The first post tells why. It may be too little, but hopefully not too late.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Aesopian media and the Pollard-Dreyfus Affair

Somebody may think that either my paranoia grows or I am becoming too painfully nostalgic about the Soviet Union. You can decide whether it is either, both, or something else entirely. Here is the preamble to the story.

It's no news that in the Soviet Union a writer would seldom attempt to publish anything openly against the regime in the open media. It would be unreasonable: the media was completely state-controlled. Nothing would be published, but the writer would be ruined. Those who could not take it anymore had three options. The easiest was to write "into the desk", with no hope for that to be published. Another was to try to somehow publish a disloyal piece abroad. That was difficult: one had to have means of transporting the manuscript.  Contacts with a foreigner who could potentially take the manuscript out of the country were risky for both him and the writer. The writer had to be well known indeed for such an attempt to justify the effort and risk, which was exceedingly seldom. Smuggling out and publishing an openly critical piece abroad could end the writer's career in the USSR. Exile abroad would then be the best outcome, but not necessarily so good for the writer whose main audience and perhaps livelihood would be left behind. Samizdat and Tamizdat did help in keeping such a publication from being self-defeating, but not entirely: very few people had access to either. Also, one had to, again, be famous enough to be exiled rather than imprisoned or subjected to "psychiatric" treatment and forgotten, if not simply killed by the KGB. The other possibility, especially for well established authors, was to use the so-called Aesopian language or some such subterfuge that formally was not an overt anti-Soviet offense. Those works would be published in some journal targeting mostly intelligentsia, both because nobody else could understand the complexities of the writer's thinking, metaphors and allusions, and because, to do its job, intelligentsia needed some valve to let out steam that accumulated in any sentient being in a totalitarian state. This would both flatter the said stratum of the socialist society and give it an illusion of freedom and a pleasant feeling of being in opposition, but safe. "Кролики и удавы" (Rabbits and Boa Constrictors) by Fazil Iskander comes to mind, published in the journal "Юность" (Youth), one of such safety-valve journals. It was, however, 1988 already, perestroika, when the moribund trinity of the Party, State, and KGB was hardly trying to maintain what was left of the Communist anti-utopia. It had been published in 1982 in America, probably after sitting for some time in Iskander's desk, but being truly an Aesopian allegory perhaps did not qualify as an openly "anti-Soviet propaganda" to criminally persecute the well-known author.

Why, one might ask, am I rehashing the Soviet experience? Definitely not nostalgically. One reason is that The New York Times published a book review today with a sentence in it exactly like those you could see in one of such journals. A single sentence. The book is about Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain and a Jew, was in 1894 wrongfully accused of treason, dishonored and imprisoned on Devil's Island, a penal colony where most of the prisoners died of diseases and hardship. I have not read the book and do not know whether it discusses one of the outcomes of the Dreyfus Affair - Theodor Herzl's understanding that Jews needed a state of their own to survive. The review does not mention that. What it does mention in that one sentence is that Dreyfus's "prosecutors claimed, as more recent governments have done, that national security forbade them to reveal secret evidence that would have been decisive if known, and he was convicted all over again." This vague "more recent governments" begs the question which ones. And about whom and what - it seems unlikely that it's still about the Dreyfus Affair. And why not respond to these obvious questions right there, in the review. All that seems to be left to anybody's guess.

In the Soviet Union, it would be for intelligentsia to read between the lines, admiring the courage of the writer who managed to get a "seditious" statement through censorship unnoticed and unmolested. Intelligentsia was supposed to critically evaluate the actions of the government - emphasis on "critically". I am not certain if there is a similar, however vaguely defined, wide social group here in the US. People of the so-called intellectual occupations here tend to unquestioningly support the Democratic Party, hence the respective governments, and frequently focus on non-political matters otherwise. The uncritical loyalty to the Party, combined with hatred toward anything perceived to be "the other", is sometimes terrifying. Politically, their general orientation is overwhelmingly to the left, which is alike that for "intellectuals" in the pre-Bolshevik Russia, but rather unlike that in the post-Lenin/Stalin Russia. Those who lived there have already been to where the left direction takes the nations. In fact, the demagoguery that the Party employs is also often reminiscent of the pre-revolutionary Russian left's: Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader (the one who has been satisfied that Obama is "light-skinned" and has "no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one"), freely injects in his speeches the classic Communist class struggle language - "rich and powerful" vs. "the masses".

