Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Israel Factor 1

There is little argument that a “special” relationship exists between the US and Israel. Whether this relationship is a good thing or bad for the US and/or Israel is something that can (and will) be debated. At present, this supposed friendly relationship is a monochromatic, rejectionist Likudnik version that overwhelms the US political process making real discussion all but impossible.

This relationship is not mysterious in some ways – Israel exists on a sea of US money and military support (many ask why this support continues unabated but we will leave that to another day). The relationship is consciously studied, nurtured and cultivated in ways that I leave (dare) others on this site to find the equal of internationally.

In an explicit nod to how important this process is for Israel, Haaretz now has a special feature tracking/measuring “Israel friendliness” for each US presidential candidate. Apparently all the US presidential candidates are aware of this poll and most likely, doing there best to stay high in the average rankings. For some strange reason, the same poll being done in El Salvador or Indonesia just doesn’t seem to have the same effect on the candidates. The Haaretz effort is a semi-“scientific” monthly poll using a panel of judges gathered allegedly from the left and the right from Israeli politics and academia. They are · Avi Ben-Tzvi · Eitan Gilboa · Dore Gold · Dan Halperin · Alon Pinkas · Tzvi Rafiah · Ron Robin · Yossi Shain

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More online cruelty, BBC biased against Israel?

Speaking of nasty online behavior, Richard Silverstein of Tikkun Olam is getting payback for complaining to the online hosting service of Masada2000, the notorious hate website that advocated for the expulsion of Palestinians and that helpfully provided a list of some 7 or 8,000 “self hating” Jews (those who had ever signed a peace petition) along with contact information.

In a form of revenge suitable to the internet age, a friend of Masada2000 has created a cruel “fake” Silverstein blog which will hopefully come down soon.
On the other hand, The UK Independent reports that BBC fights to suppress internal report into allegations of bias against Israel.

By Andy McSmith

Published: 28 March 2007

The BBC was in court yesterday fighting over the public’s right to know. But the Corporation was not battling to bring information into the open. Instead it has paid an estimated £200,000 in legal fees to keep the report secret.

The Corporation is trying to persuade the High Court to overrule a decision by the Information Tribunal that an internal report into the BBC’s Middle East coverage should be made public.

It puts the Corporation in the awkward position of arguing that the Freedom of Information Act should not apply in this case, although their journalists have previously made free use of the Act to prise information from the Government.

The dispute is over a 20,000-page report commissioned four years ago, at a time when the Israeli government had announced that it was withdrawing all co-operation with the BBC staff stationed in the Middle East, including all the help BBC journalists could normally expect with issues such as passports and visas.

The Israelis were angered by a BBC documentary about Mordecai Vananu, who spent many years in solitary confinement for revealing to The Sunday Times that Israel was developing a nuclear weapon. It’s government called the programme “Nazi propaganda”. Danny Seaman, the director of the government’s press office, claimed: “The innuendoes, the insinuation on the programme were to depict Israel as a police state.”

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Talking nice in the blog world- try a little bit of chesed

The frontpage story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Bad behavior in the blogosphere: Vitriolic comments aimed at tech writer make some worry about downside of anonymity, inspired me to post about an issue which has concerned me deeply over the past few weeks-how we can talk to each other on the blog as human beings.

The Chron story was about a well-known woman blogger who had been the subject of vicious attacks, including death threats. Who is this woman and what did she do to inspire such hatred? “Kathy Sierra,” Dan Fost writes, “is an author who promotes the notion of emphasizing the needs of the user in Web site design.”



I always thought that Israel-Palestine issues were uniquely explosive. People on all sides of the debate get triggered easily, experiencing what is otherwise known as the “kishkes effect,” which creates an irresistible urge to yell, scream, and otherwise dismiss the other person’s right to exist.

But no, apparently, people who disagree about web design get just as worked up- some of them even want to kill each other.

Chronicle writer Dan Fost writes:

The incident and its aftermath have drawn back the curtain on a computer culture in which the more outrageous the comment, the more attention it gets. It’s a world that many women in particular see as still dominated by men and where personal attacks often are defended on grounds of free speech.

In addition, many of the newest tools of the Internet are coming into play. Blogs and online communities were supposed to herald an era in which “the wisdom of crowds” guided online behavior to a higher plane. Instead, instances of mob rule appear to be leading the discussion into the sewer.

