Monthly Archives: June 2007

All about Philip Weiss: why he left the Observer, why he’s an “Israel-hater”

NY gossip and news blog Gawker tells us “Why Philip Weiss Left the ‘Observer’”

Author and former Observer blogger Philip Weiss has taken to the pages of The American Conservative to detail how he felt he was forced out by Observer owner Jared Kushner and his former Harvard friend, Observer editor Peter Kaplan, for writing incorrectly about Israel. (Also, we find out that Weiss did the blog for free! Uh, what?) Weiss claims that as he got increasingly strident about his feelings about Israel, Kushner and Kaplan’s quiet discomfort with his blog grew, and it didn’t help that the paper was being totally besieged by complaints. Kushner comes from an Orthodox Jewish family, and his family has also long donated to Jewish and pro-Israel causes. And from Weiss’s account, it sounds like this is Kaplan’s lone Achilles heel that he might have for any Kushner editorial thoughts. Definitely Weiss made Kushner uncomfortable, if not unhappy.

When Weiss approached Kaplan about starting to get paid for the blog (he asked for $25,000—a year), Kaplan turned him down, but offered him a bi-weekly print column.

Closing the door, Peter said, “We’re going to have a grown-up conversation.” He told me that the owner believed in Israel, and so did he. Israel may do a lot of bad things, but it was still a force for good. I interrupted, “My wife said to me the other night, you can’t expect a guy who doesn’t believe in anything you’re saying to give you $25,000 a year to put it out.” Peter nodded, “That’s right.”But Peter felt committed to me as a writer. He didn’t want to lose me from the paper and offered me a biweekly column. Kushner had “winced” at the prospect, but Peter was the editor, and he wanted me in print. I could write about American politics, Obama and Hillary. I could go around the country during the campaign and have fun.

Yes, but what about my hard-earned views? Israel and the Mideast were crucial pieces in American foreign policy. Jewish giving was the largest factor in Democratic campaign financing. Peter had never squelched my views, but how free would I be as a writer, knowing what I knew about the bosses’ feelings?

(Weiss, by the way, now blogs here.)

And from the depths of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, editor Jonathan Tobin,whose foaming at the mouth attack-dog approach makes him something of a parody of the Israel-right-or-wrong-crowd, calls Weiss “an Israel-hater, even one with a Jewish background, who is drawn to rhetorical violence against Israel and the Jews.”

He accuses him of getting into bed with anti-Semites because his story about getting forced out at the Observer appeared in The American Conservative, a publication for which Pat Buchanan currently serves as Emeritus Editor.

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Finkelstein/Larudee: Chicago Tribune rejects ad, DePaul charged with violating own standards

Students organizing a hunger strike in support of Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee, who both lost their bid for tenure at DePaul University, report that the Chicago Tribune rejected an ad they tried to run defending Norman Finkelstein. More as it comes in.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to the university’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, echoing the students’ demands. In the two-page letter, Leo Welch, the chapter’s president, says the decision to deny tenure to the two assistant professors violated both the association’s standards and those of DePaul’s own Faculty Handbook. Mr. Finkelstein’s alleged lack of “collegiality” appears to have been the “sole basis” for denying him tenure, Mr. Welch writes. “It is entirely illegitimate for a university to deny tenure to a professor out of fear that his published research … might hurt a college’s reputation,” he says. The association has explicitly rejected collegiality as an appropriate criterion for evaluating faculty members, and has criticized it as “ensuring homogeneity” and undermining the leadership role of colleges and universities, according to the letter

Democractic National Committee “urged to sack Jimmy Carter”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

Six former U.S. ambassadors, all Republicans, urged the Democratic Party to strip former President Jimmy Carter of an honorary position.

The letter mailed Wednesday to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean calls for Carter’s removal from his position as honorary chairman of Democrats Abroad, because of statements Carter made about Hamas.

The letter, sent under the auspices of the Republican Jewish Coalition, refers to a June 19 speech by Carter in Ireland. In the speech, the ex-president “castigated our government and the governments of Israel and the European Union for withholding direct aid to Hamas leaders in the Palestinian Authority,” according to the letter.

Carter told the audience that the isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was “criminal,” despite the fact that Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization during the Clinton administration and it is illegal for the United States to give it assistance.

In response to the ambassadors’ letter, the DNC pointed to a statement by Dean last year in which he distanced himself from Carter.

