Thoughts on Jews, Obscenity, and the Legal System

“Moral techniques are policies ‘to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group.’ This technique of moral debasement entails diverting the ‘mental energy of the group’ from ‘moral and national thinking’ to ‘base instincts.’ The aim is that ‘the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality.’ [Raphael] Lemkin mentioned the encouragement of pornography and alcoholism in Poland as an example.
Dirk Moses, Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History

I first encountered the above comment by Australian academic A. Dirk Moses several years ago, during the course of his discussion of Raphael Lemkin’s eight ‘techniques’ of genocide. Along with political, social, cultural, economic, biological, physical, and religious assaults, Lemkin argued that a targeted population can also come under moral siege, with the goal of destroying its sense of itself as a collective. I remember being struck by the last sentence of Moses’s summary of this technique, even though my reading of it involved a radically different interpretation than that offered by its author. Both Lemkin and Moses were referring specifically to policies enacted in post-invasion Poland by the National Socialist regime, with Lemkin remarking in his own enunciation of the eighth technique: “Therefore the [National Socialist] occupant made an effort in Poland to impose upon the Poles pornographic publications and movies. The consumption of alcohol was encouraged, for while food prices have soared, the Germans have kept down the price of alcohol, and the peasants are compelled by the authorities to take spirits in payment for agricultural produce. The curfew law, enforced very strictly against Poles, is relaxed if they can show the authorities a ticket to one of the gambling houses which the Germans have allowed to come into existence.”[1]

The pertinence or veracity of this claim that National Socialists enacted such policies as a means of exterminating the Poles was of only secondary concern to me. Much more pressing, in my reading, was the obvious fact that the National Socialists were merely copying and expanding upon what they understood to be the pre-existing tactics of cultural domination in that country (and others in Europe). Indeed, Jews were widely understood by both Poles and Germans as having been intimately involved in the alcohol industry of Poland prior to the invasion of 1939, with the Tablet even affirming in a 2014 article that Jews “ruled Poland’s liquor trade for centuries” in a system in which Polish peasants were compelled to purchase Jewish alcohol (also, see here for a podcast I recorded with Patrick Slattery last year on the nature of the Jewish tavern system in Eastern Europe). Jews have also long been associated with dominating the gambling industry (Israel is currently the global center for online gambling). In those areas of nineteenth century Poland where local nobles granted tax exemptions to Jewish communal institutions, Jews continued to sell liquor and run inns and taverns, in which they established gambling facilities to further squeeze the Poles. And in the sphere of obscenity, in 1913 a “filthy press” in Warsaw “belonging to a certain Zimmerman,” was confiscated by Polish police after it was discovered disseminating pornography throughout the Russian Empire — activities described by the newspaper Przegląd Katolicki as a “Jewish atrocity.”[2]

My question then, on considering the remarks of Moses and Lemkin, was both simple and stark: If, by promoting vice, the National Socialists were employing a genocidal technique against the Poles, what had the Jews been doing?

Along with discussions of Jewish influence in finance, and more recently Jewish ideologies or intellectual movements, the nature and meaning of Jewish involvement in, and promotion of, vice/obscenity/immorality may be considered one of the cornerstones of the Jewish Question. Jewish involvement in, or association with, the obscene is well-attested in the historical record, both in Jewish and European sources, and across wide geographical areas. In particular, Jews have often been regarded by host cultures as both inherently obscene and as promoters of the obscene — a corrosive force acting against group morality, and therefore group cohesion. In Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture (2014), Josh Lambert points out that in the ancient Mediterranean Jews were referred to as “an obscene people.”[3]

Such comments may have been as much observations as aspersions, since we know that in later centuries obscenity became an integral part of Jewish linguistic culture. For example, Bernard Dov Weinryb writes that in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Poland, “many erotic or obscene expressions and metaphors appear in Hassidic writings. …They reflect the way the average Jew in those times used obscene language, mainly of an erotic character, in his conversation.”[4] On more recent contexts, Jonas E. Alexis has written that,

