Monthly Archives: May 2007

Scientist talk canceled at Harvard after “threat” to Dershowitz

This seems to be the “gift” that keeps on giving. Now a prominent evolutionary biologist, Robert Trivers had his talk canceled after publication of his letter in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in which he wrote:

Regarding your rationalization of Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians, let me just say that if there is a repeat of Israeli butchery toward Lebanon and if you decide once again to rationalize it publicly, look forward to a visit from me. Nazis — and Nazi-like apologists such as yourself — need to be confronted directly.”

Dershowitz claimed that he thought this was a physical threat and reported it as such and did nothing to try to get the lecture canceled. From the Boston Globe:

“Robert Trivers said he had been invited to speak at Harvard to celebrate a prestigious international award he recently won. He planned to discuss his research on self-deception, including how self-deception factored in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last year.”

There is, of course, a back story here that concerns the Norman Finklestein/Alan Dershowitz imbroglio regarding Finkelstein’s tenure application. Trivers, in the WSJ, was denying that his criticism of Dershowitz had anything to do with Finkelstein. Although Dershowitz, in the WSJ, said that Finkelstein “encouraged radical goons to e-mail threatening messages.”

This situation is generally unseemly, the hyperbolic and demonizing language of Trivers and Dershowitz, combined with Dershowitz’s disingenuous need to involve the police makes for a less than pleasant scenario. This being said, does any of this really justify an academic lecture being canceled?

Leftist son of Moshe Arens disinvited from academic conference, Israeli government personnel “uncomfortable”

One-time Irgun fighter, Likudnik and former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens has a son, Yigal, who embraced a very different political path and eventually moved to the United States. He is just one of many of Israel’s “favorite children” who, morally opposed to what they see as the ongoing violation of human rights of Palestinians, have become refuseniks (conscientious objectors) of one kind or another. Haaretz reports (third item) that:

The son of a former defense minister and head of the Likud, he went so far to the left that a respected university in Israel cancelled his participation in a scientific conference.

Dr. Bracha Shapira of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, one of the organizers of the conference, has stated that the organizers have chosen to remain silent. Arens, who immigrated many years ago to California, heads two centers that deal with information systems on matters of intelligence, the war against terror and digital government.

Just five days after being invited to a conference about terror and the Internet (Professor Arens is the director of the Intelligent Systems Division of the University of Southern California’s Information Science Institute), Arens was told to forget the invitation. He was told that the Israeli organizers of the conference felt that Israeli government personnel at the conference would not be “comfortable” with his presence.

The organizers of a conference at an academic institution that benefits from public monies do not believe it is the public’s right to know whether there is anything of substance in the grave suspicion that a scientists’ political opinions disqualify him from entering their gates. Arens, in fact, concealed nothing. For many years he has supported two states for two peoples, but today he fears “that a two-state solution is no longer practically possible.”

Arens believes that Israel should be a state for all its citizens, supports the right of return for Palestinian refugees and is opposed to any form of discrimination among citizens on the basis of their ethnic or religious background.

Arens himself writes in an email now traveling the net:

A group of Israeli academics was in Brighton, in the UK, this week, trying to convince the University and College Union (UCU) that a boycott of Israeli universities is unjustified. Professor Zvi HaCohen of Ben-Gurion University is quoted in Ha’aretz of May 17, 2007, arguing that Israeli universities should not be boycotted because, inter alia, they “have no influence over the policies of the government or the parties.” This may or may not be the case, but what he isn’t saying is that the Israeli government exercises political influence over what are supposed to be academic decisions of Israeli researchers, and at least some of them — even at his own university! — are happy to go along.

I am the director of the Intelligent Systems Division of the University of Southern California’s Information Science Institute. In addition, I am a research professor at USC’s Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering and I head USC’s Digital Government Research Center. For many years I have been involved in digital government (e-government) research, and I have organized and participated in efforts to investigate the potential applications of information technology to disaster management and to responding to unexpected catastrophic events.


Unrelated to my professional life, but relevant to this story, is the fact that for many years I have been an outspoken critic of Zionism in general and Israeli policies in particular, including the occupation of Palestinian territories and the treatment of Palestinians there and in Israel itself. I hold these views despite of the fact that I grew up in Israel — or perhaps because of it.

Back in January of this year I was contacted by Prof. Paul Kantor of Rutgers University in New Jersey. He said that Dr. Bracha Shapira of BGU and he were co-organizing a small workshop on the Internet and its growing role in terrorist and anti-terrorist activities. The workshop would include 20-30 people from the US, Israel, the UK and other European countries and was being sponsored by NATO.

Prof. Kantor invited me to participate in this workshop. He said that the organizers were particularly interested in my presence and were very eager for me to accept the invitation. I have been involved in organizing related activities for several years now.