Some observers believe the incident eventually could serve as a warning to Web communities to increase accountability and stamp out the vitriol that characterizes much of online conversation.

“We need to say this is not acceptable behavior,” said Tim O’Reilly, CEO of Sebastopol’s O’Reilly Media, which publishes Sierra’s books and runs the ETech conference where Sierra was scheduled to speak this week. “If you start making offensive comments, they will be deleted from a blog. Don’t give people that platform.”

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A Tale of Two Papers of Record

The two-day Arab summit in Riydah now taking place is considered pretty important: Ban Ki-moon, the general secretary of the UN is attending as is Javier Solana (the European Union’s foreign policy chief). The main focus is on the reviving of the 2002 initiative in which Arab countries offered full diplomatic and economic normalization with Israel if they would agree to 1967 borders, a East Jerusalem capital for Palestine, and a right of return. The initiative was ignored both in Israel and in the US. The plan, then and now, is considered a starting point for all parties. It’s serious and is the best (and perhaps only) real peace plan that has appeared for years. So, big news right? Well, sort of.

In Israel, the paper of record, Haaretz, today has the summit as both a lead story and the lead editorial while the New York Times buries the story in the second half of an article that has the headline “Saudi King Condemns Occupation of Iraq.”

It was also buried in the second half of a quite decent although too optimistic article on US “shuttle diplomacy” further in the world section, – Mideast Leaders to hold talks twice a month.

The difference of emphasis between the Israeli and US papers of record are marked. Haaretz is much more supportive of the summit than is the NY Times. While the NY Times is more optimistic about US diplomacy than is Haaretz , this is not rocket science. The US paper of record will obviously have more interest in US political initiatives than in those occurring abroad, yet the Arab summit is really big news and sets out the possibility of a concrete breakthrough dependent, of course, on US and Israeli responses. The US initiative is more on the level of a incremental process (per the usual) and very little about actual peace. Indeed, Haaretz called Ms. Rice’s most recent trip “disappointing.” The fact that the US paper of record is less interested in the Arab summit than is the Israeli paper of record is not very different than the oft cited phenomena of US voices being more reactionary than Israeli voices regarding a possible peace with the Palestinians (and Israel’s Arab neighbors generally).

ACLU intervenes: DC anti-occupation ad that almost wasn’t

“See the ad that CBS didn’t want you to” reads the subject line of en email sent out yesterday by the US Campaign to End the Occupation. The Campaign is organizing a June 10-11 mobilization in Washington DC to mark the 40th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

They created an ad to run on the metro system:

CBS Outdoors, which manages advertising for the Washington, DC metro rail system, originally rejected our ad. However, after our friends at the ACLU intervened and defended our right to freedom of speech, CBS relented and DC commuters will view this ad almost 9 million times starting in May! Click here or on the icon below to see a larger scale version of the ad.

Hillary Clinton then and now

Disciplining the US senate.

There has been a great deal of talk concerning whether right wing Israel support groups such as AIPAC have an effect on American politicians and candidates. Jimmy Carter’s book “Peace not Apartheid” and the Walt and Mearshimer report  have been recent popularizing additions to the issue. The right wing Jewish American response has been, not to put too fine a point on it, rather shrill —perhaps the best sign that something of substance is being broached.

One other example of noticing that where there is smoke there is probably a fire has to do with H Clinton. Although down the memory hole, Prez candidate H. Clinton has her own little about-face regarding Israel.

In 1998 she came out in a speech to Arab and Israeli school children calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, heretofore, unmentionable by any self-respecting US pol. A mighty backlash was heard in the land, ……..lots of speculation on just how long she had been a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite.

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Radio: Rachel Corrie play on NPR, AIPAC 101 on KALW

NPR just did a feature on the controversy surrounding the Rachel Corrie play which is now debuting in Seattle. Read the transcript, or listen to the show.


Another hot button issue led to charges of censorship. That was the accusation against the New York Theater Workshop when it indefinitely postponed a play called, “My Name is Rachel Corrie.” It’s about a young woman from Olympia, Washington, who died while opposing the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip.