Jewish actors tend to gravitate towards shows with sexual themes. …  Israeli-American Natalie Portman tells us in the movie No Strings Attached that “monogamy goes against our basic biology.” And [Jewish singer] Adam Lambert says, “When I’m on stage there’s definitely a sexual energy that goes into it.” In 2009 Lambert performed ‘For Your Entertainment’ at the American Music Awards. During the performance Lambert dragged a female dancer by her ankles and pushed “a male dancer’s head into his crotch and simulated oral sex.”[5]

As well as being represented, and self-representing, as having an intrinsic relationship to the obscene, the historical record is also replete with examples of Jews involving themselves heavily in the trade in obscenity. In his pseudonymously-published Letters from England (1808), the English Poet Laureate Robert Southey remarked on Jewish peddlers who wandered nineteenth-century England hawking “miserable and obscene prints.”[6] In 1886 Édouard Drumont warned of a “pornographic war” being waged on France by Jews.[7] Estonian police raided a building in 1909 belonging to the Jewish Benjamin Mikhailovsky, one of the richest merchants in Narva. One of Mikhailovsky’s side projects, apart from the trade in precious metals, was printing, and during their search police seized “11,119 cards they considered pornographic.”[8] And in Poland in 1910, three decades before the Jewish Raphael Lemkin would describe the German pushing of alcohol and pornography on the Poles as a “genocidal” tactic, the Polish Archbishop Pelczar would write, “I consider it my duty to warn Christian society against those Jews who intoxicate our people in the tavern and destroy them with usury; against those who maintain houses of debauchery in the towns; who trade in live goods [i.e. selling women into prostitution], who poison our young people with pornographic prints and periodicals.”[9] In the U.S, it is well established that Jews have had a prominent role in the porn industry since the late nineteenth century (see also “Research on pornography and the Sexualization of Culture”).

These are just a few of many thousands of available examples. The historical record contains a wealth of evidence suggesting that the combination of the perennial Jewish association with obscenity and more general Jewish social and political influence has led to very significant changes in the social mores of host populations.

Recently I’ve been devoting some time to the study of Jewish ethnic networking in legal cases involving obscenity. These legal cases may be regarded as acting as tactical ‘fulcrums’ upon which relatively small numbers of influential individuals can ‘tilt’ the social mores of a host population in directions perceived to benefit Jewish interests. In one remarkable but highly demonstrative example from Unclean Lips, Josh Lambert cites the 1961 seizing of Henry Miller’s notorious 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer, by a Chicago police chief:

A few weeks later, a Northwestern University professor named Franklyn Haiman, acting with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the local police for infringing on what he considered to be his right to read Miller’s novel. The book’s American publisher, Barney Rosset of Grove Press, described the resulting trial as ‘the most dramatic’ of sixty such legal cases nationwide that contested the suppression of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Edward de Grazia, a lawyer and legal historian, singles out that Chicago trial as “one of the best examples” of how lawyers and judges together transformed a few statements from a 1957 obscenity decision, Roth v. United States, into a widely applicable First Amendment defense of so-called dirty books, a defense that had profound consequences for the representation of sex in American culture and literature.

What goes unmentioned in accounts of this crucial trial is the prominence of Jews among the advocates for Miller’s novel. Haiman, the plaintiff who initiated the suit was Jewish, and so was his lawyer, the veteran First Amendment advocate Elmer Gertz. The book’s publisher, Rosset, considered himself half Jewish. The paperback of Miller’s book contained an introduction by the poet Karl Shapiro, whose most recent collection of verse was titled Poems of a Jew. Gertz called as the first expert witness to testify on behalf of the novel Northwestern University literary scholar and James Joyce biographer Richard Ellman, son of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Ukraine. The presiding judge, Samuel B. Epstein, was, like Ellman, a first generation American whose father had trained at the famed Slobodka yeshiva in Lithuania and had come to Chicago in 1911 to lead one of the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities.[10]

The Miller case is of course illustrative not only of a relationship between Jews and the defense or promotion of obscenity, but also of the nature and expression of Jewish influence more generally. It is often enquired by those skeptical of our arguments on Jewish influence how Jews are capable of altering or determining the social, cultural, or legal trajectories of host societies. Very often the alleged requirements for such transformations are presented by sceptics as being very large in scale, and the premise that Jews could be capable of undertaking such transformative actions is dismissed, or even ridiculed, on the grounds of apparent impossibility. However, the sceptic in such cases errs by misunderstanding the manner in which social trajectories are ‘plotted,’ and by subsequently over-estimating the level of Jewish activity required to affect change.

