Yearly Archives: 2010

National Hillel sends many young Jews into exile. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on Talmud and BDS.

Hillel, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization-with staff, funding and physical space on some 500 mostly US campuses – says it wants to create a “welcoming environment for Jewish students on campus by fostering students’ ability to incorporate Jewish tradition into their lives.” Translation? Only Jews who pass an ideological litmus test on Israel are welcome. Others can stop at the door.

Despite the fact that Hillels exist on campuses where, by definition, intellectual inquiry and open discussion is embraced, Hillel’s national director Wayne Firestone is sharply opposing open inquiry and free expression for many progressive Jews who want to be part of organized campus Jewish life. In an essay he published this week:

Hillel’s Schusterman International Center issued guidelines this week to ensure that local Hillels know which organizations, groups and speakers are considered valid partners in promoting civil and informed discourse on Israel.

Our guidelines state that “Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” We firmly state, however, that “Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

* Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;

* Delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel;

* Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

* Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior toward campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

These new restrictive guidelines will only further alienate an increasing number of young Jewish students from Hillels, especially those who passionately embrace the values of justice and equality. These students who join campus groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (which has many Jewish and Israeli members), are looking to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for concrete actions they can take to push Israel to be accountable to international law. When even Theodore Bikel and Stephen Sondheim are advocating settlement boycott, it’s simply absurd to demand that politically active young Jews categorically refuse such tactics, and by extension, turn their backs on their Palestinian and Muslim friends and allies.

These students are also being asked to swear allegiance to an idea- a Jewish AND democratic state-which is increasingly being understood by more and more Jews as an aspiration but not a reality.

As Jeremiah Haber said in his extensive post on the guidelines,

After all, I don’t look forward to the day when a thousand Jewish JVPers dress up as Barukh Spinoza and picket Hillels on campuses throughout the countries. What I would rather see, as a college educator, former board member, and current supporter of my local Hillel, would be for local Hillel directors to engage JVP student groups….Engage, not boycott – isn’t that the message Hillel wants to get to the Jewish students?

Firestone’s newly announced guidelines, which will undoubtedly cause some pushback at individual Hillels where directors feel job security and tend to work more independently, are a sign of the times. They symbolize the fear of a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. He makes no attempt, by the way, to draw lines on the right.

As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb points out, this Hillel policing behavior is not new:

As a target of Hillel’s effort to silence dissent before selective divestment and BDS arose on the horizon as a tactic to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and as someone who remembers when speaking to Palestinians was considered heresy, when supporting a two state solution was heresy, when protesting settlement expansion was heresy, when supporting Goldstone’s call for an investigation of Operation Cast Lead was considered heresy, it seems as if Hillel, once again, is failing to understand the positive contribution of nonviolent dissent to militarism and occupation to rabbinic and Jewish life.
By silencing dissent in broad and highly idiosyncratic language, Hillel is exiling thousands of young Jewish activists to life outside our own community. As for boycott, it has an honored place in Jewish life, especially when it is used to express non-cooperation with actions that are harmful to the public.
“Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of his own family and does not do so is held responsible and liable for the transgressions of his family. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the people of his community and does not do so is liable for the transgressions of his community. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is liable for the transgressions of the entire world. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b) R. Zera said to R. Simon: Did you rebuke those of the Exilarch’s house? He replied: they will not take it from me. R. Zera said: Even so, you should rebuke them. (Shabbat 55a and cf. Tanhuma Tazria parag. 9).
It has been further been taught: “It is forbidden to sell them weapons or accessories to weapons, nor should one sharpen weapons for them. One may not sell them blocks or neck-ands placed on prisoners or ropes or iron chains-neither to idolators (Romans) nor to Cuthites (a sect of Judaism). R. Nahman said in the name of Rabbah b. Avuha: Just as they ruled that it forbidden to sell (these items) to an idolator so is it forbidden to them to an Israelite who is suspected of selling them to an idolator (Roman). The rabbis taught: It is forbidden to sell them shields, but others say that shields may be sold to them. (They were used for decorative purposes) Said R. Nahman in the name of Rabba b. Avuha: The law agrees with the others. Yerushalmi 15b-16a
The text describes a form of boycott in order to avoid cooperating with Roman military rule, even if one is making a profit. Noncooperation with
acts that violate human rights in an ancient and honored form of religious action.
Finally, the Jewish American community supported the farmer workers’ boycott of grapes and the boycott of Nestle products because they believed in the universal principle of human rights which both boycotts supported. Why is selective divestment or other forms of consumer boycott different because it is directed at Israeli violations of human rights in the form of illegal land seizure?
Especially when these violations are being committed in our name? Rather than a form of delegitimization of Israel, the very act of protest by supporting selective divestment and public protest in the media and on the street is upholding the democracy that those who love Israel claim to cherish and promote.

