Monthly Archives: February 2007

Lee Kaplan: Using the IRS to shut down political opponents

You have to give self-styled investigative journalist Lee Kaplan an A for tenacity. There seems to be no line he will not cross in order to “protectwhat he sees as Israel’s interests. He fabricates stories, boasts about giving names of solidarity activists to the Israeli border police and infiltrating conferences, and makes a career out of demonizing and hounding groups that question Israel’s policies or in any way support Palestinians.

In fact, there’s so much to say about Lee Kaplan that he actually has his own website, Lee Kaplan Watch, run by two UC Berkeley students. Here’s just a tiny example of Kaplan-style revenge directed towards one of the students, Israeli Ehud Appel.

One of Kaplan’s favorite tactics is trying to get the IRS to investigate groups that he doesn’t like. Articles can be found all over the web, but particularly in the hawkish pro-Israel answer to the National Enquirer, Frontpage Magazine, calling for IRS investigations of myriad groups. He usually posts tax forms filed by the groups to make his case.

Recently, Jewish Voice for Peace was hit with an audit by the IRS. It seemed suspicious for several reasons: it was an audit that focused largely on our political activities, we weren’t the only ones who were audited at the time, and finally, a loose-lipped IRS agent mentioned something about claims made by “the other side.” (We passed the audit with flying colors.)

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Mural celebrating Edward Said and Palestinian culture a theat to Jews?

One of these murals is not like the others. Guess which one.

Cesar Chavez Malcolm X Filipino API
Said mural

The General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) at San Francisco State University is asking people to sign a petition to urge the SFSU president to approve what could be the first Palestinian mural on a college campus in the United States. The mural, which celebrates the great Palestinian scholar Edward Said and other elements of Palestinian culture, would join the other murals above that honor Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, as well as Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander communities.
In a February 7 open letter to conservative columnist Debra Saunders about free speech issues at the school, SFSU school newspaper editor Ian Thomas wrote:

Last summer the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) completed the process to send a mural to President Robert Corrigan for final approval. Associated Students Inc. had approved the mural through a democratic student government process by a 6-2 vote.

Corrigan blocked the mural from going up by immediately placing a moratorium on all new murals, stating the mural is “conflict-centered” and it “runs counter to values that we hope have taken deep root at San Francisco State, among them, pride in one’s own culture expressed without hostility or denigration of another.”

In an October meeting Corrigan reportedly called mural supporters “bigots,” which is the same term some people give to say… the Minutemen, which the Repubs have also rallied for on campus. [X]press supports this expression as well.

A character in the mural, “Handala,” by acclaimed Arab cartoonist Naji al-Ali is shown holding a pen and a key. The key represents the Palestinian “right of return” to what they deem their homeland. Some say that “right of return” represents the destruction of Israel. Through research and interviews I have found that Handala is a refugee child and is a used in many different contexts, depending on the specific use and the viewer. He is normally depicted as poor, with his hands held behind his back, sometimes he is shown throwing rocks.

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What a shocker! Brandeis welcomes Daniel Pipes, but Norman Finkelstein still left wondering

It’s actually painful to watch Brandeis president Jehudah Reinharz’s desperate dissembling over the ongoing Carter debacle. As we reported earlier, major donors said they will withdraw as much as $5 million from Brandeis as punishment for giving Jimmy Carter a platform (and, one assumes, a respectful reception). Later Reinharz announced he’d be putting on hold campus speaking engagements with both the right-wing Daniel Pipes and left-wing Norman Finkelstein as the school set up a new vetting process for Middle East speakers. Surprise, surprise, The Jewish Week now reports that:

A free speech dispute over campus speakers has continued to roil Brandeis University in the wake of controversy over its hosting of former president and Israel critic Jimmy Carter.

Brandeis’ president waded personally into it this week, voicing hope that right-wing Middle East policy advocate Daniel Pipes would soon lecture there — but issuing no such statement for Norman Finkelstein, a left-wing academic students have also invited.