Just as Martin Heidegger pointed out that the individual spends much of his or her time in a state of preoccupied ‘everydayness’ or ‘inauthenticity,’ so societies (mirroring the nature of its largely ‘inauthentic’ components) also spend the majority of their time operating mechanistically, unconscious of their existence as a society.

Today, the everyday business of government and politics is replete with the same kinds of procrastinations and preoccupations that bog down the life of the individual. Congress and Parliament often give the appearance of ceaseless debate and activity. And yet, against the backdrop of this ceaseless noise, society stagnates or even regresses. It may be considered an axiom that singular occasions on which a society or culture acts decisively in a manner in which its course as a society or culture will progress or change course are relatively rare. These occasions can include matters of war, or social questions such as slavery, abortion, and myriad issues of morality. Jewish activists, who merely require a subtle and even unassuming understanding of their group identity and interests rather than a ‘master plan’ or grand conspiracy, need only act to acquire socially influential positions, and then act corporately and decisively in particular societal ‘moments’ in such manner as they deem in accordance with these interests. Such opportunistic patterns of activism correspond very closely with the periodic episodes of ‘refusal, protest, and subversion’ prescribed by Herbert Marcuse in his One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, one of the key texts of Cultural Marxist theory.

Of course, it goes without saying that Jewish interests in many instances conflict with those of less ethnocentric host populations. In the case of the Miller trial outlined above, a relatively small number of Jews were demonstrably able to interrupt, obstruct, or “refuse” as Marcuse would put it, the host society’s ability to self-police an infringement of its group morality. Every society produces its share of perverts, renegades, and malcontents, but not all societies are inhibited in their policing of such anti-social elements by the presence of oppositional third parties masquerading as ‘concerned’ natives.

The key here is the crucial occupation of influential positions during influential ‘moments’, bolstered by high levels of ethnic cooperation. Such combinations of positioning, opportunity, and ethnic networking can of course be replicated by oppositional elements across a number of societal ‘moments,’ bringing equally profound consequences to national trajectories involving immigration, demographics, economics, communications, free speech, and even the way a society views itself. The courts, where decision-making is often narrowed to a handful of individuals or even a single individual, are a very significant arena in which such ‘moments’ are not only played out, but are also especially vulnerable to interference and networking (see also my article ‘Jews are Leading the Legal Fight Against Brexit’).

Jews also had a decisive influence on the law in several other areas. Church-state relations in the U.S. is an area where Jews saw a clear Jewish interest in eradicating public displays of Christianity: “The Jewish effort in this case was well funded and was the focus of well-organized, highly dedicated Jewish civil service organizations, including the AJCommittee, the AJCongress, and the ADL. It involved keen legal expertise both in the actual litigation but also in influencing legal opinion via articles in law journals and other forums of intellectual debate, including the popular media. It also involved a highly charismatic and effective leadership, particularly Leo Pfeffer of the AJCongress” (here, p. 254–255, 255). Another area of the law that was decisively influenced by Jews is litigation under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992 which was reinterpreted so that American Jews could sue foreign organizations that could be linked to terrorist acts in foreign countries, such as Israel. In this case a network of Jews in reshaping the law encompassed “a multifocal approach, involving not only the American judicial system but Congress, which enacts anti-terrorism laws and whose individual congresspersons advocate on behalf of Jewish ATA plaintiffs, and the Executive Branch, which enforces these laws and also promulgates politicized lists of countries and organizations that sponsor or engage in terrorism.”11