Been to Israel/Palestine lately? The FBI may come knocking on your door.

By the time she was in high school, Sarah Smith had already been named one of the 100 most influential women in Chicago by Chicago’s business magazine, Crain’s. Now Smith, who happens to be Jewish, has been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury on January 25 to explain her trip to Israel-Palestine with two Palestinian women friends. (As terrifying as this whole episode is for everyone involved, it says something about Palestinian safety that only Smith has come forward publicly.) All three young Chicago residents have been subpoenaed, joining ranks with 14 other peace activists from the Midwest who have been similarly targeted in recent months.

Here is Sarah Smith’s full statement from a December 6 press conference:

Friday morning, December 3, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions.

I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage.

Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip. The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street?

I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for standing up for me and my friends. You can learn about case at stopFBI.net, and please make a donation there. Or you can make a donation for our legal expenses: to NLG Foundation, memo line: FBI raids and mail it to Sarah Smith, 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, IL 60608

Smith’s father, Stan Smith,  added “I think Patrick Fitzgerald, the US District Attorney, Robert Parker of the FBI need to see my daughter and her friends and apologize to them. And I think President Obama, who was elected in 2008 because he said he would stop this sort of thing, should make a point on his next trip to Chicago to personally apologize to my daughter and her friends for how his government is intimidating them.”

Meanwhile, there are actions across the country to protest this crackdown on peace activists (sign the petition here). Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola has this report:

The hunting down of activists began on September 24th when the FBI raided homes and offices of activists from Minneapolis and Chicago. Computers, phones, documents and other personal items were seized and the FBI officially subpoenaed 14 activists to appear before a Grand Jury. The FBI began to contact members of the “peace community” and ask them what they knew about the subpoenaed activists’ “material support for terrorism.”

The attorneys representing the activists have noted “the current definition of “material support’ can cover just about anything, like providing humanitarian aid that ends up in the hands of a group tagged as ‘terrorist’ by the US government, or posting a link to an informational website. The implications of this law, as it is being used, are troubling to anyone who does community organizing, or anyone who does journalistic reporting or academic research on wars, conflicts or controversial movements.”

Months later, the activists in Minneapolis and Chicago have not been charged with a crime, but they continue to face possible jail time if they refuse to go before a Grand Jury and participate in this “witch hunt.” They have yet to have their belongings, which were seized by the FBI, returned.

Democracy anyone?

December 3, 2010 press conference

Unprecedented: master’s thesis on Jewish white privilege and Israel attacked in Canadian legislature

Canadian grad student, Jewish anti-Zionist activist, and descendant of Holocaust survivors Jenny Peto is breaking new ground with her University of Toronto master’s thesis The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education, though perhaps not in the way she intended.

The Canadian National Post reports:

It has provoked intense debate online, in academia and even the political realm. Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark raised it in the legislature Tuesday in response to sharp criticism in the Jewish community, calling it “shockingly anti-Semitic.” Citizenship and immigration minister Eric Hoskins likewise condemned the thesis in the legislature saying he was “greatly disturbed and, in fact, disgusted,” when he read media coverage about it.

These attacks (by some if not many who haven’t actually read it) on a master’s thesis, one that has already been through an academic review no less, are unprecedented. Also from The National Post:

Michiel Horn, a York University history professor and author of Academic Freedom in Canada: A History: “I know not of a single case where a master’s or a phD paper has been subject of discussion in the legislature of any province in Canada,” he said.

You can read Jenny Peto’s thesis yourself by downloading it here. Her abstract states:

This paper focuses on issues of Jewish identity, whiteness and victimhood within hegemonic Holocaust education. I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West. Despite this privilege, the organized Jewish community makes claims about Jewish victimhood that are widely accepted within that community and within popular discourse in the West. I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state. I focus on two related Holocaust education projects – the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope – to show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state.

