Monthly Archives: December 2009

Boston-area church cancels Noam Chomsky Gaza talk

Mondoweiss writes:

On Sunday, the last day of his 81st year, Noam Chomsky gave a speech on Gaza in Watertown, Mass., at the behest of Newton Dialogues on Peace and War. They raised alot of money for the Gaza Freedom March. I heard a rumor that the original venue for the speech, Eliot Church in Newton, had dropped the speech under pressure, saying that the speech was “controversial” and had not gone through the appropriate processes for church events. I emailed Newton Dialogues. Dave Ascher responded. If you read between the lines of his response below, it is clear that the Eliot Church came under pressure because of the political nature of the Chomsky speech.

As you read this, remember one thing: This suppression of free speech took place in the heart of abolitionist territory. 150 years ago, Boston-area churches helped lead the movement that forced politicians to come out against slavery. Those churches asserted that All [Americans] are created equal. That same principle is being defiled by scared Bostonians today. Why? Because of the Israel lobby, because of the construction of Jewish identity around Israel, because of fears of persecution that have caused an empowered group to overlook the persecution of others. Dave Ascher:

I have been asked to reply to your inquiry about the Chomsky/Gaza fundraiser that our group, Newton Dialogues on Peace and War, had planned to have in Newton this past Sunday. As an active member of the group, I have been one of the central figures involved in organizing the event and have been privy to virtually all the emails and phone conversations that went on involving the change of venue.
I can confirm that the venue was indeed changed and on fairly short notice. At the new venue we had a turnout of about 200 people, which was considerably more than the capacity of the new space and the event raised significantly more money for the Gaza Freedom March than we’d anticipated.
The change of venue was due in large part to a failure on our part, as the sponsors of the event, to communicate and coordinate our plans well enough with the original venue. This might not have been a reason for cancellation in itself, but there was also a set of circumstances (pastor on vacation, short notice, Thanksgiving holiday) that conspired to make things difficult to straighten out.
We have heard that the church received phone calls after our notices were sent out. We do not really know the substance of those calls nor whether they came from nervous parishioners who recalled the hysteria in Newton when Chomsky came to speak to a club at one of the high schools or from people who wanted to alert the relatively-inexperienced assistant pastor of the possibility of this event being different from the used book sale to raise money for the homeless or from people in the community who have attempted to disrupt other events in Newton over the past several years that included speakers who are critical of the Government of Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians and its neighbors (like Lebanon).
After a lot of last minute phone calls and emails a venue was located at a church in neighboring Watertown, about 1-1/2 miles from the original venue. We were told that there were demonstrators from “The David Project” outside the church on Sunday morning, protesting the event, but nobody showed up in the evening to disrupt or demonstrate and all went smoothly.
We plan to re-schedule Chomsky to speak at the original venue, in the City of Newton, about Israel’s actions and policies toward the Palestinians as soon as we can arrange it after the New Year.

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Billboards calling for end to military aid back up in Albuquerque

Back in April, after gaining approval for text and design, anti-occupation activists in New Mexico signed a contract with Lamar Advertising to display 10 billboards (pictured at left) for 8 weeks. But after only 3 weeks, and a pressure campaign on Lamar that included personal threats, the billboards all came down. Billboard critics did not like the call for no military aid, and some said that the “Stop Killing Children” message, which referred to the death of some 300 children in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, was evocative of anti-Semitic blood libel myths. Yet, repeated efforts to alter the text and design to meet the changing standards of Lamar were unsuccessful.

The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition working to “end to the ten year commitment of $30 billion in U.S. taxpayer-funded military aid pledged to Israel in 2007 by the Bush administration,” reports they have a new set of billboards (below) with a new company and slightly altered message. Seventy-five percent of US military aid to Israel is, by law, given to US arms manufacturers.

watch?v=BI57Z67PyBo

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Jewish institutional chickens coming home to roost

Decades of determined silence, or aiding and abetting both illegal settlement expansion and vicious attacks on dissenting critics of Israeli state policy have created a kind of “blowback” in the institutional Jewish world.

The new targets of the settlers’ linguistic paramilitary forces, aka the rightwing pro-Israel punditocracy and their followers, aren’t just the usual suspects like Jimmy Carter or Archbishop Tutu. They’re now mainstream, moderate, demonstrably Israel-loving institutional Jews. This is a moment of truth for many of these targets. Faced with new pressure from their right-wing flank, some will fold and adapt to a more McCarthyite environment, especially if loss of funding is threatened. Others will stand strong and even be radicalized.

