Monthly Archives: March 2010

And end to public criticism of Israel- Thanks AIPAC!

The March 30, 2010 UK Guardian on a letter going around Congress:

Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and urging the US to “reinforce” its relationship with the Jewish state.

The open letter, which has been circulating among members of Congress for the last week, says that while it is recognised that there will be differences between the two countries, they should be kept behind closed doors. “Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence,” it says.

…Signatories to Aipac’s letter include Steny Hoyer, the Democrat majority leader, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip.

Here’s the letter.

H/T to JW

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What the Reut Institute really wants: NOT one person-one vote

A week after his visit to AIPAC, I am left wondering if it is possible for anyone other than Bibi Netanyahu to so beautifully embody the notion of “strutting victimization”. And yet, it’s not just Bibi who can taunt Israel’s primary sponsor, the United States, with plans for endless settlement expansion while simultaneously playing the powerless victim. (I’m sure my Israeli friends have much to say on this phenomenon.) The people at Israel’s Reut Institute have also mastered this unpleasant juxtaposition of aggression and powerlessness.

As Carol Sanders put it so beautifully in The Only Democracy?:

Reut Institute, a leading Israeli national security and socioeconomic policy think tank, has released its preliminary report on “The Delegitimization Challenge:  Creating a Political Firewall” In an extraordinary exercise in doublethink, Reut scratches its head over Israel’s declining diplomatic status in the aftermath of its assault on Gaza and the Goldstone Report,  and concludes that,  yet again, it is the victim.

Among its key victimizers, and therefore targets? Human rights and peace organizations.

One of the Reut Institute report co-authors, a man named Eran Shayshon, probably had his dream come true when he picked a fight with journalist and activist Naomi Klein which we covered here on Muzzlewatch. Shayshon demonstrated one of the paper’s recommended attack techniques by going on Canada’s top radio show to make claims about what he’s certain Klein wants, in spite of her actual record of statements. But she fought back.

Now he’s taking it to the pages of Ha’aretz. It’s hard to know if Shayshon believes what he says, or if his lines are being fed to him by a Hasbara-Message-Scrambler which randomly spits out favorite Hasbara attack cliches. Keep in mind these fun tidbits about the report itself before we get into Shayshon’s attempt to regain his dignity by first dismissing Klein but then going on to write about her in-depth, and even attempting to introduce a new word into the lexicon, “Kleinism.” The Reut Report:

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Update: Mohammad Omer got his visa to come to US

We wrote a few days ago in Is the U.S. Consulate Cooperating in Silencing Palestinian Activists?

Mohammed Omer, the Gazan journalist and photographer, is scheduled for a U.S. speaking tour together with Ali Abunimah.  The U.S. consulate in the Netherlands, where Omer now resides, has put an extended hold on his visa application, effectively cancelling the tour.   Omer has lived in the Netherlands since 2008, after he was detained and severely beaten by the Shin Bet when he returned to Gaza from London, where he had been awarded the prestigious Gellhorn Award for Journalism.

We just got word that Omer got his visa. Thank you to everyone for your letters- they made a difference.

Norman Finkelstein booted, again

Norman Finkelstein may be a curmudgeon who can barely contain his contempt for institutions he feels have violated the public trust. But look past the attitude and sometimes poor choices (which, after all, Finkelstein’s nemesis Dershowitz has in spades) and he’s an excellent, even obsessively detailed scholar, and certainly no anti-Semite. And he’s fundamentally morally right. We Jews especially should be outraged.

Finkelstein is someone possessed with the intense and justified anger of a son of concentration camp survivors who saw his parents’ devastating experiences exploited while they received little support. He rails against not just the financial but also the ideological exploitation of the Holocaust. And I think he has the rage of disappointment of the loyal Jewish son who believed all the words about all Jews working to stop injustice, and discovered they weren’t true.

(Many of his charges are by now well-documented by numerous scholars and accounts, but it goes so far against the  cinematic swelling violin background music of our favorite Holocaust narratives, that we still can’t even imagine elderly Israeli Holocaust survivors and their families protesting in the streets because they are living in poverty, while prominent lawyers and various advocacy organizations pocket millions and Israel continues to take Palestinian land while crying anti-Semitism every time someone says “No!”. And so Finkelstein becomes the target of our collective discomfort. He’s essentially a whisteblower for corrupt Jewish organizations and it’s no wonder that many of us, in the Jewish community and beyond, don’t want to listen. To be fair, it’s also true that he doesn’t seem concerned about getting more people to listen.)