In a personal letter to Pipes — after Pipes called publicly on Brandeis donors to consider cutting off the school — Jehuda Reinharz disavowed a report that he and an aide had criticized Pipes. Indeed, Reinharz wrote, he and his aide, John Hose, looked forward to personally attending Pipes’ lecture and meeting with him afterward in his presidential office.

Not everyone at Brandeis is happy about the new “process”:

“In 59 years, Brandeis has never had an oversight committee for speakers, nor has it ever needed one,” complained sociology professor Gordon Fellman, who chaired the faculty-student committee that invited Carter. “It doesn’t seem to me we need one now — unless some people want to keep speakers out whose views on the Middle East they find unacceptable.”

In a presentation at a faculty meeting earlier this month, Fellman advocated following up Carter’s appearance by opening the school to a new range of speakers on the Middle East.

“We also need to hear Avigdor Lieberman” — an Israeli Knesset member who advocates stripping Israeli Arab citizens of their citizenship — said Fellman. “We also need to hear a right-wing Orthodox settler convinced that God commands Jews to live in the West Bank. We need to hear more from Israelis who reject the occupation and reject the violence. … We need to hear Palestinians who have lived under occupation tell their sides of the story. … We need to hear from the rejectionists on both sides, and we need to hear from the accommodationists on both sides.”

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NPR knows something about going where “news organizations prefer not to go.”

Part 1

National Public Radio’s On The Media linked to Muzzlewatch as part of their conversation with Forward editor JJ Goldberg on the question, “How free are Americans to publicly criticize Israel?”

After the refreshingly candid Goldberg recognized that there is a great deal of fear to speak openly, he concluded that the amount of complaint we hear about the squelching is proof that there isn’t squelching. Huh?

It’s true that the pages of newspapers here and across the Atlantic seem to be filled with discussion about the issue these days. But it’s really only been the past few months. What we’ve really seen is an unprecedented unleashing of years of pent up frustration and anger over the depth and breadth of muzzling.

One of the things that just amazed me when I started working with Jewish Voice for Peace was the number of off-the-record conversations we’d have with rabbis, Jewish professionals, educators, politicians, synagogue leadership, you name it. Off the record, it seemed, everyone was on our side. But everyone was terrified to speak out loud their abhorrence of what Israel has done to the Palestinians. Many who had spoekn in some small way ended up feeling like featured players in the whack-the-ferret game we all played as children. They had learned their lesson. It was and is a terrible indictment of a real sickness in our community.

One of the most revealing moments in the On the Media NPR segment was the announcer’s introductory statement that “We’re about to go where many American news organizations prefer not to go.” NPR should know. They have long been public enemy number one of the almost comically hawkish media watchdog group CAMERA, which once called for congressional investigation of the respected news outlet for their “anti-Israel bias”. People I know in public radio say that over the years it’s been a huge issue of concern at NPR, and at one time, the issue.

A few years ago, the station manager of an NPR affiliate admitted in a room full of people that she simply didn’t want to touch the Israel-Palestine conflict and risk losing one penny. (The infamous case of Boston affiliate WBUR losing 1 to 2 million dollars as part of an organized campaign to protest their “anti-Israel” coverage still looms large in the minds of financially strapped station managers.) It was a stunning admission.

Depending on what market we’re in, we’re just as likely to hear the complaint that many reporters don’t want to cover the issue because they know they’re going to get it with both barrels from both sides of the issue. The hassle factor is just too high.
But in the game of media advocacy, there’s simply no comparison between the number and size of the many right wing Israeli media watchdog groups like CAMERA and Honest Reporting, and the handful of much smaller operations that document how the media is biased against Palestinians, like Palestine Media Watch and If Americans Knew.

These issues go much deeper than we can discuss here, but only journalists and editors can cop to the amount of self-censorship that goes on in newsrooms.

More later in Part 2 about the impact of threatened boycotts against major US newspapers, and how one major paper simply killed a story about anti-occupation Jews right before it was to go to print.

The “terrifying” case of Lord Richard Rogers, New York politics and the architecture of fear

A censorship scandal erupted in 2002 when the Israel Association of United Architects (IAUA) commissioned “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture,” and ended up cancelling the exhibition and banning the catalog when they didn’t like the results.

