Monthly Archives: September 2007

Update on Marcel Khalife, Lebanese oud player

We reported earlier that the San Diego Salvation Army refused to rent their auditorium to UN artist for peace Marcel Khalife because doing so would be unbalanced if he didn’t also share the stage with an Israeli. Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam called the Salvation Army to get the story straight from them.

Turns out that depending on one’s perspective, either it was an understandable move, or a classic case of muzzling.

Richard writes:

I spoke with Capt. John VanCleef who told me that when first approached, an individual was to rent their hall for the Khalife concert. But in the course of time this changed and a group named Al Awda took the place of the individual as sponsor. The Salvation Army would have had no problem with an individual renting the hall for this concert. Nor would it have had a problem with most Arab organizations renting the hall. But as part of the vetting process, the Theater asked Al Awda to present information about its mission. After reading this information, the Army decided it could not allow this group to rent their facility:

Al-Awda unequivocally supports the fundamental, inalienable, individual and collective rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in Palestine from which they were expelled…All Palestinians are entitled to the rights to self-determination, to political, economic and civil equality, and to live in a single democratic state for all its citizens in all of Palestine.

I want to pause here to say that while I do not agree with Al Awda’s one state solution and its demand to full implementation of the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees, I would not have refused them the right to rent the hall. However, given that I am not the Salvation Army and they have larger community issues to consider, I can understand why they chose not to go forward with the concert.

The Arabist has a different take:

It’s good that Richard got this independently checked, although I strongly disagree with him that the Salvation Army’s decision is understandable. I very much doubt it would have made the same decision if the organization trying to book the venue was the Zionist Association of America, Hillel, or one of the countless groups that supports Israel. I would guess that the Salvation Army’s decision very much has to do with the well-known intimidation campaigns against pro-Palestinian organizations and individuals by Zionist groups, and that it chose to avoid the controversy and problems that would probably come with hosting an al-Awda event.

LeMonde, UK Guardian and New Statesman on America’s Israel Lobby problem

The Europeans help us look at ourselves.

Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic asks Mariano Aguirre in this month’s LeMonde

The New York Post editorial on 5 January 2007 read: “How did this man ever become president of the United States?” Readers might have thought this was a crack about President George Bush in a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. But the editorial went on: “He’s gone from failed president to friend of leftwing tyrants and global scold of anything that represents America’s legitimate interests”; he wanted to “demonise Israel” and had secretly given “PR and political advice to Yasser Arafat”. The Post was damning not Bush, but Jimmy Carter, and it said Democrats should “cut all their ties” to him for “when he flatly condones mass murder, he goes beyond the pale”.

UK Guardian’s Ed Pilkington has this story about Walt and Mearsheimer:

When two eminent US scholars wrote about the ‘Israel lobby’ they were vilified by colleagues and the Washington Post. This week Barack Obama joined the attack.

Pilkington puts his finger on a major flaw of the book:

Take the slanging match over the causes of the Iraq war. Walt and Mearsheimer rightly lay a large part of the blame for this disastrous escapade on the neoconservatives within the Bush administration, but they then go on to define those neocons as an integral part of the Israel lobby. Books have been written about the various motivations of the neocons. Sympathy for Israel is one, but there are many others – the desire to spread democracy, a belief in the positive uses of military intervention, denigration of international institutions. To suggest that the neocons and the Israel lobby are one and the same is a conflation too far.

But he also validates W/M’s claims about AIPAC:

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Lebanese oud player canceled because no Israeli on stage

Hat tip to Yaman Salahi for this.

Pitchfork media is reporting that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “Artist for Peace” oud player Marcel Khalifé can play at the Kennedy Center , the Skirball Center and Boston’s Berklee College, but he won’t be playing at San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Theatre at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

The center said that they’d need an Israeli to play on the same stage. Is it because Khalife is known for putting the poetry of Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish to music?

Pitchfork media wrote… the Center

forced Khalifé to look elsewhere for a place to play in the area. It’s not so much that the Kroc Theatre folks don’t like the cut of Khalifé’s jib: rather, they feel the show would be “divisive” and “unbalanced” without an Israeli performer taking the stage the same night, according to a press release issued by Khalifé’s camp.

How striking that the Salvation Army folks have taken the side of Islamic fundamentalists.

Three times (1996, 1999 and 2003), he faced criminal prosecution for his song I am Joseph, O Father, written by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Khalife was accused of insulting religious values by including a two-line verse from a chapter of the Qur’an.

