Monthly Archives: February 2008

Censoring the use of the term “Israeli Apartheid”

No matter one’s opinion about the nature of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, there should be little controversy regarding the ability to discuss this situation on a University campus. Free speech is the life’s blood of any institution of higher learning (as it is of a functioning democracy). Apparently, there are instances when free speech can almost casually be set aside. Recently, at MacMaster University in Canada, the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” was banned from being used on campus. This decisions was made by the Provost office and endorsed (and enforced) by the student Union. The reasons for this are, unsurprisingly, weak. Further, such rabble rousers as noble prize winners Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmund Tutu have used this phrase recently to describe the conditions Palestinians live under in the west bank. The following is from a MacMaster student group press release.
UNITED FOR STUDENT RIGHTS (U4SR) PRESENTS

A Public Forum

Rights & Responsibilities in Political Discussion on Campus:
Who Speaks for McMaster?

Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 12:00pm
Details to be determined

United for Student Rights (U4SR) is holding a Public Forum to discuss
the recent shocking decision by McMaster Student Union (MSU) and
administration to unequivocally ban on campus the usage of the phrase
“Israeli Apartheid”. This decision was first passed by the McMaster
Provost office, which is second in authority only to that of the
President’s office. It has been accepted by McMaster Human Rights &
Equity Services (HRES) and, in turn, the MSU. This information was
communicated to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and
McMaster Muslims for Peace & Justice (MMPJ) early in February 2008 by
the MSU and HRES. Due to this decision, these MSU approved clubs have
not been able to get approval for various initiatives related to Israeli
Apartheid. It is the MSU that is directly enforcing this decision, as it
is the only campus body with jurisdiction over student clubs. MSU
President, Ryan Moran, explained that though the MSU is not bound by
this decision, i! t has chosen to implement it none the less. U4SR is
calling on the MSU to rescind this decision immediately as part of
opening up the discussion for all to decide.

Continue reading

DC heavyweights issue letter defending former Clinton advisor: “Anti-Israel” charges have to stop

Yesterday, we told you about leading academics who have had enough of the casual and yet devastating use of the charges of anti-Semitism to silence debate and, in a few of the most egregious cases, destroy academic careers. Today, we return to the political realm where high-level supporters of Israel have come out in defense of their colleague, Robert Malley. Malley, Clinton’s former Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, is being used as a punching bag in the fight over Jewish votes and who would be president.

Robert Malley’s status as an unofficial advisor to Obama caused, what MJ Rosenberg called a firestorm. Why? Malley’s past articles in the NY Review of Books said Barak, and not just Arafat, was also to blame for the failure of peace talks. A point, Rosenberg points out, which was made by virtually everyone who was there including Clinton himself.

This fact has not stopped the onslaught of attacks, especially meant to sow fears among Jewish voters, on either Malley, or, apparently, former ambassador Joseph Wilson who is supporting the Clinton camp.

MJ Rosenberg says today:

The attacks on Malley, which are particularly vicious, come from a right-wing rag called the American Thinker and from the former publisher of the New Republic, Martin Peretz, who openly despises the Clintons and anyone who has ever been associated with them. As a former member of Clinton’s peace team, Malley receives Peretz’s trademark vitriolic scorn.

This should not be necessary but the following is a statement from high Clinton administration officials defending their colleague. This new McCarthyism, the kind designed to destroy careers and lives, has to end.

Here’s the full text of the statement:

Over the past several weeks, a series of vicious, personal attacks have been launched against one of our colleagues, Robert Malley, who served as President Clinton’s Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs. They claim that he harbours an anti-Israeli agenda and has sought to undermine Israel’s security. These attacks are unfair, inappropriate and wrong. They are an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests. They must stop.

We have real differences among us about how best to conduct US policy toward the Middle East and what is the right way to build a lasting two-state solution that protects Israel’s security. But whatever differences do exist, there is no disagreement among us on one core issue that transcends partisan or other divides: that the US should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel’s safety or the special relationship between our two nations. We have worked with Rob closely over the years and have no doubt he shares this view and has acted consistent with it.

We face a critical period in the Middle East that demands sustained, determined and far-sighted engagement by the United States. It is not a time for scurrilous attacks against someone who deserves our respect.

