Monthly Archives: November 2007

Sacramento Jewish Federation newspaper on the defensive for barring Jewish author

Apparently, it’s now OK for Jewish institutions to ban other Jews.

As we reported earlier, the editors of Sacramento’s Jewish newspaper, the now ironically named The Jewish Voice, a project of the Sacramento Jewish Federation, refused to run a simple book reading notice for Dr. Alice Rothchild’s book  “Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience,” on the grounds that it would not support their mission to “enrich those of the Jewish community who support and identify with Israel.”
Dr. Alice Rothchild Book cover

Unhappy supporters of the Federation apparently hit them with a number of complaint letters. So many that the editors felt it necessary to write a defensive, if not entirely meaningless response on the front page of the latest edition. Of course, supporters are invited to ask them: have you read the book? Do you know anything about Dr. Alice Rothchild? On what grounds do you base your assertions?

The folks at Jewish Currents actually read the book and found a nuanced, compassionate portrait of Israeli and Palestinian heroes (download the pdf review here). Few can say they are more engaged in working towards a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians than Alice Rothchild.

While it’s true that the Jewish Voice has the right to accept or reject press releases, their line of reasoning here is almost beyond comprehension, and further evidence again of why so many groups that insist they are pro-Israel are actually profoundly destructive, helping to make sure there is never a lasting peace in the region.
Here’s the defense from the front page of The Jewish Voice:

Sacramento federation

Here’s the original email:

————– Forwarded Message: ————–
From: “Elissa Provance”
Subject: RE: Press Release for Nov and Dec Jewish Voice
Date: Tue, 9 Oct :14:56 +0000

Sarah and Ellen, while our organizations support the same goal of peace in the Middle East, The Jewish Voice is a community newspaper that is owned and operated by the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region whose mission is, in part, to enrich those of the Jewish commnity who support and identify with Israel. We do not believe the event below supports this mission.


Elissa Provance
Editor, The Jewish Voice
Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region
2351 Wyda Way
Sacramento, CA 95825

GWU instructor backed by propaganda organization quits because too “pro-Israeli?”

Here’s an excellent (if not also unintentionally humorous) article about a university instructor coming under fire– and quitting– because students found her overwhelmingly Israel-centric in her teaching of a course about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In what we are to believe is pure coincidence, one of the two texts she used is a relentlessly anti-Palestinian propaganda text, by-lined by the head of the organization which provided funding for her position.

Eric Fingerhut of Washington Jewish Week writes:

For years, some pro-Israel activists have been troubled by university
professors who demonstrated bias against Israel in the classroom. But
last week was apparently a first: A George Washington University
instructor resigned after being accused of teaching a class that was
biased in favor of Israel.

Hanna Diskin told the students in her “Arab-Israeli Conflict” class on
Tuesday of last week that she would not be teaching the class for the
remainder of the semester – and would be leaving the D.C. university -
because she was upset that students in the class had complained about
her teaching to the head of the political science department.

Diskin was on loan from Hebrew University. Her position was funded by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), run by well known propagandist Mitchell Bard, which is paying to bring 26 professors and 6 post-docs to university campuses this year to teach about Israeli politics. Diskin was apparently unaware of the basic demands of students for a semblance of balance:

[Senior Greg]Berlin and a classmate, senior Elizabeth Kamens, both said that the
problem with Diskin’s teaching was that she focused only on Israel in a
course that was supposed to deal with the entire Arab-Israeli conflict.

“We would never cover the other side,” said Kamens, who is Jewish.

“It became more of an Israeli politics class,” said Berlin, noting that
while understanding Zionism is important to studying the Arab-Israeli
conflict, he wondered why they were they spending half of the semester
learning about it.

Berlin said that he and a number of other students had expressed their
“dissent” to Diskin in class about the way she was handling the course,
but became frustrated when they would ask for an Arab perspective on an
issue and Diskin would change the subject or talk over them. For
example, after Diskin cited the number of Israelis who died in a
particular military conflict, Berlin said, students asked for the number
of fatalities on the Palestinian side. Diskin, according to Berlin,
replied that only the Israeli figures were reliable, because only Israel
was a democracy.

“I’m Jewish myself, but I feel there’s a line between objectivity and
teaching with a bias,” said Berlin, who said he was one of a number of
students who expressed their concerns to leaders of the political
science department.

The two texts for the class? A History of Israel by GWU professor emeritus Howard Sachar, which one would expect to find in such a class, and “Myths & Facts,” a rather stunningly blatant piece of propaganda which started as an AIPAC publication and was later edited by former AIPAC staffer and AICE head Mitchell Bard. (But don’t trust us – read it for yourself.)

