On the December issue:
Fixing the FBI
To the Editor:
Everything in Eli Lake’s article on the FBI was eye-open-ing, but none of it was totally surprising (“Can the FBI Be Saved from Itself—And Can We Be Saved from the FBI?” December). J. Edgar Hoover was a power-hungry zealot and a narcissist. He was always a danger to our constitutional republic and the very freedoms we enjoy. Harry S. Truman was spot-on in his worrisome assessment of Hoover, but sadly he never reined in the man’s power.
One would have thought that since Hoover’s demise, our elected officials would have made true reform of the FBI a priority. As Lake points out so astutely, this is woefully not the case, and the bureau has actually gotten even worse over time. It has become a political weapon to be used against anyone not in lockstep with the Washington machine.
Lake has done his research, and his article should be applauded for shining a light on the disturbing threat posed by one of the highest law-enforcement agencies in America.
Erial, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Many thanks to Eli Lake for a carefully researched and clearly stated argument. I wish that every American voter could be made aware of its key points and educate himself about the importance of the Constitution and the need for strong oversight of federal departments by intelligently selected congressional committees.
I’m concerned, however, that quality congressional oversight is not possible with our current electoral processes. It seems obvious that most representatives (in both parties) are more interested in pandering for reelection votes than effectively representing our collective interests.
Our electoral processes have become perverted by the parties and the mainstream media, and the quality of our candidates has reached a historic low. Major electoral reforms are needed to get good candidates in office who could, in turn, reform the FBI. Some logical ideas along these lines include term limits, open primaries, disciplined debate, financial penalties for fraudulent commercials, and audited ballots.
Eli Lake writes:
Don Choyce and Brian McKibben highlight how Congress has failed to meaningfully reform the FBI in recent years. And while I agree that better leadership (particularly on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees) is needed, I also think a large part of the problem has been the failure at times of the Justice Department to compel the FBI to cooperate with congressional committees. Additionally, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has failed to take meaningful action to address the Carter Page warrants. So while it’s true that Congress must push for reform of the bureau, the executive branch and the judiciary are also implicated in the scandal.
Kanye and Anti-Semitism
To the Editor:
Elliot Kaufman does an ex-cellent job of getting at some of the underlying reasons for black anti-Semitism (“O Ye of Little Faith: The Anti-Semitism of Kanye West,” December). The accomplishment and success of Jews in American society do indeed establish them, in the view of some blacks, as the face of “white supremacy.” The idea here being that Jews take advantage of benefits afforded to minority groups while also enjoying the powerful position of being white. In a “zero-sum” framework, this is viewed as detracting from the opportunities available to African Americans. This idea is supported by much of the rhetoric from the political left.
But the anti-Semitism on some of the far right is also stunning. There are popular public figures who casually state that Jews seek to replace whites in America. Ultimately, we must acknowledge the integral and nearly universal (often eliminationist) hatred of Jews that defies any sort of reasoning. This is clear in the fact that this hatred is coming from white and black, conservative and liberal, across all economic strata and backgrounds. More than once in my life, I’ve met someone who admitted that he was raised to strongly dislike Jews even though he and his family had not (as far as they knew) ever met one. It’s especially distressing to see so many American Jews oblivious to this reality align themselves with overtly anti-Semitic organizations and public figures. Unless there is a reset of this perspective, there can be no meaningful pushback to the detestable, often violent, and increasing attacks against Jews.
To the Editor:
By sheer coincidence, the very morning before Kanye West went on Tucker Carlson’s show and ended up instigating the recent Jew-baiting brouhaha, I happened to go back into the COMMENTARY archives to read the series of articles written by Earl Raab, Milton Himmelfarb, Nathan Glazer, and Theodore Draper in 1969 on the then-nascent trend of black American anti-Semitism. I’ve often had that series and other articles in mind these past few months, and I applaud Elliot Kaufman for referencing them in his excellent piece and placing the recent events in the proper context of this 60-year-old tendency. It has been going on far too long to be excused or minimized or hoped away as an uncharacteristic aberration in the historic black-Jewish alliance of reflexive Democratic voting and liberal advocacy.
Black American anti-Semitism is as vile as any other manifestation of the world’s oldest hatred. West’s open embrace of white identitarians as part of “one struggle” against organized Jewry has finally dispersed all obfuscation and cant: The fact that its bigoted proponents can simultaneously find succor in “anti-white” Third Worldism and “pro-white” Nazism shows, as Kaufman astutely notes, that pluralistic liberalism must oppose the hegemonic, Manichean racialism so in vogue across the political spectrum.
