Pajamas Media

On the Loss of David Twersky

Former Adjunct Fellow

I received the sad news on Saturday night that a good man, brilliant journalist and major defender of Israel, David Twersky, had passed away of cancer on Friday evening. I first learned of David when in 1983, he wrote what was perhaps the single finest review of my book, The Rosenberg File, that had been published. David, coming from the political left, as I was when I co-authored the book, understood right away how important the book was, and what it meant for the mindset of the entire fellow-traveling left-wing.

Soon after I saw the review, I contacted David. I found out that he had just returned to the United States after living many years in Israel. Back in this country, he decided to make it his home again, and to devote his life to Jewish affairs, journalism, and working in this country on behalf of the labor Zionism that had been his calling, and to use his abilities to write on behalf of Israel.

Eventually, both Twersky and I about the same time moved from the New York City area to that of Washington, DC, where David became the Washington editor of The Forward, which the great editor Seth Lipsky started up as a weekly Jewish paper in English, carrying on the tradition of the old Yiddish Forward, the old social-democratic and deeply anti-Communist paper that once had a giant circulation in the 1930’s and 40’s, especially in the immigrant Jewish community in the metropolitan New York City area.

The entire story of Twersky’s accomplishments writing for the paper are to be found in the lovely editorial penned by Lipsky himself, the man who hired David and gave him the freedom to write as he pleased, and to develop scoop after scoop that all the mainstream papers were forced to cover after his reports were printed.

I was partially involved in one of his major scoops, that concerning Johnnetta Cole. Lipsky relates the story:

__It was Twersky who first reported on concerns of the labor movement over President-elect Clinton’s decision to put at the head of his transition team in health, education and labor an educator with far-left connections.__

__Twersky’s sources were alarmed because the educator, Johnnetta Cole, while widely admired as president of Spellman College, had nonetheless once been on the national committee of the Venceremos Brigades, which brought young people to help harvest sugar in Castro’s Cuba and which, according to the New York Times, the FBI had maintained was connected with Cuban intelligence. She had also been on the national committee of the United States Peace Council, an affiliate of the World Peace Council, which was regarded by the FBI as a communist front. According to the Times, Twersky’s report started the furor that led to Ms. Cole being dropped from contention as secretary of education.__

Having read of Cole’s nomination, I immediately recognized her name as an individual well known as an avid supporter of both the Soviet Union, its foreign policy, and as a person active in political campaigns run by the American Communist Party. Indeed, she had publicly put her name on a rabid anti-American screed issued by the U.S. Peace Council. I spoke to David about this, and confirmed that his suspicions about her were correct. I had a few years earlier been on a trip to Cuba with a man who was then her husband, and like her, was a fanatical Castro supporter. I knew that when Clinton nominated her--she had previously been named head of the transition team on education during the interim period after the election--she had not changed her far left views in any meaningful way. So as Seth Lipsky, says, the rest was history. David went to print with the full story, and before you could mention her name, her appointment was rescinded.

When the future of The Forward was unclear--eventually its board unceremoniously fired Lipsky whom it considered too conservative for its laborite oriented members--David decided to move on, having received an offer to become editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, the major paper of that state’s Jewish community. When Lipsky started his short lived but important newspaper The New York Sun, he became a columnist for it and its foreign editor. He ended his career, after that paper’s demise, working for The American Jewish Congress.

While David stayed true to his labor Zionist roots, and as Lipsky mentions, voted in 2008 for Barack Obama--he was a friend and associate of most of the DC area’s conservative community. He regularly showed up for the annual dinners of The American Enterprise Institute, and used to come each year to what was called the yearly “neo-con cookout and picnic” at a DC area park, that used to be run by Michael Ledeen and Richard Perle. You would never find Twersky engaging in the cheap kind of neo-con bating so familiar in these parts from both “realists” and leftists. As Lipsky notes, much to his surprise, he found he liked Ariel Sharon, and Henry Kissinger as well.

Lipsky writes: “He died Friday evening, peacefully and at home with his children. He will be missed terribly, by, among many others, his friends from his days at the Forward and the Sun.” And I would add, by myself and others in the PJM community who knew him, worked with him, and considered him a great friend and a top journalist.