Sincerely,

Samuel (Sandy) Berger
Former National Security Advisor

Amb. Martin Indyk
Former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
and Assistant Secretary of
State for Near East Affairs

Amb. Daniel C. Kurtzer
Former Ambassador to Israel

Aaron David Miller
Former Senior Adviser for Arab-
Israeli Negotiations, Department
of State

Amb. Dennis Ross
Former Special Envoy of the President to the Middle East

MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy
Center

That’s a lotta ticked-off professors

adhoccommitttee_thumb.jpg

The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University, led by a number of academic heavyweights from Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, (formerly) Brown and UC Santa Cruz, has published a sign-on statement in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. (Click on image to download). No doubt, the folks over at Campus Watch can’t wait to cut and paste the entire list of names so they can send out “monitors” to report on the “anti-Israel” and “anti-American” teachers.

The committee states:

In recent years, universities across the country have been targeted by outside groups seeking to influence what is taught and who can teach. To achieve their political agendas, these groups have defamed scholars, pressured administrators, and tried to bypass or subvert established procedures of academic governance. As a consequence, faculty have been denied jobs or tenure, and scholars have been denied public platforms from which to share their viewpoints. This violates an important principle of scholarship, the free exchange of ideas, subjecting them to ideological and political tests. These attacks threaten academic freedom and the core mission of institutions of higher education in a democratic society.
Unfortunately and ironically, many of the most vociferous campaigns targeting universities and their faculty have been launched by groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. These groups have targeted scholars who have expressed perspectives on Israeli policies and the Israeli Palestinian conflict with which they disagree. To silence those they consider their political enemies, they have used a range of tactics such as:
• unfounded insinuations and allegations, in the media and on websites, of anti-Semitism or sympathy for terrorism or “un-Americanism;”
• efforts to broaden definitions of anti Semitism to include scholarship and teaching that is critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel;
• pressures on university administrations by threatening to withhold donations if faculty they have targeted are hired or awarded tenure;

Continue reading

Free Speech and the Israel Lobby

Walt and Mearsheimer (WM) in a recent interview go into some detail on the way in which non-mainstream views on Israel/Palestine (I/P) do not have a great deal of play in the corporate US press. WM contend that while US discourse on I/P is clearly not 100% pro-Israel, that the preponderance of public discussion in the corporate media is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. They go on to say that “our publication of the book (the Israel Lobby“) doesn’t contradict this…..the fact is we had trouble getting our original article published in the US.”

They mention that various of their events and media arrangements were canceled in the US. In terms of critical reviews of their book, the reviews from Europe have been uniformly positive while mainstream/corporate press reviews in the US were almost all negative: the New Republic compared WM to Osama Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad. There were even positive reviews in Israel.

WM predicted exactly such a reaction to their work because of the machinations, (not claimed to in any way to be some cohesive conspiracy) of the Israel lobby that they detail in their book, almost like plotting behavior on a curve. They were branded as being anti-Semitic similar to Jimmy Carter when he released “Peace, not Apartheid.” Whether one agrees with all the elements of their argument or not, they assert that unconditional US support of Israel has been bad for the US. Further, they think an open debate is essential and this has not occurred precisely because of the power of the “Israel lobby” in the US. Continue reading

Los Angeles Times counters charges of anti-Israel bias

LA Business Journal_2.small

CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, is taking out full page ads in Los Angeles newspapers charging the Los Angeles Times with anti-Israel bias. Besides what they call “unbalanced” op-eds, they also accuse the Times of utilizing Nazi imagery. LA Times op-ed editor Nicholas Goldberg defends the charges in an interview with the Jewish Journal this week. (The Los Angeles Times has long been targeted by protesters over their coverage of Israel. In 2002, some 1,000 readers participated in a one-day boycott to protest their “anti-Israel” stance, part of a nationwide effort that focused on other supposedly anti-Israel newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. )

Goldberg told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that living in Jerusalem and covering the region as a reporter from 1995-1998 meant he “emerged with a more sophisticated and nuanced viewpoint.”

I do feel that the way the region is covered, and especially the way the conflict is covered in the opinion pages in America, has generally been very narrow compared to what you read in Israel. If you read Ha’aretz, if you see the Arab newspapers — if you see Al Ahram in Cairo — you will be exposed to points of view that you don’t hear in the United States. One of the things I decided when I became Op-Ed editor is that I would like to bring a broader range of viewpoints on the Middle East to the page. I’ve tried to do that.