Responses to Carter’s talk from members of the diplomatic corps with differing opinions are sure to come next. As JVP’s Mitchell Plitnick wrote in the JVP newsletter several months ago about his experiences speaking with Samuel Lewis, the US ambassador to Israel from ’77-’85:

Perhaps most striking was that Ambassador Lewis felt strongly that the US and Israel needed to speak with the existing Palestinian government, even though it is led by Hamas.He rightly pointed out that many terrorist and violent groups have graduated into political leadership, and that the only way to move forward was to speak with duly elected Palestinian representatives.
These are actually very common ideas, very much in the mainstream, though you’d never know it from our media or from Congress. The dividing line usually is nothing more than a strong background in the Middle East.

Stunning moment at screening of Jolie film about Daniel Pearl

At Thursday’s Paramount Vantage Los Angeles screening of “A Mighty Heart,” which including an interfaith panel discussion with representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU) as well as Plan B co-producer Dede Gardner and Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak,

a Jewish activist decried the leanings of several of the participants, likening CAIR’s involvement to “David Duke co-sponsoring ‘Schindler’s List.’”

“The only reason they like this film is because it’s about a dead Jew,” said Allyson Rowen-Taylor, who has been involved in orgs such as the American Jewish Congress and Stand With Us. The activist found out about the event from a friend who’s a member of the Academy and immediately expressed her outrage to Judea Pearl, father of the late journo Daniel Pearl.

We’ve written about Allison Rowen Taylor, before. While still a high ranking staffer for the American Jewish Congress, she sent an “anonymous” email to the personal account of a Jewish staffer for the Quaker human rights group American Friends Service Committee, demanding to know, “why do you hate being a Jew, why are you in favor of murdering Jews?” (She later served as associate director of Stand With Us, “a pro-Israel advocacy organization active on California campuses,” though it is unclear from her remarks if she has also left there and why.)

Had Taylor suggested that the only reason Jews liked a movie was because it was about a dead Muslim, it’s likely she would simply have been shuffled out the door or ignored, instead of given a platform.

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NGO Monitor: attacking New Israel Fund, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International

By Rob Lipton with Cecilie Surasky
Although using language that would appear to give the impression of a neutral watch dog of non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs), NGO Monitor (NGOM) is a partisan organization that weakens universal human rights infrastructure by charging many of the world’s best known human rights organizations with bias against Israel.

Their mission statement says they were founded to:

promote accountability, and advance a vigorous discussion on the reports and activities of humanitarian NGOs in the framework of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, a more straightforward description of their ideological bias comes from liberal Jewish thinker Leonard Fein who says:

…. NGO Monitor, an organization that believes that the best way to defend Israel is to condemn anyone who criticizes it.

NGO Monitor operates out of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs. Its editor is Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who wrote not just about NGOs, but also journalists and academics in 2003:

…Israel-bashing is promoted by that other axis of evil – journalists, diplomats (including the United Nations), academics and self-proclaimed universal human rights groups. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) enjoy a halo effect, and an image of promoting noble causes without political bias exempts them from scrutiny. They are also extremely influential, and their reports are quoted extensively. In reality, however, these NGOs are at the very core of the anti-Israel axis of evil. By promoting the campaign of hatred and delegitimization, such groups are morally guilty of justifying terrorism.

This world-view is behind the single-minded commitment to weakening some of the world’s most respected human rights and civil society groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and the New Israel Fund.

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Roundup, tips from readers

Changing Wikipedia entries-nice work if you can get it

Organized efforts to edit and monitor Wikipedia entries on Israel and Palestine are nothing new. There’s WikiProject Palestine, WikiProject Israel and even WikiProject Arab-Israeli conflict, which all must abide by Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View guidelines. According to a Wikipedia spokesperson, corporate publicists also get into the game of changing entries. But the Hasbara Fellowships program seems to be breaking new ground with the confluence of paid fellowships, government involvement, and an active campaign to change Wikipedia entries.
Hasbara Fellowships, a program started in “conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs” to help students become “effective pro-Israel activists” is actively recruiting paid fellows and supporters to join in the effort. From the May Hasbara Fellowship newsletter:

Everyone knows about Wikipedia, a place to go to get the ‘real’ scoop. How often do you use Wikipedia to look up subjects you know little about? Now imagine how often other people use Wikipedia to look up subjects related to Israel.
Wikipedia is not an objective resource but rather an online encyclopedia that any one can edit. The result is a website that is in large part is controlled by ‘intellectuals’ who seek re-write the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These authors have systematically yet subtly rewritten key passages of thousands of Wikipedia entries to portray Israel in a negative light.
You have the opportunity to stop this dangerous trend! If you are interested in joining a team of Wikipedians to make sure Israel is presented fairly and accurately, please contact director@israelactivism.com for details!

