Monthly Archives: July 2007

Despicable: Abe Foxman slams only Muslim Congressman

MN Congressman Keith Ellison compared 9/11 to the burning of the Reichstag, Bush to Hitler. You can agree or disagree with the statement. You can think it’s uniquely insightful and courageous or completely idiotic. In the end, the free marketplace of democracy will decide what his supporters think.

But now it appears that Abe Foxman and the ADL have trademarked the use of any language pertaining to Hitler and the Holocaust. There is no denying the singular nature of the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people. But apparently, despite the fact that over 5 million non-Jews were also killed, the tragedy belongs not only to us Jews and us alone, but the the Anti-Defamation League.

It must be a funny coincidence- the ADL is going after the only Muslim on Congress. And what did he say, exactly? He didn’t even mention or allude to the Holocaust. As horrible as the Jewish experience was in the Shoah, there was a good deal more to Hitler’s evil crusade. Is everything pertaining to Hitler now out of bounds unless it receives Abe Foxman’s stamp of approval?

Worse, Ellison immediately tried to mend the fences with the ADL. And they spent hours working with him on a statement and, just before he was ready to send it to the media, the ADL sent their own condemnation out. Politics may be a rough game in general, but even by those Machiavellian standards, this was dirty pool at its worst.
Despicable.

ADL Slams Ellison

Aides to the country’s first Muslim congressman say they were blindsided by a stinging condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League.

Aides to Rep. Keith Ellison, say the ADL criticized Ellison after the Minnesota Democrat had told the ADL that he planned to recant his comparison of Bush administration policies to Nazi tactics.

The offending line came in a July 8 speech to an atheists’ group in Minnesota. Ellison compared Bush administration policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to Adolf Hitler’s use of the burning of the Reichstag to consolidate his rule.

After Ellison defended his remarks in a subsequent interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the ADL reached out to him to discuss the issue and convinced him that it was inappropriate to use such an analogy.

Ellison aides and ADL staff in the ADL office in Washington spent much of Tuesday negotiating the language of his recantation, both sides said. It was understood that Ellison would release a statement expressing regret over his earlier comparison and make his feelings known in an interview with The Associated Press.

After this cooperation, Ellison aides said they were shocked when, before the congressman released his statement and the AP article was distributed, journalists called asking about an ADL statement slamming his earlier remarks. The statement said Ellison demonstrated “a profound lack of understanding about the horrors that Hitler and his Nazi regime perpetrated.”

The flap follows several incidents during the past year that have left Democratic lawmakers and staff fuming over what they describe, often privately, as unfair treatment from Jewish organizations. In this case, Ellison aides said the ADL turned its back on good-faith negotiations.

“We went to great lengths, had ongoing conversations,” Rick Jauert, Ellison’s spokesman, said. “No sooner had we gotten off the phone than I received the news — what did we just engage in? It’s not the way friends treat each other.”

The ADL statement, which quoted its national director, Abraham Foxman, landed in journalists’ e-mail inboxes at 5:30 p.m. with an urgent notification — just after Ellison thought he had wrapped up his negotiations with the organization and after he had spoken with the AP. The AP story was sent out a couple of hours after the ADL statement, at 7:30 p.m.

Foxman said he put out the statement although he was aware of the negotiations between Ellison’s staff and the ADL’s Washington office, because the congressman waited too long.

“That story was out there for days,” Foxman said. “He didn’t say anything.”

In his July 8 speech, Ellison said Bush’s post-9/11 policies “kind of reminds me” of the Reichstag fire.

“After the Reichstag was burned,” he said, the Nazis “blamed the communists for it, and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

From the archives: Larry Cohler-Esses of Jewish Week on AIPAC and censorship

As we’ve said before, working inside the Jewish press is not easy. There are those who feel the primary job of a journalist is to report the news. There are others who (like people in any other religious or ethnic community) feel the function of the Jewish press is to serve as cheerleader. Larry Cohler-Esses belongs to the former group. Here’s a fascinating excerpt from a 2004 interview with Luke Ford:

“What are the principle obstacles to doing good Jewish journalism?”