As to CAMERA’s charges:

JJ: CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, published advertisements alleging that you put out 50 percent more pro-Arab Op-Eds than pro-Israel Op-Eds in a 19-month period and that your pages are biased.

NG: I think their numbers are misleading. They took a bizarre time period of 19 months for some reason ending last July, and they left off a number of pieces that we’ve run on the Op-Ed page that didn’t seem to help their cause.

Continue reading

Breaking the Silence, A New Wave of Openness

boston_lowres

The Breaking the Silence tour is coming soon to Philadelphia and Boston.

Though the message of Israeli soldiers who have served in the territories is every bit as devastating as the descriptions of occupation coming from the mouths of non-Israelis , it’s also true that because Israel’s own sons and daughters are telling their own stories, more American Jews just might be able to listen.

There is also the added dimension of heartbreak about what being part of an occupying army does to the occupier, something we know quite a bit about here in the U.S.
These former Israeli soldiers are to be given tremendous credit for their willingness to speak out.
I remember when conscientious objectors, out of a sense of protectiveness, refused to speak to press outside of Israel.
And today, just 5 years later? The soldiers are back for a repeat tour, which is being sponsored by some major Jewish peace organizations. Harvard’s progressive Hillel group is hosting in Boston.

Just a year ago, as we reported here, the Zionist Organization of America tried to get the Union of Progressive Zionists kicked out of the Israel on Campus Coalition for sponsoring this tour. This year? So far, just quiet.philly

Saying no to anti-Muslim bigotry

Laurence Swaim strikes just the right chord in his piece  on Islamophobia and racism in the latest issue of InFocus, California’s largest Muslim paper. He says of the email smear campaign claiming Barack Obama is Muslim, and therefore an enemy of the state:

There is a subliminal message in the campaign to slime Barack Obama. It is not true that he is a Muslim — but the e-mails also imply that American Muslims are inherently subversive. Thus, interfaith activists must be careful in combating them. Some people may be so anxious to denounce the lies that they play into the e-mails’ inherent bigotry.

The interfaith response should probably go something like this: “The e-mails are false, because Obama is a professing Christian. But this smear campaign attempts to create a negative image of Islam for political reasons. We should judge politicians by their policies and character rather than their religion. And we must always reject religious bigotry, because it would destroy the American way of life.”

Amen.

Obama again and again and again

Is Barack Obama good for Jews? Kind of a crude formulation, to say the least, but in the past few weeks there has been an instructive dance between Obama and the “is he good for Israel/Jewish” forces. Now, with the extremely close primaries, the Obama issue becomes, for good or ill, extremely pressing.

Beyond the self-ghetto-ization of such a question, the first issue to consider is that in the US there are no negative political consequences for being as right-wing as possible on all things Israel. Similar to being pro-death penalty, which Obama is, it’s an easy call for the campaign managers/strategists to, at the very least, appear to be pro-Israel.(Whatever the nature of such a position may actually be- what often passes for ‘pro-Israel’ is deeply anti-Israel). In an effort to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, the rising presidential candidate has recently written to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, imploring him to not be biased against Israel (as Israel engages in collective punishment by strangling Gaza, an action whose impact on Palestinians is not only unconscionable, but which actually further endangers the people of Sderot, who are also victims in this game.) (See Muzzlewatch, Jan. 30th).

Further, Obama has demanded an end to Palestinian violence as a pre-condition to any talks, a recognition by Hamas of Israel’s right to exist, no Palestinian right of return, with no mention of the decades long US-supported occupation. Pretty standard fare for the unambiguously “pro-Israel.”

Yet there seems to be all sorts of trouble for Obama. Questions have been raised about his long time relationship to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which awarded a prize to Louis Farrakhan in November, 2007. Although Obama has continually denounced anti-Semitism and called the award to Farrakhan “an error in judgment,” questions still persist.

