Monthly Archives: February 2007

Revisiting Tony Judt

In The new Jewish question, Gaby Wood of the UK Observer wrote this weekend:

A furious row has been raging in the international Jewish community over the rights and wrongs of criticising Israel. At its centre is a British historian who accuses his fellow Jews in the US of stifling any debate about Israel. His opponents say his views give succour to anti-Semites. One thing’s for sure: any appearance of consensus over the Middle East has been shattered.

Back in November, Alan Wolfe, the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, wrote this thoughtful piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Free Speech, Israel, and Jewish Illiberalism. It’s worth reading if you missed it the first time.

Jews are a religious minority in American society and, as such, ought to be especially sensitive to censorship, for censorship nearly always takes place when majorities have no interest in hearing what minorities have to say. When Brandeis took down the Palestinian art exhibit, one professor there, Sylvia Barack Fishman, told The Boston Globe: “Why must it be that Christians must always be in the majority? Is it against the laws of nature for Jews to be majority?” Such a viewpoint fails to appreciate that Christians, who control many more institutions of higher education than Jews do, could use her words to make Jews feel uncomfortable in their universities in return for allowing Christians to feel out of place in one or two Jewish ones. (Fortunately, many Christian institutions do not insist on their majority Christian privileges, although some, including evangelical colleges that require faith statements, do).

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Democratic Congress: no balanced debate.

Michael Brown, former executive director of DC-based Partners for Peace (sponsors of the Jerusalem Women Speak tour), gave us the heads up about this Valentine’s Day hearing at the Congressional Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia: Next Steps in Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. It’s really great to see how democracy works, especially with a new Democratic Congress. In response to lobbying to diversify the list of witnesses at the hearing, the Subcommittee just announced the revised list of speakers:

David Makovsky of the The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP); Martin Indyk who founded WINEP after leaving AIPAC; and Daniel Pipes who is an adjunct scholar at, you guessed it, WINEP (oh yes, and he started a clever program called Campus Watch that encourages students to report teachers for making comments they consider hostile to Israel.)

Brown wrote:

Democrats and Republicans alike are failing miserably on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is little wonder when they muster a witness list of Makovsky, Indyk, and Pipes…

Brown goes on to say that Republicans specifically invite Daniel Pipes, who has

…views deeply antagonistic toward the Palestinians while Democrats at this moment have failed to invite a single witness who could be viewed as a vigorous advocate on behalf of Palestinian rights. Rep. Ackerman and ranking Republican Mike Pence can be reached through the switchboard at 202-225-3121.

The good news is that policy will not get made in this largely pro forma hearing. The bad news is that this is indicative of the kind of thing that passes for “fair debate” in Washington DC.

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Paul Findley: Carter enters lions’ den

The Chicago Tribune just ran former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley’s op-ed:

Yet, as Carter points out in his book, Israel endows Jewish settlers living on Palestinian land with full rights, while denying those rights to the Palestinians living on their own land.

If these issues were debated openly, U.S. policymakers would have to hold Israel accountable and demand that our financial and diplomatic support be contingent upon Israel upholding American values and policy positions.

Yet there is silence. Critical discussion of Israeli policies is non-existent in Congress. Rather than conducting vigorous committee hearings, as happens with other issues, members of Congress compete to outdo one another in statements of support for Israel. And American tax dollars keep flowing uninterrupted to Israel.

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Muzzlewatch hits the Jewish Media Trifecta

Yesterday, we were excited that stories about Muzzlewatch appeared on the same day in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish Daily Forward, and J, the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish magazine.

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Walid Shoebat, no friend to Muslims or Jews

The Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco gave us a heads up about this story, suggesting it would make a good Muzzlewatch entry. According to CAIR’s own press release:

The Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SV) today called on campus police at the University of California – Davis (UC Davis) to detain a speaker who openly states that he has committed acts of terror.

The UC Muslim Student Association also joined in the call, right before Shoebat was to appear before a sold-out UC audience.

At first glance, it seemed to make sense for Muzzlewatch. Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed former terrorist and Palestinian, who had converted to evangelical Christianity and discovered a new love for Israel, certainly had a right to speak at a public university, even if one disagreed with him.

