Monthly Archives: April 2007

The Jewish left takes on anti-Semitism on the left

April Rosenblum has written a must-read, downloadable booklet on anti-Semitism: The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Antisemitism Part of All of Our Movements.

Rosenblum, a veteran of social justice work on “police brutality, prisoners’ rights, political prisoners, womens’ reproductive freedom, immigrants’ rights, poverty, anti-racist education, Palestinian self-determination” and more, writes:

My work to create this pamphlet was inspired by noticing how afraid I was to speak up when I noticed instances of anti-Jewish oppression in my movements, and my realization that, like me, my activist friends were staying silent not out of antisemitism, but because they needed a basic resource about how to confront it.

I haven’t had the time to do a line by line reading, but what I have read has been incredibly impressive if not brilliant. She’s a tremendous thinker, firmly grounded in left politics, who understands the ways anti-Semitic thinking scapegoats Jews as a way to deflect people from real power relations. I could go on, but we have a conference going on, and it’s better that you read it yourself here.

Don Imus and the new anti-Semitism

James Besser, DC correspondent for a number of Jewish papers including the LA Jewish Journal and New York’s Jewish Week, just wrote this phenomenal op-ed in J, the Bay Area’s Jewish paper, in which he examines what he describes as “the lack of response from Jewish groups to the Imus affair.”

The traditional strategy of fighting anti-Semitism by fighting all forms of bigotry has been deemphasized by many Jewish leaders as the issue gets caught up in the politics of supporting Israel and concerns about a “new” anti-Semitism.

Those strategies linked civil rights leaders with major Jewish leaders who figured that “anti-Semitism could be curbed only by fighting every last expression of bigotry and attempt to legitimize it.”

Apparently, if the Imus case is to be taken as a bellwether (or the culmination of a longtime trend for that matter), no longer.

While Besser rightly acknowledges there is in fact real reason for the current concern about anti-Semitism on the left, he clearly articulates the real danger of this trend:

But many Jewish leaders now seem to regard anti-Semitism as unique and separate from other forms of bigotry.In the age of Imus, this kind of shift — by a community that has been so critical in the fight against bigotry — could speed our national regression to a time when racism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism were as American as apple pie.

Of course, one could also add that the de-linking of anti-Semitism from other forms of oppression, including the oppression of Palestinians, and the growth of Islamophobia and flippant disregard for Arab lives that pervades many communities, has already helped to speed our national and collective regression.

What does an open, healthy dialogue about Zionism look like?

We’re always talking about ways that dialogue about US-Israel policy gets shut down, and how critics of Israeli policies in particular get smeared or silenced, yadda yadda. Now it’s a pleasure to point readers to a blog that is doing just the opposite.

Dan Fleshler over at Realistic Dove has initiated a thoughtful, respectful, and interesting dialogue about Israeli policies and lately, Zionism, where people across the ideological spectrum can talk in a respectful and searching tone. Wow.

I personally find the whole Zionism/anti-Zionism litmus test both distasteful, often offensive, and certainly odd. It’s odd and to me artificial because the definitions are so slippery, the understandingof Zionisms so superficial.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a discussion about Zionism with someone in which it wasn’t apparent we were making completely different assumptions. Further, many of us who care about the topic of Zionism are in a relationship of engagement, exploration, questioning, and learning.

Instead, the McCarthyite tendencies– on both the left and right–force people to pick a fixed ideology as their identity, and pin it down like a moth on a display board. Clearly, both sides use it as a proxy test to check for anti-Semitism, or anti-Arabism. The test is a poor if not offensive and damaging substitute for those things, and has degraded the entire discourse around Zionism.

Speaking for myself, “my people” aren’t the Zionists, the anti-Zionists, the post-Zionists or any other ideological category or artificial identity. They’re anyone who agrees with Hillel, who said of the Torah, “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: all the rest, is commentary.”

Indeed, if you and I agree on that fundamental principle, “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor,” then how we get there is the dialogue and journey we go on together. Kudos to any group of people who can create a respectful space in which to discuss and comment.

Nominees announced for Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards

Like pressing little buttons on your computer screen? Go over and vote for Muzzlewatch in Best Jewish Left Wing Political Blog and/or Best Jewish Anti-Establishment Blog categories, or vote for any of the other terrific blogs also nominated like JVoices, Jewschool, JSpot, Tikun Olam, Semitism.net and more. They all deserve a big, gold tiara as far as we’re concerned.
Like everything else we cover, there does seem to be a backstory about the JBloggies and progressive Jews.

