Monthly Archives: June 2008

Two lost battles this week: Spertus Museum and Pluto Press

We’ve been following the distressing story about the powerful show on display at Chicago’s Jewish Spertus Museum on maps and the Holyland which featured Palestinian and Israeli artists. First it opened, then suddenly closed, then opened. In a follow up post about how the exhibit ruffled feathers in the institutional Jewish world (read: funders), we pointed to a Chicago Reader story about changes the museum was forced to make when the exhibit re-opened. Hat tip to Richard Silverstein and Google Alerts for the devastating news from the Chicago Tribune tonight that the exhibit was forced to close down altogether by upset funders.

Under intense pressure from angry Jewish patrons, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Friday abruptly closed the controversial “Imaginary Coordinates” exhibition, which explored Israeli and Palestinian concepts of homeland and how that is defined both historically and in the present day.

Critics charged that the combination of historical Holy Land maps and contemporary artwork cast Israel in a negative light.

“Aspects of it were clearly anti-Israel,” said Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “I was very surprised that a Jewish institution would put forward this exhibition. I was surprised and saddened by it.”

Jewish Voice for Peace’s own Lynn Pollack is quoted concerning the critically well received exhibit:

“These were not fringe Palestinian and Israeli artists,” she said. “These were mainstream artists who are able to display in their own country,” she said. “Why can’t this art be seen by American Jews?

Yet again, what’s the take home message here? That Jewish institutions can be counted on to be no-independent-thinking zones? For shame. Spertus deserves our support for having mounted such an important show.

Meanwhile, thanks to a tip from a reader, we learned from Inside Higher Ed that the University of Michigan finally, as many had long anticipated, severed its relationship with left publisher Pluto Press after pressure from right-wing pro-Israel groups.

In September, the University of Michigan Press faced intense criticism from pro-Israel groups–and questions from some regents–over its distribution of a book called Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a
new country, without a Jewish character. Michigan wasn’t the publisher, but it distributed the book under a deal with Pluto Press, a leftist British publisher with extensive lists on the Middle East and international affairs.

Some critics of the book demanded that Michigan stop distributing the book, which it briefly did, and cut ties to Pluto immediately. The university declined to do so, and resumed distributing the book, citing both contractual obligations to Pluto and concerns that halting distribution because of content would raise issues of academic freedom. By the end of this year, however, Michigan will no longer be distributing the book or have any ties to Pluto Press.

This is a sad week.

Reasoned Debate and the Fear of Reprisal at Harvard

Academic freedom, relatively unfettered by corporate business interests, is one of the last bastions of free speech and inquiry in the US. That is precisely why people like Alan Dershowitz and Daniel Pipes, extensively discussed here, intrepidly do their utmost, despite assertions to the contrary, to stifle such activity. No matter one’s point of view, the ability to have multi-vocal academic discussion is a core activity of a functioning democracy. In this spirit J. LORAND MATORY discusses in detail his own worrying experience as a long time Harvard faculty member. His effort to have the Harvard faculty “commit itself to fostering a civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas” was tabled by the Faculty of Arts and Science precisely because it could allow such reasoned debate about I/P. He goes in to detail on censorship occurring to him and others, such as Norman Finklestein, in and around the Harvard Campus.

What Do Critics of Israel Have to Fear?


Published On Thursday, June 05, 2008 12:22 AM

At what point do imbalances in access to money, media, and society’s administrative apparatuses constitute the censorship of dissent? Recent events at Harvard provide an exhaustive example.

At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) meeting on Nov. 13, 2007, I moved “that this faculty commits itself to fostering a civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas.” Expressing the fear that voting down so self-evidently reasonable a proposition would be embarrassing, my colleagues voted massively (74-27) to “table” the motion—that is, to end discussion of it and to avoid a vote. They did so because the motion had arisen in the context of what many of my more silent colleagues regard as the widespread censorship of dissent about Israel-Palestine on campus and in the nearby bookstores that are an essential part of the intellectual life of the University. Moreover, as I showed on this page last November, the vote unambiguously violated Robert’s Rules of Order, the standard of parliamentary procedure in Faculty meetings. The fervor of their conviction blinded 74 Ph.D.’s to the fact that they were proving my point.