But there was another question about Walid Shoebat, a longtime favorite on the Israel-right-or-wrong speaking circuit. Why exactly did CAIR and the MSA want him detained?

It was true, in an age of hyper-vigilance about terrorism, when even nuns get stuck on airline watch lists, and Muslim academics have a hard time just getting into (or back into) the country, it does seem odd that a supposed former terrorist who admits killing Israelis is running around the country, popping up on Fox and CNN, with nary a care in the world about getting hauled in by some enforcement agency.

But the real issue, it seemed, which CAIR and the MSA should have kept focused on, was that Shoebat is a religious extremist bigot who doesn’t deserve a platform at a public university. In fact, the question really should be, why are groups giving this guy even a second of airtime?

Muzzlewatch in the Forward today

Rebecca Spence at the Forward wrote about the blog. She also cites our friend and dauntless researcher Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam, who published our story about Adam Horowitz getting an “anonymous” harassing email at home from a high level American Jewish Congress staffer. As Richard pointed out, why was she monitoring Adam’s private emails in the first place? (Richard has done more original reporting on the story.)
I should point out, however, that our biggest beef isn’t the many hate mails we get. Really, who can count them? The biggest beef is getting disinvited to speaking engagements, seeing media stories get killed (yes, it happens), getting barred from major Jewish institutions, pulling down art shows, seeing supposedly reputable Jewish organizations pressure third parties not to speak to groups like JVP or Tikkun. The list goes on and on. Not to mention the general practice of tarring and feathering of non-Jews who dare begin to speak the truth we all know about our miserable foreign policy and Israel’s shameful history of violating the human rights of Palestinians.

In fact, this whole issue became such a problem for us at JVP, getting in the way of our ability to do our actual work, which is about ending the conflict, that last year our board approved a proposal to launch a campaign to help publicize and put an end to these kinds of attacks.

But I should emphasize that this is happening because these folks are afraid. They are afraid of the growing number of Jews, all over the world, including many of the sacred symbols of the Jewish community like rabbis, Holocaust survivors or IDF soldiers, all willing to speak the truth in public settings. The 40th anniversary of Israel’s occupation is coming up. The last 6 or 7 years has been a remarkable period of devastation for both Palestinians and Israelis. On these issues, our so-called leaders have let us all down.

Left-wing Critics of Israel Launch Blog To Combat Alleged Intimidation | Fri. Feb 09, 2007

In the wake of an increasing flurry of attacks leveled against left-wing Jewish groups by their right-wing counterparts, one dovish group is fighting back.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a San Francisco-based organization, recently launched a blog to track what it describes as a growing epidemic of intimidation and harassment from fellow Jews seeking to stifle open debate over America’s policy on Israel. The inception of the daily blog, MuzzleWatch.com, comes as one influential centrist organization, the American Jewish Committee, is facing fierce criticism for publishing an essay charging that Jews on the left, with their vocal criticisms of Israel, are helping to breed a virulent new form of antisemitism.

“As we’ve become more effective and more visible, there’s definitely been an increase in the backlash,” said Cecilie Surasky, communications director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which in the last year has grown from a local Bay Area group into a national organization with five chapters in major cities, including Boston and Washington. “Groups aren’t fighting fair,” she said.

While internecine squabbles within the Jewish community are nothing new, the tenor of hostilities between groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum seem to be reaching a fever pitch not felt in years. As left-wing activists contend that they face increasingly hostile attacks from hawkish groups, right-wing critics charge that their Jewish foes present a growing danger to Israel, already under siege from the international community and facing the prospect of a nuclear threat from Iran. Even a branch of the Israeli government has weighed in, with the consul general of Los Angeles, Ehud Danoch, asserting in a report he issued to the Israeli Foreign Ministry that Jewish groups, presumably left wing, are harming Israel’s image by sponsoring tours of ex-Israeli soldiers who speak out against alleged Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories.

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Hear my plea! Is anyone actually defending the AJC?

As you well know, we’ve been monitoring the reaction to the AJC report that tars and feathers progressive Jews for being anti-Semites or aiding and abetting anti-Semitism, and while there have been a lot of op-eds and responses, it seems to have been one big pile-on. Is anyone actually defending what they did? It would be nice to link to it, you know, for a little variety. Let’s have some debate here.

