Monthly Archives: May 2008

U.S. Withdraws Fulbright Grants to Gaza

Ethan Bronner reports for the NY Times about the newest outrage resulting from US supported Israeli control of Gaza. We all know of the continuing depredations being perpetrated against Palestinians on a daily basis, the death and injuries, the almost complete control of most aspects of daily life. This new insult arises seamlessly from this control and is ominous because the canceling of scholarly exchange goes to the heart of academic freedom further eroding the idea that Israel has any interest in fostering Palestinian civic society. Whether by intent or casual indifference, Israel is alienating those who would most likely be needed and most open to establishing a stable peace in the region. Such impeding of Palestinian intellectual activity (and development) not only impoverishes Palestinian society but adds to the hallowing-out of Israel’s moral and intellectual culture. This is, unfortunately, of a piece with the recent banning of Norman Finklestein, reported on here, and the increasingly hostile attitude towards alternative/dissident positions in Israel as exemplified by the harassment of Ilan Pappe’ and the late Tanya Rheinhart, among others. As Americans we need to ask ourselves what is ultimately more worthwhile, funding the Israeli military to oppress Palestinians or funding educational exchanges that almost necessarily foster greater understanding cross-culturally. The obvious contradiction of US funding being used to stop US funding, besides the dark humor of the self-erasing nature of US actions, should raise serious concerns about US policy in the region

Published: May 30, 2008

GAZA — The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

Hadeel Abukwaik, standing, an engineering software instructor in Gaza, was in disbelief over losing her Fulbright grant.

Israel has isolated this coastal strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas. Given that policy, the United States Consulate in Jerusalem said the grant money had been “redirected” to students elsewhere out of concern that it would go to waste if the Palestinian students were forced to remain in Gaza.

A letter was sent by e-mail to the students on Thursday telling them of the cancellation. Abdulrahman Abdullah, 30, who had been hoping to study for an M.B.A. at one of several American universities on his Fulbright, was in shock when he read it.

“If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society,” he said. “I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”

Some Israeli lawmakers, who held a hearing on the issue of student movement out of Gaza on Wednesday, expressed anger that their government was failing to promote educational and civil development in a future Palestine given the hundreds of students who had been offered grants by the United States and other Western governments.

“This could be interpreted as collective punishment,” complained Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Parliament’s education committee, during the hearing. “This policy is not in keeping with international standards or with the moral standards of Jews, who have been subjected to the deprivation of higher education in the past. Even in war, there are rules.” Rabbi Melchior is from the Meimad Party, allied with Labor.

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American Jewish Committee Sderot ad refused airtime on NY station

AJC head David Harris compares attacks on Sderot to London blitz

The American Jewish Committee, the group known for efforts to oppose congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide, has this video about the refusal of New York Times-owned radio station, WQXR, to run their ad raising money for an emergency fund for the people of Sderot, Israel.

AJC head David Harris, in criticizing the refusal of the station to run the ad, doesn’t do his cause any favors when he compares the situation of the residents of Sderot to the London blitz in 1940 and 1941 (and by extension, Hamas to Nazis) in which over 43,000 were killed. He asks if an ad about the London blitz would also be refused by the station “on the grounds that we failed to refer reciprocal British miltary actions against Nazi Germany.”

In fact, according to the UN, from 2000 through the beginning of 2008, 11 residents of Sderot were killed by Qassam rockets, while 2,677 Gazans were killed by Israeli rocket fire and incursions. It is likely the one-sidedness and sensationalism of the ad which caused the station manager to reject it. (Other writers will likely give the ad the detailed critique it requires.)

Nonetheless, the ad should have been accepted–and also, any ad which talked about the Gazans who have also endured. It is in the nature of wars and conflicts, in which people on both sides endure real and terrible suffering, that people only tell the story from their side. Can more really be expected? And can a free and open society withstand that kind of speech? I think so. Watch the video here: AJC video about Sderot ad

More on Finkelstein’s ban. Is this what democracy looks like?

In a story widely reported in the rest of the world, well known critic of Israel’s human rights record and child of Holocaust survivors Norman Finkelstein has been banned from entering Israel for 10 years. Israel has every right to choose who it lets in to the country, and Finkelstein supported Hezbollah during the Israel-Lebanon war, so Israel is justified in keeping him out of the country for 10 years. He consorted with the enemy. He’s a threat to the state. Right? Well, not according to Haaretz, which editorializes that a move seemingly meant more to punish Finkelstein for his views than to protect Israelis “hurts us more than it hurts him.” In fact, according to the Jerusalem Post:

Officials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world.