A quick glance at last year’s list of categories and nominees makes clear why Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam started a “crusade” against former incarnations of the awards. He said sponsorship by the Jerusalem Post, “skewed the competition toward a heavily partisan political agenda represented by that Likud-oriented publication.” Dr. Schamess over at Semitism agreed, saying “Last year they were organized by right-wing bloggers without even the pretense of including progressive voices.”
Mobius over at the nominated-for-almost-every-category Jewschool, says the real issue is that the Jewish right is over-represented in the blogosphere:

‘I get riled up because I have a hard time accepting that the Jewish community – which is primarily liberal and progressive – should appear to be so overrepresented by the religious right… The domination of the blogosphere by the Jewish right is a stain on our community and reflects poorly on us internally and externally.’

From what I’ve seen, they’re all right. The new organizers of the awards deserve kudos for working to make it a more even-handed contest, and folks like Mobius and Richard deserve thanks for their role in making that happen.

AIPAC, Congress and the US Peace movement

The machinations of power are often obscure. Claims that AIPAC has a great deal of political clout are axiomatic if you think about the words behind the acronym – American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Nevertheless, often when people claim that AIPAC and related entities such as the American Jewish Congress (AJC) have an effect on the US political process there is a great, mostly disingenuous hew and cry, that such claims are anti-Semitic powered conspiracy theories. These “have it both ways” folks are not interested in a reasoned discussion but rather in defending Israel, right or wrong. That being said, I would not assert that the efforts of AIPAC completely explain US foreign and domestic policy, far from it, but there is clearly some positive results for such organizations or why would they continue? Although the Walt and Mearsheimer article was obvious and in some ways a simplification, there was a great deal of merit in the main thesis concerning US interests as they are similar and different from the interests of such groups as AIPAC. Similar issues were raised in Jimmy Carter’s book “Peace not Apartheid.” A very good general discussion of such topics was written by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books. All in all, a great deal of debate, at the national and international level was prompted, a not, inconsiderable outcome.

Now there is more evidence on how AIPAC is attempting to influence US Foreign policy in Iran. And to be clear, AIPAC can do whatever it wants within the legal constraints of US law, and per the first amendment, we can talk about such activity.

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The generational divide: New Voices magazine learns a tough lesson about funders and Israel

Sadly, there’s nothing surprising in this comprehensive article by Eyal Press in The Nation about the “silencing” of New Voices, the nation’s only Jewish magazine published by and for college students.

Major funders punish an independent Jewish institution (or person) for not toeing the line on Israel — it happens all the time. What is new is that these kinds of stories are getting covered. It’s a good sign that we’re starting to examine what kind of community we want to be, and what kind of damage silencing does to the Jewish and broader world.

The Nation reports:

Two years ago, New Voices applied for and received a grant from the Solelim Fund, a philanthropic venture affiliated with UJA-Federation of New York. The grant was renewable for up to $100,000 over a three-year period, during which New Voices, which like many student publications has operated for years on a shoestring budget, would hire a publisher, expand its circulation and eventually become self-sustaining.

After a site visit that New Voices thought went well, funders requested back copies of the magazine, and New Voices got a call from the UJA-Federation saying the deal was off. The official story was that Solelim priorities had simply changed, and that the decision had nothing to do with New Voices.

But as is typical in these cases, insiders tell a different story. Why? Because groups like the UJA are embarrassed to tell the truth, not because it is illegal (donors can do whatever they want, its their money), but because actions like these violate the core liberal values they say they hold.

You know, open intellectual inquiry, free speech, honesty, compassion for the underdog, all the good stuff that tends to be embraced by the majority of American Jews. (Remember, no other major religious group is more anti-Iraq war than us.)

If anything, you’ve gotta feel sorry for the numerous professionals in these organizations who are required to make up ridiculous stories everyone knows aren’t true.

New Voices is a terrific magazine that explores a range of Jewish subjects in a thoughtful way that honors the intelligence of its readers. It seems that its crime was to cover the Israel issue without the crude propagandistic tone many conservative donors have come to expect of Jewish publications. (Or, as one East Coast editor of a Jewish newspaper told me, “those crap press releases the Federation makes us print.”)

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Walid Shoebat:”ex-terrorists” tour at Stanford

On Friday, news outlets reported that Stanford University, one of the nation’s finest, would bar the public and media from attending a talk by 3 self described “former terrorists” who speak out against Islam.

The best known of the trio, Walid Shoebat, is a right-wing Christian fundamentalist convert who has made a lucrative career out of denouncing Islam and telling his personal story about being part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. [Shoebat is often called "self-described" because there has been, to date, no independent confirmation of his story. While he regularly appears on national television, Walid Shoebat is a pseudonym that he uses for safety reasons.]

Critics call Shoebat an Islamophobe with a shady background who tries to play down his anti-Semitic end-times beliefs when speaking on college campuses and in front of adoring pro-Israel crowds. Defenders say he simply tells it like it is about the danger of Islam and the roots of Middle East terrorism, and that everyone needs to hear his message.
As I wrote back in February in Muzzlewatch:

To understand how disturbing it is that Jewish groups promote a Christian Zionist like Shoebat, it helps to understand the end times belief.