I told Prof. Kantor that I would have to consider other obligations I had, and would give him an answer in a week.

Before I managed to respond, I received a urgent call from Prof. Kantor. He apologized profusely and said that he had been told by the Israelis that government personnel would be present — people who would feel uncomfortable if I participated. He was instructed to rescind the invitation, which he was doing.

It took several email requests before Dr. Shapira agreed to provide an explanation. All she said, though, was that Prof. Kantor had “exceeded his authority in extending the invitation without full consultation with the conference organizers.”

Obviously, this doesn’t answer any of the questions that come to mind given what the American co-organizer had told me. Dr. Shapira also used rather peculiar language to describe the relationship between the two co-organizers of a purported academic meeting.

I was pretty amazed by this whole thing.

Not so much by the fact that Israeli government personnel would not want me to be present at a terrorism-related meeting. Not even so much by the fact that an Israeli researcher would accept governmental influence on academics. But by the fact that they would be so brazen as to state precisely what their reasoning was to an American outsider at a time when a boycott of Israeli academics was being fought, and that the American professor would agree to go along!

I asked Prof. Kantor how he would have reacted if American officials demanded that he not invite critics of US policy. He responded with mealy mouth excuses for the Israelis. For them these are “life and death issues”, you see. So it’s different.

I decided to try to interest others in writing about what had happened to me. Easier said than done!

Personally or through friends and colleagues I contacted several journalists, the National Association of Scholars, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. The only ones who would write about this were a small German paper and the major Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Akiva Eldar wrote a piece in Ha’aretz in which he complained that BGU would not respond publicly to such a serious accusation of using “a scientist’s political opinions [to] disqualify him from entering their gates”. (By then all questions about this matter were being directed to BGU’s public relations office who were simply denying that there was anything political about the withdrawal of my invitation, but providing no further explanation.)

My interactions with the Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Association of Scholars were most illuminating.

I was informed that the Chronicle assigned the story to Danna Harman, their reporter in Israel. After not hearing anything from her for a while, I obtained her phone number and called her up. She said that when she contacted BGU’s PR people they stated that the decision was “absolutely not political”. Hearing that and using her “knowledge of Israeli society” Ms. Harman decided that there was no story and did not see a need to contact me. What do you think I should do?, she asked, as though I were a veteran reporter. Why don’t you try talking to Prof. Kantor?, I suggested. As far as I know he isn’t denying any of this. Ms. Harman said she would think about it some more and would get back to me. Which she did, a few days later, to tell me that she “decided, together with [her] editor, to focus on other stories right now”.

The National Association of Scholars is a group that I was told was very concerned with issues of academic freedom and politics influencing research. This should be a slam dunk, I thought. The matter was assigned to their Communications Director, Vicky Cangelosi. After a few days she wrote to say that she had discussed this with the president of the association, Stephen Balch, and they concluded that since “[their] sphere of influence is with American universities, and as this incident involves the Israeli government and NATO, there is not much [they] can do.” Fair enough. I understand that small organizations must concentrate their efforts where they can make the most difference. Except for one thing. Their website at the time featured a statement by their president, Stephen Balch, excoriating NATFHE for its proposed boycott of Israeli academics and universities. Does that boycott not involve foreign entities? I wrote Ms. Cangelosi and inquired about this apparent contradiction. No response.

And this is where the matter rests. The workshop itself will be held in a few weeks, on June 4-5, 2007. I won’t be there. Other than pro-Palestinian groups, the only ones who considered this story print-worthy were an Israeli reporter and his editors.

At the same time, however, Israeli academics and officials are running around condemning others who would mix politics and science by proposing to boycott Israeli universities.


The workshop in question is titled “Security Informatics and Terrorism-Patrolling the Web”. Information about it, including a partial list of participants can be found at:


(Quite a large presence of MEMRI people, if you’re familiar with that group)

An English translation of the Ha’aretz item can be found at:

It’s the third item in Akiva Eldar’s column.


Yigal Arens


Barnes and Noble cancels Palestinian author’s book reading

Susan Abulhawa has just written a well reviewed novel “The Scar of David

‘Abulhawa goes to great lengths to highlight the universal desire of all people for a homeland. Furthermore, Abulhawa’s compassion for American victims of 9/11 and for those who suffered in the Holocaust illuminates what it means to be humane and spiritually generous. The Pennsylvania-based Abulhawa, herself Palestinian, has crafted an intensely beautiful fictionalized history that should be read by both politicians and those interested in contemporary politics. Highly recommended.’

Editor, Library Journal

As is typical for an author, Abulhawa is on a book tour which usually entails a reading and a book signing. It’s the “bread and butter” of the book biz and is usually pretty non-controversial. Unfortunately, in this case, because of the content of the book and apparently the author’s Palestinian ancestry, one of her scheduled readings at a Bayside, NY Barnes and Noble has been “reduced” to a book signing.