This is pretty shocking stuff. It’s particularly surreal, as Haaretz points out, because as a Jew with no criminal record, Finkelstein would be eligible to be an Israeli citizen. And then what? Glenn Greenwald over at Salon has a very thorough analysis of the entire story: he interviewed Finkelstein and his nemesis, Alan Dershowitz, who, shockingly, “was quite critical of Israel’s exclusion of Finkelstein.” Of course, none of the analysis mentions a) that Finkelstein isn’t just banned from Israel but from the Palestinian Territories over which Israel exercises complete control and b) that many, including Palestinian Americans and nonviolent human rights activists, are regularly held and turned back at the border. Even Condi Rice has complained about the treatment of American citizens of Palestinian descent, who are denied the right to see their own families and homes, while Jews who are in no danger and who may have never set foot outside of their hometown in the US or elsewhere are regularly invited to come “home” and become citizens. For those of us who have heard, witnessed or experienced these chilling first hand accounts of people turned back at the border, this is not new news. What is disturbing are newer reports that videotapes of US human rights activists are ending up in the hands of the Shin Bet, and that the FBI is working directly with the Israeli government to monitor US -based nonviolent activists. There is currently no way to document if these are just a few isolated cases or a trend. Haaretz says

The Shin Bet argues that Finkelstein constitutes a security risk. But it is more reasonable to assume that Finkelstein is persona non grata and that the Shin Bet, whose influence has increased to frightening proportions, latched onto his meetings with Hezbollah operatives in order to punish him. And the decision is all the more surprising when one recalls the ease with which right-wing activists from the Meir Kahane camp – the kind whose activities pose a security threat that no longer requires further proof – are able to enter the country.

Norman Finkelstein denied entry to Israel for 10 years

Israeli human rights attorney compares Israel’s behavior to “Soviet bloc countries.” Sadly, this behavior isn’t new at all, a fact well known by people in the international human rights community.

Ha’aretz Update Saturday, May 24, 2008

Israel denies entry to high-profile critic Norman Finkelstein

By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

The Shin Bet security service detained and deported an American Jewish professor who is a prominent critic of the Israeli occupation when he landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Friday.

Professor Norman Finkelstein was interrogated for several hours and held in an airport cell before being put on a plane back to Amsterdam, his point of departure. Finkelstein said he was told he could not return to Israel for 10 years.

The Shin Bet said Finkelstein “is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon,” and because he “did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions.”

However, in e-mail and phone interviews with Haaretz while in detention at the airport, Finkelstein said, “I did my best to provide absolutely candid and comprehensive answers to all the questions put to me. I am confident that I have nothing to hide. Apart from my political views, and the supporting scholarship, there isn’t much more to say for myself: alas, no suicide missions or secret rendezvous with terrorist organizations. I’ve always supported a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I’m not an enemy of Israel.”

Finkelstein visited Lebanon a few months ago and met with Hezbollah operatives there, and subsequently published articles.

Finkelstein, 55, has accused Israel of exploiting the Holocaust for political ends. He recently left DePaul University following pressure by Jewish organizations and individuals, including Professor Alan Dershowitz.

He also said in the interview that he was “en route to Palestine to see one of my oldest and dearest friends, Musa Abu-Hashhash.”

Finkelstein said he was asked whether he had met with Al Qaida operatives, whether he had been sent to Israel by Hezbollah and how he intended to finance his stay in Israel.

“I was kept in a holding cell at the airport for approximately 24 hours. It wasn’t a Belgian bed-and-breakfast, but it wasn’t Auschwitz either. I had several unpleasant moments with the guards at the airport and in the holding cell, but since martyrdom is not my cup of tea, I’ll spare you the details,” Finkelstein said.

He said he eventually used a cellphone belonging to another detainee and called another friend he was scheduled to see in Israel, the journalist Allan Nairn, who called attorney Michael Sfard. Sfard met with Finkelstein and told him he could appeal the ban; however, Finkelstein said he has been to Israel at least 15 times and declined to appeal.

Sfard on Saturday said banning Finkelstein from entering the country “recalls the behavior of the Soviet bloc countries.”

NYT op-ed: American Jewish organizations are the obstacle to peace

I don’t exactly see the world the way Jeffrey Goldberg does, but on these points I couldn’t agree with him more. His Sunday NYT op-ed, in a special issue looking at 60 years of Israeli independence, insisted that hope for an independent Palestinian state requires not just the ending of but the “reversal of the West Bank settlement project.” On this, pretty much the entire world, including many Israelis, agree. But why hasn’t it happened? Why isn’t the United States demanding the removal of settlements, instead of issuing half-hearted useless warnings while Israel continues to build more and more settlements each day on land that does not belong to it?

(One can only imagine the groans of contempt in the audience this week as President Bush excoriated Arab leaders for their closed systems and violations of human rights, only days after the love-fest at the Knesset where he conveniently overlooked Israel’s role in degrading human rights in the region. )

Goldberg says the problem is American Jewish organizations, who through some fantasized world of their own making, insist on taking positions to the right of even Olmert. The relationship between most American Jews and Israel has always been mediated through fundraisers for the state. Jews have been sold a heady mix of heroic myth-making and vicarious pride. And until now, it has worked, if you don’t actually pick up a newspaper or go to Israel and step out of the carefully scripted tours to see the complex reality. (Yes, just like the US is a much more complex reality than the one-dimensional “patriotic” pablum we are often asked to ingest.)

But Israelis don’t need “friends” who promote a fantasy-based idea of who they are and what they need. They need friends who know how to say, enough is enough. You are destroying yourselves and taking everyone with you. As Goldberg observed,

…by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak. (To say nothing of John McCain and President George W. Bush, who spoke to the Knesset last week about external threats to Israel’s safety but made no mention of the country’s missteps.)

