Monthly Archives: April 2010

Prominent Bay Area Jews say NO to SF Jewish Federation guidelines

Remarkable. A group of influential Bay Area Jews- Jewish scholars, rabbis, organizational heads and more- got together to take an ad out in the Jewish Daily Forward “warning” other Jewish communities about the Jewish Federation’s new restrictive funding guidelines (which we have called McCarthyite here).It will be fascinating to see the response from the Federation system both here and across the country. Many of these critics are from the heart of the institutional Jewish world. Will the SF Federation change the guidelines, or punish? Either way, these are brave thinkers with a clear sense of history. Anyone who values free thought-especially in the Jewish world- owes them all a debt of gratitude.

Their group’s press release states:

An ad hoc group of prominent San Francisco Bay Area Jews is publishing an “Open Letter to All Jewish Communities” in the national Jewish newspaper, The Forward, warning of an upsurge in efforts to silence debate about the Israel-Palestine conflict inside the American Jewish community. The Open Letter advocates instead for “unfettered freedom of speech, open-minded public education, respectful discussion, and willingness to engage in that time-honored Jewish tradition of fruitful debate and meaningful dialogue.”
The Open Letter warns that new San Francisco Jewish Community Federation Guidelines “on potentially controversial Israel-related programming” will affect “the range of American Jewish voices on issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
According to the Open Letter, the Guidelines “limit debate, threaten dissent, and establish, for the first time, a litmus test for loyalty to Israel as a condition of funding.”
The Open Letter is signed by more than 70 prominent Bay Area scholars, rabbis, philanthropists, artists and community leaders, including Hebrew literature scholars Robert Alter and Chana Kronfeld, Jewish Studies scholars Steven Zipperstein and David Biale, founding president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and former Knesset member Marcia Freedman, and Rabbis David Cooper and Lavey Derby.

Forward Ad: Prominent Bay Area Jews Warn About SF Jewish Federation Guidelines 4/10

UC Santa Cruz cancels Israeli speakers. Israeli Consulate Outraged-not!

Here’s the short version. An April 20 talk by Palestinian and Jewish Israeli citizens on the cost of war and Israeli militarism is canceled at the last minute by UC Santa Cruz administration after some 90 Jewish students protest and 2 faculty write hard-hitting letter comparing proposed talk to hanging a noose to intimidate African American students. Talk organizer finds alternative venue anyway, but Israeli peace group co-sponsoring talk gets really ticked off and writes even harder-hitting letter to faculty and students. Anti-Defamation League, Israeli Consul General say nothing about Israeli citizens being banned from a University of California (UC) campus.

UCSC cedes point, that criticism of Israel is attack on Jewish American students- while Israeli-Jews say to American Jews, “get your own Jewish identity without sacrificing our children for your fantasy.”

Here’s a response from Israeli feminist anti-militarist  group New Profile to the suggestion by UCSC faculty and a student that the speaking tour, which includes a New Profile member, threatens the student’s Jewish identity. (Below this quote, should you hunger to read the whole megillah, you’ll find the original statement from organizer Scott Kennedy, the complaint letter from the Benjamins, and the New profile response.)

Furthermore, while we can sympathize with the student, Jenna Miller, that Israel is central to her identity,” she lives in America (as do both of you, apparently), whereas the speakers live in Israel, as do we.

We therefore pose this question to you, since you appear to condone Israel’s colonization of Palestine: Just how many more generations of our children, grand children, and great grand children, and our neighbors’ children and their children, et al. do you wish to fight and die so that you, Jenna, and others like you can feel that this place somewhere out there that is called Israel is central to your identity, disregarding the price we in Israel pay, namely that of burying our young. Till today Israel has seen 12 wars and military campaigns—-yes 12! In less than 62 years, with the next war always just around the corner!!! ….

How many more Israeli parents and families must become bereaved and grieve while you ply your pen to keep students and faculty from hearing truths—perhaps the saddest truth of all being that excepting war zones as Afghanistan, Israel is the least safe place in the world for Jews. Nowhere else have so many Jews been killed since WWII. No where else is every Jewish child obliged to conscript at the age of 18. No where else is there so much post-traumatic distress symptoms among Jewish youth. Please convey this to Jenna Miller.

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Boycotting Democracy at the Davis Coop

Boycott campaigns are always controversial, even at food cooperatives. So much so that it is advisable to have a policy for dealing with them. The Davis Food Coop has one, a wise move in California. So why aren’t they following their own policy?