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Roundup, Masada2000, video of Doha Debates and more

US Jewish leaders breaking the unwritten rule
In what may be a very positive new sign of the times, for the first time in my memory, both Abe Foxman and Elie Wiesel “chastised” Israeli leadership for “failing to take up opportunities to solve the long-standing conflict with neighboring Arab countries.” Between this, and Eric Yoffie’s recent warning about the dangers of the Jewish establishment’s close ties to Pastor John Hagee, there seems to be an outbreak of truth-telling. hate website still fighting for life
Infamous Masada2000 Kahanist website was up, then down, then up, now down again (thanks to Richard Silverstein). Menachem Wecker, tried talking to the folks who created Masada2000 and interviewed 75 of the 8,000 Jews who appear on the S.H.I.T. List (Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening). Yes, this is the famously Arab-, Muslim- and Jew-hating, pornographic website put up by followers of American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political party Kach was outlawed in Israel and named a terrorist group by the US, but whose spirit clearly lives on.

Watch video of Doha Debates
Watch the Doha Debates between Norman Finkelstein/Andrew Cockburn and Martin Indyk/David Aaronovitch: Two-thirds of the student audience approved a motion claiming that Israel’s supporters are stifling Western debate about Israel’s actions.

The right feels silenced
Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations complained to the Jerusalem Post about “attempts to silence Israel supporters which are becoming increasingly commonplace.”

With Friends Like these: Christian Zionists stifle US Jews and inhibit peace efforts.

The recent death of Jerry Falwell can serve as an opportunity to reflect on the growing Christian Zionist (CZ) movement and how such a movement is related to other establishment pro-Israel groups such as The David Project, ADL and AIPAC. To be clear, there is a Faustian bargain being forged, for short term political and financial gain, Israel and the American Jewish establishment are willing to engage with people such as John Hagee of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) “who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

This bargain also entails muzzling – American Jewish leaders who have been critical of CUFI sponsored local “Nights to Honor Israel” say they have been pressured into silence.

“The pressure has been enormous,” said a prominent Jewish leader who said he was contacted by local community officials after he raised questions about a local Christians United For Israel (CUFI) event. “I can’t even talk about it now; I feel a real sense of intimidation because people in our own community are saying I’m opposing something that’s good for Israel, that I’m hurting Israel.”

In terms of Falwell specifically, although their relationship has not been seamless, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has called Falwell a “towering figure of the religious right” and a “dear friend of Israel

The fly in the ointment, beyond the occasional “oopsy” anti-Semitic utterances, eg, “the antichrist is probably a Jewish man alive today,” (condemned by Foxman of the ADL), is that the relationship between the Christian Zionists (like Falwell, Pat Robertson and Hagee) and Jews is roughly that of Germany to the Soviet Union before Germany invaded its ally. Christian Zionists believe that as one large piece of the Apocalypse endgame, a unified Jewish state must exist over all of what is now Israel and Palestine and that a new temple must be built on temple mount. The important take home point is that within the framework of Christian Zionist belief is the notion that at the time of Christ’s second coming, Jews will be offered a choice to convert to Christianity or immediately be condemned to hell or some reasonable facsimile.

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“Never Again” Means For Everyone

By Mitchell Plitnick
Cross-posted at The Third Way, JVP’s policy analysis blog.

In one of the most bizarre and appalling developments here in the US, a number of Jewish groups are pressing Congress not to recognize the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. They are opposing bills in both the House and Senate that would formally recognize it.

It’s hard to imagine the cynicism and hypocrisy that this act embodies. Of all people, we Jews have, rightly, pushed the world to acknowledge horrific acts of genocide, to mark them, try to prevent them and to raise our voices loudly in the cry of “Never Again.”

The four Jewish groups that presented the case to Congress, on behalf of the Turkish Jewish community, were the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), B’Nai Brith, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

That JINSA would engage in this is not surprising. A Jewish group in name only, JINSA is a right-wing propaganda machine that has pushed the worst excesses of both the Bush Administration and the Israeli right for years, with no regard for human rights or the welfare of innocents, in Israel or elsewhere. Of the other three groups, it is fair to expect much better than this.

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US Commission on Civil Rights: anti-Semitism on campuses now top priority

The US Commission on Civil Rights has launched a campaign against anti-Semitism on campuses that appears to dwarf in importance its other traditional activities like reporting on housing and voter discrimination.

According to Commission head Kenneth Marcus, “Usually, we’ll write a report, but in this case, we needed to get the word out,” because students aren’t sufficiently aware of their rights.

The result? An unprecedented campaign developed and or implemented with partners including the American Jewish Congress, the Zionist Organization of America, campus Hillels, the Anti-Defamation League, Israel on Campus Coalition, and others, involving the internet, print posters and postcards sent to college campuses across the country.

