Has the Forward Association abandoned Elementary Ethics?


by Dovid Katz

On February 25th, the Yiddish Forverts in New York published a defamatory ad-hominem attack on this journal’s editor.

The article was signed by ‘Jacob London (Oxford)’, the pseudonym of Sovetish Heymland veteran Gennady Estraikh who was secretary to the Soviet magazine’s editor Aaron Vergelis for many years. Now, a resident of New York, he is listed as the paper’s editor for its ‘European Bureau’. It is quite shocking for many readers that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Boris Sandler, himself a Sovetish Heymland veteran, allows for the paper’s abuse for fake-name, fake-place vicious attack on colleagues in the field of Yiddish Studies.

It is a curiosity of the story, perhaps, that Mr. Estraikh of Zaporozhe, Ukraine, prefers to think of himself as Mr. London of Oxford (where this journal’s editor brought him, directly from Moscow, as a graduate student of Yiddish, back in 1991; Soviet Gratitude is, it seems, also in play, for the man who once plagiarized D. Katz’s Grammar of the Yiddish Language, and then got off the hook by adding an accreditation sticker on the cover of the pilfered Intensive Yiddish). But that is a matter for the students of pseudonyms, pilfering and the tragic lack of standards in some centers of Yiddish studies. And Estraikh’s role in wrecking the Oxford Program in Yiddish after a decade and a half of harmonious progress, remains to be studied by historians of the field. After displacing his own teachers, he took over the by-then world renowned programs, only to close them all down when a better offer came along thanks to the Russian Jewish crowd in the eastern United States of America.

A litany of supposed sins is crowned by invective relating to this journal’s opposition to various antisemitic and Holocaust-obfuscating policies of the current Lithuanian government. Links are provided inter alia to Evan Zimroth’s (profoundly misinformed) circular letter, concerning a Lithuanian government sponsored conference in London (but no mention that Ms. Zimroth had recently received an award from the Lithuanian Consulate in New York for her 1990s fiction). Forverts readers were not apprised of the existence of DefendingHistory.com, which they are presumably not trusted to know about. Ms. Zimroth, by contrast, gave her readers the benefit of the address of the web journal she vehemently disagrees with. Moreover, her published letter discloses the award from the consulate, and is of course signed with her real name (it does not purport to come from a Ms. Paris of Rome). A sharp contrast with the conduct of the Forverts.

Several readers in different cities have reported to DefendingHistory.com that they wrote letters in Yiddish to the paper’s editor, Boris Sandler. As of today, none of their letters were published, and some received personal replies from — Gennady Estraikh, who helped readers on a one-to-one basis to come to grips with Mr. London’s profound thinking.

Why do the editors, and the Forward Association that finances the entire operation, provide cover for full-time full-salary staff members who abuse their position on the payroll to attack colleagues, using a fake name and a bogus place of residence?

Would the Forward Association tolerate this behavior in the English Forward?

Moreover, the Forward Association might well be concerned to investigate whether any of its own might have been, might be, or might become beneficiaries of direct or indirect Lithuanian government largess in the interests of silencing or forestalling criticism in the U.S. about the defamation of Jewish anti-Nazi partisan heroes now in their late eighties, the 2010 legalization of public swastikas, the Double Genocide movement, the assault on democracy (including criminalization of the historic narrative of the Holocaust), or the toleration of widespread antisemitism including state-approved city-center neo-Nazi marches.

Cases recorded include conferral of the title ‘professor’ upon a Florida nursing home senior executive Mr. E. Palevsky who had himself organized a powerful public letter of protest at the 2008 Vilnius Yiddish summer course. After being ‘punished’ by not being invited back for 2009, his ‘tenure’ was resumed, accompanied by a newfounded — and some would say untoward — silence about the pressing issues for which both his parents had been prepared to give their lives as anti-Nazi partisans during the Holocaust. In 2010, students who asked him about these matters were told that ‘the State Department is dealing with it’…

In another Forward Association related  instance,  CCNY professor Jack Jacobs, pursued a public partnership with an obfuscationist group that omits the Holocaust altogether from its happy-go-lucky image strip of Lithuanian Jewish history, and goes on in its text to convert the Holocaust to ‘the loss of the complicated last century’, a classic formulation of today’s Obfuscationist movement in Eastern Europe. Making the trivialization of the Holocaust ‘respectable’ by recruiting Western and Jewish personalities and institutions to such endeavors is a major contemporary pattern of activity in Eastern Europe. Professor Jacobs then allegedly enabled the CCNY academic played in the glorifying welcome given by City College to Lithuania’s foreign minister in September 2009, several week’s before the minister’s still-unretracted antisemitic outburst, which drew swift and courageous reaction from Lithuania’s tiny Jewish community, but none from the Forward, the Forverts, or the Forward Association’s Lithuanian Government ‘activists’.

Most shockingly, these collaborating associates who have colluded with Lithuanian obfuscationists, and choose to remain publicly silent about heroic Vilna Jewish partisan veterans being sent to eternity as ‘suspected war criminals’ are themselves in some instances children of beloved Jewish partisan heroes. Some profess support for the Jewish Labor Bund, a heroic movement that would not for an instant, experts say, have remained silent about the persecution of anti-Nazi heroes. Their own parents would today also be accused of war crimes by the same logic of Lithuanian prosecutors, by which Jewish veterans of the anti-Nazi partisans need to be subject to ‘pre-trial investigations for war crimes’ in the absence of any iota of specific evidence. The tiny and embattled — but dignified and courageous — Jewish community of Lithuania early on saw fit to issue a public statement protesting the singling out of Jewish partisan veterans for these shameful investigations that are tantamount to Blaming the Victims.

And, all this at a time when the former prime minister of Britain does see fit to speak out, and when members of the United States Congress continue to wait for a reply to their bold letter to Lithuania’s leaders.

Perhaps, finally, the Forward Association will rise to the occasion and take moral responsibility for the gross abuse of its generous subsidies for ex-Soviet ‘hit-man journalism’ to take aim at Yiddish Studies colleagues, via campaigns of personal destruction. The more so when they are to the delight of far-right antisemitic operatives of an East European country who are as it is investing vast resources in the delegitimization of  dissenting voices that step up and speak out for the dwindling and embattled Jewish communities of the Holocaust’s ground zero.

What would the generations of proud Yiddish journalists and writers associated with the magnificent history of the Forverts think of it being hijacked by a Sovetish Heymland / Yevsek ethos? Manipulable by far-right antisemitic elements of an East European government? About the continued silence of the safe and secure board members of the Forward Association, who seem to think that the English-reading public will never find out?

Not to mention the question of respect for readers of Yiddish.


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