Josh Nathan-Kazis, a reporter for New Voices, the “only national magazine written by and for Jewish college students,” wrote:

As an evangelical Christian, Shoebat has a vision that goes beyond annexing the entire West Bank–a vision that he avoids mentioning to his Jewish audiences. In private, though, Shoebat explained that he believes there will be “a great battle at the end…the children of Ishmael versus the Jewish community. Christians believe [the Jews] will…recognize that Jesus is the Messiah in the end.” Then he added, “but that is beside the point, this is not my agenda in the universities.”

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Roundup, tips from readers

There’s a new Dutch television documentary on YouTube about the Israel Lobby and muzzling. While the interstitial narration is in Dutch, all those interviewed– John Meirsheimer, former Colin Powell chief of staff Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Representative Earl Hilliard Jr., Tony Judt, Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth and more, speak, of course, in English. (I’ve only seen the first 20 minutes or so, and while I don’t agree with everything I saw, it features captivating, forthright interviews with primary sources.)

Further, as I have said here before, at Jewish Voice for Peace we don’t believe the evidence supports the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis that the Israel Lobby is so strong that it categorically forces the US to go against its own interests. Nonetheless, their analysis of the muzzling tactics of the Israel Lobby is right on mark, and they’ve done exactly what they set out to do-start a global dialogue.

And speaking of Kenneth Roth, here, as one reader put it, is a humorous case of the “pot calling the kettle black” in which Ford Foundation, Amnesty International, BTselem critic Gerald Steinberg takes Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth to task for Abusing the Holocaust.

The Denver Post writes ADL chief decries muzzling debate.

An appeals court ruled against Amiri Baraka, former New Jersey poet laureate, who lost his job after he wrote Somebody Blew Up America, a poem that included the lines “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day?/Why did Sharon stay away?”

Stanford tried to ban media from seeing self-described ex-terrorist Walid Shoebat.
Olympia looks at Rafah for sister city, reports the Olympian. Expect sparks.

Wondering what Robert Fisk has to say about the Dershowitz-Finkelstein tenure affair? How about Noam Chomsky who weighed in on Democracy Now this morning? My colleague Mitchell Plitnick reminds us that, even if we disagree with some of Finkelstein’s conclusions, his Israel-Palestine scholarship is solid, and Dershowitz has no standing as a Middle East scholar. There is a petition supporting Finkelstein, and a full dossier of documents at the Finkelstein solidarity campaign website.

George Soros Revisited

It’s my custom on Yom HaShoah to spend some time sitting with the facts of the Holocaust, looking at photos and listening to the testimony of survivors. Painful work, I find, but an important remembrance- a small way to connect with all of what was lost. A couple of good resources online are the Fortunoff Archive and the site Holocaust Survivors.org.

This got me thinking about George Soros, among other things. Soros, for those who don’t know, is a multi-billionaire, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and a sometimes contributor to progressive causes. He has also come out recently as a critic of AIPAC.

In a New Republic article, “Tyran-a-Soros”, Martin Peretz – a neoconservative intellectual who disagrees with Soros’ criticism of U.S. policy in the Mideast – accused Soros of collaborating with the Nazis. He quoted a 1998 interview Soros did with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. We’ll come back to the part in bold type momentarily.

Kroft: “You’re a Hungarian Jew …” Soros: “Mm-hmm.”

Kroft: “… who escaped the Holocaust …”

Soros: “Mm-hmm.”

Kroft: “… by posing as a Christian.”

Soros: “Right.”

Kroft: “And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.” Soros: “Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.”

Kroft: “In what way?”

Soros: “That one should think ahead. One should understand that–and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a– a very personal threat of evil.”

Kroft: “My understanding is that you went … went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”

Soros: “Yes, that’s right. Yes.”

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Azmi Bishara: Major league muzzling

The attempted muzzling of dissident voices is obviously not a phenomenon that occurs only in the US, nor is it one confined to the media per se. In Israel there has been a strong effort since at least the turn of the century to silence the political voice of Israeli Palestinians.
Case in point:

Azmi Bishara is one of the most, if not the most eloquent and capable politicians in the Middle East, he is Palestinian Christian Israeli member of Knesset (MK) and has been, in the last half-decade or so, continuously harassed by trumped-up charges that have the intent to kick him out of the Knesset and/or lead to his arrest. Currently there is an ongoing investigation that has the singular ignominy of having a gag order in place keeping anyone from knowing if an investigation is even occurring (its an open secret, however), let alone the actual substance of the investigation. Thankfully, this gag on the secret investigation was finally just lifted. In the recent past, the overall Knesset unsuccessfully, (but still a close call), attempted to have his party – Balad, declared illegal.

[Tikun Olam has more on the case here.]

And to be clear, this new investigation is also rejected by Bishara as yet another determined effort by the Jewish state to silence him and Palestinian Israeli political aspirations.

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