A view from abroad...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A view from abroad...

Being a "Guest Shot" by Van Howell, a local fellow partially expatriated to England. 40-odd years ago, Van, the late Jay Dudley and I co-published The Moniebogue Press which tilted at sundry windmills like the Shoreham nuclear power plant and turning what is now Gabreski Airport into "a major jetport."

It's been asked before, but let's ask it again: What really motivates the people who oppose the eruv? What does the eruv symbolize that no one is willing to say out loud?

It just hit me... when I saw something that indirectly links Hampton Synagogue to the Ruppert Murdoch media empire. As an organizational link it doesn't amount to much. But I think it's a clue pointing to the answer.

There's been something queasy-making, almost too faint to smell, hanging in the air over the United Kingdom for a long time, especially over 10 Downing Street where Prime Ministers reside. And now with the stomach-turning Murdoch revelations we know its source.

Nothing is more sickening than something pretending to be what it's not, and truth expertly manipulated and tweaked just enough to get the desired results without exactly lying.

(Cockroaches in a greasy spoon's kitchen are just a fact of life, but a fancy restaurant adding crushed roaches to its caviar would be a major scandal, even if the menu didn't say "100% pure caviar.")

Maybe there's been some deviousness on the anti-eruv side – I've been in London, so that's just a guess.

(Anti-semites, the clever sort, always give off a whiff of deviousness.)

For all I know, the arguments for the eruv have been free of it. What I do know is that the Synagogue's arrival was managed by New York's leading information-tweaker, Howard J. Rubenstein, and I think his work was at the heart of what people found alarming and disturbing about its grand entrance, not the fact that a Jewish house of worship was (finally) coming to the area.

I think the atmosphere Rubenstein created is what gave the anti-eruv side its certainty of being right and of doing the right thing – not unlike the tenacious opposition to Murdoch in the UK. And not unlike the movement to close Shoreham, driven as much by outrage over LILCO's shame­less PR as by worries about radiation.

It was an old item in Murdoch's New York Post, about how much "public relations legend Howard J. Rubenstein" likes opera, that made that light bulb go off over my head.

It failed to disclose that Rubenstein was the Post's PR man, as well as that of the Met.

(And he is also Rabbi Marc Schneier's advisor.)

He must be a classy and trustworthy fellow if he promotes the Met Opera, right?

Well, does the name Kathleen Battle ring a bell?

She was about as egocentric and temperamental as any diva has ever been1, and she wasn't the first diva fired by the Met in its long history.

The difference was (a) she's black, and (b) the crisis was managed for the Met by HJR. I have no doubt that it was HJR's idea to make sure the press coyly mentioned the nickname that Battle was allegedly given by the backstage crew: "U.N."

The evasive cuteness of the article I read left no doubt this meant "uppity nigger." It was so expertly done that uppiti­ness seemed to be the issue, not racism at the Met or the unscrupulousness of its PR firm.

Before the new Synagogue was built, its congregation met in a private home with inadequate exits for their numbers. The Village's Fire Marshal said it was a safety hazard.

New York City Mayor David Dinkins then phoned Village Hall to talk about anti-semitism. Mayor "Ham" Andon didn't answer the accusation, he told me later, but asked if New York wasn't the city that just lost 87 citizens to a fire in an overcrowded social club.


Why would Dinkins call? Well, he was an HJR client, and HJR goes way back with the Synagogue's founding Rabbi.

HJR's major clients on Long Island include the Association for a Better Long Island and the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council.

The last time I checked, the BTC's mob connections were so deep and so pervasive that I concluded that Howard J. Rubenstein was the chief promoter and guardian of the Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese families' interests on Long Island.

Some members of ABLI's board, big real estate developers, have shown up in news stories of mob influence and a murder or two.

I looked into this because around 1989 Newsday publisher Robert M. Johnson2 was promoting an ABLI-BTC "business-labor coalition" whose HJR-approved press releases sound­ed vaguely like death threats against my friends in civic associations and grassroots environment groups, who didn't want Long Island paved over.

(The Suffolk Times of Greenport pointed out the coalition's mob ties and I wondered if it was was true, or important. It was both.)

In 1991 Johnson had tried to launch a "Long Island Partnership" to give his developer buddies the legal power to force through their projects anywhere they wanted, condemning land, overruling local zoning, and financing themselves at public expense.

A year of research convinced me this looked like an organ­ized crime coup d'état, and I made that opinion known.

What had seemed to be a done deal came undone thanks to a resolution passed by the East Hampton Town Board. In a memo I chanced to see, HJR's local agent told the BTC bosses I was now the enemy.