Larry thinks for about ten seconds. “Money. Not meaning only salaries, but money to support the expenses involved in going to places and reporting firsthand. The censorship or influence of the owners of the papers. The self-censorship that people employ when they sense what the boundaries are. The expectations of readers. People don’t read Jewish newspapers for the reason they read regular newspapers. People read regular newspapers to get information, whether they agree with the paper or not. People read Jewish newspaper to affirm their sense of identity. Often that means you are writing articles that people don’t particularly want to know about.

“If you want to know to know about Israel, you can get most of your information from The New York Times and the Washington Post. You read the Jewish newspapers to get your sense of Israel’s rightness and correctness in the world affirmed.”

What’s your view of the way AIPAC attempted, during your tenure, to keep the Jewish press in line?”

“It was atrocious. That’s not their mission. Their mission statement doesn’t say anything about them mucking around in Jewish newspapers. AIPAC tried to get me fired, Andy [Silow-Carrol] fired [from The Washington Jewish Week in 1992]. They never came to me with complaints about my coverage (with one or two exceptions). They didn’t even go to the editor. They went to the owner and publisher of The Washington Jewish Week.

“There was an AIPAC conference where James Baker (US Secretary of State under George Bush Sr) called on supporters of Israel to give up on their dreams of a [territorially] greater Israel. In interviewing members of the audience after the speech, I talked to an AIPAC macher from Iowa. I quoted him accurately saying, ‘That speech was garbage.’ It went in the newspaper. I never heard anything until the owner of the paper, Dr. Leonard Kapiloff, called me into his office, showing me a letter from [AIPAC leader] Tom Dine to him, passing on a letter from this Iowa macher that not only is that quote not correct, Larry Cohler never even interviewed me. It’s fabricated. Dr. Kapiloff had enormous respect and admiration for Tom Dine. He made it clear that the burden was on me.

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Keeping Talk Radio Pro-Israel

Jewish Week’s Jonathan Mark wrote last month in Keeping Talk Radio Pro-Israel about Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, “the leading industry publication for talk radio.”

But whether talk radio, be it left or right, is fair to Israel, is, in fact, very important to Harrison. For the past five years, Harrison and his publication have been shepherding more than 50 talk show hosts to Israel in conjunction with America’s Voices for Israel (AVI), a group founded and presided over by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Harrison, a member of AVI’s board of directors, recently devoted an entire glossy front page of Talkers to these Israel trips. And on one trip, several weeks ago, conducted in conjunction with United Jewish Communities, among the radio personalities traveling with Harrison was Lionel, the uni-monikered host newly hired as Air America’s 9 a.m. mid-morning slot.

It remains to be seen how this trip will impact the newly relaunched liberal talk radio network Air America’s new morning host, Lionel. But the trip, sponsored by the notoriously right wing Malcolm Hoenlein, which did not include visits to checkpoints or Gaza, naturally made a profound impact.

Before he shifted to Air America from WOR, Lionel had the 13th-ranked talk show in the country. According to recent Arbitron ratings, the top five talk show hosts are each staunchly on the right and supportive of Israel’s conservative flank: Rush Limbaugh (13.5 million weekly listeners); Sean Hannity (12.5); Michael Savage (8.25); Dr. Laura Schlesinger (8); and Laura Ingraham (5).

If some are perplexed about the Zionist-tilt on talk radio in defiance of what is found elsewhere in the media, perhaps some credit belongs to the persistence of Harrison, Hoenlein and the ongoing educational efforts of their America’s Voices for Israel.

Mapping the occupation: Ravensburger puzzle map responds to pressure, disappears Palestinian Occupied Territories

Battles over maps that demarcate different boundaries and place-names for the same piece of land aren’t a proxy battle for flesh and blood conflict. They constitute a real war over who gets to fix “reality”, who gets the final claim to determine not just borders but the existence of towns, villages, roads, and the lives they represent. Erasure of an entire history, ethnic or religious identity, or a political claim, can happen with the stroke of the cartographer’s pen.

