Posted on | May 11, 2010 | 14 Comments
This may be a more important question than it appears at first glance, because you may not know who Phyllis Chesler is, and you’ve almost certainly never heard of Rachel Tabachnick. But there is a mystery afoot, so follow the clues, Scooby-Doo.
First things first: Phyllis Chesler is an important feminist author who, after 9/11, began speaking out against abuse of women in Islamic societies, criticizing feminists for their silence about about such issues, and warning of the rise of left-wing anti-Semitism. She is the author of The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (2003) and The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom (2005).
We know who Chesler is, but what do we know about Rachel Tabachnick, who has written an article at the Forward‘s Web site accusing Chesler of “single-minded zealotry” and “promoting the Religious Right and its Christian nationalism” as part of “The War Against Tolerance”?
The touchpoint of Mrs. Tabachnick’s article is a column Chesler wrote in support of Rifqa Bary. Mrs. Tabachnick uses that as the foundation for a “links-and-ties” smear, attempting to make Chesler culpable for the actions and words of Christian activists whom Chesler has never met but who also support Rifqa Bary. Chesler writes in her own response to Mrs. Tabachnick:
I am stunned, and saddened by the need to demonize Bary in terms of who her supporters may be. Why are Jews and Israelis demonizing the kind of Christians who most strongly support Israel’s right to exist? Or, is that the reason, namely, that the “right” kind of progressive Jew is supposed to be against Israel’s right to exist[?]
Chesler further suggests that the Forward‘s aim in publishing Mrs. Tabachnick is to “rile your audience up against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels.”
Which brings us to the important question, “Who is Rachel Tabachnick?” She is a prodigious contributor to the Web site Talk2Action.org, whose raison d’être is to “expose” the Religious Right. TalkToAction was founded in February 2006 by Bruce Wilson and Frederick Clarkson. From Mrs. Tabachnick’s Talk2Action biography:
Rachel Tabachnick is an independent researcher specializing in Christian Zionism and its impact on Israel, Jews, and interfaith relations. . . .
In 2006, Rachel began collaborating with Bruce Wilson, cofounder of Talk2action . . .
Rachel has a B.A. in History and M. Ed. in Educational Media, and she brings to her research unique life experiences including having spent the first half of her life as Southern Baptist and the second half Jewish.
Beyond what she says about herself at Talk2Action, however, it is nearly impossible to learn anything else about Mrs. Tabachnick — except that she is a resident of Pittsburgh whose husband, Ritchie, donated to the Obama Victory Fund. (That site apparently misidentifies Mrs. Tabachnick herself as the donor; the original FEC document lists her husband’s name.)
Ritchie Tabachnick is president of Equipment & Controls Africa, a Pittsburgh-based company that provides petroleum industry engineering services in Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria. Tabachnick is also a “progressive political activist” who spoke on a panel about bridging the “gap between social progressives and the working class” at the same Pennsylvania “Progressive Summit” in January where his wife Rachel gave a speech about “The ‘Sacralizing’ of Economic and Political Issues by the Religious Right.”
Well, it’s a free country and the Tabachnicks are free to engage in whatever political activism suits their fancy. Perceptive readers may wonder why Tabachnick, president of an oil-engineering company with some 200 employees (i.e., kind of a mini-Halliburton), would speak at a “summit” where other agenda items included “How to Fight the Corporate Ruling Class — and Win.”
Political alliances, however, are not always rational, nor are they always transparent. We do not know, for example, how Talk2Action is funded, or how it was that Mrs. Tabachnick “began collaborating with Bruce Wilson.”
What we do know is that Bruce Wilson has been posting at DailyKos as “Troutfishing” since October 2004, and that his fourth post — written the day after John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 election — argued for the formation of a “progressive/liberal/Dem umbrella group which would be the left equivalent of the Christian Coalition.” Wilson evidently used the same “Troutfishing” nom-de-blog at his own site, Metafilter.com, where in March 2004, he warned against “the religious right’s takeover of the Republican Party,” and a “new American Taliban.”
So in the wake of GOP victory in the 2004 election, Wilson organized an effort to target the “religous right,” presenting it as an American analog of the Taliban and thus, exactly as Chesler says, to “rile up” progressives “against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels.” By November 2005, the liberal Web site Religious Right Watch announced that former Sen. Gary Hart would participate in an online conference sponsored by Wilson’s Talk2Action:
Talk to Action, the first national interactive blog site devoted to discussing the theocratic Christian Right and what to do about it, will host a national “e-conference,” on the Talk to Action site, featuring writers and editors of Mother Jones, which is publishing several articles about the religious right in the next issue. The event will begin at 10am EST, Tuesday, November 29th.
Talk to Action, founded by author Frederick Clarkson, blogger Bruce Wilson, and 14 other writers, seeks to advance the national conversation on this subject.
All of which is to say that Talk2Action, on which Wilson and Mrs. Tabachnick are “collaborating,” is a political project originated at Daily Kos in 2004 by a partisan opponent of the Bush administration. The goal of Talk2Action is to defeat Republicans by discrediting conservative Christians, portraying them as dangerous, intolerant kooks.
Chesler’s column about Rifka Bary, and her general work in discussing the oppression of women in Islamic societies (Chesler was once married to a Muslim and lived in Afghanistan), were rather disruptive of the “American Taliban” message that Wilson and Mrs. Tabachnick have been relentlessly promoting.
This is why Chesler was attacked in the pages of the Forward.
We have solved that mystery, Scooby-Doo, and it’s time for the Mystery Machine to roll on, leaving others to pursue the nagging question: Who’s paying the bills at Talk2Action.org?