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What a shandah! Today’s American Jewish Committee report roundup

Jewschool is an oasis in the desert, or maybe a cool drink of water on a hot day (and we’re not just saying that because they called Muzzlewatch “the best new jblog.” Actually, they added, “this year thus far,” as in of the last 5 weeks, but in honor of the AJC report’s author Alvin Rosenfeld, I wanted to do some selective editing of someone else’s words without adding ellipses and see how it felt. It feels great!) Whatever it is, check out Daniel Sieradski’s refreshing and thorough take down of the AJC report, written back in December. Sieradski is a smart and provocative thinker.

Don’t be put off by the fact that Beliefnet is a commercial endeavor. I’ve really enjoyed their often thoughtful and surprisingly balanced content on Jewish (and other) issues as well as the lively debates among readers. Here, blogger Rabbi Eliyahu Stern asks if Buber and Einstein are anti-Semites.

As my friend Daniel Septimus pointed out to me the other night, had Rosenfeld dealt with the issue of the history of Israel and the academy or progressive Jewish thought, he would have had to contend with the fact that respected and celebrated Jews in the academy, ranging from Martin Buber to Albert Einstein–yes Einstein–proposed at one time or another the possibility of a bi-national state. Simply put, Judaism was more important to them than Jewish nationalism. While I totally disagree with Buber and Einstein, I would never in my right mind label them anti-Semites. These are not crazy people, nor can one even dare to refer to them as anti-Semites. Though, according to Rosenfeld’s criteria, they could be termed anti-Semites, he never once mentions their names.

In response, Beliefnet blogger Rabbi Susan Grossman declares without even a hint of ambiguity: Bi-Nationalism, a Smoke Screen for Anti-Semitism

Arguments for a bi-national state today–an Israel in which Palestinians and Jews share power, rather than having separate states–are just another weapon in the arsenal of those who want to destroy the Jewish State, and ultimately Jewish corporate identity. Jews who support such a position are aiding those who are the self-defined enemies of the Jewish People, and thus, even when active members of the Jewish community themselves, sadly serve the cause of anti-Semitism.

Well, OK then.
And back to the UK’s Guardian for US writer Matthew Yglesias’s take, Are we all anti-semites now?

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All critics of Israel aren’t anti-Semites

Stanley Kutler weighs in on the AJC imbroglio in the Boston Globe:

Historically, to be sure, the AJC has been an effective advocate for religious tolerance and Jewish cultural identity. But its present political leadership, along with AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, now have bankrolled vigorous support for the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern policies.

They do not have the only microphone to speak for American Jewry. Opinion and voting polls show them at odds with the majority of American Jews who remain “progressive” on an array of social issues, including Israeli policies — and, more to the point, of US behavior in the Middle East. Meanwhile to hold Israel’s Jewish critics accountable for growing anti-Semitism is irresponsible, if not ridiculous.

As Kutler points out, let’s keep our eyes on the prize here. Surely, many in the AJC and the ADL, for example, think they are protecting Jews. But others understand full well that by keeping critics of Israeli and US policy on their toes with charges of anti-Semitism, the issue of the actual US economic and diplomatic support that makes the occupation possible never gets on the table. For many of us, certainly in the US, this is the most pernicious impact of such dynamics.

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Wondering? Take this quiz.

Special thanks to our dear friend and phenomenal activist Liat Weingart, who may be writing on these pages soon, for this important tongue-in-cheek quiz from Slate, “Are you a liberal anti-Semite?” Slate says the name of the quiz author, Joe Lanzmann, “is the pseudonym of a liberal Jew who fears retribution—though precisely from whom he’s not sure.” (Now that’s funny!)

So, how can you tell if you’re a good liberal who simply thinks the West Bank settlements are bad policy—or a closet Judeophobe whose progressive views mask a serious attitude problem? Take this quiz and see.

1. Who deserves the most blame for the Iraq war?

a) George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld
b) Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Bill Kristol
c) Blame? Don’t you support the troops?

2. Which group exerts too much influence on America’s Mideast policy?

a) Conservative jingoes
b) Not the Jews per se but a “pro-Israel lobby” composed mainly of wealthy New York financiers (who may well all attend the same shul)
c) Arabists at the State Department

Get the rest here.

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