The massive displacement of people that resulted from Israel’s founding 60 years ago is the object of willful forgetting in American foreign policy and of baffling ignorance by the American public in general. How else could we justify the massive and ongoing theft of the Palestinians’ native land since the mid-20th century—subsidized annually with upwards of three billion dollars from the U.S. government—while we correctly enforce the right of Jewish refugees to recover European properties from which they were displaced in the mid-20th century? If we do not recognize the equality of Palestinian and Jewish rights, how can we avow the equality of the rights belonging to Tibetans and Han Chinese, Sahrawis and Moroccans, Africans and Americo-Liberians, women and men, blacks and whites, gays and straights?

However, on no other issue at Harvard have I ever heard of the disinvitation of even one invited speaker, much less three. In 2002, Harvard’s Department of English invited Tom Paulin—Oxford professor and one of the finest living British poets—to speak, but promptly disinvited him after then-University President Lawrence H. Summers expressed disapproval of Paulin’s criticisms of Israel. Though the Department later voted to reverse the disinvitation, Paulin has never come to campus. In 2005, DePaul historian Norman G. Finkelstein, who has both sharply criticized Israeli military conduct and accused Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz of plagiarism, had been invited to speak at Harvard Book Store but was abruptly disinvited without explanation. While Finkelstein cannot prove that Dershowitz was responsible for the disinvitation, the Dershowitz modus operandi is evident in the hundreds of pages of threatening legal correspondence which document Dershowitz’s campaign to stop publication of Finkelstein’s book at University of California Press (UCP) and had evidently succeeded at doing so at the New Press. Dershowitz even wrote—using Harvard Law School letterhead—to ask Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to stop the book’s publication.
Continue reading

Follow up on “surreal” events at Chicago’s Spertus Museum

More on the story about the Spertus Museum:

Last week, the Chicago Reader spoke with Rhoda Rosen, the smart and courageous director of Spertus, Chicago’s Jewish museum. The Imaginary Coordinates exhibit on maps of the Holy Land (held as part of the city’s Festival of Maps), which Rosen worked on for 3 years, recruiting both Israeli and Palestinian artists, “was suddenly and mysteriously shut down” a week after opening. The public reason for the closure was too much sun light shining on the displays. This excuse was, pardon the pun, transparent. Chicago Reader’s Deanna Issacs remarks that the museum was housed in a spectacular state of the art showpiece building completed 6 months before, making the excuse unlikely.

For the next few days the museum’s Web site carried a notice that Imaginary Coordinates had been closed due to “unanticipated maintenance.” Reached by phone early in the week, Rosen blamed “building issues” but declined to elaborate. A call to Krueck + Sexton was referred to architect Tom Jacobs, who hadn’t heard anything about it. Subsequent calls to Rosen were returned by the museum’s outside public relations rep. No further information was available.

Meanwhile, word on the street was that the exhibit had proved too controversial for some key members of the Spertus audience. The Jewish United Fund, a major Spertus supporter, had taken a look and promptly canceled a May 13 fund-raising dinner booked for the tenth floor boardroom. Michael Kotzen, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says he moved the event after hearing from “a number of people who thought the exhibit wasn’t appropriate” in “content and point of view.”

Then came word that the show would reopen “tweaked,” as Rosen put it, and with a new protocol: visitors would be admitted only on guided tours, to be conducted hourly. On May 15, she led the first tour herself, providing background on everything from Heinrich Bünting’s 16th-century German map, The Whole World in a Clover Leaf (with Jerusalem as its nexus), to Barbed Hula, a two-minute video of Israeli artist Sigalit Landau on a Tel Aviv beach, twirling a hoop of barbed wire around her naked torso. Other pieces include Ahmad Ibrahim’s Memory Map of Jimzu, showing every house destroyed in his Palestinian village in 1948, and artifacts like a menorah with shell cartridges for candleholders.