Critics saw the postponement as evidence of pro-Israel bias. Now the first homegrown American production of the play has premiered at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

You can also listen to today’s “AIPAC 101″ show on Your Call on San Francisco’s KALW featuring Salon’s Gregory Levey, who wrote Inside America’s powerful Israel lobby, and M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum. (Read Jewish Voice for Peace policy director Mitchell Plitnick’s different analysis in which he argues that AIPAC’s role in striking the Iran language from the Iraq spending bill has been over-estimated.)

Chronicle of Higher Ed looks at soul-searching at Brandeis, campus Israel-Palestine debates

In her piece about the excruciating Israel debates at Brandeis, Sierra Millman links reactions to Jimmy Carter’s visit to bitterness over an earlier controversy about the taking down of an Israeli student’s project featuring the artwork of children living in a Palestinian refugee camp.

“At the time,” Millman says, “a majority of faculty members condemned the removal as at best a blunder and at worst outright censorship.”

Millman also details some of the more recent incidents in which free speech and Israel-Palestine politics have clashed.

Interestingly, there is no follow-up on the story reported by Jewish Week in February that donors withheld at least $5 million from Brandeis “in retaliation for its decision last month to host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.”

A Campus Divided Over Israel

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 23, 2007

Professors at Brandeis worry about academic freedom, while the university’s president talks about academic responsibility

When former President Jimmy Carter said he wanted to talk about his new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, at a college with “high Jewish enrollment,” the obvious choice was Brandeis University.

On the afternoon of January 23, the Nobel Peace Prize winner took center stage in a packed gymnasium at the Jewish-sponsored university in Waltham, Mass., and a crowd of 1,700, mostly students, stood and applauded energetically. They welcomed the man and the reputation, although not necessarily what he’d come to say.

In a 15-minute speech, Mr. Carter summarized his own continuing efforts to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors, called the plight of the Palestinian people “almost intolerable,” and defended his use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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Exclusive: Did someone at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco ban sales of Tony Kushner’s Wrestling with Zion?

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner spoke at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Sunday. Well-known San Francisco bookstore Stacey’s sold books in the lobby, including, for at least a short period of time according to one witness, several volumes of Kushner and Alisa Solomon’s Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Although several years old, the volume and some of its contributors were recently singled out for attack in the American Jewish Committee’s now infamous essay charging progressive Jews who critique Israel with promoting anti-Semitism, “Progressive’ Thought and the New Anti-Semitism.

(As we reported earlier, poet Adrienne Rich spoke out from the JCCSF stage at a Hanukkah event about the JCCSF’s earlier decision to politically rewrite their rental policy to ban Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups like it from renting facilities there.)

Here is an exchange of emails between one of the attendees at the Kushner event, Barbara Brenner, and the JCCSF. According to Ms. Brenner, a Stacey’s employee told her that they were told “by JCCSF personnel not to sell [Wrestling with Zion]. This person also indicated to me that the decision about not selling the books was one that not all JCC staff agreed with.”

The emails are in chronological order and should be read to the end. Brenner is waiting for a final response.
Subject: Attention Sandee Blechman — regarding Tony Kushner and the JCC
Date: Tue, 20 Mar:57:32 +0000


>Dear Ms. Blechman,
> I was one of many people who had the pleasure of attending the Tony
> Kushner presentation at the JCC on Sunday night, March 18. I’m still
> reflecting on many of the things Mr. Kushner said on Sunday during his
> very interesting conversation with Peter Stein.
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Censorship and free speech at San Francisco and San Jose State Universities

San Francisco State University students did the right thing for free speech on Friday when they decided against sanctioning the campus Republican club for stepping on homemade Hamas and Hezbollah flags late last year.

In Flag-Stomping Rabble Rousers Found Not Guilty, SFSU’s student paper reports:

The Student Organization Hearing Panel, or SOHP, unanimously ruled Friday that there were no grounds to punish the club for “inciting violence and of actions of incivility” for its members’ actions during an anti-terrorism rally Oct. 17, 2006.

Also, Associated Students Inc. abrubtly rescinded their Nov. 15, 2006 resolution condemming the College GOPs by unanimous vote last Wednesday. Though ASI President Maire’ Fowler was originally a strong proponent of condemning the GOPs, she was not present for the vote.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if SFSU’s president Corrigan will do the right thing and let students go ahead with the Palestinian Edward Said mural. The National Lawyer’s Guild’s Carlos Villareal writes in Pres. Unfairly Censors Palestinian Students’ Views :

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