There is a great deal of discussion about maps circulated in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the Arab world that identify Israel as “Palestine” or the whole area as “Occupied Palestine.” Less is known in the US about the debates over maps made in Israel.

As Eyal Wiezman wrote in the Politics of verticality:

From 1967 to the present day, Israeli technocrats, ideologues and generals have been drawing maps of the West Bank. Map-making became a national obsession. Whatever the nature of Palestinian spatiality, it was subordinated to Israeli cartography. Whatever was un-named ceased to exist. Scores of scattered buildings and small villages disappeared from the map, and were never connected to basic services.

The issue hit the front pages of Israeli newspapers late last year when leftist Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir proposed putting the green line, the 1967 armistice line that has become the defacto border, onto maps.

Last December, Gershom Gorenberg, the author of the highly recommended The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, wrote that in 1980…

…maps showing the Green Line were impossible to find in Israel. (The diplomat said his maps came from the CIA.) The Israeli government’s cartography service had a monopoly on the map market. You could get topo maps showing the location of every picnic table and archeological site in the country, but not the boundary between Israel and occupied territory. Maps showed only the post-1967 lines dividing Israeli-controlled land from neighboring Arab countries. In official cartography, occupied Hebron and Nablus looked like part of Israel. The practice tended to obscure political developments. As a journalist, I often covered settlement in the West Bank — but when a new community was established, sometimes I wasn’t sure whether it was in Israel proper or in land conquered in the June 1967 Six-Day war.

Government maps still dominate the market, and still don’t show the Green Line. Neither do schoolbooks. But this week, Education Minister Yuli Tamir issued instructions to show the border line in new textbooks. Tamir, a founder of the Peace Now movement, represents the center-left Labor Party in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s crazy-quilt coalition. Right-wing pols immediately accused her of politicizing the classroom. Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud said it would call for a parliamentary vote of no confidence. A group of rightist rabbis said Tamir had “declared war against God” by suggesting a division of the homeland divinely granted to the Jews. None of the rightists, naturally, find any trace of politicized education in the practice of hiding from children the borders of their own country. In a curious way, though, they have a case: In Israel — and not just in Israel — facts are political. Denial is the consensus position.

(The outrage against Tamir’s pronounceent was immediate and harsh.The Knesset’s Education Committee rejected her proposal, though their decision was non-binding.)

Gorenberg went on:

For nearly 40 years, Israel has treated its own border the way Victorians treated sex: It shapes society, but explicitly portraying it violates respectable conventions. Those who do so are seen as daring, not quite part of polite society. Bright children know the border exists from adult conversations, know it will be terribly important when they come of age, and are not quite sure what it looks like. My daughter, child of an impolite father, asked her high school geography teacher why the Green Line was missing from a map he handed out, and left him wordless.

The politics of denial go beyond that. Golda Meir famously declared that there was no such thing as a Palestinian nation that was distinct in any way from other Arabs. In 1970s Israel, it was daring to disagree with her. When I began working as a journalist in the 1980s, some left-leaning reporters at my paper used the word “Palestinians” — and some right-leaning editors replaced it with “Arabs.” The original Oslo Accord of 1993 made no mention of a Palestinian state as the necessary outcome of a peace process; the idea was too radical for then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to present to the public.

Ravensburger, a German toy maker (and an excellent one at that) inadvertently stepped right into all of this last year when they produced a globe that was to simply be a fun, educational toy.

The Jerusalem Post reported in November 2006

Pro-Israel advocacy groups campaign around the globe against the use of the word Palestine, since no such country exists, but it turns out that globes being sold in Israel bear the term.

Billed as an educational toy that teaches young children geography, the widely sold “Ravensburger Puzzle Ball Classic Globe” includes both Israel and Palestine. Although the product has been on the market formore than two years, all of those contacted by The Jerusalem Post, from toy store owners to the Israeli distributor to the German manufacturer, reacted with surprise when informed of the imaginative geography.