Other changes were made as well:

Rosen, who worked on the exhibit for three years, notes no art was removed from the show during the closure, although wall cards were revised and objects were rearranged. A case containing a paligirl T-shirt and black shorts with palestine emblazoned across the butt (sold by Detroit-based HZwear) was moved from its original spot on the path between the elevator and the boardroom. Rosen no doubt had some difficult days during the hiatus, but insists she’s not defensive about the result: “The board, staff, and myself stand behind the integrity of this exhibit,” she says, adding that the guided tours will provide “context” and encourage discussion.

It sets a terrible precedent to require tour guides for an art exhibit, to revise explanatory cards on the wall, and to even move items, but it’s important to see the forest for the trees. It’s likely that Rosen and staff did everything they could to protect the show. She and Spertus deserve support and kudos for standing behind the exhibit, which by all accounts is thought-provoking, beautiful and terrible, and highly relevant to political discussions today.

Funders used to supporting independent and critical thinking on everything BUT Israel-Palestine politics will have to get used to this new landscape. Besides, exhibits like these, are indeed, “good for the Jews.” Thank Spertus and Rosen for standing behind the show.

Jon Stewart on ability to talk openly about Israeli policies


Watch The Daily Show’s Indecision 5768 on Clinton, McCain and Obama speaking at AIPAC.

Stewart says:

One part of being a good friend to Israel is constructive criticism of any of its polices that may not be in the best interest of the world, so lets hear the candidates critiques of current Israeli policy… [silent video of candidates.)

Oh I forgot! You can’t say anything remotely citical of Israel and still gete elected president. Which is funny, because you know where you can criticize Israel? Uh Israel.


We’ve been getting emails from people who said the links to the infamous Indecision 5678 segment are now dead. The direct link we have above still works fine. But it’s also true that if you don’t happen to have the direct link, it’s now impossible to find using various search mechanisms on The Daily Show website. In fact, all video segments going back to May 28 are no longer searchable on the timeline. The segment doesn’t show up in direct search, or using tags either. The entire June 5 episode is available, however, on the front page. But you’d have to know it was there to find it. It’s the Adam Sandler episode.

Accidental or deliberate? You decide.

One thing is certain, with 251,884 viewers, Indecision 5678 has proved to be one of The Daily Show’s most popular segments ever.

Politics and Prose owner reverses position, reinvites Edward Said’s nephew

We may never know the true back story behind the beloved Politics and Prose DC-based bookstore owner Carla Cohen’s decision to invite Palestinian-American professor Dr. Sari Makdisi, then disinvite him because of his political positions, and then invite him again.

To be fair, there may be no back story, which makes Carla Cohen’s ultimate decision to admit she made a mistake and embrace him all the more laudable. But it is apparently a fact that the independent bookstore already had to endure hate mail from some members of Cohen’s (and our) Jewish community for, well, acting like an independent bookstore and welcoming a free exchange of ideas on Israel-Palestine.

It is almost certain that she will get many more because of her reversal on Makdisi. Do make sure to let her know she did the right thing. Email:

Grace Said, the late Edward Said’s sister, and aunt of UCLA English professor Dr. Makdisi, had this to say to Cohen:

It is with sadness that I write to inform you that I have decided to
cancel my membership at Politics and Prose, effective immediately. I
have always been a supporter of independent bookstores. Politics and
Prose, in particular, seemed to be the place for me. Visiting your
store was always pleasant; the atmosphere, choice of books, the
friendliness and knowledge of the staff, and the coffee shop have
always made it a plus for me, and I am sure, for many others.

However, I was quite appalled to hear that you chose not to follow
through with your invitation to Dr. Saree Makdisi, whose book,
Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation describes the effect of
the Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians. It is
precisely this kind of book that needs to be promoted in the US, where
the mainstream media and political pundits have deliberately avoided
any discussion of the hardships endured by the Palestinians under

I know Makdisi’s writing from the LA Times where he is a frequent contributor, writing hard-hitting and incisive commentary about the conflict, and most recently, the idea that a two-state solution is no longer possible. It’s the kind of analysis one typically doesn’t find in US papers, but which is increasingly finding a home in corporate-owned publications, making Cohen’s cold feet all the more surprising.