Then soon after I moved back to my old home town in 1996, thinking I'd left that sordid business behind me, I read in Dan's Papers that HJR and Hampton Synagogue were preparing to launch a new "Westhampton Beach Partnership."

Déjà vu

Apparently Westhampton Beach locals had let their Village become a hellhole and the Partnership would save it.

The Marakesh incident happened next. The adroit manage­ment of its aftermath made the story disappear, despite big unanswered questions.

TWA Flight 800 came down around the same time, and the media saying it happened off East Moriches rather than Westhampton Beach looked like the work of a PR expert concerned with Westhampton Beach's image – the timeline of his strategy meant his hellhole had turned the corner, and was heading toward paradise.

For a while, the Synagogue consolidated its position and settled into the community. The building itself was both attractive and unobtrusive.

I attended a book talk and was favourably impressed, not least by the Rabbi's enlightened remarks on cross-cultural influences on the ideas of Judaism. At that point, lingering resentment of the Synagogue's role in Village life probably could have been legitimately portrayed as residual anti-semitism.

Then came the eruv controversy. I don't know enough about Orthodox traditions to judge whether an eruv is considered necessary or merely convenient, but I know enough about local attitudes to understand and sympa­thize with the opposition.

It's hard enough to feel fully at home in a Summer resort community without anything else coming along to make you feel like you don't belong here. It seems to me that, like Dinkins' phone call, an aggressive campaign to create an eruv was a step too far.

The desire to have an eruv is obviously about 180° from whatever motivated Murdoch's minions in the UK to under­mine democracy, truth and decency, intimidate politicians, assassinate character, and put porn into the daily newspapers.

But some of HJR's clients have done similar and worse things, and he's been there to help them pretend those things never happened, or don't matter.

And you don't need to be a diehard conspiracy theorist to remember that the Marakesh incident occurred at precisely the moment when that WHB Partnership needed something to happen to shut the club down.

Maybe that was a coincidence, and maybe Flight 800 was downed by a spark in a fuel tank just at the moment an apparent missile trail intersected its flight path.

A full and open investigation of the Marakesh incident might be quite explosive, given especially the utterly baffling mystery of the perpetrators' motives.

But while it may be true that the club under its new owners3 would have permanently blighted the community, I'm not sure that simply declaring that chapter of the Village's history closed isn't just as malignant in its own way.

It reminds me of how the FBI told all those eyewitnesses they were hallucinating what they saw before Flight 800 came down, and the way the Air National Guard helicopter pilot who saw it from the air changed his story from one week to the next in The Southampton Press.

Sometimes it's better not to know the real story, when its implications and ramifications could be so much more incon­venient and embarrassing than ignorance – and when public knowledge can translate into lost revenues if a Sum­mer resort's image is tainted.

But it was that kind of attitude that allowed the Murdoch agenda to contaminate Britain's public life, and of its many private lives, too. It's that nagging sense of something not quite right in the air, something in the story of the Village that doesn't ring true, that I think the eruv issue has come to symbolize, even if there's no objective reason why it should.

I don't know if the pro-eruv campaigners4 are getting advice from HJR, but if they are, it doesn't seem to be doing them much good.

Perhaps telling Rubenstein to let the members of the Synagogue find their own ways to engage in an open and honest dialogue about the future of the community would do wonders for their image and make the eruv idea seem no more threatening than a Christmas tree on the Village green5.

The foregoing views and opinions expressed are solely those of Mr. Howell, and not necessarily those of OtBB. It is presented for its interest as an alternative view.

  1. Mrs. Speir, who knows about these things, concurs. [DS]
  2. Remembered now as Wilbur Breslin's good buddy and an afficionado of child-porn. [VH]
  3. Club Marakesh was in negotiations to be sold at the time of the near fatal Shane Daniels assault. [DS]
  4. If so, E³A's Marvin Tenzer never got the memo. [DS]
  5. Unfortunately for the eruvians, that opportunity probably exploded at the August 2008 informational meeting at Hampton Synagogue. [DS]


1. Tom Kerr said...

I think the way to solve this issue is to make the boundries of Long Island an eruv. That way it would not be limited to one area.

Not that this hasn't been suggested before, but what elected official do you imagine would advance this?

2. Van Howell said...

Your footnote #5 certainly puts things in perspective, especially the Rabbi's saying there was no way he wasn't going to get his eruv. That kind of talk smells of HJR's influence - I remember it well from the developers' coup and the mob memo... you have to just say "no" in such cases, and make it a firm, adult no! "Done deals" must be undone without delay, the other side's coalitions blown to smithereens as their more reputable allies realize what a quagmire they've gotten themselves into.

I love Tom Kerr's idea. Anyone recall the Schubel Ashwall Plan for an offshore barricade made of incinerator ash, ringing the whole Island? It was a classic example of "environmental science" of the Newsday-ABLI variety.