Some have wondered “will he be another Jimmy Carter” and Obama’s call for diplomatic engagement with Iran (what can this wild man be thinking!!!!) has been met with deep suspicion. Worse, there have been rumors about his “pro Muslim” sympathies based on spurious connections to his upbringing and name. At present, the whisper campaign has had its intended affect, many in the US with pro-Israeli sympathies simply don’t want to “risk it.” As the Forward editorial details:

“Published reports and word-of-mouth from New York to Miami suggest that considerable numbers of Jewish voters will not back Obama, because they’re not sure he’s not their enemy. The rumors may be true or false, they reason; Obama may or may not be a secret Muslim radical. But why risk it? If there’s any danger of anti-Semitism, the thinking goes, you err on the side of caution. You don’t take chances.”

Continue reading

Los Angeles Jewish Journal editor tells CAMERA to “butt out”

CAMERA TRIES TO SHUT DOWN SABEEL CONFERENCE IN PASADENA, CA

Almost 15 years ago, on the invitation of my uncle, I went on a Jewish Federation major donor mission to Israel with Stanley Hirsh, an interesting macher who made his fortune in the schmatta (textile) industry and who served as the publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

We visited the site for a new maternal-child welfare clinic, named, as I recall, after Stanley and his wife Anita, who had donated $1 million dollars for its construction. What was unusual was that the clinic was to primarily serve Arab Israelis, who comprise some 20% of Israel’s population, but who, to put it lightly, get short shrift when it comes to public services or opportunities. The Jewish Federation staffer on the trip told me that he could not raise one additional dollar for the clinic because donors didn’t want their funds to go to non-Jews, but the Hirsch’s were proud of their contribution and pressed forward with the project.

It would make sense to me if Stanley Hirsh, who has since died, was responsible in some way for hiring Rob Eshman, the current editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. I certainly don’t agree with Eshman all the time, but I respect him because he’s smart, thoughtful, and most important, independent. The Journal does not simply reprint “those crap Federation press releases,” as one Jewish paper editor once told me. Eshman cares about what happens in the Middle East, but he doesn’t buy the hysteria generated by so many Jewish advocacy groups whose formula for fundraising success is anti-Semitism! anti-Semitism, and more anti-Semitism!

It’s gotta take a lot of chutzpah to do what he did last week. The Palestinian Christian liberation theology group Sabeel is holding one of its conferences in nearby Pasadena February 15-16, and once again, as in Boston, pro-occupation groups are doing everything they can to demonize not just the people of Sabeel, but any church that offers support.

In response, Eshman wrote in an editorial called Butt Out:

I’m always leery when Jewish groups ride in from out of town to try to save us from the bad guys. We have plenty of sharp-eyed Jewish defense groups locally who can tussle on our behalf. It’s just a bit condescending to think we rubes, out in America’s second-largest Jewish city, don’t know how and when to fight. Or whom.

For the past couple of weeks, the Boston-based pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has been riling up rabbis, congregants and any Jew with an e-mail address to pressure the All-Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to cancel the appearance of a prominent Palestinian activist, the Rev. Naim Ateek.

While Eshman is not a fan of Sabeel director Ateek’s use of liberation theology language or his advocacy for divestment, he knows a non-violent advocate when he sees one, and unlike CAMERA, supports the right of a man (who, incidentally supports a two-state solution) to speak.

But Ateek isn’t the only potential casualty of CAMERA ‘s tactics. Its also Jewish-Christian relations in the city:

“CAMERA is trying to paint All Saints as an anti-Semitic organzation that is against the State of Israel,” the Rev. Ed Bacon, leader of All Saints, told me. “That is far from the truth. What we are trying to do is teach people to be sophisticated about how they talk about these issues. I’m not sympathetic with Sabeel to the exclusion of the right of the state of Israel to exist.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that CAMERA, and The David Project found widespread support for their witch-hunt among institutional Jewry in their own backyard in Boston during the last Sabeel conference. (Sabeel organizers had the audacity to use the A word (apartheid- the very same word used with some frequency by the staff of Israel’s Ha’aretz, according to their lead political correspondent.) It is a relief, indeed, if their campaign is dismissed by local Jewish groups in Los Angeles.

Eshman concludes:

Meanwhile, I, for one, want to hear what the man has to say. I believe Israel is strong enough to withstand the rhetoric of a 70-year-old cleric dedicated to nonviolent coexistence.

If it’s not, even CAMERA can’t save us.

Indeed.