On the September issue:
To the Editor:
I am the daughter of David Hawkins, who is mentioned in your magazine by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes (“Oppenheimer Was a Communist,” September). The following is what I know.
My father believed, and stated repeatedly, that Oppenheimer was not a Communist Party member. His knowledge was based on his own membership until early 1940, when he quit over Communist-Nazi collaboration in the Low Countries. So the authors’ account of my father’s understanding of Oppenheimer is different from what I was told. That doesn’t mean that the authors’ conclusions are wrong, but it does suggest that they may have polished the complex evidence, at least once. If Klehr and Haynes are correct, my father may simply not have known of Oppenheimer’s connection to the party.
I can also remember my father’s comments about CPUSA events being held at Oppenheimer’s house. He said that the party sometimes “sponsored” such events, mainly to benefit Loyalist Spain. They typically invited members, fellow travelers, and others who were just interested. I guess everyone, even loyal Communists, liked attending cocktail parties in an upscale house.
I should add that my father was Oppenheimer’s assistant at Los Alamos and wrote a wartime history of the Manhattan Project. He is not portrayed in the film, nor are other key figures, such as Victor Weisskopf and Stanislaus Ulam. That said, it was an excellent movie. I remember Niels Bohr from after the war, and Kenneth Branaugh did a magnificent job portraying him.
Julie Hawkins Melton
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes write:
We thank Julie Hawkins Melton for her letter. Nothing her father told her, however, contradicts the evidence in our article that Robert Oppenheimer had been a member of the CPUSA. We wrote that he had been a member of a secret party faculty unit, consisting of himself, Haakon Chevalier, and Arthur Brodeur. Their liaison with the Communist Party was Gordon Griffiths, a graduate student in the history department. Both Chevalier and Griffiths identified Oppenheimer as a participant in the unit. So did Chevalier’s wife. As far as we can tell, Brodeur never discussed his party membership, and Oppenheimer denied it. The unit was secret, and Hawkins, a graduate student in philosophy, was not a member.
We noted in our article that Hawkins “could not confirm that Oppenheimer was a party member but agreed that Oppenheimer had hosted CPUSA meetings at his home.” We agree with Melton that her “father may simply not have known of Oppenheimer’s connection to the party.” She also claims that the party occasionally sponsored parties—mainly fundraisers for Loyalist Spain—at Oppenheimer’s elegant house to which many non-Communists were invited. Interviewed years later by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, Oppenheimer’s sympathetic biographers, Hawkins agreed he was not aware of whether Oppenheimer was a party member but confessed that he had attended Communist study groups—not fundraisers for Loyalist Spain—at Oppenheimer’s home.
The evidence that Oppenheimer had been a party member is overwhelming and does not rest on David Hawkins’s recollections.
Biden and Israel
To the Editor:
Mike Pompeo and Elan Carr’s article on Joe Biden and Israel was 100 percent spot on, (“The Biden Turn Against Israel,” September). The authors, however, leave out something important.
As Pompeo and Carr note, the Biden administration recently roll-ed out its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. At the time, President Biden made it a point to express his rightful animosity toward white nationalism. But as with many Democrats, Biden’s focusing on white nationalism misses the fastest growing form of anti-Semitism in America: anti-Zionism.
So when I read the strategy, I noticed something appalling. There was not a single mention of either Zionism or anti-Zionism—in a strategy purportedly meant to combat anti-Semitism. When anti-Zionism is the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses? How could that be? The strategy references Islamophobia 21 times. And there are as many references to halal as there are to kosher. Given that—in the strategy’s own words—anti-Semitism has “unique characteristics,” it came as a surprise to read the phrase “other forms of hate/bigotry” 43 times. But Zionism and anti-Zionism? Not a single reference.
Why? Because the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism is a National Strategy to Counter White Nationalism. If you read it and insert “white nationalism” for “anti-Semitism,” the plan stays the same. This is intentional. Deborah Lipstadt, Doug Emhoff, and everyone else connected to this strategy purposely created it as a smokescreen for the anti-Semites on their side of the aisle. It allows some progressives—most notably Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Hakeem Jeffries to skirt accusations of anti-Semitism.
It takes a spine of steel to fight anti-Semitism precisely because it exists on your side of the political aisle—no matter what side that is. You must have the strength to alienate your own.
Yes, anti-Semitism exists on the right, and it needs to be called out. But it also exists on the left. Indeed, the left is building a culture predicated on the lie that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Jewish Leadership Project
To the Editor:
Michael R. Pompeo and Elan S. Carr offer a number of disturbing examples of the Biden administration’s tilt against Israel. Allow me to add one more.
Some have noted that the administration often criticizes Israel for building in the portions of Judea-Samaria that it governs, yet it never criticizes the Palestinian Authority for building in the parts of those territories that it governs. That double standard is bad enough, but the deeper significance of the U.S. position is worse than that.
There is not one word in the Oslo Accords, or any other peace agreements that Israel has ever signed with any Arab regime, that prohibits Jewish construction in the territories. Building new towns, expanding existing towns, and construction within the current borders of towns there, is all perfectly consistent with the Oslo agreements.