Cohen responded to Grace Said’s note by explaining:

I have been very active — and my husband even more so — in trying to
have the U.S. intervene with Israel to end the occupation of the West
Bank. I was recently in Israel and saw and heard about the
heartbreaking effects of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis travel,
employment, and so on. I came back very discouraged about Israel’s
political ability to break through the impasse. The way to end the
occupation lies with the U.S. I want to make the case with American
Jews and with American politicians to press Israel to end the

I guarantee that nobody will listen to me if I am seen as promoting a
book whose only way out of the present situation is a one-state
solution. One state means the end of Israel as a democratic and Jewish
state. I do not believe that should happen. I am placing all of my
energies on promoting within the American Jewish community a practical
solution that involves respecting the legitimate needs of Israelis and
Palestinians and treating with empathy those on both sides.

It’s hard to fathom how offering a space for independent political thought would threaten the possibility of Middle East peace. In fact, the topic of Makdisi’s book is life under occupation, not, the one-state solution. But his most recent op-ed in the LA Times is worth reading because he puts forth a view increasingly held by many people (and rejected by many as well, including Norman Finkelstein) that the one-state solution is the only option left. Because of the actions of people who want to see Israel destroyed? No, but rather, due to Israel’s own actions. He argues that the ceaseless project of appropriating Palestinian land and building Jewish-only houses on it has made a contiguous Palestinian state simply impossible. Is this an analysis that would isolate Politics and Prose from the liberal, anti-occupation Jewish community? It’s sad to think it could.

After probably more than a few letters like Said’s, a Politics and Prose friend told us late yesterday: “Carla Cohen reinvited the author back to Politics and Prose, and admitted that she was wrong. She does want to make sure that there is open dialogue/debate at the bookstore. She reaffirmed that she wants the bookstore to continue to be a place where people hear diverse opinions and people make their own decisions.”

From Ha’aretz editor, about rumors

This letter is circulating [read prior Muzzlewatch posts for more information]:

From: Haaretz Daily Newspaper <>
Dear Dr Raymond Leicht and Ronit Beck,
Thank you for your letter. I’ve received five similar letters today. Some of the writers noted with concern that an aggressive campaign is being conducted against the paper based on false information. It may be the case that the disinformation is being spread out by extreme right-wing circles or perhaps it is based on a simple misunderstanding.
The substantive point is that, as part of the printed media crisis, five reporters and editors are leaving the paper in consequence of the elimination of the ‘B’ section of the paper. For the record, at least two of these hold opposite views to Meron Rapoport who is mentioned in your letter. He is indeed a talented writer, but he has been working for us for only three years, since he was sacked by Yediot Acharonot. Newspapers are trying to survive and they have two choices – increase their circulation or cut down on editorial costs. The New York Times has recently sacked 7 per cent of its reporting staff (presumably some of these would have been identified as being on the Left). Closer to home, Ma’ariv has announced that it would be cutting down its stuff by 10 per cent in the course of this year. I hope that our path will take the opposite direction, that we will succeed in convincing more people to join our readers circle. Obviously, cancellation of subscriptions will have the opposite affect and force us into further cutbacks.
This course of action is indeed painful, but it is rather limited compared to developments in similar newspapers around the globe. But, there is no connection between the cutbacks and Amira Hass’s sabbatical leave. That leave was agreed upon well before I took over as Editor, and she is expected to return to the paper, if that is her wish. This is not her first leave of absence nor is it a new practice; Tom Segev had returned from an even longer break less than a year ago,
In fact, if a change had taken place in the past month – since I took over the role – it has been in precisely the opposite direction to what you describe in your letter. Purely by chance, it was in this period that Haaretz received exclusive information upon which we were able to base some stories that were prominently published. These included the exclusion of Norman Finkelstein (Yossi Melman), the new attempts by the Justice Minister to influence the High Court (Shahar Ilan, Jonathan Lis), the Elad NGO takeover operations in East Jerusalem (Akiva Eldar) and of course the Talansky-Messer affair (Gidi Weitz).
As for the move of Gideon Levy’s column from the “Week End” to the magazine section, this had happened four years ago, as result of lack of chemistry between Gideon and the then Musaf editor, Rogel Alpher. It was me who initiated the column during my stint as Musaf editor in 1994. I was also the one who came with its name, the “Twilight Zone”. I see it as a vital part of the paper.
It is saddening to note that such an aggressive disinformation campaign is being conducted against Haaretz. But as a fighting newspaper we are used to encounter organised mudslinging campaigns. We hope to survive this current campaign as well.
I thank you for your interest in Haaretz and hope this letter has alleyed your fears.
Yours Sincerely
Dov Alfon
Editor Haaretz