I myself can’t wait to read it. There’s not a lot here that those seriously familiar with these Jewish institutions and Israeli history and politics could really argue with. For too long, the central organizing principle of much of institutional Jewry has been fear, which has been essential in, among other things, enabling an unaccountable Israel. And few programs more dramatically reflect this than the March of the Living which inflicts a proxy Holocaust trauma on Jewish teenagers (without proper context and support, so I hear from friends who have gone) as an essential right of passage into Jewishness.

To the young N. American Ashkenazi Jews especially who can’t help but notice that Jews as a whole occupy places of real economic and racial privilege in their communities, the messages of perpetual victimhood (and the implied privileges that might go with it, as in the case with the free pass that Israel tends to get) just don’t compute.

I’d imagine that in addition to her own experience, Peto had plenty to draw on from work and discussions happening in academic environments these days regarding Holocaust studies, Israeli politics, white privilege and so on. Is it possible that Peto’s crime is to have thought too complexly –in an academic setting.

(Update: Avi Lewis has a lot more on this story and what’s happening in Canada over at Mondoweiss.)

For another take, Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir documented the Jewish instrumentalization of victimhood in his must-see documentary, Defamation, though I’d argue that he unfortunately underplayed real threats of anti-Semitism to make his point.) Here’s a snippet:

Inconceivable! The US mainstream media on Israel back in 1952.

Hat tip to Pulse Media and M. Shahid Alam for uncovering this fascinating tidbit from Time magazine, 1952, announcing the selection of newly elected Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh as Person of the Year for 1951. This sobering analysis is striking because of the way in which it speaks from the perspective of Arabs. It’s exactly the kind of analysis we simply don’t see anymore in the MSM (mainstream media) here in the United States, thanks, in no small part, to the growth of the Israel lobby which obscures not just Israel’s responsibility, but even more damning, the United States’.

Here the Time magazine writer makes the case for why the Palestinian “problem” is the United States’ problem.

“The word “American” no longer has a good sound in that part of the world [the Middle East]. To catch the Jewish vote in the U.S., President Truman in 1946 demanded that the British admit 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine, in violation of British promises to the Arabs. Since then, the Arab nations surrounding Israel have regarded that state as a U.S. creation, and the U.S., therefore, as an enemy. The Israeli-Arab war created nearly a million Arab refugees, who have been huddled for three years in wretched camps. These refugees, for whom neither the U.S. nor Israel will take the slightest responsibility, keep alive the hatred of U.S. perfidy.

“No enmity for the Arabs, no selfish national design motivated the clumsy U.S. support of Israel. The American crime was not to help the Jews, but to help them at the expense of the Arabs. Today, the Arab world fears and expects a further Israeli expansion. The Arabs are well aware that Alben Barkley, Vice President of the U.S., tours his country making speeches for the half-billion-dollar Israeli bond issue, the largest ever offered to the U.S. public. Nobody, they note bitterly, is raising that kind of money for them.”

Arab fears that Ben Gurion’s real plans were to expand were not unfounded. In 1937, before he became Israel’s first Prime Minister, Ben Gurion wrote to his son:

“A partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish State will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety….We shall organize a modern defense force…and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means….We will expel the Arabs and take their places…with the force at our disposal.”

Of course, the US did much more to win the Arab and Persian world’s enmity than simply support the creation of the State of Israel. Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s valuable oil industry and paid the price with his freedom thanks to a US CIA sponsored coup which led to his imprisonment. He was later put under house arrest until his death in 1967. Iran, or more accurately, Iran’s citizens, have been paying the price ever since.

Odious NGO Monitor smears Electronic Intifada, tries to cut funding

NGO Monitor was captured perfectly in The Forward by liberal jewish thinker Leonard Fine who said it was “an organization that believes that the best way to defend Israel is to condemn anyone who criticizes it.” But now, no longer satisfied with its McCarthyite efforts to not just condemn, but actually take down respected human rights organizations, it is seeking to stop critical funding of the Electronic Intifada, a key media source for information and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Electronic Intifada (EI) is a pioneering online news outlet that has been an essential resource for activists, scholars and journalists since its inception in 2002.  Its coverage is unapologetically sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle for human rights, grounded in an understanding of international law and universal human rights. Years before the current proliferation of blogs and alternate news sources, EI was there first, providing a much needed antidote to one-sided mainstream news coverage of Israel and Palestine. And they continue to provide original reporting and news and analysis you still can’t get anywhere else.

