Monthly Archives: August 2007

Barak Wants Professor Fired For Nasty Words to IDF Officer

It is becoming more and more obvious, whether it’s here in the US, in Europe, or in Israel that the heated emotions that surround the question of the occupation are leading too many into contemptible acts of suppression. If we are ever to get to a resolution, to a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, we need to stop being so very afraid of words.

Yesterday, our staunch Muzzlewatcher, Cecilie Surasky, reported on the cancellation of a talk by controversial professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. In Israel, we can look at another, rather different example today, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called for the dismissal of a Bar Ilan University Professor of Hebrew Literature, Hillel Weiss. Barak called for Weiss’ dismissal over remarks Weiss made to an IDF soldier evacuating some settlers from the market area in Hebron.

Without a doubt, Weiss words to the soldier were thoroughly contemptible. The Jerusalem Post reports: “Weiss, who was seen by reporters talking to Fuchs privately during the evacuation, was asked by a Ynet reporter what he had told the IDF commander. ‘I said I hope his mother is bereaved, his wife is widowed and his children are made orphans,’ said Weiss before the news camera. ‘And I told him that I hope my grandchildren will take revenge against him and against all Jewish scum like him.’”

These are truly revolting comments, and Weiss’ specification of “Jewish scum” might well reflect the self-hatred so common on the right that they like to accuse those working for justice and peace of. Bar Ilan University may decide for itself whether it wants someone on its faculty who is making public statements so full of hatred and venom. One would hope, however, that Bar Ilan would use the same standards it should be using with any other academic–their scholarship in their field, not their political views.

It is not, however, the business of government to dictate such things. In fact, the suppression of Prof. Weiss’ speech only fuels and strengthens the settlers, reinforcing their sense that they are persecuted victims. But the practical issue there is not the point; fundamentally, Weiss has a right to his view. He was not attempting to incite any violence against the soldier in question or anyone else. His view may be hateful but it is his view, and he has a right to express it, no less than those who believe that every settlement in the West Bank should be removed. That Weiss is facing a police investigation over this is simply revolting.

This entire incident is part of a larger matrix, where even the tiniest move by Israel to rein in the wildly expanding settlements and their zealous supporters and inhabitants is met with fanatical opposition. How all of this is working to defeat any hope for a resolution to the occupation and the Israel-Palestine conflict will be a topic I will be writing more on later this weekend on my own blog, The Third Way.

But any way you cut it, it is open dialogue, where all views are presented in an atmosphere where speech is free and unfettered that is the most necessary pre-condition for finding some agreement that a wide swath of people can agree to. Silencing views harms us all, whether it is done by individuals pressuring institutions with their donations, or by institutions themselves limiting the bounds of debate. But nothing can be more harmful than governmental interference in speech, however hateful. Israel has always been far better about open debate than the United States. If it maintains that advantage today, it is only because of how far the US has fallen in this regard, not because Israel has remained as open to debate, as Ehud Barak has demonstrated.



Victory for campaign to shut down Arabic culture school: principal quits over t-shirt brouhaha

Anti-Islamist groups and blogs, and the New York Post, the tabloid best known for its Page Six gossip column, fueled a firestorm this week against a longtime public school teacher who started an Arabic culture public school in NY. The stormy episode in the life of the Khalil Gibran International Academy ended today when the teacher-turned-principal Debbie Almontaser released this statement:

“This morning I tendered my resignation to Chancellor Klein, which he accepted. I became convinced yesterday that this week’s headlines were endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even though I apologized.”

Today the NYT reports in Under Fire, Arabic-Themed School Principal Resigns

The principal of a new Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn resigned under pressure today, days after she was quoted defending the use of the word “intifada” as a T-shirt slogan.

Intifada NYC

Debbie Almontaser, a veteran public school teacher, was hired to lead the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school that was scheduled to open this fall. An immediate replacement was not announced, and Ms. Almontaser’s abrupt exit left the future of the school in question.

Her remarks were in response to questions from The New York Post over the phrase “Intifada NYC,” which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in Art and Media, a Brooklyn-based organization that the Anti-Defamation League asserts is linked to Hamas. The Post reported that Ms. Almontaser is a board member of the Saba Association of American Yemenis, which shares office space with the women’s group. Here is The Post’s account of Ms. Almontaser’s comments:

“The word [intifada] basically means ’shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic,” she said.

“I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don’t believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City.

“I think it’s pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society … and shaking off oppression.”

Ms. Almontaser issued an apology the next day, saying that she regretted her remarks. “By minimizing the word’s historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence,” she said in a statement.

But the apology was followed by criticism from Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. Ms. Weingarten stopped short of calling for Ms. Almontaser’s resignation, but called the word intifada “something that ought to be denounced, not explained away.”