It was an all too honest depiction by Israeli architects and designers about the ways in which they played an essential role in the machinery of Israel’s occupation, helping in myriad ways to deny the Palestinians their human rights. In fact, the controversy inside the Green Line is no less intense over the role of mapmakers and urban planners in the deliberate erasure of Palestinian villages and history.

All this was brought to mind when I read Ken Auletta’s “The Fixer” in the February 12 edition of the New Yorker. Though the article is not online, one of our commenters thankfully posted a copy of the relevant portion.

Last year Lord Rogers, who was slated for the 1.7 billion dollar taxpayer-funded re-design of the Javits Center in NY, became engulfed in controversy when he allowed his UK office to be used for the inaugural meeting of a group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine. This group dared to discuss the possibility of sanctions against those profiting from occupation and “the exposure of those construction industry professionals who accept commissions from schemes that appropriate Palestinian land and resources.”

It’s not hard to guess what happened to Rogers as soon as this was made known. David Harris of the American Jewish Committee wrote then:

Clearly, the agenda of this group reflects very deep seated anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views.

Rogers was made to publicly cut ties with the Architects’ group, which committed the apparently unpardonable crime of considering nonviolent initiatives long-employed by human rights and faith-based groups.

“The Fixer” is about PR macher Howard Rubenstein’s role in Rogers public “redemption.” It offers a sad, cautionary tale about muzzling.

George Arzt, who was a political reporter for the New York Post and press secretary to Mayor Edward I. Koch and now runs his own P.R. firm, recently watched Rubenstein come to the rescue of someone’s good name — in this case, that of Lord Richard Rogers, the British architect who had contracts for a number of New York projects, including the redesign of the Javits Center and the expansion of Silvercup Studios, in Queens. Last February, Rogers lent his London office to a group called Architects and Planners tor Justice in Palestine, who discussed the possibility of boycotting architects and construction firms building Israel’s separation barrier and West Bank settlements, saying in a statement that they were “complicit in social, political, and economic oppression.” The British press reported these statements, and when New York officials like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Representative Anthony Weiner learned about them they demanded that Rogers’s New York government contracts be cancelled; other Jewish leaders chimed in, and editorials followed.

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Brandeis just says no, Emory professors miffed with Carter

On the heels of the announcement that some of its biggest donors are withdrawing funds “as revenge” for hosting Jimmy Carter, the Forward now reports that Brandeis appears to be just saying no to all Israel-Palestine speakers it considers controversial.

This includes denying permission to a student group to bring Holocaust Industry critic and Alan Dershowitz gadfly Norman Finkelstein, and, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, putting “on hold a visit from Daniel Pipes, a hawkish pro-Israel advocate who keeps tabs on Islamic fundamentalist groups.”

This represents a move in the opposite direction for Brandeis which recently made an admirable gesture towards open dialogue by launching this public blog about Carter’s visit.

Meanwhile, nine professors at Emory University have written a public letter protesting what they regard as Jimmy Carter’s refusal to debate his book on campus.

“We are happy that Jimmy Carter wants to come to Emory,” said Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, and a signer of the letter. “But we think it should be an exchange of ideas, not a one-sided presentation. We felt that this is not up to the standards of Emory in terms of creative inquiry.”

Earl Lewis, Emory’s provost, said Carter speaks on Emory campus at least once a month in someone’s class. Annually, he holds a town hall discussion on campus. Lewis said the Feb. 22 event will follow the town hall format that Emory has done for years.

He objected to claims that allowing Carter to speak and answer submitted questions was not academically challenging.

“I am not sure I agree with that,” Lewis said. “It is not unusual, in any context, for someone who may have written a book that is controversial, to come speak on that book. We all would love to engage President Carter. But this is an opportunity for him to talk about his book.”

Lewis said that Carter would speak for about 15 minutes, and then answer questions that have been submitted by students. Lewis said the university has not ruled out a possible debate in the future.

The self-destructiveness of shutting down debate

Rob Eshman, editor in chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, writes in Shutting Jewish Mouths that the American Jewish Committee report sends the message that “there’s only one way to show you care for the Jewish state — our way.”