Letter from Ha’aretz reporter Amira Hass

Amira Hass writes today:

Dear friends,

The rumors and and some inaccuracies concerning my work at
Haaretz, and the general interest and manifested alarm -
indeed require my comments. You two have asked me directly about
those rumors. So here is my answer:

1. I am on an upaid sabbatical (since March 2008). It was my
request to have this leave of absence. I needed it badly, after
almost 15 years of covering the Israeli occupation from within (and
for a great part of this time – working up to 15 – 18 hours per
day). For long periods the work was done in the stressful
circumstances of military invasions, bombings and shellings,
standing in front of tanks or edgy armed soldiers, curfews, strict
closures, PA mainfested malcontent with any critical reporting etc.
No less stressful has been life in the orwelian theater of a
“peace process” – trying – usually in vain – to make the
readers and my compatriots aware of the deception and the
explosiveness of the situation.

2. In November 2007 i was told by Haaretz that my contract and
terms of employment should be changed as i had been writing too
little over the past year.

3. In November i was too tired and dispirited to be able to
explain all that was obviously needed to be explained, and to
negotiate the terms of a new contract, and therefore we agreed to
postpone everything. . According to my agreement with Haaretz, i may
write free lance during my year leave of absence. As i have been
away most of the time, it hasn’t happened yet (except for two
op-eds). Also, according to the agreement, by the end of the
sabbatical i’ll return to work for a half year – within the same
terms. It is then that it will be decided how to proceed.

4. Alll this took place BEFORE haaretz nominated a new editor
in chief.

5. As for the dismissal of other colleagues (several editors, not
only reporters): It is of course sad to know that people
who have worked for years, and dedicated time, thoughts, energy
and professionalism – have to start looking for a new place.
I do find it extremely deplorable that Miron Rapoport will not be
writing for Haaretz. He is a very prolific reporter, who excells
at investigations, who writes well and for whom journalism is
clearly about “monitoring power” and
challenging authorities.

Since i placed myself in Gaza, at the beginning of the 90′s, i have
learned that in our society (where there is democracy for Jews) -
the right for freedom of thought, expression and information is
fairly guaranteed. But there is no OBLIGATION to excercise these

This year i intend to complete the writing of a book on Israel’s
policy of closure (“the robbery of time and space” – as i term

thank you for your concern -


Ha’aretz update from Dorothy Naor of New Profile

Dorothy Noar of New Profile, the extraordinary Israeli feminist organization, writes about Ha’aretz rumors:

Dear Friends,

Essentially, the information below is on the right track. But a few corrections need to be made. My sources have requested not to be revealed, but are reliable.

Let me begin with a change that took place a few months ago, and that should have been a sign of things to come. Ha’aretz reduced the size of its News and Opinion sections. Spouse and I have subscribed to the Hebrew print edition of Ha’aretz for years. In addition to other sections, it used to have an A section (News) and a separate B section (whose main parts were Opinion, consisting of op-eds, the editorial, and features). One day the paper arrived with the parts of A and B melded into a single and thinner section than either had previously been. And so it has remained.

Ha’aretz has changed its policy from being a politically oriented newspaper, whose focus was socio-economic, to being one whose main concern is finances via the vehicle of the Marker. The former regular sections have diminished in size, and contain more ads than previously. The target audience is no longer the liberal community but the upper wealthy crust—an audience not much interested in either Palestinians or poor Israelis. In other words, the motive for change is economic rather than political. But the result is that socio-political issues play a smaller role in the new format.