Which perhaps is why NGO Monitor has made the preposterous claim that EI is “an anti-Semitic website,” stunningly based on the fact that one staffer is a supporter of the BDS movement and executive director, Ali Abunimah, in his non EI-related speaking engagements, “calls for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and routinely uses false apartheid rhetoric.” Really? This is what they’ve got? (They’d have to start throwing a lot of Jewish Israeli government officials into the anti-Semite dungeon if invoking ‘apartheid” is officially verboten… and Abunimah’s one state is different in substance but certainly similar in form to an increasing number of Israeli right-wingers who also push for a “one state solution”. And then there’s the entirely reasonable observation that we seem to already have a de-facto one state after 43 some years of occupation.. but I digress)

Yet another of thousands of such a ridiculous claims would be laughable if NGO Monitor didn’t have a card up its sleeve–EI gets about one third of its funding from a Dutch government-funded aid organization. According to the Jerusalem Post, NGO Monitor’s unsubstantiated charges

“prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday to the Post, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

As EI has documented in this must-read report, NGO Monitor has very close ties to the far-right. They use the language of NGO (non-governmental organization) transparency to go after funding of Israeli and other human rights groups and funders (including the New Israel Fund and Amnesty International) while remaining completely silent on Israel’s funding-dependent and law-breaking settler groups. EI writes:

NGO Monitor is an extreme right-wing group with close ties to the Israeli government, military, West Bank settlers, a man convicted of misleading the US Congress, and to notoriously Islamophobic individuals and organizations in the United States….

NGO Monitor’s attack on The Electronic Intifada is part of a well-financed, Israeli-government endorsed effort to silence reporting about and criticism of Israel by attacking so-called “delegitimizers” — those who speak about well-documented human rights abuses, support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), or promote full equality for Palestinians. Last February, The Electronic Intifada reported that a leading Israeli think-tank had recommended a campaign of “sabotage” against Israel’s critics as a matter of state policy (“Israel’s new strategy: “sabotage” and “attack” the global justice movement,” 16 February 2010).

NGO Monitor has already been at the forefront of a campaign to crush internal dissent by Jewish groups in Israel that want to see Israel’s human rights record improved.

The Jerusalem-based organization poses as a project concerned with accountability for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but as Israeli human rights activist and journalist Didi Remez has stated, “NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques — blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts” (“Bring on the transparency,” Haaretz, 26 November 2009).

There is good news here- thus far EI reports that no action has been taken thus far to end their funding. Presumably anyone who does so would have to actually substantiate NGO Monitor’s spurious charges. Good luck with that.

The Zionist Organization of America’s Effort to Criminalize Campus Activism through Federal Civil Rights Legislation

By Eyal Mazor

Under the leadership of Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is celebrating its success in its efforts to expand federal anti-bullying guidelines stipulated under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.  So why in the world would Mort Klein and his pro-occupation and pro-settlement ZOA be interested in federal civil rights and anti-bullying policy in the first place? Perhaps a new-found interest in protecting religious practice and reigning in on all instances of discrimination? Of course not. Read on and prepare yourself to be outraged.

In a policy statement released this week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has adopted new guidelines that include protections against religious groups with “shared ethnic characteristics.”   Appearing alongside indisputably positive policy changes that increase protections for LGBT and disabled students facing bullying and discrimination, it may seem totally inappropriate to cast doubt on this particular aspect of the policy, no matter who has brought it to the table. After all, expanding categories of protection is a good thing. However, once we understand the ZOA’s motives, it becomes clear that this development should be cause for alarm for anybody wanting to preserve students’ rights to organize on American campuses for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel!

Indeed, the ZOA took up this effort specifically as a way to clamp down on student activism that has pushed universities to hold Israel accountable to international law. How? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says that colleges and universities that don’t address issues of discrimination can lose their federal funding. This is part of a strategy to scare public universities into putting a stop to entirely legal and non-discriminatory activism that the ZOA and others just don’t like.

Klein is shamelessly trafficking in the language of bigotry and anti-discrimination in an effort to criminalize campus human rights activism in favor of justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. It’s hard to imagine a more reprehensible manipulation of the legacy of civil rights struggle.

The story actually begins in October 2004 when the first complaint to US Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2004 on the behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine. These claims, which form the centerpiece of the ZOA’s whole case to OCR, seem at best to be an extreme misrepresentation of actual goings-on, and at worst totally lack substance–and that’s coming from their subjects: UC Irvine students themselves. In response to the initial complaint the ZOA filed with OCR on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine in October 2004, the most prominent leaders of the campus Jewish community actually came out and publicly refuted the ZOA’s claims that UCI is a hostile environment for Jewish students.