Finkelstein lost tenure at DePaul. He most recently got disinvited by the Greens in Germany. And this morning, word that the global shunning continues in Chicago, where event organizers report that since he’s not allowed to speak at DePaul (part of his severance agreement-amazingly), they found, and then just lost, an alternative venue:

I’ve been very involved in organizing Norman Finkelstein’s April midwest tour, which will include Purdue, Beloit, Michigan State, and Chicago events (DePaul, Northwestern, UofC). Unfortunately, today I received this news from our friends and partners at DePaul:

As you know, former professor and academic Norman G. Finkelstein is scheduled to speak in Chicago on Friday, April 16th. SJP DePaul and friends have been working diligently for this event, from securing a venue, booking his flight and hotel, and fundraising from scratch to make this event happen successfully. Everything was finally coming together, and we were all excited. Unfortunately, today we received horrible news. The event coordinator received the following email from the venue we had secured for the event:

“Good morning Shirien,

We had a Parish council meeting this past week, I notify everyone on the up coming events that are held at our church, and of course, your event was one of the topics

A few of our board members are attorneys and they are the ones that look into almost everything from the individuals that rent the gym out and if they are covered insurance wise.

they looked deeper into the Professor that will be speaking at our church and they insisted that we couldn’t be affiliated with the ideologies of Mr. Norman Finkelstein so I am sorry to say that the church is going to have to cancel and will not be able to rent the gym the night of April the 16th 2010

Please again I am very sorry for the inconvenience.”

Write a nice note to St. George Greek Orthodox Church to let them know Finkelstein should speak:

Deno Diamantakos

And if you have an alternative venue idea for April 16 in Chicago, contact organizer

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Is the U.S. Consulate Cooperating in Silencing Palestinian Activists?

Mohammed Omer, the Gazan journalist and photographer, is scheduled for a U.S. speaking tour together with Ali Abunimah.  The U.S. consulate in the Netherlands, where Omer now resides, has put an extended hold on his visa application, effectively cancelling the tour.   Omer has lived in the Netherlands since 2008, after he was detained and severely beaten by the Shin Bet when he returned to Gaza from London, where he had been awarded the prestigious Gellhorn Award for Journalism.

A similar silencing happened earlier this month in the Bay Area where I live, when the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem never responded to the visa application of Mohammed Khatib, founder and leader of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall.  He was scheduled to speak at the Sabeel Conference and at universities throughout the area.  He had been arrested by Israeli forces in 2009 on charges of throwing stones (this 36-year-old Catholic High School teacher), and later released when it was proven that that he was abroad at the time of the alleged incident. He was arrested again in January, this time charged with possession of “incitement materials.” We never got to see him. By not responding, the U.S. Consulate effectively cancelled his trip.  .

The American Civil Liberties Union has described the practice of denying visas to foreign nationals whose views the government disfavors as “ideological exclusion”, which violates our First Amendment right as Americans to hear constitutionally protected speech.  In the case of Omer and Khatib, inaction has had  the same effect as denial of their  visas, except without the explanation that a denial would require.

So it makes you wonder whether the U.S. Consulate is acting in concert with Israel to keep Palestinian nonviolent activists from getting the word out about the reality of Occupation.

We in the Bay Area were deprived of our chance to hear Mohammed Khatib speak, but there is still a window of opportunity to call on the U.S. Consulate in the Netherlands to approve Omer’s visa application so that his voice can be heard here.

U.S. consulate information:
Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688
-Carol Sanders
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Fact Check- 3 case studies in the distortion of reality and “extremizing” peace advocates

As Republican pollster (and Israeli Hasbara guru) Frank Luntz knows all too well, the relationship between reality and language is increasingly tenuous. Words are how he carefully works to shape political outcomes. But it’s also true that the rather wide space between reality and language, especially on the issue of Israel-Palestine, is where the blogosphere can make a real difference.

Here are three examples of deliberate and not so deliberate blurring of messages and how people and peace groups are routinely “extremized”, as Naomi Klein says.

CASE 1) Though I have some real disagreements with Moshe Yaroni’s post in Zeek on the Reut Institute analysis (Yaroni didn’t have the whole report at the time), he has many insightful points including his analysis of how nuanced approaches to divesting from the occupation find little reward. As one example, he looks at my group, Jewish Voice for Peace, and our campaign on Caterpillar and work with church groups on selective divestment from companies that profit from the occupation:

The response was a campaign of disinformation that cast these efforts in precisely the opposite light. Opponents of any sort of organized action against the Occupation simply said this was a boycott of Israel, ignoring completely that it was only the settlement project and the Occupation that were targeted. The strategy worked, and the Methodists and Presbyterians as well as JVP were cast as anti-Israel and as opponents of the state itself, not merely the Occupation. Anyone looking at the groups’ work on the issue would have known this to be false. Unfortunately, most believed what their opponents said.