To be fair, Khalifé was banished from Tunisia for saying terrible things like this:

“Freedom, democracy and bread are the things we lack in our region”

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Walt and Mearsheimer critics take aim

Whether a supporter or a detractor, one should read The Israel Lobby with a critical mind. Walt and Mearsheimer should be congratulated for opening up a critical conversation about the Israel Lobby and US policy in the region, a conversation that is long overdue. But the line of critics is long–ranging from outright condemnation to friendly criticism.

At Jewish Voice for Peace, while agreeing with many of W/M’s arguments about the fact of poor US policy in the region and the intimidation of critics, we reject their claim about an Israel Lobby so powerful that it has successfully forced the US to go against its own interests. In fact, far from being an anomaly that can only be blamed on a strong lobby, we believe U.S. policy in the Middle East, including its support of Israel, is entirely consistent with its policies everywhere else in the world, including Haiti, Central America, Colombia, Cuba and, historically, Southeast Asia.

That said, it is deeply telling that many people believe in the overwhelming power of the Lobby. I once heard from someone who asked their Congressman if they thought that Congress votes against US interests when it comes to Israel, and the answer was ” yes, I do.”

Surely the frequent practice of attacking critics of US-Israeli policy simply adds to the disturbing belief that the Lobby, which includes Christians, the arms industry and others but gets its moral cover largely from Jews, is overwhelmingly powerful. (It is powerful, but its powers are greatly exaggerated. The increased frequency of attacks on critics, for example, is a sign of panic, not omnipotence.)
Other critics, however, take issue with different claims made in the book.

In “The big lie about the ‘Great Silencer‘, right-wing columnist Jeff Jacoby vehemently disagrees about claims about silencing of debate and blames the complaints on something more sinister:

The media has neither cold-shouldered them nor deployed the “Great Silencer” to defame them. “Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites or racists,” David Remnick declared flatly in The New Yorker. “They are serious scholars and there is no reason to doubt their sincerity.” Newsday’s Scott McLemee opened his review by noting that “The Israel Lobby” has something important in common with Israel itself: “It is necessary to affirm its right to exist.” Tim Ruttin, reviewing the book for the L.A. Times, recoiled from its “underlying malice” and pronounced its argument “sinister” – but made no suggestion that the authors are bigots.

This does not mean that no one has read the Mearsheimer/Walt philippic and concluded that it is, in fact, anti-Jewish bigotry dressed up as academic analysis. Gabriel Schoenfeld, writing in Commentary, pronounced the original paper a “meretricious attempt to put a scholarly cap and gown on every hoary calumny ever devised about Jewish influence,” and he wasn’t the only one to think so. His argument can be debated on its own merits.

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Agreement reached over San Francisco mural: changes to image of Israel’s wall

The San Francisco Examiner reports:

An emotional battle over a new mural in San Francisco’s Mission district that depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been squelched after the supporting organization had its funding stalled and agreed to alter the controversial image.

The San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the SF office of the Anti-Defamation League pressed the SF Arts Commission to change what they deemed offensive imagery in a new mural made by some 200 residents of San Francisco’s diverse Mission district under the auspices of HOMEY-Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth.

JCRC’s Abby Porth said, “The imagery took a radical position on a complex geopolitical issue that was out of touch with the international community, San Francisco and the overwhelming majority of Jews.”

HOMEY mural

In fact, a number of Jews in the Bay Area took issue with either any efforts to change the mural, or the range of objections to the mural presented by opponents, and testified to that effect at the recent Arts Commission hearing. Members of Jewish Voice for Peace also wrote in a letter to the Arts Commission:

As Jews living in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, we wish you to know that the complaints of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League do not reflect our views, nor do they reflect the consensus of the Jewish community in San Francisco, or in the Bay Area. We ask you not to accept the opinions of the JCRC and ADL uncritically, and ask you to listen to the concerns of others in the community, including both Jews and others, who do not share a negative interpretation of the mural.

In the end, the Examiner reports:

HOMEY and [artist] Norberg, however, have agreed to alter the images that some called divisive and hostile. The group has agreed to change the shape of the crack so it does not resemble a silhouette of Israel, add blue sky where the wall towered to reflect a brighter future, add an olive tree to symbolize peace, and remove the headscarf from the woman’s face. The Arts Commission approved the revisions Wednesday.

“Our intention was to draw parallels between the issues at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Israeli-Palestinian security barrier,” said Nancy Hernandez, youth program coordinator at HOMEY. “We consider this section … to be a statement of solidarity between the residents of the San Francisco Mission district and global movements for oppressed peoples to gain self-determination.”