San Antonio, Texas
Elliot Kaufman writes:
Thank you for two excellent letters. Since my article’s publication, Kanye West has met for dinner with Donald Trump. Do I think that makes President Trump an anti-Semite? I do not. It shows that he doesn’t maintain a cordon sanitaire against anti-Semites—or, as we should have learned by now, against any other type. This ought to be discrediting, though it likely has more to do with a weakness for flattery than any prejudice.
I should quibble with Marc Cohn when he laments that “so many American Jews oblivious to [domestic anti-Semitism] align themselves with overtly anti-Semitic organizations and public figures.” Those who saw the Trump administration as a repeat of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America can no doubt point to a few Rabbi Bengelsdorf–type collaborators. But I saw many more wannabe Walter Win-chells, convinced their Twitter condemnations were somehow staving off an American Kristallnacht. For some perspective, consider that our cordon sanitaire has been breached before. The Congressional Black Caucus has hosted Louis Farrakhan more than once. Al Sharpton visited the White House some 70 times under President Obama.
More significant are the developments in the ceaseless national tug-of-war over the meaning and content of liberalism, America’s main political current, on which matters of race tug especially hard. “Zionism is racism” has again become the normative left-wing position, exerting pressure on the Democratic Party. A new quota ideology can also be said to unite the critical-race-theory left and the hard right. It starts by counting the blacks and the whites in different fields and organizations, but it could end in a similar place as Kanye West: counting the Jews.
My advice? Tug the other way and follow Joseph Hernandez to the COMMENTARY archives, available online to subscribers.
What Americans Know
To the Editor:
In his article on affirmative action, Matthew Continetti writes: “The polls really did show that the public was against overturning Roe v. Wade” (“The End of Affirmative Action?” December). What political significance does that have if, as we know, the public did not understand what Roe v. Wade did or, conversely, what “overturning Roe v. Wade” meant?
University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter devised the survey instrument for the 1990 Gallup Poll on “Abortion and Moral Beliefs,” as he describes in his 1994 book, Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War. Hunter found, from his analysis of the Gallup data, that “only about one out of every ten Americans has any real understanding of what Roe v. Wade actually mandated.” He concluded, “The debate about abortion is carried on in a context of colossal ignorance.”
Consider also data on public support for abortion at specific gestational stages. The pro-abortion-rights historian, David J. Garrow, author of Liberty and Sexuality, criticized Justice O’Connor for failing to admit the scope of Roe in her 2003 book, The Majesty of the Law, when she twice wrote that the Court allowed abortion in “the first three months of pregnancy.” Likewise, Justice Breyer, in his 2010 book, Making Our Democracy Work, also described Roe as legalizing “abortion in the early months of pregnancy.” But as Garrow pointed out, “Roe not only legalized…abortions right up to the time of fetal viability,…but also precluded the states from prohibiting post-viability abortions if a pregnancy in any way threatens a woman’s health.” Yet, as law profes-sor Randy Beck, a former clerk to Justice Kennedy, has made clear, “polls stretching back for decades show that two-thirds or more of the public believe abortion should generally be illegal in the second trimester of pregnancy.”
If the polling question itself does not accurately describe what Roe v. Wade did, is it politically meaningful if a majority “support” Roe v. Wade?
And, conversely, what does “overturning Roe v. Wade” mean? That the Supreme Court would make abortion illegal nationwide? How many Americans believed that after the leaked opinion on May 3, 2022, and how many understood that the Court had returned the issue to the states and that each state could devise its own abortion law?
Clarke D. Forsythe
Faith in Israel
To the Editor:
In considering Meir Y. Soloveichik’s column about Menachem Begin, it’s worth noting that the religious make-up of Diaspora Jews is different from that of Israelis (“The Prime Minister and the Minyan,” December). This will create further divisions in world Jewry and Jewish views of Israel. Nonreligious Western liberal Jews continue to crave the approval of liberals. Once in office, liberal presidents such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden tend to adopt various anti-Israel positions. Among Israelis, there is an impulse to respond by rejecting liberalism and moving toward fundamentalism.
If Israel’s fate is one of ever-increasing religiosity, will Diaspora support for the Jewish state become more and more tepid?