Twenty years ago at a park in Beverly Hills, actor Richard Dreyfuss, feminist Betty Friedan and Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, stood before a crowd of some 300 people and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Many in the crowd booed and hissed the speakers. Eventually they shouted Dreyfuss down. He had to be escorted offstage, past Jews who spat at him and called him names.

I know, because, as the local head of Americans for Peace Now back then, I organized the rally. I helped form a human ring around Dreyfuss as he raced for the safety of his car.

And I was there when a screaming protestor broke through our linked arms, called Dreyfuss a traitor, then said, “Hey, Richard, you think I could get your autograph?”

To follow the controversy over members of the Jewish mainstream accusing Jewish liberals of fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred by criticizing the Jewish state is to relive that afternoon in Roxbury Park, and all its attendant stupidity.

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Brandeis Donors Exact Revenge For Carter Visit

That’s New York paper The Jewish Week’s headline, not ours.

Larry Cohler-Esses writes:

Major donors to Brandeis University have informed the school they will no longer give it money in retaliation for its decision last month to host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.

The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions — and specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of the nation’s premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.

They are “more than a handful,” he said. “So, this is a concern. There are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions.”

Brandeis history professor Jonathan Sarna, who maintains close ties with the administration, told The Jewish Week, “These were not people who send $5 to the university. These were major donors, and major potential donors.

“I hope they’ll calm down and change their views,” Sarna said.

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Get Carter: Brandeis blog, the A-word, fighting back, and self-censorship

It’s always amusing to hear people cite Jimmy Carter to prove that it is just some crazy urban myth that people who criticize Israeli policy get muzzled. After all, he’s been on all the major news networks and in many papers and even at Brandeis. Heck, this guy can speak anywhere he wants to. Well, there’s a reason for that. He’s a Nobel prize winning former US president, for crying out loud!

One need not be over-sensitive to conclude that if our favorite former president can be so ruthlessly dragged through the mud and vitriol, then there is little hope for the rest of us lesser mortals who don’t have the benefit of press agents and personal security details. At least one Israeli professor admitted freely that he had drawn just that conclusion. (Read end of post.)

Brandeis graduate, nonprofit Internet strategist and blogger par excellence Michael Stein sent us this item, showing that Brandeis continues to be a role model for open dialogue (which hasn’t always been the case). They just made public this Carter discussion blog which offers the chance to discuss Carter’s talk “as well as consideration of how the Palestine question [can] be discussed at our University.”

Meanwhile, the widespread denuciation of Carter’s book grows increasingly empty, given the fact that you can read much harsher condemnations of Israel’s human rights record on almost any given day in the pages of Haaretz (think of them as the New York Times of Israel).

You know the tectonic plates are shifting when a former Hadassah Magazine editor, J. Zel Lurie, writes in his column in the South Florida Jewish Journal

I am vexed by the vilification of former President Jimmy Carter by Abe Foxman and Alan Dershowitz over his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” They concentrate on his use of the word, Apartheid, which , they say, verges on anti-Semitism and they forget the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s formula for Arab-Israel peace.

Apartheid is actually a weak term for the way in which over two million Palestinians in the West Bank are treated. Apartheid in South Africa was based on race. It was defeated by universal sanctions against the government. Apartheid in the West Bank are regulations, roads, walls, fences and checkpoints, which, under the guise of security, are designed to take over land for the expansion of Jewish settlements.

The critics of Jimmy Carter should read the 96-page brochure published last June by B’tselem, a Jewish organization in Jerusalem which monitors human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. The title is “UNDER THE GUISE OF SECURITY: Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable the Expansion of Israeli Settlements in the West Bank.” It’s an easy read that tells a despicable story.

Download the B’tselem report here in PDF format.