The question remains as to how and why the defense or promotion of obscenity would be seen by Jews as being in Jewish interests. What, in the actions of figures like Haiman, Gertz, Rosset, Shapiro, Ellman, and Epstein, can be discerned in terms of more specific Jewish motivations? It is interesting that Lambert, having just illustrated a clear case of Jewish group behavior, takes great pains to avoid reaching any logical conclusions about it. Lambert writes that it would be a “mistake to explain [their participation] in the defense of Tropic of Cancer by saying that as Jews they were predisposed to favor obscene language. That would mean endorsing a venerable, deplorable, and ignorant anti-Semitic tradition that has understood Jewish speech and writing as obscene.”[12] Lambert casts such aspersions of ‘anti-Semitism’ on Anthony Comstock (1844–1915) the remarkable Victorian-era New York YMCA activist, U.S. Postal Inspector, and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock’s apparent failing was that he was unashamed to publicly note that most of his opponents, including vast numbers of abortionists, pimps, and pornographers, were Jews. Moreover, Comstock argued that Jews were working corporately in the legal system to thwart his efforts. Lambert writes, “Comstock did not regard these Jews as acting as individuals but as conspiring with other Jews.”[13] In the case of one prosecution against a Jewish abortionist named Bass, “Comstock believed that a [Jewish] district attorney and judge had corruptly colluded to place onto the jury six Dutch Jews who were opposed to the [Society for the Suppression of Vice], thus winning the case for Bass, who was a Dutch Jew, too.”[14] Despite stunning similarities between Comstock’s complaint and the manner in which the Miller trial played out some six decades later, Lambert’s position, like many Jewish apologists for Jewish group behavior, is that it is factually and morally (!) wrong to assert that any kind of group activity had taken place in either of these instances. The actors in all of these events were merely individuals who “just happened to be Jewish,” and it is presumably just a tremendous series of coincidences that Jews recurrently congregate in societal ‘moments’ of this nature.

For Lambert to maintain such a position is demonstrative of an extraordinary level of deception or perhaps self-deception, particularly as his text is apparently based on the theory that the most authoritative and socially influential American obscenity trials all involved Jews — Winters v. New York (1948), Burstyn v. Wilson (1952), Roth v U.S. (1957), Mishkin v. New York (1966), Ginzburg v. U.S. (1966), Ginsburg v. New York (1968), and Cohen v. California (1971). Unfortunately, the presentation of ‘anti-Semitic’ arguments as morally beyond the pale renders even the most fanciful belief in endless sequences of coincidences like these somehow legitimate by comparison. The result is a scenario in which evidence-based critiques of Jewish influence are marginalized in favor of ideas of Jewish behavior which require an almost religious leap of faith — a kind of ‘Creationist’ view of Jewish involvement in causes associated with the radical Left, and White decline more generally.

Aside from this kind of ‘Creationist’ thinking, a more common phenomenon among non-Jewish scholars discussing obscenity, many of whom presumably find it difficult to continuously resort to “coincidence” when constructing their narratives, is that they simply remain in cowardly silence on Jews, leaving in their wake a lacuna which is as telling as it is jarring. Lambert himself concedes that “Jewishness is typically mentioned in the finest books on this subject only when it is raised unavoidably by the participants themselves, and scholars then typically eschew any commentary. … The most sophisticated studies of obscenity in American law and culture to date have remained silent on the subject of participants’ Jewishness.”[15]

But what explanation does Lambert offer for the Jewish engagement with obscenity? He argues that Jews “engaged with obscenity — produced it, defended it, wrote about it — for precisely the same reasons that many of their Protestant, Catholic, and nonreligious peers did so: to make money, to seek sexual gratification, to express antisocial rage.”[16] In terms of factuality, this probably ranks somewhere alongside defining a dog as a four-legged mammal — it is technically truthful but is so insufficient and incomplete as to be almost worthless. Most interesting of these proffered reasons is ‘antisocial rage,’ which is left hanging in tantalizing fashion without further elaboration. Indeed, lest readers begin to ponder the fact that, numerically speaking, Jews appear to have a disproportionate amount of ‘antisocial rage,’ Lambert hastens to clarify that he means his subjects are merely “expressing anger about their individual lives[emphasis added].” Speaking through one of his characters in The Anatomy Lesson (1983), the filth-peddler Philip Roth seethes “With me money is not the paramount issue. The defiance is. The hatred is. The outrage is.” Lambert takes this comment and avoids asking who Roth is defying, or who his hatred and outrage is directed towards. Roth’s hatred, like that of Lambert’s other subjects, is simply abstracted into what Lambert describes in anodyne fashion as a purely “personal, apolitical rage.”[17]

