1. Some say that Jews asserting their "Right to Resign" are "self-hating." Others think resigning is the height of humanism. And cynics suspect the RtR phenomenon is a money-making scheme.
It started soon after a reader phoned the Boonville Bugle asking how to get in touch with Harvey Stein, whose occasional letters to the editor decried the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestine. The caller said he was an old friend of Stein's "from the peace movement back in the day." Frank Colangelo quickly got Stein's number on his screen and read it aloud. Either he didn't ask or didn't catch the reader's name. When the call came he'd been writing an article, editing another, and laying out a third.
A few days later Harvey Stein emailed the office asking about ad rates. Then he sent a check for $400, along with copy for an ad, three-inches high by two columns wide, to run in the Bugle for four weeks. Colangelo glanced at the ad, which had a headline in bold face and no graphics, and was mildly amused. "An ad from Harvey Stein," he said, passing the envelope to Walt Campbell, the publisher, on whom the sight of the check had a pleasing effect. He shook his head in apparent admiration. "Gotta hand it to old Harv. I wonder if he'll get any takers." The copy read:
"Do you identify as Jewish? Are you deeply ashamed by the Israeli conquest of Palestine? And by the racism of the self-proclaimed 'Ultra-Orthodox?' And by the criminality of Netanyahoo and his US backers? Do you think that Judaism itself has been defiled beyond any usefulness to mankind? If your answer is yes to all five questions, consider exercising your Right to Resign. For more information, contact Harvey Stein at..." An email address and a Ukiah post office box were at the bottom.
2. The Bugle usually arrives in our mailbox on Mondays. It used to come three days earlier, but c'est la progress. I noticed the ad towards the bottom of page 7, under the jump of a very interesting page-one article called "Comptche in the '70s," and showed it to my wife. Naomi's maiden name was Greenbaum and she identifies as Jewish, but invisibly. (My parents attended Our Lady of Perpetual Disapproval and our kids identify as Cashews.) I was surprised that she seemed to take Stein's caper seriously. "It's an interesting option," she said. A few weeks earlier, watching Amy Goodman report the news from Gaza, she had decided to resume smoking cigarettes, a 50-year habit she had kicked during the pandemic.
Naomi called Harvey Stein and left a message. He called back and they talked for a long time. At one point I heard her ask, "How do they bomb buildings so that they collapse from the ground up?" And she suggested a wording change —"the human race" instead of "mankind." When she hung up she told me to expect an email from the Right to Resign Committee. (Naomi practices a strict analog-only creed; I'm her liaison to the internet in a pinch.)
Almost immediately an email arrived from RtR, with a generic certificate, which I printed out, along with a "Dear Naomi" note explaining that a personalized copy, signed by Rabbi David Kleinberg and with a "seal of authentication," cost $25. "Are you supposed to show this to the Nazis when they come to get you?" I asked when she was studying the certificate. I didn't mean it as a put-down, but that's how it sounded. Naomi didn't look up. "I'm yes on all five," she said earnestly.
"And the Harvey Stein retirement fund needs twenty-five dollars," I added.
"I've spent $25 on less worthy causes," she said.
3. "Doesn't the Massad have their own people out here?" asked Stephen Best, when his secretary told him who had called. It was the founder of an AI company called Prophetecque, who had once volunteered for the Israeli armed forces. Best called back and accepted an invitation to lunch at Tadisch's the next day. After sand dabs and a conversation mainly about baseball, the veteran investigator and the young billionaire walked along the Embarcadero and discussed what The Client overseas called "The Resign threat."
Sixteen days later Best had his secretary Fed-Ex a report to the Prophetecque office, which would have been about a mile away if the crow hadn't flown via Memphis. The report said that an international search for a living Rabbi David Kleinberg did not turn one up. There were images of Harvey Stein — 78 years, old five-foot-10-inches tall, thinning white hair— outside his modest house in Navarro and picking up mail from a post office box in Ukiah. Also, images of the four envelopes retrieved by Stein in the week after his ad debuted; images of two checks made out "Right to Resign" and deposited by Stein in his personal checking account in the Savings Bank of Mendocino County; images of Stein's car parked in front of the Boonville Bugle office with the date and time of his two visits noted; a transcript of all Stein's phone conversations; a print-out of his email exchanges; excerpts from an interview Best conducted with a Boonville Bugle contributor of his acquaintance (me). He himself had subscribed to the Bugle for a few years in the '90s, and would occasionally ask, "What's new with the Mendocino Mencken?" (I think he meant it admiringly but it could have been sarcasm.)
It wasn't long before Best found himself walking along the Embarcadero again to confer with the AI mogul. This time they headed south, towards the ballpark. Best was told that The Client wanted him to stay on the case and to take certain specified steps. These included bugging the Bugle office and determining the whereabouts of 59 actual and/or self-styled descendants of Maimonides. The high-end detective and the young billionaire walked in silence for a while. The quality of the sunlight and the nearness of the water induced clarity, Best felt. On this job the money was very good —but almost all his clients nowadays were corporados. "I've decided to pass," he announced as they approached Pier 40. "Tell your friends that this 'Resign' thing was a joke to begin with and it's almost certain to remain a joke if it doesn't get any publicity. I know it's not your idea of a joke, but it poses no threat to the Israeli government. They should consider it a prank and ignore it. The Boonville Bugle is infamous for making things up. Some very credible people have badmouthed the publisher. We can get you links to their quotes in case you hear from the media. Which you might."
This advice was relayed by the go-between to The Client, who immediately offered to double the fee if Best would remain in their employ. His mentor had taught him back in the '60s, "The more you charge, the better the client assumes you are and the more urgently he wants to hire you." Best himself had added a corollary: "And when you turn them down, that's when they really want you." But he was not playing games, he really did turn down the case at that point.
4. When Harvey Stein's 1988 Volvo was found at the bottom of a ravine just off the treacherous Boonville-Ukiah road, the Bugle ran a front-page piece by Walt Campbell suggesting the possibility of foul play linked to the "Right to Resign" project. Colangelo was quoted recalling how it presumably started: "People who say it's 'Harvey Stein's thing' overlook the fact that somebody put Stein up to it." Also, Campbell reported, a Ukiah post office worker "has been telling friends that Stein's p.o. box was stuffed with envelopes for the first time in memory, but then it was empty after the accident." More would be revealed, the Bugle promised.
Stephen Best as promised, provided the AI billionaire with a file of quotes that called the Boonville Bugle's credibility into question, but he wouldn't do anything else in the way of damage control. The go-between reiterated "I told them what you said made sense. But that fucking 'Boycott Israel' has them freaked out of their fucking minds. When they heard about this Resign thing they thought it might spread in the same way, so, you know, why not nip it in the bud?
Stephen said, "Or at least try."