Former NYT reporter Chris Hedges wrote in Get Carter in The Nation:

Carter’s book exposes little about Israel. The enforced segregation, abject humiliation and spiraling Israeli violence against Palestinians have been detailed in the Israeli and European press and, with remarkable consistency, by all the major human rights organizations. The assault against Carter, rather, says more about the failings of the American media–which have largely let Israel hawks heap calumny on Carter’s book. It exposes the indifference of the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership to the rule of law and basic human rights, the timidity of our intellectual class and the moral bankruptcy of institutions that claim to speak for American Jews and the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center was proudly sending out emails and press releases about their continuing war with Carter. For those of us who have directly encountered the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s magical ability to manufacture numerous “facts,” as I did a few years ago at the World Social Forum, it is no surprise that the Sunday school teaching president known for his calm demeanor finally fought back. (There is too much to say about Hier’s analysis here of the Wall)
carter letter swc

Finally, thanks to a careful reader who saw Roger Cohen’s excellent piece, Time for U.S. Boldness on Israel and Palestine in the International Herald Tribune. Cohen writes:

Israel was a supporter of the Iraq war because it believed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would remove an implacable enemy, an important financial backer of Palestinian terror, and an obstacle to transforming the Middle East in a favorable direction.

All that is understandable, but four years later it looks like time for the United States to call in the chips and say: If you’re serious about a different post-Saddam Middle East, show us that you’re also serious about resolving the nexus of the region’s problems, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Then he reminds us that the US plays a key role in a solution, but that talks

…will have a greater chance of leading somewhere if Rice recalls Israel’s backing of the Iraq war to Olmert in these terms: You wanted a more fluid Middle East, O.K., now let’s make something decent of it.

That means an end to uncritical American support of Israel, a real push to persuade Olmert to engage with Abbas, enough boldness to reach beyond the details to a vision of what is needed to bring a Palestinian state into being.

Not least, it requires the breaking of the post-9/11 American taboos that have lowered debate of Israel to the scurrilous (and paralyzing) if-you- back-Palestinians-you-back-terrorists level.

Just for good measure, he includes this pitch perfect example of self-censorship, thus bringing us back to the treatment of Jimmy Carter and the message it sends to everyone else.

Lazin, the Israeli professor of politics, recently attended a meeting of the American Jewish Committee in New York and said that if he wrote a favorable review of Jimmy Carter‘s recent book equating some Israeli policies with apartheid he’d be “blackballed as a speaker in many American Jewish venues.”

Is he wrong to think that?

Back in the UK, the talk continues

The Guardian’s Comment is free continues to publish opinion pieces on the launch of Independent Jewish Voices, the initiative that could otherwise be called “Communal Jewish leaders don’t speak for me.”

Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam has added his voice this week with Cracks in the wall:

AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have enjoyed virtual hegemony as the voice of American Jewry on Israel. It is why presidents, senators and Congress members have voted AIPAC’s way (until recently) on virtually all legislation of interest to the group.

But now, if you put your finger to the wind, you can sense a change. Jimmy Carter’s book is a sensation, having sold 200,000 copies as of January 14. The more Jewish greybeards attack it, the more it sells. The book seems to have struck a chord.

The old Israel “consensus” and leadership approaches are ineffective. When AIPAC speaks, politicians no longer salute quite as crisply as they once did.

Well-known British feminist scholar Jacqueline Rose writes on The myth of self-hatred, the so-over-used-it’s-meaningless insult against Jewish critics of Israeli policies. Rose fights back:

To anyone who wishes to charge us with self-hatred, I would reply that it is not those who can withstand the pressure of internal and external criticism who hate themselves.

Arthur Neslen, in Let a thousand flowers bloom, says, “The Jewish establishment never spoke for us, nor allowed us to speak for ourselves.” He goes on:

Over the years, a highly conservative communal leadership has encouraged its flock to experience their Jewishness vicariously through an identification with Israel. Embourgeoisement, assimilation and a long-term decline in anti-semitism have eroded the basis of alternative identities once championed by the Jewish left.

In the current climate, any attack on Israel’s actions or ideology from within the Jewish community can easily be dismissed as, at best, lacking communal legitimacy. At worst, it is experienced by many British Jews as an attack on Jewishness itself. This gives an easy “in” to anti-semites in some sections of the pro-Palestinian camp, who blame Jewishness for everything from Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 to the Iraq war. A dangerous nexus is developing. One way to break it is to allow dissenting voices into the fray.