Goldberg knows the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, and that the US, and anyone who wants to be president of the US, refuses to hold the Israeli government accountable.

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.

Goldberg argues that “unthinking American support does hurt Israel.” And it does. But why can’t our presidential candidates actually say what they think, and have an honest conversation about blind US support for terrible Israeli policies?

They should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself.

But this won’t happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.

It’s time for this older generation of leaders to step out of the way and allow a different generation to take the reins.

Holy Land map exhibit closed “for repairs”

Exhibit reopened, with newly appointed guides-see below.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies’ museum shut down an exhibit featuring Israeli and Palestinian born women artists. This is a transitional time. Staffers in Jewish institutions are taking baby steps towards open debate and inquiry. While we do not know the back story, it’s entirely likely that in this case, as in many similar instances, a major donor to the museum demanded a change. We’ll let you know when we find out more.

Spertus museum shutters Holy Land map exhibit
Curator says building repairs behind closing of controversial show

By Charles Storch and Alan G. Artner

A controversial exhibition on Holy Land maps and boundaries, both ancient and contemporary, was suspended in the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies’ museum less than a week after it opened.

Rhoda Rosen, the Chicago museum’s director and curator of the exhibition, “Imaginary Coordinates,” said Tuesday that the show was closed last Thursday because of maintenance issues in the 7-month-old building’s 10th-floor gallery. She acknowledged that the show is provocative and “some people expressed concerns about presenting these issues in a Jewish museum.”

She declined to elaborate on those concerns, saying only that they are coming from members of the institute’s “core audience.” She contended that the public response has been generally positive.

Because of the hiatus forced by gallery repairs, she said, “we took the opportunity to look at concerns as well.” She said shows on other floors are not affected.

She said she was hopeful the exhibition would reopen this week.

The show, which opened May 2 and is to run until Sept. 7, includes works by eight Israeli- and Palestinian-born female artists as well as maps from the Spertus collection.

Thematically, the show goes beyond conventional notions of national borders and mapping. It expresses the ideas in such means as a video by a Palestinian artist has her discussing her sexuality while showing images of her nude mother.

UPDATE: The Tribune reported on May 15 that the exhibit reopened after a week to move items out of the “harsh light.” (No unintentional use of metaphor there.) As we anticipated, a change was made: now, “selected” docents have been added to the tour. Following the logic of the stated reason for the closure, it’s not clear if they were necessary to shield the exhibit from the glaring light of visitors. While it is good to see the exhibit open, and with the content unchanged, this can hardly be seen as a victory for artists and free speech advocates. You can see art, but only if we tell you what to think about it. (What must the artists think about this?)

An exhibit on Holy Land boundaries and maps reopened Thursday in the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies museum after a week’s suspension.

Museum director Rhoda Rosen said the “Imaginary Coordinates” hiatus was needed to shift fragile items away from harsh light. Hourly tours led by her, selected docents and educators have been added to foster discussion about issues presented by the show, particularly Israelis’ and Palestinians’ differing ideas of homeland.

She acknowledged that after the show opened May 2, some visitors expressed concern about its geopolitical subtext but not about any exhibits.

She said the show’s content was not changed.

Johann Hari writes about the McCarthy-ite attacks on Israel’s Critics

Below is a new London Independent article recounting one reporter’s own experience, along with the experience of others, (discussed here previously). We need to be ever vigilant. The forces arrayed against legitimate criticism of US supported Israeli transgressions must be countered for there to be any possibility of a stable peace in the region. There will always be “push-back” from such forces, CAMERA, the David project, etc, but there is a growing movement of progressive voices, Jewish and otherwise, that is making the claim of monolithic and unquestioning support for Israel more and more difficult. Even the New York Times with the new bureau chief Ethan Bronner is starting to report in a slightly more balanced way.
The Loathsome Smearing of Israel’s Critics

by Johann Hari

In the US and Britain, there is a campaign to smear anybody who tries to describe the plight of the Palestinian people. It is an attempt to intimidate and silence — and to a large degree, it works. There is nobody these self-appointed spokesmen for Israel will not attack as anti-Jewish: liberal Jews, rabbis, even Holocaust survivors.

My own case isn’t especially important, but it illustrates how the wider process of intimidation works. I have worked undercover at both the Finsbury Park mosque and among neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers to expose the Jew-hatred there; when I went on the Islam Channel to challenge the anti-Semitism of Islamists, I received a rash of death threats calling me “a Jew-lover”, “a Zionist-homo pig” and more.

Ah, but wait. I have also reported from Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, I wrote an article that described how untreated sewage was being pumped from illegal Israeli settlements on to Palestinian land, contaminating their reservoirs. This isn’t controversial. It has been documented by Friends of the Earth, and I have seen it with my own eyes.

The response? There was little attempt to dispute the facts I offered. Instead, some of the most high profile “pro-Israel” writers and media monitoring groups — including Honest Reporting and Camera — said I an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh, while Melanie Phillips even linked the stabbing of two Jewish people in North London to articles like mine. Vast numbers of e-mails came flooding in calling for me to be sacked. Continue reading