In March 2008, prominent Jewish student leaders of UCI (including the presidents of the campus Hillel, the self-described pro-Israel group Anteaters for Israel, and the Jewish Fraternity and Sorority) issued a public statement clearly and directly contradicting the ZOA’s claims about their campus, stating instead that  “Jewish student life thrives on campus, despite misinformation from outside organizations.”

In a story published in May 2008 issue of New Voices (since expunged from their website, but available below), student leaders from UCI’s Jewish community testify to being ignored, silenced, and even publicly discredited by ZOA and associated activists for speaking the truth of their experience on campus.  One student, then President of Anteaters for Israel,  even lost his position with the Israel advocacy training group StandWithUs over a statement he made that the threat of anti-Semitism on his campus has been exaggerated by community activists and organizations.

Who Speaks for Jewish Students?

In another case cited in a recent op-ed, Klein also cites a battery case filed by a female pro-Israel activist at the University of California at Berkeley against a Palestinian student activist. In fact, all charges have been dropped against the Palestinian student, Husam Zakharia, who said from the very beginning that he lost control of a shopping cart overflowing with donated toys bound for Gaza when it accidentally hit the female student.

Klein’s campaign seemed to really take off earlier this year when 13 Jewish organizations endorsed a March 16 letter to the Education Minister urging the Office of Civil Rights to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism. Among the endorsing groups are Abe Foxman’s ADL, American Jewish Congress (AJC), and Hillel– all of which have a track record of manipulating charges of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israeli policy.

More recently, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-CA) have been championing in Congress Mort Klein and the ZOA’s proposal to amend the Civil Rights Act. In September, Sherman and Specter introduced legislation that would inscribe into federal law what the Department of Education has just changed in federal policy. Shortly after the new guidelines were announced, Congressman Sherman released a statement naming only Jewish students who face “severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses” among groups who will enjoy new protections under the policy.

Making no mention of any other communities facing religion-based discrimination, such as Muslims, Sikhs and other groups most impacted by the up-swell of Islamophobic discrimination, the political motives of the ZOA’s appeal is perfectly transparent. The ZOA is not and has never claimed to be an organization that fights bigotry or discrimination, nor do they purport to hold a message of universal tolerance. It is an organization set up to promote a pro-settlement, pro-occupation, right-wing Zionist agenda.

In addition to using federal anti-discrimination legislation to pursue a highly politicized agenda, one of the most troubling aspects of this campaign is that it has considerable de-amplifying effects for when authentic instances of anti-Semitism do arise.  This type of action will not make Jews, or anyone else, any safer.

Ali Abunimah: Full equality message too much for New Mexico Jewish Federation, UNM Hillel

Ali Abunimah’s post is worth reprinting in whole:

Let the Sun Shine In: Israel lobby tries to censor my appearance at University of New Mexico

It has come to my attention that the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Hillel at the University of New Mexico are actively trying to censor my lecture at the University of New Mexico next month by writing to departments and professors who may co-sponsor it as they co-sponsor countless other educational events on campus. Below is a copy of a letter that has been sent to departments, signed by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Sara Koplik, Director of Hillel at the University of New Mexico.

Typically, they throw in everything to try to defame and tar me: Hamas, Hizbullah, anti-Semitism, making Jewish students feel uncomfortable — all the usual defamatory silencing tactics to try to suppress debate and discussion about Israel’s apartheid and the alternatives that respect everyone. As they surely know, I have been an unflagging advocate of full equality and human rights for all Palestinians and Israeli Jews and others living in historic Palestine, and am guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why do they not want students at the University of New Mexico to hear this message?

Continue reading

Anti-Defamation League smears peace groups, Jewish Voice for Peace on top 10

Under Abraham Foxman’s leadership, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an embarrassment. It calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency,” dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and protecting the civil rights for all. But there’s a critical exception– “all” does not include those it considers a threat to the Israeli government.

This is a terrible shame, in part, because the ADL  (especially in local offices) does so many good things- speaking out against bullying, criticizing a lawmaker’s “shoot to kill” attitude towards immigrants, supporting the right of gays and lesbian to serve their country. But all of these things, and likely the caring staff-members behind them, are undermined by Foxman and company’s cynical attitudes when it comes to protecting Israel’s right to infinitely expand into Palestinian territory. (Elegantly achieved by simply crying anti-Semitism when anyone says enough already!)