Consequently, an investigative reporter as Meron Rapoport is no longer needed. He is not the only one to receive the axe. So also, apparently, Tamar Rotem. However, Amira Hass has requested, and was given, a year’s leave of absence. She intends to return. Whether or not this will transpire, we will learn eventually. Gideon Levy has not had his Twilight Zone taken from him. In the Hebrew edition, it has been shunted from the Friday Magazine to the This Week section in the newspaper (which also appears on Fridays). Twilight Zone continues to appear in the Friday Magazine in the online English edition. Levy has also been given other jobs in the paper unrelated to socio-political issues (e.g., reviewing TV programs). Akiva Eldar continues to work for Ha’aretz, but with less space than previously allotted him.

All of this constitutes a loss for those of us of a more liberal bent. But I don’t think that we can term any of this censorship. Levy and Eldar continue to express the same views as previously, and it is hard to imagine Amira Hass kowtowing to censorship.

One other correction. Below you learn that Ha’aretz has a new German owner. The owner is neither so new nor so influential—he purchased 25% of the newspaper in 2006, and is apparently a silent partner. The change in orientation is the publisher’s, Amos Schocken’s.

In a world that is globalized and where neo-liberalism reigns, I don’t see why any of us should be surprised that Ha’aretz is going the way of the world. The publishers want to make money. There is nothing new in this. I agree that it is our loss, and a disturbing one. But our battle is with globalization and neo-liberalism as a whole. Of course if we could find investors from the liberal sector who would pay Ha’aretz to continue its former ways—we might be able to have our newspaper back. But I personally don’t know any rich investors. Do you?


Purge underway at Ha’aretz

Ha’aretz is the Israeli paper that has consistently provided the most credible, principled and vivid coverage of the impact of the Israeli occupation and pervasive anti-Arab racism. Human rights groups depend on Ha’aretz, which publishes a highly popular online English edition, to convey otherwise unheard stories to a broad global audience. It’s difficult to imagine the catastrophic impact of such a purge.

While Ha’aretz has been under great pressure to alter their coverage, the issue seems to be profit–Ha’aretz’s ability to maximize it.

Jeremiah Haber first broke the story about rumors of a purge of Haaretz’s most outspoken writers like Amira Hass (who has asked for and received sabbatical), and Meron Rapaport, who though still filing stories, is said to have been fired.

Inside sources have told us that these rumors of a broader purge that may eventually involve other writers like Akiva Eldar and Gideon Levy are true. We are told this is part of

“…a very conscious shift to the right because of American Jews. They see American Jews as their primary audience for the English language edition. They’ve been getting, apparently for years, many many complaints, calls and visits from people with influence and money who have been haranguing them about their coverage.

This source also says

[Haaretz columnist] Shmuel Rosner is their guy in the US. They get their feelings of the pulse of the American Jewish community from Rosner, not just his own political views–he puts out there that the American Jewish community is on the right on this stuff. The perception is that while there are Jews with other opinions, they aren’t Jews who really care about Israel- either they are alienated or actively anti-Israel. They don’t see the pro-Israel/pro-peace types.

While more alarming reports are emerging, it should be noted that there has not been a detectable major shift in editorial policy. Recent pieces criticizing the banishment of Norman Finkelstein and supporting Carter’s visit with Hamas are two noticeable examples.

Nonetheless, this report by Ed Corrigan says:

A new German owner has purchased Haaretz and a “Putsch is being carried out among reporting staff,” in the most important and liberal Zionist paper in Israel. According to inside sources, the new owner has carried out a rough, sittingroom survey that revealed that “the occupation doesn’t sell newspapers” and they are therefore concentrating on the business world (ie. The Marker). Twilight Zone, Gideon Levy’s regular Friday column, has been scrapped, Amira Hass has been degraded to freelance on half salary, Meron Rapaport has been fired and Akiva Eldar has lost at least one half page a week.

CAMERA has already stated that Haaretz is enemy number one because of its unapologetic coverage, including liberal use of the term “apartheid” to describe conditions in the territories. Nonetheless, as newspapers across the world continue to hemorrhage readers, it is not clear how much of this simply comes down to economics.

Either way, as Ha’aretz, ironically observed about the 10 year banishment of Norman Finkelstein, this is another ominous example of the erosion of open debate and free speech in Israel. It’s a trend we know something about here in the United States, don’t we?