So, who are the new targets of occupation-supporters like Caroline Glick (Whither American Jewry?) and Isi Liebler (Candidly Speaking: Marginalize the renegades) of the Jerusalem Post and Walter Bingham (Expose the Renegades) in Arutz Sheva? For starters, there’s former Jewish Council for Public Affairs director Hannah Rosenthal, whose principled concern for the Jewish community and  for Israel is undeniable. She is the newly appointed head of the US Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism:

Shortly after the announcement of Rosenthal’s nomination, conservative Jewish web sites began to attack her, some of them declaring that Obama appointed an anti-Israeli to fight anti-Semitism. Rumors brewed that she had accused Israel of systemically strengthening anti-Semitism. Bloggers argued that her appointment would cause Jews and Israelis to cast doubt on Obama and his relationship with Israel.

Then there’s the the popular San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, known for its diverse approach to programming, and the Jewish Federation in San Francisco, which (lightly) funds the Festival. Not used to getting hate mail from Jews, and being called anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, the Federation has been under tremendous pressure to cave in to calls for excessively McCarthyite control over funding recipients; the Film Festival has already lost tens of thousands of dollars and half its board, with no sign of the campaign dying any time soon.

The Federation board wisely said no to an absurd proposal to bar partnerships with any individuals or groups who “defame Israel” (good luck defining that), but they did support a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America barring partnerships with groups that support Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

(Presumably, Time’s Joe Klein, who recently came out in support of a suspension of aid as a way to get the Israelis to actually freeze settlements, could still speak at a Federation-supported venue. Jewish Voice for Peace, however, which promotes selective divestment and sanctions as a way to end Israel’s occupation, would continue to get no funds or support from the Federation. In fact, the Federation would be duty-bound to oppose JVP, according to the resolution. As more mainstream Jewish groups openly advocate against support for 501c3s that support extremist settlers, it’s not clear how this resolution will play out.) Of course, there is the unprecedented smear campaign against Richard Goldstone, including coordinated condemnation of his report in Conservative synagogues across America, and yet he has continued to hold strong and defend his work with tremendous integrity. And then, there are the ongoing attacks on the new moderate AIPAC alternative, J Street, which puts forth an agenda not entirely different from what Netanyahu himself at least says he wants – two states that preserve as they call it, “a Jewish democracy”. Finally, there is the very surprising Glenn Beck (pictured above) attack on the Anti-Defamation League for their new report “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” which calls out Beck in particular in a wide-ranging condemnation of hate-mongers. Surprising because the ADL can typically be counted on to overlook hate-mongering and Holocaust-abuse in the service of a rightwing “pro-Israel” agenda, but in this case has done the right thing in identifying this truly scary trend for which Beck has become the figurehead. As MJ Rosenberg writes in his new column at Media Matters

:

Glenn Beck is, not surprisingly, in a state of rage about the ADL report. He defends himself by asking the ADL to “name the person who has been more friendly to Israel” (the predictable defense). This, of course, is utterly irrelevant.  The issue here is not Israel but the United States.  It is here where Beck spreads his hate, not Israel. And then Beck turns on the ADL itself.  Beck said that the Anti-Defamation League itself has “much to do with the plight of the Jewish people.”  I don’t know what plight Beck is referring to, perhaps the Holocaust which so often pops into his head and out of his mouth.  But, obviously, the ADL fought for the victims of the Holocaust, not its perpetrators.  The Holocaust was the product of professional hate mongers, the mob who listened to them, and politicians who came to power on their backs. That is precisely the combination the ADL is worried about now.

It’s tempting to sit back and say, “I told you so.” As Israel is learning all too well regarding increasing numbers of intransigent settlers  and religious fanatics who profess open contempt for their own country, you can’t help create a monster and then expect it not to try to devour you. But one hopes that all of the targets of these nasty charges will a) put into perspective the war of words versus the war of lives and homes being waged, for example, in Sheikh Jarakh in East Jerusalem right now and that b) they’ll resist efforts at intimidation precisely because Jews who love Israel should care about the rights of  Palestinian Israelis getting evicted from Sheikh Jarakh, as well as the rights of their peace-loving Jewish neighbors. There is only one logical conclusion after reading Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s moving and terrifying account of what’s happening in East Jerusalem:  justice for Palestinians is justice, and peace, for Jews. Supporting the ongoing evictions and terrorization of Palestinians is the last way in the world to show love of Israel.

-Cecilie Surasky

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