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The Progressive Magazine's Shame

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Message Michael Leon
Madison, Wisconsin - In mid-December after reading the latest attempt to shut down a critic of Israeli militarism by branding Jimmy Carter as someone with a "Jewish problem" (see Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem, December 13, 2006), I took the liberty of posting an opposing point of view here by Norman Finkelstein, using his previously published Counterpunch piece (The Media Lynching of Jimmy Carter, December 13, 2006).

Just perusing Finkelstein's website this weekend, I came across more similar sliming and branding, but this time by editors of Madison's The Progressive Magazine, from an affair this summer that went virtually unreported.

The Progressive Magazine

The Progressive Magazine rightfully bills itself as a "leading voice for peace and social justice since 1909."

Published in Madison, Wisconsin, The Progressive is a direct descendent of the 20th century progressive movement and its icon Senator Robert M LaFollette, "Fighting Bob," who founded the magazine as "La Follette's Weekly Magazine" in 1909.

This last July, the magazine with so storied a history - including heroic opposition to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s and riveting exposes of U.S. foreign and domestic policy in the 1970 and 80's - has disgraced itself, betraying the memory of LaFollette, Sam Day and the great pacifist journalist, Erwin Knoll (editor 1973-1994).

On Wisconsin Public Radio this last summer, Ruth Conniff, The Progressive's political editor, had blithely (in response to another guest's comment) referred to Norman Finkelstein as a "Holocaust denier, who is a Holocaust minimizer...," and "...a celebrity in a certain, a pretty ugly anti-Semitic group in the country..."

The Jewish Finkelstein

The Jewish Finkelstein, whose parents are survivors of the Maidanek and Auschwitz concentration camps, is an outspoken critic of Israeli foreign policy and a prolific writer on what he contends (convincingly) are the misuses of The Holocaust (and anti-Semitism) by defenders of Israeli foreign policy.

A brilliant and acerbic writer, Finkelstein writes with the passion one might expect from someone whose parents were brutalized by the Nazis and those Germans who did nothing to prevent the Holocaust.

As innocent Palestinian families and Palestinian communities are destroyed by Israel (supported by the U.S.), Finkelstein is not one to remain silent and do nothing. He feels passionately a personal responsibility to speak out and furiously challenge militarism, especially that violence committed in the name of Judaism.

Finkelstein has never denied or minimized the atrocity that brutalized his parents. He just says it's obscene to use the atrocity to support militarism and state violence, among other misuses.

For his work, Finkelstein, predictably, is a primary target of American and Israeli right-wingers and others dedicated to a militaristic Israeli foreign policy.

The Progressive Channels McCarthy

But I was shocked that the editors of The Progressive would join in this chorus, rather through accident or reaction.

Finkelstein had phoned and e-mailed The Progressive's editor, Matt Rothschild, and Rothschild, rather than knock down Conniff's comments and affirm that Finkelstein is no Holocaust minimizer, leapt to Conniff's defense in a long e-mail.

In part, Rothschild wrote, "...Ruth's fleeting statements of opinion about you were accurate, they were extremely mild in comparison to other criticism you have received, and she in no way acted with any malice toward you."

So, apparently it's okay to brand someone a "Holocaust minimizer," provided others have also done so in a more vituperative fashion.

Rothschild never actually grabbles with Finkelstein's well-supported arguments that are laid out in his several books.

What Rothschild does instead is present dangling, out-of-context sentences that purportedly support his conclusion.

Matt Rothschild writes an excellent column entitled "McCarthyism Watch." But as no retraction has been made in the some five months since this affair, I have to suggest that Matt Rothschild look in the mirror.

On his website, Finkelstein asks: "Should decent people subscribe to The Progressive?"

Absent a retraction, I cannot answer "yes."

As Israeli and Bush militarism in the Middle East continues unabated, with an even more horrific prognosis, any journal that lets stand this sliming of a man of conscience deserves no more support from the progressive community.

I think Joe McCarthy would be smiling approvingly these last few months.

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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at maleon64@yahoo.com.
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