(Meanwhile, The Post excoriated Ms. Almontaser in editorials on Tuesday and today. The Post also reported today that only six Arabic-speaking students have signed up to attend the school, which is to open next month. The school, which was expected to have about 60 students, was to share space with the Brooklyn High School of the Arts and the Math and Science Exploratory School in Boerum Hill.)

The Associated Press reports

The tabloid asserted the shirts had a subversive meaning: “The inflammatory tees boldly declare ‘Intifada NYC’ _ apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.”

But organized groups determined to keep the school from opening had already declared the school would “Function As Jihad Recruitment Center.”

Stop the Madrassa, which applauded today’s announcement, has been working for some time with media outlets and blogs to stop the school. The Stop the Madrassa group includes members of anti-Islamist groups with names like the Center for Vigilant Freedom, Gathering of Eagles, and the United American Committee,a group dedicated to fighting the “enemy within”, whose media-savvy NY chair Pamela Hall was cited in the NY Post as “a Manhattan mom opposed to the academy on the grounds that it violates separation of church and state.”

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Walt and Mearsheimer censored: Chicago Council on Global Affairs cancels talk

After appearing without incident at the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Press Club and Georgetown University, The Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of U of Chicago got the boot.
The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has canceled a September speech on U.S.-Israel relations and Washington’s pro-Israel lobby by two prominent U.S. political scientists.

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were scheduled to use the Sept. 27 address to outline their upcoming book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” which is expected to be released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux early next month. But the president of the Chicago Council, Marshall Bouton, canceled the event under pressure from critics who were uncomfortable with the academics’ arguments, according to a letter drafted by Mearsheimer and Walt to the Council’s board.

These opponents of the event argued that the two political scientists could only address the Chicago Council if someone from the opposing side, “such as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, concurrently appeared on stage with the authors.

(As we have reported, a growing chorus of Jewish critics are calling for Abraham Foxman’s ouster: here, here and here.)
This has got to be a major embarrassment for the respected Chicago Council on Global Affairs. A cancellation based on pressure (it’s not yet clear what kind of pressure was exerted or why the Council yielded) would seem to violate every the mission of the organization.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922 as The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, is a leading independent, nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning.

The Chicago Council brings the world to Chicago by hosting public programs and private events featuring world leaders and experts with diverse views on a wide range of global topics. Through task forces, conferences, studies, and leadership dialogue, the Council brings Chicago’s ideas and opinions to the world.

To inquire about the Council’s standards try calling them directly to register your disapproval:

Rachel Bronson at 312.821.7510

Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim

So reports the Chronicle of Higher Education:

ALMS FOR LIBEL: Cambridge University Press announced last week that it would pulp all unsold copies of the 2006 book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, in response to a libel claim filed in Britain by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker. The book suggests that businesses and charities associated with Mr. Mahfouz financed terrorism in Sudan and elsewhere during the 1990s.

“Cambridge University Press now accepts that the entire bin Mahfouz family categorically and unreservedly condemns terrorism in all its manifestations,” a lawyer for Mr. Mahfouz declared in a London court hearing.

More stunning, they’ve asked some 200 libraries to pull copies from their shelves.

Right-wing anti-terrorist crusader Rachel Erhenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy (ACD) which “monitors and exposes the enemies of freedom and their modus operandi” writes:

Bin Mahfouz never sued the authors, J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, both U.S. citizens, who had provided their publisher with all the sources to back their allegations that bin Mahfouz, his family and his former bank, the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, funded Hamas and al Qaeda. Yet Cambridge University Press still caved – and even asked the authors to join its apology to bin Mahfouz. (They rightly refused.)

Since March 2002, bin Mahfouz has sued or threatened suit in England at least 36 times against those who’ve linked him to terrorism, including many American authors and publications. Everyone settled with bin Mahfouz – except me.

Council on American-Islamic Relations threatens to bring legal action against hosts of anti-Muslim crusader

Robert Spencer calls Islam the world’s “most intolerant religion” and has made a profitable career out of demonizing Muslims. While it’s difficult to defend a bigot like Spencer, critics of the Council on American-Islamic Relations have a point when they say CAIR’s recent intimidating legal letter to the Young America’s Foundation crossed the line.

Spencer, founder of the website Jihad Watch and contributor to Frontpage Magazine, was asked to speak at the annual gathering of the young conservative group. YAF got a letter from CAIR’s lawyers demanding that YAF either cancel the session or “take steps to ensure that false and defamatory statements are not disseminated…” (The latter request sounds more reasonable but would likely be impossible to implement.)

Instead, CAIR should be asking for open debates with people like Spencer and his sponsor, YAF’s Jason Mattera, who proudly said, and I kid you not, “CAIR can go to hell and take their 72 virgins with them.”

Simply allowing people like Mattera and Spencer to speak freely and openly does more to further CAIR’s case than any lawsuit or shutting down of debate ever could. Silencing of debate- AIPAC shouldn’t do it, the ADL shouldn’t do it, and neither should CAIR.