From the Vaults: Dissent, Winter 1988

As a subscriber to Dissent, I was fortunate enough to be invited to hear Michael Kazin, one of the editors, speak when he was in London last month. This reminded me that Michael’s late father, the literary critic Alfred Kazin, (profiled wonderfully by Richard Cook’s biography:- See Michael Weiss’s review in Democratiya) used to contribute to intellectual journals including Dissent, the journal his son now co-edits.  In the letters column of the Winter 1988 issue of Dissent, Alfred Kazin was in fine form attacking Alexander Cockburn. I enclose an extract from his letter below:

No, Alexander Cockburn is not a “Jew-hater,” but I am certainly a Cockburn-hater. For many years now I have been unable to read him, first in the Village Voice and then in the Nation, without muttering to myself “Philby-McLean Burgess.” He is a snotty upper-class British leftist (to put it politely) whose condescension to democracy and approval of Kremlin despots of course calls for habitual jabs at Jewish critics and victims of Soviet tyranny. For some reason Cockburn’s Jewish editors and colleagues on the Village Voice were always taking offense. When he finally left the Voice to go to the Nation after he was exposed by the Boston Phoenix as having accepted a $10,000 grant from an Arab group (paid by Iraq) to write a book about Israel in Lebanon, he seemed astonished at the uproar. When Anatoly Shcharansky was on trial in Russia for “espionage,” Cockburn managed, virtually alone in the United States, to suggest that the Jewish defendant was guilty and that President Carter was lying when he denied that Shcharansky had been employed by the U.S. And how did Cockburn put it (Village Voice, July 24, 1978)?

There are still enigmas in the trial. The prosecutors do not seem to have made much, publicly, of the fact that someone recruited by the C.I.A., though in fact working for the K.G.B., had been in contact with Shcharansky, and thus Carter’s denials were disingenuous. What were the secret negotiations carried forward between Washington and the Kremlin, apropos Shcharansky? How many hands had a part in the script? Is a deal still to unfold?

When Paul Berman in a notable Voice article exposed Noam Chomsky’s virtual defense of the leading French “revisionist” of the Holocaust—the issue was just the murder of six million Jews—Cockburn accused him of “pandering to certain groups.” And after all, Cockburn soothed his readers, “In Western Europe anti-Semitism is not the socially sanctioned form of bigotry it once was. For a decade [sic] the Catholic Church has been on record as opposing it.” When poor Leon Klinghoffer was murdered in his wheelchair and thrown into the ocean by Arab terrorists, Cockburn palliated this too (Nation, November 2, 1985). Leon Klinghoffer, “awful though his end may have been, was the only known victim of terrorism in the fall of 1985.”

These days Cockburn is a co-editor of CounterPunch, where he publishes Gilad Atzmon, the ex-Israeli who believes that burning down synagogues is a “rational act.” At the time of writing his letter, Alfred Kazin did not believe that Cockburn was a “Jew hater.” One wonders whether he would have changed his opinion had he lived to see Cockburn spread the following conspiracy theory:

Certainly, there are a number of stories sloshing around the news now that have raised discussion of Israel and of the posture of American Jews to an acrid level. The purveyor of anthrax may have been a former government scientist, Jewish, with a record of baiting a colleague of Arab origins, and with the intent to blame the anthrax on Muslim terrorists.