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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Rima Greene, a pro-Israel cadre who works half under the radar in Berkeley. She is a former leftist and counter-culture radical who has reinvented herself many times.
FP: Rima Greene, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about your own intellectual journey and your thoughts on the anti-Semitism that we find on the Left and feminist Left.
Let’s begin with your own background. Tell us about your own leftist past, how you came to the progressive faith and how you experienced it.
Greene: My parents were Yiddish-speaking “progressives.” They subscribed to IF Stone’s Weekly. But they were not party-liners. I got the feeling we were isolated partly because of their abhorrence of certain political things that had gone on. The Jewish community was divided around issues of being for or against the Soviet Union. My parents did not take hard-line stances. They mostly were reeling from anti-Semitism. Republicans and Christians were the “other.” We were afraid of them. It was inbred.
In high school, I read Ayn Rand and instinctively was attracted to her stance on the inner integrity of the individual. I was horrified by three things I knew about as a teenager: Hitler, Stalin and the Bomb. I was very frightened by people in general, as I understood by age fourteen or fifteen that it took massive complicity to have totalitarian movements like in Germany and Russia.
I did not see a good future for the human race. I did not want to have children. I met people in New York City who were against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights. They were the people singing the folk songs, and I was attracted to that whole scene. When I entered UC Berkeley in the Spring of 1968, the first thing that happened was that Martin Luther King was assassinated. The second thing was Robert Kennedy’s assassination. The third thing was that Valerie Solanas wrote the SCUM Manifesto. After she tried to kill Andy Warhol, Maurice Girodias published her, and I got to read it. I had already read Simone DeBeauvoir’s The Second Sex.
These books resonated mightily with me. I became part of the women’s studies movement. After graduating in 1970, I retreated from the tear gas to the mountains where I was part of a rural hippie civilization with several different communities that ordered bulk food together and created a village of the future, we thought. After a few years, I found lesbian feminism of the 1970s intriguing. We would build women-only villages and see what we could do for ourselves.
I was a “cultural worker” of the times. I joined a women’s bookstore collective. We ordered posters and books from China Books. These were the days of the “little red book” and the poetry of Ho Chi Minh.
In our women’s collective bookstore there was a book by Stalin on Dialectical Materialism and I protested this. They agreed to take it off the shelves, but the study groups could still order it. I was deeply and instinctively disturbed by interest in the wisdom of Stalin, and ranted incoherently about the Gulag, but no one paid much attention. These collective members were younger than me and not from the East Coast – where, in my dreams, “the water was deeper.” I was a writer of stories, creative non-fiction, and published my first one at this time. I gradually became stifled in this women-identified-women environment, and I decided to break out of it and rejoin the rest of the world.
FP: What began to cause second thoughts in you about the Left and about Israel?
Greene: I did not personally experience anything I knew to label as “anti-Semitism” until I returned from my first trip to Israel in 2009. I lived my life in a bubble of protection which burst after I fell in love with Israel. My parents had told me that we would not have needed Israel if we had been allowed into this country — but the St. Louis, for example, had been turned back and led us to die in concentration camps. (They did not know about Arab Jews.)
In 1954, my grandmother had connected me with a girl in Haifa for a pen-pal. We exchanged letters and photos until the last letter in the early ’60s when she sent me a photo of her in army uniform with a rifle on each shoulder. Her last words to me were: “I’m in the army. I hate it! I hate it! But shall I let others die for me?” In 1965, my parents traveled to visit her parents in Haifa — I still remember the address: 7 Masada St., and I found out she had been a border guard in Eilat and was shot to death. Her name was Nili Goldschmit. She had a round smiling Russian face. She is the foundation for my love for Israel.
I now defend Israel for her. I picture her clearly in my mind. When I returned home I was hurt by the reaction of my lesbian friends of the decades. They were supposed to be feminists but they did not care that Israel was the only place in the Middle East where we could be independent women. I wrote a story for my travels, “Three Weeks in the Holyland” which some would not read, even though before we were writers who commented astutely on each other’s work. In Israel, I had met a scholar of Jewish history who informed me of the Koranic roots of Jew hatred — how it had started with Mohammed’s resentment of the rabbis of Medina who refused to recognize him as a prophet. I did not know this before, but it connected the dots for me of why this conflict could never end, why the eternal entrenched Islamic Jew hatred.
When I returned after a long plane ride from Israel, after I woke up from sleeping for fourteen hours, my housemate declared, “I don’t agree with the Balfour Declaration.” She got that from her Unitarian Social Justice Committee. When I returned to California, I remembered that Phyllis Chesler — whom I had heard of since the days of Women And Madness – had written newer books such as The New Anti-Semitism and Woman’s Inhumanity to Women which I greedily devoured. As I proceeded in my research, I was called “sick” and “neurotic” by lesbian so-called feminist friends of decades.
As I was piecing together out loud what had happened to Daniel Pearl, that he had been videotaped admitting that he was a Jew and then beheaded, I was called a “racist” and compared to my friend’s father who had hated “the Japs” in WW2. I was told that Pearl took chances as a journalist, that was all. I realized this best friend of mine through the decades really didn’t care about our predicament. I had been so proud of who I had for friends — communicaters, college professors, radio programmers, a playwright, activists. I realized they were not really my friends, but only fellow travelers. I realized that their inner ideology trumped anything I was discovering. I did not want to share my life with them anymore.
I personally experienced anti-Semitism from a Woman In Black who had been an acquaintance for decades. She began to speak to me on the street. But then one of her sister blacks came over to her and said, pointing to me, “She’s one of them.” When asked if it was true that I was “one of them,” pointing to the pro-Israel activists, and I said, “I love Israel,” she turned away in disgust, saying we were not friends. She refused any further dialogue with me. I was not allowed to love my extended family. Never again would she acknowledge me as a human being, even though we live in the same neighborhood.
I had just gotten back from Israel and was quite stunned. This was my extended family! How would she like it if I wanted to kill her family? This was the moment my bubble of protection burst. I was deeply hurt. But look at how protected I have been — unlike my parents’ generation, for most of my life. I had the opportunity to act with so much freedom from fear, to experiment with life, not consciously experiencing the pain of how stupid and cruel people are until now. The greatest pain is coming, if the divine does not intervene and save Israel and America.
FP: Thank you for this moving testimony.
What do you think is at the heart of the Left that makes it what you have just described?
Leftists and leftist feminists, homosexuals and lesbians purport to represent democratic rights, women’s rights and gay rights etc., and yet their silence (with a few exceptions) on Islamic violations of all of these rights, and their hatred of Israel, shows that they really don’t really care about these rights at all.
What in your view is beneath this? What are the true impulses of the leftist mind-set?
Greene: Tenacious clinging to pacifism and dreams. Look at Michael Lerner, he openly and proudly announces that he doesn’t want to be a realist. Utopianism. ”A better world is possible,” is a slogan I have abandoned. Maybe a better world is possible, but to me, it looks like life is a battle between good and evil, and that gives it meaning.
I am engaged now and am much happier that I have broken away from the political faith. Think about how stagnated and putrid is the Israel-criticism Industry. I always instinctively recoiled from it, even before I began to challenge the Left. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where you can be an independent woman, a Jew and a homosexual and yet the country is singled out for constant attack, and all its critics obsess on their right to criticize it. The United Nations spends 80% of its time bashing Israel, which thoroughly discredits it.
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