“The first time I learned about this issue was when [the Post] told me,”said Hermann Bruns, an export manager for the manufacturer in Ravensburg, Germany. He said the design for the map was bought from a Chinese company, and that Ravensburger was only responsible for repackaging it.

Demands to change the design have been quick to follow discovery of the error, with those involved in distribution and sales of the globe in Israel saying they have appealed directly to Ravensburger.

“I was very, very angry when I found out about this,” said Meir Klughaft, CEO of Saheknu, which imports the puzzle globe. “I personally asked [Ravensburger] to change the product, and to remove the word Palestine and leave only Israel. They promised me in a letter that they would.”

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British academics’ vote to consider moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions causes backlash. Charges of anti-Semitism and crushing of free speech

Experienced human rights activists hold a range of views on the wisdom of economic sanctions as a way to pressure Israel to end its 40 year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. While differences may fall along tactical or moral lines, no one can argue that the vast majority of proponents of boycotts and sanctions are motivated by the profound sense that nothing else has worked to pressure Israel to end human rights abuses. (Certainly, there are those who support these efforts like David Duke who are anti-Semites, but that does not make the motions inherently anti-Semitic.)

Yet, these efforts have been universally attacked from some quarters as the cutting sword of a global rise in anti-Semitism. There is no small irony in the fact that the amount of moral outrage summoned by US Congress and other groups against economic sanctions campaigns against Israel completely dwarfs the moral outrage about the systematic destruction of the Palestinian fabric of society including the demolition of homes, killing of innocents and more.

On Wednesday, July 11, Agence France Press reported

US lawmakers Wednesday slammed a boycott of Israeli universities promoted by pro-Palestinian British academics as an anti-Semitic step that would undermine Middle East peace efforts.

In a unanimous voice vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution attacking the boycott call from the leadership of the University and College Union (UCU), Britain’s largest trade union for academics.

“When Israel comes under attack from hatemongers, it is American values that are also under attack,” said Democratic member Patrick Murphy, the resolution’s main sponsor.

“Limiting academic exchanges and shrinking the marketplace of ideas only limits our ability to bring peace to the Middle East and to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

Putting aside the fact that Murphy completely misses the point that the occupation denies the rights of Palestinians to access education, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the level of denial required for critics to truly believe the root of boycotts campaigns are Jew-hatred (even as many are led by Jews) rather than their real root, Israel’s 40-year illegal occupation.

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Bucking the pressure at Jewish newspapers: is it possible or even desirable to tell the truth about the Jewish state?

As many working in the Jewish press know all too well, truth-telling about Israeli policy is not exactly embraced. In fact, it is often treated with outright hostility, especially by funders, especially those with large pockets. (See our coverage of New Voices. Heeb Magazine experienced a similar backlash when they printed an interview with Noam Chomsky, leading to a substantive change in coverage. Stories at other publications have been killed because of fear of losing funders, and there is a huge pushback in some papers when just one letter pointing out Israeli human rights abuses gets printed.)

In this regard, the pressures on the Jewish press are likely no different from the pressures on papers that cover and are supported by any other religious or ethnic group.

Joe Eskenazi of the Bay Area’s Jewish paper gives this report on a talk by longtime reporter (and now Americans for Peace Now spokesperson) Ori Nir at the American Jewish Press Awards. Nir is just one example of the many smart and principled people in the Jewish institutional world who are working to buck the pressure to be an unthinking propaganda mouthpiece, which after all, serves no one, least of all Israelis and Jews in general.

(The report is also interesting because of the openness of Vice Consul Ishmael Khaldi, who is Bedouin.)

Panel ponders how Jewish press should cover Jewish state

When Ori Nir was a reporter for Ha’aretz, he once met with the Palestinian Authority’s newspaper censor for a story. The official noted that papers were free to publish what they wished, but if they transgressed “the rules,” fines would be allotted.What were those rules? In a nutshell, don’t make Palestinians look bad.

The censor had recently fined a newspaper for running a photograph of a Palestinian family washing a donkey at the beach. Apparently, it made Palestinians look bad.