M.J. Rosenberg, who edited Myths & Facts when he worked at AIPAC in the
1980s, was surprised to hear it was being used in a college class.

“It’s not a textbook,” said Rosenberg, now the policy director at the
Israel Policy Forum. “It’s counter-propaganda” that is “not designed to
show both sides,” but to provide all the facts that support the
pro-Israel side.

Rosenberg said it was “hard to believe” the book would be used in any
college class other than one studying propaganda.

Bard defended the accuracy of his book. So did Daniel Pipes.

Palestinian Dance Troupe Cancelled in Connecticut

Most of the time, we all realize that art and politics are inseparable. But on contentious issues, which obviously includes the Israel-Palestine conflict, somehow art is expected to be sanitized.

One has to ask how, exactly, Palestinians are supposed to express themselves and yet keep the occupation out of it. No one who had been to a Palestinian town, much less a refugee camp, would believe such a thing was possible, regardless of their views of the larger political questions. The occupation permeates every aspect of Palestinian life.

Yet this is, apparently, what is expected of the Al-Ghad Folklore Dancing Troupe of Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem. The troupe’s performance at a high school in Old Saybrook, Connecticut was cancelled this week after an angry grandparent complained about an earlier appearance. Apparently one of the group’s dances included a depiction of the ill treatment Palestinians receive from Israeli soldiers.

This is the experience of Palestinians, and asking them to exclude it from their art is no different from asking African-Americans to exclude their experiences with racism or women their experiences with sexism. This is the substance of Palestinian lives under occupation. Its appearance in an artistic forum is not a political statement, it is a statement of the facts of their lives. Continue reading

United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York withdraws support from filmm festival about Israel’s Arab citizens

Ha’aretz gives us one more reason to shop at the famous New York market, Zabar’s:

The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York has withdrawn its support from a Manhattan film festival showcasing Israel’s Arab citizens. The Other Israel Film Festival, which opened yesterday, features movies and panel discussions that focus on the Arab-Israeli experience outside the context of political conflict.

The UJA-Federation publicly denies the cancellation was in any way political, but Ha’aretz reports:

Sources, however, cite outside pressures from right-wing elements in the Jewish community and from potential donors who objected to an Israeli festival that was about the country’s Arab citizens only.Projects to be featured at the festival include “Arab Labor,” a new television satire series written by Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua, as well as well-known films such as “Syrian Bride” and “Trumpet in the Wadi,” the feature based on the novel by Sami Michael.The festival “is not about the conflict,” said Zabar, the founder of the festival, whose eponymous specialty supermarket is a New York City landmark. “It is not about taking sides; this festival is about people.” 


Wiretapping: An Issue In Israel Too

With all of the attention paid to the illegal and intrusive wiretapping programs of the Bush Administration over the past few years, it is interesting to note this story about a similar problem in Israel. This story in Ha’aretz (which is accompanied by a two-minute film clip if you follow the link) explains that the Israel Defense Forces ran phone taps for years under the supervision of the censor. Ha’aretz reports, however, that soldiers often went beyond the scope of permissible wiretaps, which encompassed foreign journalists making international calls from Israel. They also listened in to conversations “…prime ministers held with world leaders and even private conversations by ordinary citizens.”

The Finkelstein brouhaha at Oxford

(For comprehensive commentary and reporting on this story, head over to the excellent blog, The Magnes Zionist:Self-Criticism from an Israeli, American, and Orthodox Jewish Perspective)

There has been a lot of back and forth about what is apparently the latest incident of muzzling, but frankly, I’m not entirely convinced.

Norman Finkelstein was to argue against this motion put forth at Oxford: ‘This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel Palestine Conflict’ and in favor of a two-state solution. Finkelstein was, at a relatively late date, replaced on the two-state team by Peace Now-UK Co-Chair Paul Usiskina, who, unlike Finkelstein, is much more sympathetic to Israel and grounds his two-state argument in a Zionist framework. In protest, the one-state team (Israeli professors Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim, and UK’s Dr. Ghada Karmi) withdrew from the debate.
Karmi wrote about what happened in the Guardian, and on what she regards as a form of Intellectual Terrorism, a product of the US Israel Lobby exported to the UK.

According to Luke Tyrel, the head of the Oxford Union, pressure to disinvite Finkelstein came from numerous parties, but especially Finkelstein nemesis Alan Dershowitz, who was originally invited to participate but declined.

Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. I received numerous emails attacking the debate and Alan Dershowitz threatened to write an Oped attacking the Union. What is more he apparently attacked me personally in a televised lecture to Yale.

(Indeed, Dershowitz wrote his essay anyway, and saw Oxford Union is Dead printed in the right-wing echo chamber at Frontpage Amagazine and the Jerusalem Post.)