The examples of Israel politics trumping the struggle against bigotry are numerous and appalling. Most notoriously, Foxman and the ADL actually lobbied the US Congress against the recognition of the Armenian genocide when they felt it threatened Israel’s special relationship with Turkey, a country that has worked hard to erase any acknowledgment of its heinous history. Foxman fired a regional ADL head who publicly criticized this particularly craven stand for a Jewish organization that hunts down even a hint of Holocaust denial. (With the Turkish-Israeli relationship on the skids, the ADL and friends have taken a humorous 180, just to underscore the lack of moral compass.)

As Michelle Goldberg writes today in The Daily Beast:

In the 1980s, at a time when Israel maintained close ties with South Africa, the ADL went on the attack against Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. As Sasha Polakow-Suransky reported in his recent book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, ADL National Director Nathan Perlmutter co-authored an article implying that the ANC was “totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American.” The ADL sent spies into the American anti-apartheid movement, as well as other movements critical of right-wing American foreign policy. Eventually, the organization was surveilling much of the American left. In 1993, a California police raid on the offices of the ADL and one of its investigators yielded files on Greenpeace, the NAACP, Act Up, New Jewish Agenda, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and several Democratic politicians, among hundreds of others. The ADL eventually settled a class-action lawsuit brought by several of its targets.

Foxman also advocated for the censorship of Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Tutu and President Jimmy Carter  and went after Bill Moyers because they dared talk openly about Israel’s human rights abuses. And there was Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison for invoking the Reichstag and so on and so on.

Most recently Foxman, the head of an organization dedicated to civil rights for all fueled growing anti-Muslim hysteria by condemning the Park 51 Muslim Cultural Center. (Because, as MJ Rosenberg observed, keeping the fires of  anti-Muslim hatred and suspicion burning is seen as good for preserving the US-Israel special relationship. Special as in entirely unconditional, and destructive for both parties.)

Stepping into it yet again, at the very same time that the ADL gave its highest honor to none other than Rupert Murdoch (see Media Matters’ report on Fox News and anti-semitism),  Foxman and his staff couldn’t resist issuing what they humorously call a “report”naming the country’s top 10 “anti-Israel” organizations.

Jewish Voice for Peace, my group, is on the list. (So is CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Students for Justice in Palestine and other groups.) It’s rather stunning to see what passes for a thorough report at the ADL- they seemed to have signed up on our email lists and scanned the internet a few times. Filled largely with unsubstantiated insinuations, it would barely pass muster in a high school social studies class. Much of what they say about us is dead wrong – we seek a suspension of military aid, not an end. We actually have well over 20 chapters and growing. We are not an anti-Zionist organization nor are we anti-Israel (unless, of course, the ADL’s idea of either Zionism or Israel is in any way threatened by the concept of universal democratic rights, which says a great deal more about the ADL than Jewish Voice for Peace.)

But it’s the ADL, and for reasons I can’t really explain, people still listen to Foxman,  so now the top 10 list is in Haaretz, and the Jerusalem Post, and Ynet.

Here are critiques of the list in Salon, Meretz USA, New Voices (the Jewish student magazine) and The Daily Beast and below is our official response to this absurd blacklist:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is at it again.

Jewish Voice for Peace statement on making it on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of top ten “anti-Israel” groups

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is at it again. They just came up with a list of the top ten most influential anti-Israel Groups in America, and Jewish Voice for Peace makes the list. We appreciate the honor, except that the ADL–as usual–got a few things wrong in describing us.

TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT JVP THE ADL GOT FLATLY WRONG

(1) JVP IS NEITHER ANTI-ISRAEL NOR ANTI-ZIONIST.

We do not hold Zionism as a litmus test for membership. Some of our members are Zionists, some are anti-Zionists, and some are non-Zionists. We believe you can define yourself in any of these ways as long as you support an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — and Gaza, and you advocate for human rights, which naturally apply equally to Israelis and Palestinians.

We stand by Israelis that hold these views, such as Israeli conscientious objectors and Israeli actors refusing to play in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

We stand by Palestinians that hold these views, such as Palestinian activists protesting the Israeli confiscation of land in the West Bank town of Bil’in.