That story got a laugh out of the roughly 50 editors of Jewish newspapers in the audience at Nir’s speech at the American Jewish Press Awards in San Francisco.

But when Nir asked about self-censorship within the American Jewish community, the guffaws ceased.

Nir shared the dais with Israel Consul General David Akov and Vice Consul Ishmael Khaldi in the late June panel. Nir, a longtime reporter for Israel’s Ha’aretz and the Forward in New York City, is now the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now.

He said Jewish newspapers do a disservice to their readers when they whitewash Israel’s wrongs or blindly cheerlead the Jewish state.

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Lee Kaplan vs Yaman Salahi: Small claims court muzzling, how Kaplan makes up ‘facts’

with Cecilie Surasky

Yaman Salahi, a student at UC Berkeley, has the temerity to watch the right-wing “watchers.” In particular, this enterprising student has created a web blog that examines the accuracy and underlying motivations of the writings of Lee Kaplan.

Lee Kaplan calls himself a journalist, but seems to specialize in making up facts out of whole cloth to suit his agenda, which is silencing and at worst, destroying human rights groups that criticize Israel’s human rights record. For an example of his technique, read about his “reporting” on Jewish Voice for Peace, further down in this post. The primary vehicle for Kaplan’s attacks is the notorious, right wing version of the National Inquirer, David Horowitz’s FrontPage Magazine.

After kicking a disguised Kaplan out of a student conference in 2004, a vice-president at Duke University wrote:

I have worked with many journalists over the years, but never have I experienced one whose behavior has been so outside the norms of recognized ethical and journalistic standards as Mr. Kaplan.

Recently, Salahi lost a small claims court decision brought by Kaplan that was substantially based on false charges. The reader can find out more about this case and its import for squelching free speech here.

Instead of slowing down his efforts, Salahi has courageously come back even stronger with his new blog, FrontPage Magazine Watch, which deserves the support of Muzzlewatch readers.The two main charges against Salahi were that his comments caused Kaplan to lose income/employment and that he was defamed by posts Salahi made. The only problem with these claims is that Kaplan claimed lost income from a defunct/non-existent company and the alleged defaming materials were not created or posted or linked to by Salahi.

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A different angle: Braverman challenges Rosenfeld’s attack on progressive Jews

In his thought-provoking essay, Answer to Rosenfeld: Jewish History, Anti-Semitism, and the Challenge, Dr. Mark Braverman takes on the man who famously attacked progressive Jews who are critical of Israel. Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “Progressive Jewish Thought”, was written at the behest of the American Jewish Committee, and caused a large firestorm.

Rosenfeld’s report’s sloppy methodology and overt ideological approach have been duly noted by numerous critics. Braverman adds something new to the conversation by addressing something even more insidious. Rosenfeld’s work betrays a disturbing sense of superiority (that is partly a response to Jewish oppression) which profoundly belittles Palestinian suffering and by extension, the fundamental humanity of all Palestinians.

In Rosenfeld’s strident call for a circling of the wagons, we see the tragedy of modern Jewry in its confrontation with the uncomfortable realities of Israel: the refusal to deal with anyone’s suffering but our own. To be sure, and as discussed above, there are historical reasons for this attitude, and we are doubtless not the only group to have been guilty of this willful blindness, this inexcusable sense of entitlement and specialness. But this tendency among many Jews today is so powerful and pervasive that it reaches the level of outright denial. Nowhere – nowhere in Rosenfeld’s piece is to be found even a gratuitous nod to the suffering of the Palestinians – not even the minimizing, grudging, disingenuous acknowledgment of the “unfortunate abuses” suffered by the occupied Palestinians that one sometimes hears from the “pro-Israel” camp. But even more important, and ultimately more disturbing and potentially tragic, is the absence of any consideration of the issue of justice. To be sure, Israel may be threatened – the future is uncertain, geopolitics are fickle. In the global arena, what gives you birth and supports you one day can turn against you the next – and to be sure, anti-Semitism is alive, and where not active it is very likely dormant – but where is Justice, what is the state of your conscience?

Peace is now a four-letter word, complains Orthodox rabbi at conference on Jewish future.