J.R. Schubel was head of a rubbish-research Institute at SUNY-Stony Brook (a Marine Sciences subsidiary). He said we needn't bother recycling, since we're better off with incineration maximized to produce a whole lot of ash. We need the ash to make concrete blocks we can use to build a wall offshore, to defend Long Island from rising sea levels due to global warming.

The East Hampton Star's Montauk reporter exposed a "secret sewage summit" in which JRS was plotting with Nicola Biase (remember him?) and Don Middleton (another all-purpose "expert" used by developer types to promote their schemes) had the bright idea of turning human excrement into a rubbery plastic goo and strewing it straight into the ocean (so it could wash back in on the next tide and coat the beaches with a lovely varnish, and do the same for the bodies of swimmers in need of a quick tan).

Circa 2000 or so, Jerry Schubel was lobbying to become head of the whole university, and had the board just about won over to put him in. An alert reporter tipped the board members to what kind of "scientific research" Jerry would promote, and they found someone else.

Jerry then landed a job as head of the New England Aquarium, where he spent so much money on a huge "environmental education" hall (Lord knows what that would've been advocating) that all the popular walruses, etc.' had to be sold for dogfood but still the budget-busting schemes Jerry put in were too much.... it became quite a scandal before he was hounded out.

No, Van, I don't recall the "Schubel Ashwall Plan," but thanks for putting us in that picture.

Don't recall Nicola Biase either, but Don Middleton rang a bell.

3. Hampton West said...

You cover a lot of ground on this post. Howard Rubinstein - I actually did some work for him when he starting out - no we weren't buddies but I was loaned out to his firm by my boss at that time, Jack Bigel, an old time leftie who consulted for municipal labor unions and made a fortune administering health and welfare benefits.

Rubinstein was the product of the Brooklyn Democratic party and owed a lot of his beginnings to Hugh Carey, Abe Beam, Howard Fisher and, to some extent, Jack Bigel. He was a rather mild-mannered guy but he had strong ties to the Orthodox community and a number of representatives in Albany. He became a "go to guy" for bills or deals that might "smell" a bit and the powers-that-be wanted a third party lobbyist to do it. That's why Jack Bigel who was a powerhouse at this, loaned out some of his staff to Howard, and also to see what he was up to. The two more onerous projects I worked on was one to lower the cigarette tax in New York City so tobacco distributers could make more money, and other by the American Trucking Association to get Albany to lower the weight limits on certain types of long haul trucks.

(There was also a project to get casino gambling into New York, mainly at Aquaduct race track.)

Rubinstein quietly forged a bond to Al Shanker which dismayed Jack Bigel as this was the height of the NYC Fiscal crisis and Jack was the Union's rep on the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) board and the city's pension funds were buying MAC bonds to keep the City afloat.

I remember one purchase where the City was about three hours away from default and Shanker balked at committing Teacher Pension Fund monies - Jack went ballistic and it was mild mannered Howard that soothed the egos and the sale went through. Howard then quietly went on to represent the Steinbrenner family, a lot of other real estate families in New York (especially the Rudin family), and anybody else of importance.

Soon after he hooked up with David Dinkins, primarily through Jack, and when Jack died Dinkins gave the eulogy. He still remains a quiet player.

As for flight 800 I can recall being at the Surf Club in Quogue and being able to watch the recovery boats, and I think you are right as to Westhampton Beach never being labeled the crash site, which went to poor East Moriches. As for all the conflicting stories there are indeed many (what ever happened to the "Kabot Photo?") and to my knowledge this type of accident never happened before or after, so who really knows what happened?

However, I still can recall hearing all types of sonic booms in the 1990s that clearly were off shore so some military activity was going on. I'm not a conspiracy theory guy but this one does leave some areas to wonder.
Hey, no one loves a good "Parallax View"/"Spartan" moment more than I, but really, HW?

But thanks for the addition lore on Rubinstein... note, however, that I didn't author that particular blog entry.
– Dean

4. Van Howell said...

Y'know, Speir, it seems to me, after seeing Hampton West's commentary, you have the potential to create a seriously valuable historical archive here, and Lord knows, since Newsday's current owners have in effect dismantled their once-awesome archives, there's a vacuum urgently in need of (partially) filling. Keep the Village as your personal fiefdom and set up a subsidiary or affiliate where people can dredge up memories of all these weird goings-on in the general vicinity. Long Island has had an absolutely amazing hidden history during our lifetimes, often with important national and global ramifications. You could probably just sit back and let it manifest itself.

Thank you for the suggestion, Van, but that's not what I'm about, really.

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