We stand by internationals that hold these views, such as students pressing for divestment from occupation and war crimes or activists trying to break the siege of Gaza.

What unites us is our belief in human rights and equality.

(2) WE DO NOT ‘USE’ OUR JEWISH IDENTITY TO PROTECT ANTI-SEMITES.

We are Jews and allies who strongly oppose anti-Jewish hatred, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism.

We do understand that as Jews we have a special role to play in bringing about a change in American and Israeli policy. Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. Some American Jewish organizations defend Israel right or wrong, claiming to be representing all American Jews. It is up to us to set the record straight.

We strongly reject the misleading accusations of anti-Semitism that the ADL and others have used in other to protect Israel’s policies. For example, when the ADL accuses Archbishop Desmond Tutu of anti-Semitism, it is not only wrong, but it also makes all Jews less safe when facing a real case of anti-Jewish hatred.

(3) ACKNOWLEDGING THE NAKBA IS NOT OPPOSING ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE.

Would the ADL call those that acknowledge the genocide of Native-Americans in this land anti-American?

We believe that in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Nakba must be addressed. Without  acknowledging the events of 1947-9, there will be no truth and reconciliation. JVP adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.” Israelis should acknowledge the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and negotiate a mutually agreed just solution based on principles established in international law, including  return, compensation, and/or resettlement.

We acknowledge our own legacy of suffering and the horrors of the Holocaust, but we do not allow these to blind us to the suffering of others. Quite the opposite, we have learned from our own history and from our own tradition not to stand silent when others are suffering. The ADL, on the other hand, fights Holocaust-deniers and denies full recognition of the Armenian genocide at the same time.

(4) THE ADL IMPOSES ON PALESTINIANS A BURDEN IT DOES NOT IMPOSE ON ITSELF.

Jews in America constitute fewer than 2% of the population. We would be rightfully upset if we had to recognize the United States as a “Christian state.” And yet, he ADL expects Palestinians — 20% of Israel’s population — to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The ADL apparently has learned little from Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

(5) STARVING PALESTINIANS IS NOT OUR JUDAISM.

The ADL protests the fact that JVP members hold signs stating “Starving Palestinians Is Not My Judaism.” This one they got right, and they have the picture to prove it. Our question to the ADL is: what is your Judaism?

Want to read more? Check out what Salon has to say: Anti-Defamation League beclowns itself, again. And see also Foxman vs Peace Groups.

An amusing postscript:4 or 5 years ago, the very same ADL office notorious for conducting the largest ever civilian domestic spying operation, started sending me emails under a false name and a yahoo email account. They wanted to know if Jewish Voice for Peace was planning a secret action at their oxymoronically titled conference on progressive anti-Semitism. But the emails were oddly over enthusiastic, and we weren’t planning anything, and I checked the IP number and sure enough, the return address was the ADL office in San Francisco. The then director, blamed, what else, on the intern.

Cecilie Surasky
cecilie@jvp.org

Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort, Hillel on Campus


[Editor's note: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's video report (above) on Israel-defense training for students made me think that now would be a good time to re-publish Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort. My colleague Sydney Levy and I wrote it this summer in response to the UC Berkeley divestment struggle and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor's rather strange response to the effort.

In watching the JTA video in which the national head of Hillel is trying to make a subtle point but revealingly ends up comparing Muslims to vampires, I'd add that it has never been so clear to me how older Jews have failed this younger generation. Students are smart enough to handle an open conversation about complexity and Israel. But many in the older generation in power don't want that to happen. The fundamental irony, of course, is that when it comes to both delegitimizing and existentially threatening Israel, no critic can hold a candle to Israel itself and its ever-expanding settlement project (and human rights abuses etc...) There is no faster way for Israel to continue down the path of self-destruction than to continue the status quo, unhindered. In that very important sense, the BDS movement may be Israel's last chance. Especially now that we know that Congress and the Obama administration is no more willing to hold Netanyahu accountable than previous administrations.]

Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort

By Cecilie Surasky and Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace

(June 1, 2010) Israel right-or-wrong apologists have reason to be worried after three lengthy UC Berkeley student senate hearings concluded each with a solid majority of votes (60% or more) in favor of divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Though in the end, the vote fell 1 short of the needed supermajority required to overturn a veto, neither our opponents nor we forget that a clear majority consistently supported the bill.