Continue reading

Free Speech Also Means Responding To Hate Speech

A short while ago, I received an e-mail requesting support for a speaker appearing at a forum in Oregon. Included was an op-ed which apparently appeared in the local newspaper which was essentially making the point that free speech was absolute. It was headlined “Freedom of Speech Threatened When Speakers Are Attacked.” The author was defending the appearance of Mark Weber, the director of the Institute for Historical Review, an organization whose primary goal is to “prove” that the Holocaust either never happened or was greatly exaggerated.

Needless to say, the request for support was refused. That the author of the op-ed mentioned above would conflate a holocaust denier like Weber with Desmond Tutu and Norman Finkelstein, however, also reflects the dangers of spurious accusations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Tutu has been accused of the former, Finkelstein of the latter. When such people, however deeply anyone disagrees with them, are painted with the same brush as someone like Weber, the parable of the boy who cried wolf is proven.

Muzzlewatch is, of course, dedicated to opening up debate and defending both the right and ability of individuals to speak from their conscience about Israel and the conflicts in the Middle East without fear of professional and personal attacks. That includes those who support current American and Israeli policies, and Muzzlewatch has defended such people in this space.

But the issue of free speech is taken to absurd lengths when one argues that hate speech must have a platform. That is very different from arguing, as I certainly would, that even the most hateful bigot has a right to his or her views and the right to be free from government restriction on the expression of those views. But that doesn’t mean that a public, private, educational or media institution must provide a platform for hate speech.

Indeed, the very premise the op-ed author uses to defend Weber’s appearance, that “free speech is threatened when speakers are attacked” is the height of absurdity. Public speakers are attacked all the time. In my own case, as someone who has been critical of Israeli and American policies as well as those of the Arab states, Iran and the various Palestinian factions, I have been attacked from all sides of this debate. I’m still speaking as freely as ever. Continue reading

Nadia Abu El-Haj gets tenure at Barnard despite smear campaign

The smear campaign to deny Palestinian American scholar Nadia Abu El-Haj tenure at Barnard has failed. The right-wing tabloid New York Sun reports today she “has been granted tenure following a heated battle, a source at the college said last night.”

Paula Stern, the Israeli American settler and Barnard grad who initiated the campaign against Abu El-Haj sent out a rambling email to various lists:

Nadia Abu El Haj, a controversial professor of Anthropology at Barnard College has been given tenure. This is a warning to Jewish students at Barnard and Columbia – you will now have one more professor to avoid, one more purveyor of hate in your ranks. Already the lowest forms of life are crawling out amid the ivy. A swastika was painted on a door of a Jewish professor at Columbia, a noose on the door of a black professor, more swastikas in other places – think you that there is no connection?

When a school opens its doors to a man such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and when they hire people like El Haj and Massad, they invite hate to dine, to make its home in its once-hallowed halls. Too many waited too long, and El Haj’s acceptance is the result.

Stern closes with this:

Recently, Moslem authorities ordered a trench dug on the Temple Mount…and what did they find as they carelessly dug…remnants of OUR First Holy Temple. El Haj can lie all she wants…but the earth does not lie and from its depths comes the truth she is trying to deny.

And that truth, here in this land, is our greatest victory of all.

Read what New York Jewish Week’s Larry Cohler-Esses, who actually read the book, has to say about Stern’s campaign.

Hat tip to Dr. Jim West.

More on the attacks on Sabeel’s Boston conference

Check out Richard Silverstein’s in-depth analysis of CAMERA’s High Tech Lynching of Palestinian Christian Group Sabeel.

Sabeel is a Palestinian liberation theology organization that supports a two-state solution and nonviolent resistance to the occupation. They’ve had conferences across the United States, sponsored and supported by various Christian denominations, which have usually gone off without a hitch.

But their most recent conference in Boston, which featured Nobel prize winner Archbishop Tutu and an open discussion of the concept of apartheid, caused particular ire among many in the pro-occupation and institutional Jewish community. Sabeel and Tutu confronted an intense campaign to vilify Sabeel as an anti-Semitic, hate organization.
Liberation theology, which emerged as a powerful voice of conscience in Latin America in the 60′s, by definition, uses Christian imagery and stories about Jesus to understand and fight contemporary injustices. Some of the images used by Sabeel, although entirely consistent with the liberation theology approach, understandably make some of us Jews uncomfortable, precisely because of the Church’s history of virulent anti-Semitism. But to take Jewish discomfort and turn that into vilification of Sabeel as an anti-Semitic group is simply beyond reason. It’s downright immoral. (Silverstein’s piece carefully dissects the arguments made in Boston by pro-occupation groups.)
See also our post on Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s experience with pressure from some Boston-based pro-occupation organizations.