I’ve reached different conclusions from Lambert. Evidence in the field of obscenity suggests that Jews have long possessed a disproportionate surplus of ‘antisocial rage,’ and that the expression of this rage is rather more political than apolitical, and rather more communal than purely personal or individual. In the careful, consistent, and persistent use of our legal systems, one detects a hatred that is more focused than abstract, more contrived than spontaneous. To return to the quote that opened this essay, the systematic encouragement of vice is an inherently political act, designed ‘to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group.’ The technique of moral debasement entails diverting the ‘mental energy of the group’ from ‘moral and national thinking’ to ‘base instincts.’ The aim is that ‘the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality.’

It is demoralizing to a people. It is debasing to a nation. It is a weapon wielded in ethnic warfare. Lemkin, like Lambert, was good with his facts, but insufficient and incomplete in his definitions. Deceiving or self-deceiving, he omitted a crucial context. What he ascribed to a few years of National Socialist policy in Poland remained, and still remains, unattributable to centuries of Jewish behavior.

The courts will play an important role in the future trajectories of our people. It is, however, almost certain that they cannot be reclaimed in the manner in which they were first seized. It is infinitely easier for a cohesive, ethnocentric group to infiltrate the institutions of an individualistic group than vice versa. Until we regain our ability to control the outcome of our ‘societal moments,’ we can however be certain that our trajectory will be downward. The ‘refusals, protests, and subversions’ prescribed by Marcuse will continue to be played out, our society rendered, in the terminology of Zygmunt Bauman, increasingly “liquid.”

Even now, as I finish here, news trickles in that Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transsexuals from serving in the military had been scuppered by federal judge Marvin Garbis. He is the “grandson of Jewish immigrants.” The ban is of course seen by its opponents as standing in the way of a new societal ‘moment’ — one in which sex/gender is reduced to a matter of identity and personal choice, and in which society is further atomized. I sigh on learning that the lawsuit was brought by the ACLU’s senior staff attorney Joshua Block, also Jewish. He remarked after the Garbis decision: “Today is a victory for transgender service members across the country. We’re pleased that the courts have stepped in to ensure that trans service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.” The truth of course is that “the courts have stepped in” because they are no longer our courts.

Either that, or we are just witnessing another one of those remarkable coincidences.

[1] Quoted in J. G. Heidenrich, How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policymakers, Scholars, and the Concerned Citizen (London: Praeger, 2001), p.45.

[2] R. Blobaum, ‘Criminalizing the ‘Other’: Crime, Ethnicity and Antisemitism in Early Twentieth-Century Poland’ in R. Blobaum, (ed.), Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), p89.

[3] J. Lambert, Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2014), p.3.

[4] B. D. Weinryb, The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland, from 1100 to 1800 (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1972), p. 387.

[5] J. E. Alexis, Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: Surprising Differences, Conflicting Visions, and Worldview Implications—From the Early Church to our Modern Time (Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2012), p.217.

[6] R. Southey, Letters from England: Volume Two – Third American Edition (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p.179.

[7] R. Blobaum, ‘Criminalizing the ‘Other’: Crime, Ethnicity and Antisemitism in Early Twentieth-Century Poland’ in R. Blobaum, (ed.), Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), p89.

[8] A. Weiss-Wendt, On the Margins: About the History of Jews in Estonia (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017), p.43.

[9] B. A . Porter, Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p.303.

[10] Lambert, Unclean Lips, p.2.

[11] Kyle Bristow, “THE USE AND ABUSE OF THE ANTI-TERRORISM ACT,” The Occidental Quarterly, The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 1, Spring 2015, 12.

[12] Lambert, Unclean Lips, p.2.

[13]Ibid, p.4.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, p.10 & 12.

[16] Ibid, p.14.

[17] Ibid, p.15.

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