Mishegas at the United Nations: Israel the world’s only human rights violator?

On Monday, Canada was the sole country on the United Nations Human Rights Council who voted against making Israel’s actions a permanent item on the council’s agenda. Forty-six member countries, including those with poor human rights records, voted for the decision.

In response, Reuters reports

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticizing the world body’s own Human Rights Council for “picking on Israel” as part of an agreement on its working rules.

The European Union, Canada and the United States have already attacked the deal reached in Geneva on Monday under which Israel’s actions would become a permanent item on the Human Rights Council’s agenda.

A UN statement said: “The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.”

The fun of being a DC Palestinian lobbyist

Edward Abington, a former United States consul general in Jerusalem who was for years the official lobbyist for the Palestinian Authority and later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reports:

“Trying to lobby for the Palestinians in Washington is fundamentally a lost cause,” he said. “Congress doesn’t care, and the administration is just fueling the conflict.”

Abington said that when he was on the job, he faced not only American reluctance but also personal harassment, including bomb threats, endless lawsuits and continuous criticism. In one case, he found posters bearing his photograph, reading “Ed Abington — Wanted for Murder,” at his downtown Washington office.

PBS protects American viewers from international version of 1967 documentary

Fichman said that PBS demanded entire scenes and sequences come out, and others be softened.”

Toronto Star columnist writes about:

…a stunning $1.2 million Canada-Israel-France co-production, Six Days in June. Fast-paced and rich with archival footage, its stories are told not by “experts,” nor pundits, nor academics. The people who we see are witnesses – as fighters, journalists, politicians, diplomats, refugees or survivors.

Two not-so-subtly different versions have already aired this week. Both about two hours in length, one ran in French, on CBC’s sister networks Radio-Canada and the all-news RDI, the other in English on PBS. (A three-hour edition also aired to rave reviews in Israel.)

The PBS version repeats Sunday at 3 a.m.on WNED.

The French edition is what Montreal-based producer Ina Fichman calls the “international version,” which was sold to Italy’s RAI, Australia’s SBS and elsewhere.

It depicts, among other historical facts, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians by the Israeli army, a move the narrator delicately describes as “the first change to the demographics of the West Bank.” It shows, through the eyes of a former Arab resident and an Israeli who photographed the event, that, where large villages stood, now are forests (many planted with Canadian charitable donations).

There is also a sequence, as related by the American-born Abdullah Schleifer, editor of Palestine News, as well as an Arab whose home was destroyed, about the overnight razing of a 700-year-old Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem by the triumphant Israeli defence minister, General Moshe Dayan.

“When I saw this destruction, there was a part of me that felt tremendous dread, that a whole new problem was going to be created,” says Schleifer. He says this in the PBS version as well, but the horrifying context is stripped away for American sensibilities.

“PBS is really not a liberal left-wing broadcaster,” says Fichman. “It’s subscription and sponsor-based, with members of the Jewish community among its supporters.”

Fichman said that PBS demanded entire scenes and sequences come out, and others be softened.

The sad part is that, unless the feature-length “director’s cut” by Israeli-born filmmaker Ilan Ziv gets distribution, Canadians will not get to view what the rest of the world, including Israel, has.

CBC-TV, for example, did not buy it because PBS already had North American rights. The film also did not fit with its focus on “contemporary political and social issues.”

And so, we get the whitewashed version of history. Not surprising.

As the narrator says, “The Six-Day War will prove to be an unfinished war, just one battle in a conflict that has never ended.”

DePaul uproar: despite unanimous support, professor who supported Finkelstein loses job; students continue protest

“Our jaws just dropped, hit the floor, when we saw the decision went the other way.”

–Michael A. McIntyre, director, DePaul’s program of international studies, in response to denial of tenure to Dr. Mehrene Larudee.

Following a highly unorthodox outside pressure campaign from media star and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been engaged in a highly publicized grudge match with Norman Finkelstein for some years, the denial of tenure to two politically allied professors has sent DePaul into an uproar over academic freedom.

Angry students, charging the university with violating its own tenure process, immediately occupied university property in protest and have vowed to continue. On Wednesday, June 13, the university’s Faculty Council voted 27-3 “for an appeal to be made on behalf of both professors citing “violations of academic freedom” and procedural problems in the tenure process. ”

Inexplicably, a universally respected professor of international studies, Mehrene Larudee, who openly advocated for Finkelstein, was denied tenure, to the shock of her colleagues.