Being on the left calls for supporting everybody "poor" against the "rich", which includes "Palestinians" against Israel. It does not matter why they are poor, and whether they are even really poor. Inasmuch as Israel is capitalist, rich and powerful, she is the predator and the Arabs are the prey to care about or, rather, to feel good about caring. Israel is at fault regardless of history, facts and logic - unsurprisingly, just like the Jews... I was going to say, "used to be", but not really. It's quite easy to see, without invoking Occam's Razor, that "Israel" is a useful substitute for "Jews" in this modern progressive climate. Not only "Israel" makes antisemitism "legitimate", it allows full participation in Jew-bashing for the self-hating left-leaning Jews without the need to join the Communist Party, as they had to before. To be sure, atheism, particularly anti-Judaism, usually remains de rigeur, as it was with Communists.

Hatred for Israel, the cover for antisemitism, is where the left and the right converge, like Chomsky and Jim "f... the Jews" Baker. You still wonder whom the "more recent governments" treated about as horribly as the French did Dreyfus? I hope it will not be a surprise that the name I read between the lines is Jonathan Pollard. An Israeli spy who stole for Israel secrets from the US Navy Intelligence for which he worked. Neither the author of the review nor I are first to draw this comparison. An article did that in 1991. Yes, there is a difference: Dreyfus was absolutely innocent, but Pollard did indeed engage in espionage. There is, however, another difference: in contrast to Dreyfus, who did have a trial, however unfair, Pollard was never tried. He pleaded guilty in passing information to an ally with no intent to harm the US. The US government horribly violated that plea agreement. Dreyfus had been accused of treason - Pollard never was. Dreyfus had been accused in spying for an enemy - Pollard spied for a friend, after its friend refused to give Israel information it was entitled to. Israel was not being informed of Iraq's poison gas supplies. When Pollard asked why, the response was, "Jews are too sensitive to gas." 

Zola's letter helped to liberate Dreyfus, but no author, including juridical celebrities like Dershowitz, has been able to do anything for Pollard - the US republic seems to be less sensitive to protestations than the French democracy. People of conscience in the whole world, including Russia, commiserated with Dreyfus, but nobody hears about Pollard, forgotten as are other Jews in captivity (Gilad Shalit's name was hardly mentioned when the Gazans' culinary "sufferings" were recently lamented by the world community). No other spy caught at working for an ally in the US has ever got anything close to Pollard's life in prison - many of those who spied for enemies received shorter sentences and more lenient treatment. 

Pollard's imprisonment was the result of an event identical to what had happened during Stalin's purges: Pollard was buried by the fiat of the Politburo, namely Caspar Weinberger, a true criminal, whose secret memorandum was the only grounds for that. Nobody still knows what was in it - for the "reasons of national security", just like with Dreyfus. The promise of freedom for Pollard has served the Clinton government to extort concessions from Israel that were harmful to her - the promise, on which the US again reneged, like it did on other promises to Israel (e.g., understandings between Sharon and Bush that, according to the current openly anti-Israel Obama government, never happened). Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams famously wrote his dissent about "a fundamental miscarriage of justice" in Pollard's case. It seems, however, that no justice was carried at all nor is expected to be. The meek Soviet-like hints at the continuing injustice is the only thing the mainstream "intelligentsia" media is apparently capable of. In the Soviet Union, such hints were bravery. In America, they are closer to disgrace.


  1. http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=276318

  2. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Three-decades-of-US-lies-about-Jonathan-Pollard-unmasked-392355