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University of California faculty support arrested Muslim students

If you keep heckling the Israeli ambassador to the US during a talk at UC Irvine, the school has a right to throw you out of the room. And if you violate school standards, they have a right to take you to task on such violations as long as they consistently apply the standards to all students.  Any student protester knows this and makes the choice to risk those outcomes when they choose disruption over, say, really uncomfortable questions.

But do they have the right to arrest you?

Amazingly, 11 Muslim students at UC Irvine weren’t handed the usual disciplinary action for violating student codes (they each got up, made a statement and then would walk to the door to be escorted out by police). NO, they were actually arrested.

I remember doing almost the exact same thing when I was that age- a bunch of liberal students repeatedly interrupted former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft at a campus talk-only we weren’t so mad. People we knew hadn’t been killed or imprisoned. We recited Jabberwocky and got hauled out. Our punishment? Nothing.

Just change the names: “11 members of the Young Israel Alliance were arrested for heckling the Palestinian ambassador at UC Berkeley today.” No matter who it is, there’s something not right here and the answer to the over-reaction is likely outside pressure (which students who are genuinely concerned about Jewish-Muslim relations report tends to polarize and hinder, not help.)

Apparently, conservative students who committed a similar disruption last year got very different treatment. No arrest for them.

LA Jewish Journal reports in: UC Riverside Faculty Voice Support for Protesters Against Oren

Faculty at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), joined voices at UC campuses statewide in support of 11 students arrested for heckling Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during his Feb. 8 speech at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

Thirty-one professors and graduate students from several UCR departments signed a “Statement on Free Speech, Palestine and the ‘UC Irvine 11,’ ” drafted by Dylan Rodriguez, chair of the university’s Ethnic Studies department.  The March 11 pronouncement calls on the UC administration and the Orange County district attorney’s office to drop disciplinary and punitive action against eight UCI and three UCR students, which it calls “discriminatory, cynical, and politically and intellectually repressive.”

The UCI students have been charged with violations of the student codes of conduct.  Officials at UCR could not confirm whether action would be taken against their students.

“We believe that this is a cynical and opportunistic attempt at political repression that reflects the racial criminalization of young Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim men and women as actual or potential ‘terrorists.’  By way of contrast, Ethnic Studies faculty have taught courses in Ethnic Studies in which classroom proceedings were disrupted by students with opposing views, and the university administration did not pursue any disciplinary or punitive measures against them.  In fact, we have sometimes been told that such disruptions are an expression of academic free speech,” the statement said.

Rodriguez said the statement was intended to take issue with the tendency, since at least 2001, to affiliate Muslim men with terrorism within popular discourse, as well as to challenge what he sees as selective enforcement of codes of conduct by university administrators.

“People protesting is something to be expected,” he said, noting that UCR administrators did not take disciplinary action against what he called “conservative” student protesters following a similar incident last fall.  “When people get selectively subjugated to enforcement of codes of conduct, it has a chilling affect on political discussion and freedom.”

It remains to be seen whether UC Irvine administrators can prove that this is a routine response to such disruptions, or exceptional treatment consistent with our undeniable and absolutely shameful criminalization of Muslims and Arab Americans.

Meanwhile, to his credit, Michael Oren has offered to come back and have a dialogue with students. I hope the arrested students, some of whom lost close relatives during the attack on Gaza, will take him up on his offer. I really do.  It would take an incredible amount of courage and character to sit down face to face with a man who defends a massive military attack that killed your family members and destroyed schools and hospitals. If I were in their place, I’m not sure I would have that kind of inner strength. But what a meeting it could be.

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Reut Institute report author lies about Naomi Klein

Let’s review shall we?

Reporters questioned the Reut Institute about their use of the terms “sabotage” and “attack” in a set of recommendations for how the Israeli government should respond to human rights group who said things they consider a threat. In response, Reut didn’t say, “We were misunderstood and we reject violence of any kind.” But they did suggest that what they mostly meant was sabotage and digging campaigns against individuals who work for human rights organizations- nasty work pioneered by NGO Monitor. (Which may be why one acquaintance at a human rights group that does work in Palestine said that the director sent an email to staff suggesting they come forward now with any personal information that could be used against them. Sad days indeed.)

Reut Institute’s Eran Shayshon got a chance to explain the report on The Current, Canada’s flagship radio morning program : CBC Listen here.

It’s interesting that out of the 92-page report (download it all here), Naomi Klein isn’t mentioned once. Yet Shayshon confidently says that Klein, and her opposition to “Israel’s right to exist”, is one of the main reasons that Toronto is considered a hub of delegitimacy. Only problem? Klein has never been opposed to Israel’s right to exist.