The Chronicle of Higher Education writes:

Another professor at DePaul University was rejected for tenure at the same time as Norman G. Finkelstein, and she believes her advocacy for the embattled political scientist may have derailed her career.

“There is no good explanation for why I was denied tenure,” Mehrene E. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies, said in an interview on Monday. “So one has to look elsewhere.”

Praised as “outstanding” by the dean of her college and recommended unanimously by distinguished faculty peers during the tenure process, Ms. Larudee was 19 days away from becoming director of DePaul’s program in international studies when she learned on Friday of the decision against her.

She and the program’s current director, Michael A. McIntyre, had been discussing the responsibilities she would be assuming when he received, via e-mail, a letter from DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider.

“Hey, this is great, I’ll get to congratulate Mehrene right now,” Mr. McIntyre recalls thinking, until he read the letter. “Our jaws just dropped, hit the floor, when we saw the decision went the other way,” he said.

Dr. Larudee has promised to fight to overturn the decision. For now, there seem to be plenty of faculty, alum and students willing to back her in that fight. (Larudee is a member of the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.)

Synchronicity: Forward publishes article about vitriol on blogs

On the very same day we posted our decision to stop comments indefinitely, the Forward published Vitriol Proliferates on Jewish Blogs, in which Rebecca Spence describes the difficulty in having civil conversations about Israel-Palestine politics in particular on Jewish blogs.

Is the harshness of language a natural outgrowth of a male-dominated medium in which anonymity gives many a chance to speak without accountability? Does verbally attacking others give generally powerless people the illusion of power? Is it a sincere expression of anger between people discussing emotional issues? Or is it a deliberate strategy to muzzle debate about US-Israeli policy, with people simply wearing others down through a daily onslaught of verbal abuse?

How about, all of the above?

Spence describes the vicious fake blog that was started just days after Tikun Olam‘s Richard Silverstein took credit for bringing down the extremist, hate-filled Masada2000 website (When the site was moved to another host, Silverstein successfully got it taken down again. The site seems to be up now with yet another provider.)

The case of Silverstein, a 53-year-old former Jewish charity fundraiser who operates his “Tikun Olam” Web site out of Seattle, is but one example of the below-the-belt discourse that has taken hold in the world of Jewish blogging. Scurrilous barbs and sharp-tongued insults are routinely tossed back and forth through cyberspace from one Jewish blogger to another, appearing in long threads in the sections reserved for reader comments. The invective often revolves around political stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with bloggers on the left and on the right painting one another into corners and caricaturing one another’s beliefs.

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Shutting down comments indefinitely

After almost 2,500 comments in about 4 months, it’s time to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog and do some serious reflection.

While some readers might find this decision rather sudden–our sincerest apologies to those of you who feel cut off from an important outlet for your writing and/or reading — for others, this decision comes as no surprise. (Fortunately, many commenters have their own blogs, so there will be no shortage of outlets in which you can fully air your views.)

From day one, it seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and US foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. Lately, the site has become a forum for posting anti-Semitic in particular, and also other bigoted and racist comments, as well as ugly personal attacks.

Given our focus on open debate, at the beginning it seemed to make sense to offer an open forum for discussion, and to avoid moderating every single post and playing the role of politically correct police (Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s English message boards, for example, are unmoderated). We thought that the boards would be ultimately self-regulating in that sense. Instead, the vitriol, demonization and outright bigotry seems to have increased.
Because JVP stands against anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds, we decided we cannot justify hosting a forum where these views are promoted and spread. Further, within Jewish Voice for Peace, we strive to use a language that does not dehumanize or promote hate, but rather illuminates complex moral issues.

We thought, in the spirit of free speech, it was the right thing to do to make a place where people not affiliated with the organization might discuss these issues. Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.

Knowing that a lively comments sections typically means a larger audience, we feel particularly comfortable making this decision because Muzzlewatch has already grown tremendously, far exceeding our hopes and expectations for a brand new blog.

Finally, this decision will actually free up time for us to report stories and write analysis, which is why we started the blog.

In the meantime, we’ll be consulting with other bloggers to see if it’s possible or even worthwhile to come up with a much stricter set of commenting guidelines. But for the moment, comments are closed indefinitely.

Again, our deepest apologies to those of you for whom the comments section has been a daily part of your lives.