Now, a few weeks after the hearings are over, it is a good time to examine how familiar tactics were deployed to stop the divestment effort and are now being used to prevent future similar ones. These tactics do not advance the cause of peace and have the unintended potential to cause harm to Jews in the US. Silencing debate, confusing the facts, taking over student senates, making indiscriminate charges of anti-Semitism, criminalizing anti-occupation activism, implicitly or explicitly condoning widespread hostility against Muslims, Palestinians, and anti-occupation Jews – these are the tactics with which we’ve unfortunately become too familiar. We’ll review them below.

1) Silencing debate

The first tactic, which predates UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, is the effort to shut down debate within the Jewish community. The story is an old one, but given the growing level of desperation among the Israel right-or-wrong crowd, the measures being deployed are increasingly bold and destructive.

Just a few months ago, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation issued the most restrictive funding guidelines in the country. These guidelines aim to silence open discussion within the institutional Jewish community on Israeli policies and the merits of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. And they also have led to an old-fashioned blacklist of well-known human rights groups now banned from the Federation’s donor designated fund’s acceptable charities list.

The guidelines’ impact has not gone unnoticed. An open letter in The Forward signed by Jewish professors, rabbis, and other notables from both the left and center describes the San Francisco Federation guidelines in these terms:

Despite the guidelines’ repeatedly stated commitment to the values of free and open discussion and diversity, they will have a chilling effect on the entire spectrum of community institutions, including educational, service, social justice and arts organizations. They will also limit American Jewish exposure to the range of art, literature, scholarship, and political discourse that exists in Israel. The guidelines will encourage self-censorship. Organizations will fear losing their funding; individuals will fear losing their jobs.

Though the ad is written in future tense about the negative effects the guidelines will have, we know for certain that these effects have already taken hold. Fearing loss of jobs or funding, people are staying quiet.

More recently, the guidelines were directly linked by a Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston to Israel’s banning of political linguist Noam Chomsky and other indications of incipient “fascism.”

This effort to stifle debate inside our communities has ironically meant that the only way that Jews have been able to speak face-to-face with other Jews about divestment has been at the UC Berkeley hearings. And what the hearings revealed was striking: an authentic crisis in the Jewish community. By all appearances, the number of Jewish supporters of divestment on campus easily matched the number of opponents. The group that sponsored the divest initiative, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), includes many Israelis and Jews as well as Palestinians and Muslims and many others of various faiths and nationalities, and the co-author of the divest bill himself is an Israeli Jew. Many Jewish professors, including members of the Jewish studies program, came out in support of the divest bill.

The Federation guidelines not only prevent an open conversation on these critically important issues, but they also banish these Jewish studies professors and the Jewish and Israeli students from any public forum on Israel funded by the Federation. The guidelines banish some of our best and most knowledgeable minds from the conversations where we truly need them most. By silencing debate, the Israel right-or-wrong advocates get to act like they’re speaking for the majority of Jews. But we know that they are not. For now, they’ve shut down public debate inside the Jewish institutional world, and their McCarthyite methods cast a long shadow. But the divestment hearing shows that whether or not the Jewish institutional world is ready, these conversations will take place because people, including many Jews, want to have them.

2) Confusing the Facts

The second tactic we saw used, yet again, was a consistent campaign to mislead the public about the nature of specific divestment resolutions. Many in the Jewish world, including the director of Berkeley Hillel ignored the fact that the UC Berkeley divestment resolution addressed only the Israeli occupation and repeatedly suggested instead that it targeted Israel as a whole.

3) Take over student senates

The Forward reported that,

At an AIPAC conference in Washington in late March, AIPAC leadership development director Jonathan Kessler said that his organization would “make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote,” as recorded in a video taken at the conference by the JTA. “This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s Capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses,” he said.

You can watch the chilling but frank video with Mr. Kessler’s statement here, where Mr. Kessler explicitly refers to the Berkeley resolution. This of course did not stop an AIPAC spokesperson from declaring:

“We took no position on the Berkeley student election, since like in any other election, we don’t rate or endorse candidates. Of course we would always, publicly and consistently, encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”

This year alone, about 1,300 students from all 50 states were offered a travel junket to DC to attend an AIPAC conference and learn the finer points of Israeli Hasbara. About a quarter of those in attendance were student government presidents, the kinds of leaders that can veto a divestment bill, just like UC Berkeley student senate president Will Smelko did. What is striking, as documented in the AIPAC video, is that a number of these student leaders had not heard of AIPAC before the offer of the free trip.
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