”

Apparently it doesn’t matter to some people that I have written in every column concerning the left that there are good and bad people on both the right and the left. And while I am convinced that leftism has damaged Jewish life and almost everyone and everything else it has strongly influenced, I find it quite easy to distinguish between people with left-wing opinions — many of whom I know to be fine people — and leftism. I have never in my life written, said, implied or even thought that anyone politically to my left is comparable with Stalin and the like. That is a smear.

Syd H. Hershfield writes the one thoughtful letter among those criticizing my column. Like my article, his letter deals with issues, not personal attacks. He defends Jews who sided with Lenin and Stalin as having been so burned by czarist anti-Semitism that they supported whatever supplanted it. This is an explanation — at least for those communism-supporting Jews who escaped czarist Russia — but it is not a moral defense of them, and certainly not of American-born Jews who supported communism. Would Mr. Hershfield defend Ukrainians who sided with the Nazis because Ukrainians suffered under the Soviets (even more so than the Jews did under the czars)?

Finally, I thank Jeffrey P. Lieb for his thoughtful letter about how disheartening he finds Jewish support for the left. Perhaps it will console to him to learn that slowly but surely, more and more identifying Jews are rejecting leftism.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).