Last fall I attended all 3 days of the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, billed as the largest gathering of Jewish leaders in the United states.
It was absolutely striking how the entire conference was based on generating not hope, but fear (a problem I lay at the feet of the organizers).The emotional centerpiece of the gathering was Netanyahu’s stump speech telling us that it is 1938 and that Ahmadinejad is Hitler (this is also Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee’s stump speech, which he gave at AIPAC, though which came first is not clear). This speech dovetailed nicely with Steve Emerson’s tips for secretly videotaping “anti-Israel” students on campuses, and warnings of the dangers inherent in all Islam.

Ironically, the only time I heard anyone mention peace was during Olmert’s talk…and when the P word was finally uttered, there was a healthy response from a small but strong number of attendees.

The overall level of discourse was so terrible — not even progressive Zionist groups like Americans for Peace Now or Ameinu were on panels, but a far right winger like talk show host Dennis Prager got an entire auditorium– that Olmert’s words of a future of coexistence were like a beacon of light in a long, dark night.

It turns out that the absence of meaningful discussion of peace is now a disturbing trend. Haaretz reported today in At conference on future of Jewish people, delegates ask why peace is off the agenda:

Rene Shmuel Sirat, the former chief rabbi of France, protested that the word “peace” seemed to have become a four-letter word in Jewish public discourse.

“Without peace the Jewish people have no future,” Sirat said in an interview with Haaretz.

“It is unacceptable that peace should not be included in the plans for the future of the Jewish people.”

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Harvard Middle East expert Sara Roy: “I have never experienced such…blatant..censorship.”

The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, the official foreign-policy journal at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, asked Sara Roy of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies to review a new book on Hamas.

A political economist, Dr. Roy has worked in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since 1985 conducting research primarily on the economic, social and political development of the Gaza Strip and on U.S. foreign aid to the region… Her current research, which was funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, examines the social and economic sectors of the Palestinian Islamic movement and their relationship to Islamic political institutions, and the critical changes to the Islamic movement that have occurred over the last seven years.”

This expertise would seem to make her an ideal person to review Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, written by Matthew Levitt “in cooperation with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.” WINEP was started by Martin Indyk after he left AIPAC and the two now share a loose affiliation. (An interview with Indyk is featured in the Winter edition Fletcher Forum of World Affairs)

Roy’s thoughts on the Levitt book? From the review:

While there can be no doubt that, since its inception, Hamas has engaged in violence and armed struggle, and has been the primary force behind the horrific suicide bombings inside Israel, Levitt’s presentation reduces this increasingly complex and sophisticated organization to an insular, one-dimensional…entity dedicated solely to violence…and Israel’s destruction.

Roy writes in the author’s preface to the full book review now published in Middle East Policy and not the Fletcher Forum, that after being commissioned to write the review, she went through a substantive process with the editorial board over content. In the end, all seemed to feel good about it:

During a subsequent exchange the editor-in-chief wrote, “Thank you for your hard work as well. It’s a good review.” I believed that was the end of the matter. Just a few days later, I received the following e-mail message from the same editor-in-chief:

Dear Ms. Roy:

…After careful review and much consideration of the merits of your piece, we have decided that we are ultimately unable to publish your review for this edition. Your review was evaluated by several of our editors and an external editor for objectivity. Unfortunately, they disagreed with my decision to publish your review for the following reasons: despite their agreement with many of your points, all reviewers found the piece one-sided. This one-sidedness dissuaded readers from reading the piece to the end; ultimately, this last point is the most important. Although I found your arguments valuable, if readers consistently feel this way, I am unable to move forward with a piece. My apologies for the way in which this process was carried out, and for the time that you spent on editing the piece. Thank you once again for your submission and your efforts. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to e-mail me.

In more than 20 years of writing and publishing I have never experienced such behavior or encountered what to me, at least, is so blatant a case of censorship. I am therefore extremely grateful to Anne Joyce and Stephen Magro for agreeing to publish the review in Middle East Policy.

Read Roy’s preface and the entire review here.