(Another problem? My guess is that there’s a second report or database somewhere that is full of names of people like Klein and specific organizations conspicuously missing from the published report. They knew issuing a list of enemies of the state would cause more of a firestorm, but it’s the obvious next step when you’re fighting a war. And it works in Israel and Palestine, why not the rest of the world?)

The report also says “there was an attempt to boycott the Toronto Film Festival because it thematically spotlighted Tel Aviv”. That’s a lie too. The Toronto Declaration explicitly did not call for a boycott of the festival. It opposed showing films under a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv.

What Shayshon says about me is a flat out lie. I have made a personal choice not to advocate any particular political outcome in Israel-Palestine. He can search all my writing and public statements, he won’t find anything. What I do advocate, and what the BDS campaign advocates, is for Israel to abide by all applicable international laws. Any political outcome — whether one state, two state or more — must abide by these universal non-discriminatory principles. Though I do have personal preferences, I have no secret agenda and would support any outcome that conformed to these principles.
Shayshon’s other big lie is his claim that I oppose “Israel’s right to exist”; indeed that I “have stated it out[right].” Once again, I challenge him to find one single example in anything I have said or written that would in any way support this claim. He won’t find it.
This lie could just be slander, and attempt to inflict more “shame” on BDS advocates, as the leaked internal document explained to all of us recently. But I suspect that if challenged, Shayshon would simply claim that to support BDS is to oppose Israel’s existence, a claim I have heard before. This is interesting. Since the unequivocal goal of BDS is to force Israel to abide by international law, what Shayshon seems to be saying by implication is that Israel cannot exist within the confines of international law. I would never make such an argument but it does explain the recent aggressive “lawfare” campaign taking aim at the very existence of these laws.
One last point: if supporting boycotts against a place means supporting its annihilation (the claim being made here and elsewhere), what precisely are we to make of the Gaza seige, infinitely more brutal than anything BDS advocates? Does that mean Israel is denying the right of Gaza to exist?
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Omar Barghouti asks Jewish Federation to a debate on BDS

Omar Barghouti got a “No thank you” response from the San Francisco area Jewish Community Relations Council head Rabbi Doug Kahn, the key author of recent McCarthyite Federation funding guidelines, but he did finally get his BDS debate– with well-known peacenik Rabbi Arthur Waskow–on Democracy Now. Meanwhile, here’s Barghouti’s Open Letter from Kabobfest:

by Omar Barghouti, a leader of the international movement to boycott Israel

Open Letter to Rabbi Doug Kahn

Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council

It has recently come to my attention that pending the advice of a working group of which you were a member, the Jewish Community Federation has chosen to itself boycott groups advocating a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) program targeting Israel. As one of the founding members of the global BDS campaign, I cannot but note the irony of your use of boycott as a tool to suppress views that support the boycott against Israel. I can only conclude that you do approve of the efficacy and appropriateness of boycotts, as a non-violent form of activism and a catalyst for change, but condemn them when the change they set out to achieve is related to ending Israel’s occupation as well as its grave violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

For years, Palestinian civil society has been advocating the tool of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, as a means of challenging Israel’s impunity and redressing the wrongs done to the Palestinian people by the violent and oppressive Israeli policies and actions. Wouldn’t you agree, given you in-principle embrace of boycotts, that this effective, non-violent form of struggle is far superior, morally speaking, to the “tactics” of white phosphorous, Walls, siege, forced displacement and apartheid?

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San Francisco Jewish Federation officially excommunicates large swath of Jewish population

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Jewish Federation has made it official.

Here in one of the most cosmopolitan, diversity-friendly and culture-loving places on earth, there is a new litmus test for Jewish identity and it has absolutely nothing to do with religious practice, cultural expression, personal history or the values you embrace. Membership in the Jewish community has been officially reduced to one and only one question- do you UNCONDITIONALLY love Israel?

Do you love Israel so much that you are willing to stand by and do nothing as it destroys itself and everyone it controls by repeatedly violating international law, sending its youngest citizens to enforce the 43-year occupation of another people,  imprisoning them, killing them with impunity, denying them the right to health and education and work and claiming it’s all in the name of security while taking more Palestinian land and water and trees each day.

In other words, are you willing to love Israel to death?

If the answer is YES, you’re in! If the answer is NO, and you have the chutzpah to embrace the principled, creative, peaceful methods of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Gandhi as a way to pressure Israel to  help provide true democracy for all Israelis and Palestinians, then you’re out!

Prompted by the controversy over the showing of the film Rachel at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the federation just announced this stunning set of McCarthyite policy guidelines which seek to sever any public ties that ANY Bay area grantees -including progressive synagogues and arts and educational organizations-  have with groups that support Boycotts, Divestment or Sanctions in whole or part, or who “delegitimize Israel” (according to who exactly? The judges who hold the Federation purse strings, that’s who).

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