So when the Biden administra-tion demands that Israel halt construction (or “settlement activity”), it is demanding that Israel go above and beyond its obligations in the Oslo Accords. But the administration never demands that the Palestinian Authority even fulfill its obligations in those accords, much less go beyond them. The PA has never disarmed or outlawed terrorist groups, extradited terrorists to Israel, or halted its anti-Jewish incitement. It has not even produced a copy of the amended Palestinian National Covenant, from which it supposedly removed passages calling for violence and the destruction of Israel.
The U.S. invested deeply in the Oslo Accords. It embraced the agreements, hosted the Rabin-Arafat signing on the White House lawn, trained and armed the Palestinian security forces, and poured more than $10 billion into the PA. It’s unconscionable that the Biden administration refuses to insist that the PA honor the accords, while condemning Israel for doing something that the accords permit.
Stephen M. Flatow
Religious Zionists of America
New York City
Michael R. Pompeo and Elan S. Carr write:
Stephen M. Flatow bolsters our thesis by pointing out yet another way in which the Biden administration makes unreasonable demands of Israel while indulging Palestinian malfeasance. Whatever one believes about potential Israeli territorial concessions, settlements are neither illegal nor an obstacle to peace, and during the previous administration we established U.S. policy along those lines. More broadly, the left’s identity-based branding of Palestinians as perpetual victims of racist oppression does them no favors. Those who genuinely care about Palestinians ought to start by respecting their human agency.
With regard to the Biden National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, we opted to focus on its sins of commission, rather than omission; however, Jake Donnelly is correct in lamenting its neglect of anti-Zionism, which is one of today’s prevalent manifestations of anti-Semitism. Where the strategy does acknowledge the existence of Israel-hatred, it neglects to outline measures that address it. For example, after correctly affirming that singling out Israel because of anti-Jewish hatred is anti-Semitic, it suggests no responsive measures. And even in the section aiming to address anti-Semitism in schools and on campus, the strategy sets forth no actions to counter the drumbeat of anti-Zionism plaguing our educational systems. When one of us, as secretary of state, declared in 2019, “let me go on record: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” the statement was meant to set forth U.S. policy along straightforward guidelines: Hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people, and denying the Jewish people its identity as an ethno-national community with rights of self-determination in its ancestral homeland is a form of anti-Semitism.
Stalin and the Jews
To the Editor:
I am a scholar of the former Soviet Union and have spent many years in Russia, Central Asia, and beyond. I thought I understood a lot about the dynamics in the Soviet regime until I read Dovid Margolin’s article (“The Jews in Defiance of History,” September).
The author should know what a moving and important piece this was, a beautiful tribute to his family and to the endurance of the Jewish faith.
I grew up in, and still live in, Pittsburgh and celebrated my Bat Mitzvah at the Tree of Life Synagogue. That Jews practice their faith seems always to be an act of great defiance.
Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili
To the Editor:
I was completely captivated by Dovid Margolin’s article on the Jews killed in Soviet Russia. Margolin must have done extensive research to discover all of the facts about his great-grandfather, Solomon Levenson, and I am amazed at what he was able to uncover. While I was aware that hundreds of thousands of Russians were killed under the Stalinist regime, I was unaware of Kommunarka, Butovo, and Stalin’s shooting grounds. The essay was wonderfully written, and by the end I felt I knew Solomon, Dasha, and his grandmother Olga, who was fortunate to have survived.
My family was fortunate in that they fled the Soviet Union in 1918, when my uncle was marked for execution by the Communists (a long story in itself).
“The Jews in Defiance of History” was the right headline. With the killings of millions of Jews over the past 2,500 years it is indeed a miracle that our people not only survived but are today thriving in our ancient homeland and speaking our ancient language. It is inconceivable that this miracle was anything other than by the work of Hashem.
As the Haggadah states, “In every generation they (our enemies) rise up against us to destroy us but the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.”
I thank Dovid Margolin for painting such a vivid picture of what took place in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
Indian Land, South Carolina
Dovid Margolin writes:
I want to thank Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Yaakov Aminoff for their very kind words. I should note that my research would have been impossible without the groundbreaking work of the Russian human-rights organization Memorial. Beginning in 1989, Memorial-affiliated scholars painstakingly uncovered and published the names of millions of Stalin’s victims, and it is to their credit that families such as mine were able to learn the truth. My understanding of the mechanics of Stalin’s shooting grounds is likewise thanks primarily to the work of Arseny Roginsky, the former Soviet dissident who chaired Memorial from 1998 until his death in 2017. The ban on Memorial is another example of Russia’s tragic inability to face its past.
The Jewish people, on the other hand, have throughout history endeavored to live up to the Almighty’s injunction that we “Remember,” as Yaakov Aminoff illustrates when he quotes the Haggadah. For the Jews, remembrance is never just about the past, but also for our present.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, understood intimately the depravity of Soviet crimes. This year will mark 80 years since his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, died ill and emaciated in government-imposed exile in Kazakhstan. The Rebbe, however, did not recall his father as a victim, but as the victor—someone who through daily acts of self-sacrifice for Judaism revealed God’s presence in the deepest darkness.
“The Jewish people must survive … Bolshevism,” the Rebbe told a Soviet Jewry activist in 1977. Dancing once a year on Simchat Torah was not enough; in order to survive and thrive as Jews they must engage with their Judaism “every day!” This is in effect what Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili expresses when she points out that the Jews’ practice of “their faith seems always to be an act of great defiance.” It is our ultimate act of defiance.