Congressman James Moran accused of Hitler-like thinking because of AIPAC comments: 16 Democrats send Moran angry letter

Politico writes:

Sixteen of Democratic Rep. Jim Moran’s House colleagues rebuked him in a withering letter Wednesday for saying last week that the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “pushed [the Iraq] war from the beginning.”

It was the Virginia congressman’s latest dust-up over Israel — and one that brought a demand for a retraction by the House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Moran’s colleagues — led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a powerful committee chairman with close ties to the majority leadership — called the remarks of the Virginia congressman in the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun inaccurate and “deeply offensive.”

“The idea that the war in Iraq began because of the influence of Jewish Americans is factually incorrect and unfortunately fits the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically against Jews,” wrote the group of Jewish Democrats.

House Republican Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor said just yesterday, “Unfortunately, Jim Moran has made it a habit now to lash out to the American Jewish community. I think his remarks are reprehensible, I think his remarks are anachronistic, and hearken back to the day of Adolph Hitler of the others, Mein Kamp, of the protocols of the Elders of Zion, other sources that have become reference to now, I’m sorry to say, a resurgent anti-semitic sentiment world wide.”

House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Moran incorrectly stated that “the Jewish community controls the press, the media, the Congress, and other institutions.”
Progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner has launched a campaign to defend Moran saying:

Congressman Moran said no such thing.

You can read what he did say at www.tikkun.org as part of the article by Rabbi Lerner on The Israel Lobby in the Sept/Oct issue of Tikkun magazine. Congressman Moran never made any statement about “the Jewish community,” but only accurately described the power of one section of the Jewish community which has immense influence in the media and in Congress–AIPAC. And we can watch now as that influence is mobilized to isolate and demean the one Congressperson with the courage to say publicly what many have consistently said to all the Jews who support the Israeli peace movement are told: “We don’t dare criticize these policies publicly, lest PACs and other forces aligned with the Israel Lobby attack us and make us politically vulnerable.”

Lerner’s entire Israel Lobby article is worth reading. (For JVP’s nuanced view of the reasons we went to war, read Did Israel Lead the US into the War on Iraq? For the record, we do not conflate the interests of the neocons and the interests of the Israel Lobby, as others do.) But here is the interview with Moran that brought down charges of Hitler-like thinking.

Representative Jim Moran on the power of AIPAC, May 2007.TIKKUN: What do you think the reasoning is for the Democrats who voted against the amendment requiring that the president get authorization from Congress before attacking Iran?

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Stories about academic freedom: Brown, Brandeis and University of Montana

The American Association of University Professors’ bimonthly publication, Academe, features a fascinating range of first person accounts about the battle for academic freedom as it relates to US-Israeli policy.

That major academic publications are increasingly dedicating more space to this topic is further proof that attempts to silence and intimidate often backfire, and are signs not of strength, but at times of outright panic.

Brown University
Elliott Colla, an associate professor of comparative literature at Brown, writes a first-hand account of the challenges he and his Bryant colleague Marsha Pripstein Posusney faced when they decided to put on a symposium at Brown called “The Study of the Middle East and Islam: Challenges after 9-11”.

In a meeting in April, Brown Students for Israel, a pro-Likud “Israel advocacy” group,met with organizers from the David Project and, according to students present at the meeting, our workshop was one of the foci of discussion. The David Project is the organization that played the leading role in surreptitious efforts to record classroom discussions at Columbia University a few years ago and, along with the conservative group Campus Watch, was largely responsible for the vicious ad hominem attacks on Arab and Muslim faculty in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department there. At the campus meeting, Serena Eisenberg, the Hillel rabbi (an employee of the Brown chaplain’s office), encouraged students to intervene “confrontationally” at the workshop and to record clandestinely the presentations of the speakers.

Rabbi Eisenberg singled out participants Stephen Walt and Juan Cole for particular concern, and further criticized Colla for accepting money from the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) at Brown. (In fact, the funds had come from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

Colla describes the escalation of attacks, and the involvement of Campus Watch. In the end, Brown students, including those who are a part of campus Hillel, are a diverse group. It would seem that some were deeply unhappy with Rabbi Eisenberg’s campaign: just a few days later she resigned her post.

