Dear Mr. Chudd,
I am sorry you have decided to cancel your subscription to Moment based on my column, “Dangerous Rhetoric, Dangerous Times”, in the November/December 2018 issue. I want you to know that I wrote that column in the days following the horrific slaughter of Jewish worshipers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in response to police reports that the shooter was galvanized by the rhetoric of the far-right.
You say that I was “one-sided, under-inclusive, hyperbolic and, frankly, hopelessly supportive of the double standard with which half of our country so nobly excoriates those on the other side of the aisle while ignoring the abhorrent behavior of those sitting next to the critic.”
Moment, under my direction, goes to great lengths to encompass a wide range of opinions, many of which I do not personally agree with. We do this because we believe that open discourse allows people to make up their own minds and strengthens the community. This does not mean that I do not have an opinion. One can debate whether it is right for me to sit on the sidelines and not speak. I have often remained silent, but after the murders, I felt that I needed to report what I observed. The shooter specifically said he took action because he believed Jews were responsible for the migrant caravan then inching toward the U.S.-Mexico border. To my reading, the trail of presidential tweets makes it clear that Trump inserted this topic into American discourse as the midterm elections neared, making it easy for extremists to connect the dots.
It is not true that I ignore the abhorrent behavior of those on the other side of the aisle—that is, anti-Semitism on the left. You point out that I failed to mention Louis Farrakhan in my column. Farrakhan did not inspire the Pittsburgh killer to kill. That does not mean that Farrakhan is not an unabashed anti-Semite. As I wrote in “Reflecting on My Nation of Islam Scoop—30 Years Later,” in the August 2 edition of our newsletter, Moment Minute, I was reporting on Farrakhan before most American Jews paid any attention to him. In 1985, I broke the story about how he was spending $5 million that the Nation of Islam received from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. I have just returned from Limmud in Birmingham, England, where I gave a talk about the Nation of Islam and its connections with the Women’s March leadership. You are also upset that my column didn’t mention anti-Zionists, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), and former President Obama, who, as you point out, has had ties with Farrakhan, Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright. I don’t agree that these groups and people all belong in one category. As Jews, we need to do our best to understand the complexities of the African-American community, just as we would like others to understand the complexities of our own.
As long as we get letters from all sides, and we do, we know we are doing our job.
Neither have I, as you suggest, remained silent about Washington, DC councilperson Trayon White. As a resident of DC, I know firsthand that “liberal” Jews did not provide cover for his anti-Semitic rant blaming a rare March snowstorm on the Rothschilds. In fact, a liberal Jewish councilwoman, Elissa Silverman stood up to him, and, as a result, had to fight to keep her seat. The story broke just hours before I was to speak about anti-Semitism on the American left at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, and I opened my remarks with a discussion about White. Farrakhan, White and the others you mention are not currently serving as the president of the United States. I stand by my statement that Trump has engaged in dangerous rhetoric that has stirred white nationalist hatred. It is unlikely that Trump believes this rhetoric. It’s for his bases. I say bases, not base, because he has more than one: not just rural and Rust Belt voters, but the single-issue Jewish voter who believes that Trump is good for Israel and that this overrides his serious flaws.
While I hope my voice is a thoughtful one in the Jewish world, I am under no illusion that it is a uniting one. There is no such thing. As Amos Oz, the brilliant Israeli writer who died in late December, once told me: “Jewish civilization survived through millennia by the intensity of diversity and doubt and argument—by the fact that every individual is engaged to think individually. In good times every pupil was encouraged to criticize the rabbi. And in good times, no rabbis ever agreed with each other anyway. This is not the weakness of the Jews. This is the strength of the Jews.” (Turn to page 10 to read about my 2008 visit with Oz at his home in Arad, Israel.) Nor do I make a claim to represent Moment’s religiously and politically diverse staff and contributors. The magazine, which as you say is “wonderfully informative and often entertaining,” speaks for itself, and I am very proud of it. As long as we get letters from all sides, and we do, we know we are doing our job.
We have processed your request to cancel your subscription, but I hope you will reconsider your decision. I don’t want you or any other readers to miss the stories in this issue. In the first installment of our series about George Soros, “The Vilification of George Soros,” we begin to cut through some of the innuendo and false information about Soros that floats around on the internet, in the media and in conversations, by examining his relationship with Judaism, his Jewishness and Israel. Also in this issue is a piece about the controversy swirling around a planned Holocaust museum in Budapest, Hungary, the birthplace of Soros, where he has become the foil for Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal” democracy. I think everyone will enjoy Robert Siegel’s erudite conversation about Saul Bellow with Bellow biographer Zachary Leader, and Glenn Frankel’s review of a new book on Ben Hecht’s life. I found Jenna Weissman Joselit’s review of four books about American Judaism intriguing, although I don’t agree with the overall picture they paint of American Judaism. Where they generally see failure, I see success. I am always amazed by how much modern Jews read about Judaism and Jewish life, even if many of them haven’t heard of the Shulchan Aruch. The excitement of Judaism and Jewish culture is palpable in the currents of modern life. And I think you will get a kick out of our story on manna. Yes, manna is real.
Speaking of manna, let me mention a cab driver I met last week in London, a man born in Fez, Morocco. When I popped into the cab and asked him to bring me to the Bevis Marks synagogue in the East End, he couldn’t restrain himself. “You are Jewish!” he exclaimed. He went on to tell me that he had just discovered that he had both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish DNA. “Judaism is in my soul,” he said. He wants to learn about Judaism and can’t wait to visit Israel. Meanwhile, he and his son are deciding which Jewish surname to adopt. What a sweet “manna” of a conversation.