The front banner of the Commission’s website now features 7 major links. All are to administrative functions like “Filing a Complaint” or “Regional Offices.” Only one link is content related, “Ending Campus Anti-Semitism.” This link leads to a website created specifically to educate about campus anti-Semitism and to encourage reporting of incidents.

Back in April, 2006, Ron Kampeas of the JTA wrote:

The effort by an alliance of Jewish groups to hold government-funded Middle East studies departments accountable took two strides forward in recent weeks: one legislative and one moral.

Congress came a step closer to a mechanism that would monitor how Middle East Studies departments spend federal money, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an advisory body, found that anti-Israeli activism could engender a hostile atmosphere for Jews on campus.

A number of right-wing Israel advocacy groups have long targeted federal funding for Middle East Studies, charging that federal funds are being used to support what they call anti-American and anti-Israeli professors. Some of the more well-known groups are Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, which encourages students to submit reports about teachers, and Boston-based The David Project.

The David Project is best known for its documentary, “Columbia Unbecoming”, a film that painted Columbia University as a center of anti-Israeli scholarship and student intimidation, but which was debunked by Liev Leibovitz a writer for New York Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in America. Among other things, Leibovitz uncovered the fact that a number of students featured in the film “had not even studied under the professors who were being accused.”

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Just 28% of US Jews identify as Zionist

As efforts to conflate anti-Zionism (or non- and even post-Zionism for that matter) and anti-Semitism continue to shut down open exchanges everywhere, it’s interesting that Leonard Fein notes in The Forward:

In a forthcoming paper on American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman find that while 82% of their broadly representative sample regard themselves as “pro-Israel,” only 28% — and fewer still in the younger cohorts — see themselves as “Zionists.” Thus, even among the Jews, even among Israel’s supporters, the word has become musty — or worse, an unwelcome evocation of the judgment of its least sympathetic critics.

Fein’s interesting essay, by the way, offers a survey of the criticisms of Zionism, and seeks to defend it by focusing on the Right of Return as a fundamental right under international law.

His acknowledgement that the Palestinian and Jewish Rights of Return are in direct conflict with each other is to be lauded. I may have misread him, but his implication, however, that a well-off Philadelphia home-owner who may have never set foot in the Middle East, and a Palestinian living in a refugee camp still holding the deed to her house behind the 67 border, have the identical moral and legal claim to the same land seems, well, less than convincing. Perhaps Muzzlewatch readers can provide a more nuanced analysis. For example, I once heard Brit Tzedek’s Marcia Freedman talk at a UN conference about the idea of a Jewish “Right of Refuge”, which I found intriguing.

Muzzlewatch finalist for Jewish Israeli Blog Awards- not without controversy

Muzzlewatch is a finalist for 3 awards over at the Jewish and Israeli blog awards. Vote here for best new blog, here for best left-wing blog, and here for best anti-establishment blog. Better yet, just go to JIBA and check out all sorts of interesting Jewish blogs-right, left, center, personal and more. Each category has a nominees list that has a range of interesting choices.

Hat tip to Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam (who is nominated for best music post, vote here) who let me know about the debate over Muzzlewatch’s inclusion in the awards.

Over at The Baleboostah (gotta love the name-plus a Jewish woman blogger, finally!), a blogger named Aussie Dave offers a number criticisms of the JIB Awards, including this one:

David does have some valid points about this year’s JIBs, though. Especially the decision to allow anti-Israel blogs like Muzzlewatch to compete, in the spirit of “inclusiveness.” This needs to be changed if the JIBs are to achieve their purposes.

Interestingly, Akiva, who is apparently part of the team running JIBs this year and who identifies himself as a “right wing Zionist”, defends the inclusion of Muzzlewatch on principle:

Dave – We polled a number of Jbloggers for their category opinions in advance, as well as solicited community input (on the site).

If the JIBs are the zionist right wing Jewish blog awards, then I agree with you. If they are the Jewish & Israeli blog awards, then those with various viewpoints on the matter are welcome.

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U of Maryland food coop worker denies service to student who “Stands with Israel”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

In late April, a checkout person at the Maryland Food Collective told a student that her “I Stand With Israel T-Shirt” was offensive, and refused to serve her, according to, the University of Maryland newspaper. The student found another worker to help her but left the store “emotionally distraught,” said Avi Mayer, president of the Pro-Israel Terrapin Alliance.

Mayer and Sophomore Rachel Bergstein, who was “absolutely shocked” when she heard about the incident and wrote a letter to the editor of the school newspaper that sparked a campus-wide debate, “lamented that those on both sides of the argument haven’t worked harder to reconcile their differences.”

“I wanted people to ask positive questions [because of the letter], but instead I heard people are going into the co-op and saying, ‘So I heard you hate Jews,’” Bergstein said.

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