University of Montana

History chair Richard Drake tells his story in On Being Called An Anti-Semite in Montana. It’s a fairly typical example of how it has come to pass that simply inviting a speaker to a campus can require extraordinary acts of courage. In his case, he invited University of Chicago political scientist and The Israel Lobby co-author John Mearsheimer to speak in the 2006–07 President’s Lecture Series:

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Israel and Censorship at Harvard

That’s the title of an op-ed just published in The Harvard Crimson by J. Lorand Matory ’82, a professor of anthropology and of African and African-American studies. According to Matory, Harvard is no stranger to censorship:

Two years ago at Harvard, a social scientist who was the most widely cited in his area of study but who had, in a popular book, criticized the U.S.-Israel alliance, became the subject of insinuations that he was anti-Semitic—insinuations that were likely fatal to his candidacy. In recent years, at least three professors—Oxford’s Tom Paulin, DePaul’s Norman Finkelstein, and Rutgers’ Robert Trivers—have been invited to speak at Harvard and then disinvited after complaints that they had spoken critically of Israel or disagreed sharply with Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz regarding Israel’s military conduct.

In a 2006 faculty meeting, Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth R. Wisse vocalized the underlying rationale of such censorship as few other professors have dared. Denying that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate phenomena, she declared anti-Zionism—that is, the rejection of the racially-based claim that Jewish people have a collective right to Palestine—the worst kind of anti-Semitism. For such defenders of Israel, any acknowledgment that Zionism in principle and in practice violates Palestinian rights is tantamount to an endorsement of the Holocaust.

(The Magnes Zionist, an excellent blog from Jerusalem and worth bookmarking, offers a comprehensive response to Wisse’s recently released book, Jews and Power, which proposes, as sympathetic reviewer Anthony Julius said in the NYT, that “Zionism is the solution to Jewish powerlessness; Israel is the guarantor of the Jews’ safety. Further, the Jewish nation’s resumption of sovereignty in 1948 created opportunities for the Jews to bring benefits to humanity as a whole.” Presumably her thinking has evolved somewhat since 1988 when, according to Matory, she called Palestinian refugees “people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery”. )

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Michigan resumes distribution of Kovel book, Overcoming Zionism

Inside Higher Education reported that the University of Michigan Press announced that it would resume distribution of Bard professor Joel Kovel’s book, Overcoming Zionism, but will re-examine its relationship with the book’s left-wing publisher Pluto Press:

In a statement released by the university, the press Executive Board (a faculty body) said that while it “has deep reservations about Overcoming Zionism, it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis. We conclude that we should not fail to honor our distribution agreement based on our reservations about the content of a single book.”

The statement continued: “Such a course raises both First Amendment issues and concerns about the appearance of censorship. As members of the university community dedicated to academic freedom and open debate among differing views, the Executive Board stands firmly for freedom of expression, and against even the appearance of censorship. In this instance, both legal and value considerations lead us to the decision to resume distribution of the book.”

At the same time, the board tried to distance itself from the book and its publisher. “Had the manuscript gone through the standard review process used by the University of Michigan Press, the board would not have recommended publication. But the arrangement with Pluto Press is for distribution only; the UM Press never intended to review individually every title published by Pluto (or any other press for which it holds distribution rights). By resuming distribution, the board in no way endorses the content of the book.”

In addition, the board announced that Pluto’s decision to publish Overcoming Zionism “brings into question the viability of UM Press’s distribution agreement with Pluto Press. The board intends to look into these matters and decide, later this fall, whether the distribution contract with Pluto Press should be continued.”

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Chemerinsky rehired at UC Irvine!

The Los Angeles Times reported this morning:

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake and Erwin Chemerinsky have reached an agreement that will return the liberal legal scholar to the dean’s post at the university’s law school, sources told The Times this morning.

With the deal — which is expected to be formally announced by 10:30 a.m., after which the two will hold a joint news conference — they hope to end the controversy that erupted when Chemerinsky was dropped as the first dean of the Donald Bren School of Law.

Drake traveled over the weekend to Durham, N.C., where Chemerinsky is a professor at Duke University, and the two reached an agreement about midnight Sunday, the sources said.

Drake’s decision to dump Chemerinsky last week set off a national debate about academic freedom and sparked a revolt by faculty at UCI against Drake.

Chemerinsky contended last week that Drake succumbed to political pressure from conservatives and sacked him because of his outspoken liberal positions. The flap threatened to derail the 2009 opening of the law school and prompted some calls for Drake’s resignation.

On Friday, details emerged about the criticism of Chemerinsky that the university received in the days before Drake rescinded the job offer, including from California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who criticized Chemerinsky’s grasp of death penalty appeals. Also, a group of prominent Orange County Republicans and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wanted to derail the appointment.

Drake has insisted that Chemerinsky didn’t lose the dean’s position because of his politics, saying that it was only because he expressed himself in a polarizing way.

Listen here to radio interview with UC Irvine Profs. Elizabeth Loftus and David Goldberg about the law school saga on KUCI’s Subversity program this morning.