Well, apparently there are boycotts and then there are boycotts.
The Davis Committee for Palestinian Rights (DCPR) believe they gathered enough signatures for a vote on a boycott of Israeli products. However, even as they collected signatures, the coop management has informed them that they will not be allowed a vote. The reason is that the vote is likely to be “controversial.” What’s more the coop board  raised the specter of federal anti-boycott rules. There is no evidence that the law, intended to apply to Arab States during the 1970′s oil embargo, would ever be applied to a Davis Food Coop. The office of the federal government that tracks violations of the law lists only Arab States, no other campaigns. Eventually, according to organizer Mikos Fabersunne, the coop backed away from that argument and emphasized in fairly blunt terms the threatened financial impact of the coop by people upset with the decision. Boycott opponents echoed this sentiment.
If the issue is indeed controversial, isn’t that all the more reason to follow one’s own rules?
The local organized Jewish community, namely the board co-President of Congregation Bet Haverim Karen Firestein, is opposed to the boycott and said in a written statement on the synagogue’s website , “If the Co-op becomes a political tool for those who want to commandeer it for ideological reasons, it will no longer be able to serve the entire Davis community. Long term members who do not want to be associated with the boycott’s message will have no choice but to resign from the Coop and patronize other markets.In other words, a boycott!

Why can’t the coop board members, if they feel such a significant portion of the membership is opposed, simply hold a vote? Similar resolutions were defeated overwhelmingly at the Ann Arbor People’s Food Coop, Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, and my own Philadelphia neighborhood’s Weavers’ Way. The coop board’s justification that anything besides food quality is hard to enforce rings similarly. As much as I would like to believe my fair trade coffee or my locally grown beet tastes better than the alternative, coops are about much more than the flavor of the food. Citing dubious legal precedent and attempting to stifle controversy prematurely seemed geared to inflame the situation further. There is nothing inherently antisemitic about boycotts, as evidenced by the Firestein threatening one herself. In contrast to the notion that he is singling out Israel, organizer Fabersunne supports it as a tactic against China, Sudan, and Burma, the latter two already being on the United States’ sanctions list.  As for the other group opposed to the boycott, the Davis Interfaith Peace Coalition, their only Google search result was an event to say how great Israel was, suggesting they are hardly advancing Peace and Justice in the Middle East. It seems they were explicitly founded to counter the BDS movement.

Congregation Bet Haverim itself had a brush with controversy when it had a speaker from the Council on American Islamic Relations in 2007, in which the audience had several outbursts and one attendee had to be asked to leave. This briefly led to a ban on “controversial events,” which seems to have been lifted as the syngagogue recently hosted a panel in which anti Occupation activists (who were not present) such as Jewish American Anna Baltzer were accused of being antisemitic. The synagogue also cancelled an April 2009 talk by David Wesley on “Jews, Arabs and Government Officials: Power Relations Inside Israel.” But the past controversy and the existence of the group “Jewish Peace Alternatives,” suggests the synagogue has a broader range of views that is being represented by its Board Co-President. And if it wants to attract unaffiliated members, I would suggest that stifling votes is not the way to do it.

Meanwhile, the DCPR activists are planning future boycott actions at neighborhood supermarkets, and the BDS movement shows no sign of dying out. Nor does the effort to stifle it. Congregation Bet Haverim actually adopted a similar position to  the San Francisco Jewish Federation, banning speakers who oppose Israel as a Jewish or Democratic state. In practice, this has meant a much wider category of speaker cannot get synagogue endorsements. According to member Sarah Pattison, the local group Jewish Peace Alternatives decided to “err on the side of caution” and did not even bother to ask if they could sponsor Breaking the Silence, though there is no evidence that these Israeli Soldiers are against the Jewish State. Here in Philadelphia, the local Hillel has passed a similar policy, and then gone on to strategize in the local Jewish press about how speakers such as Hanan Ashrawi might have their lectures “challenged from the inside” at schools with a small Jewish population.

It seems likely that this a coordinated strategy on the part of Israel’s defenders, and will be fought out locality by locality. But the overall futility of trying to demonize this nonviolent tactic seems to me clearly unlikely to be ethical or effective. Longtime coop and synagogue member Gene Borack put it best when he stated his belief in “populist democracy, that people who have all the information will make the best decisions for themselves and their families.” I can’t think of a better summary of the mission of Muzzlewatch (and our sister blog The Only Democracy?) Thanks to the hard work of the BDS activists, the information is getting out there. Now when will people really be able to make those decisions, in Davis or elsewhere?
-Jesse Bacon

The Israel Lobby’s Smear Campaign and Toronto Gay Pride

Are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities the next battle ground for the struggle over Palestinian equal rights? They certainly are in San Francisco, where this month’s controversial Out in Israel festival seeks in part to erase the occupation by promoting Israel as a gay mecca, and in Toronto, where a nasty smear campaign is being waged to ban a group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the annual Pride parade.

What’s remarkable about Toronto isn’t that some oppose QuAIA’s presence in the parade–in the classic tradition of LGBT parades, which are by their very nature acts of political resistance, QuAIA’s message is challenging and it’s meant to be.  What’s amazing is that their opponents– who object to the term “apartheid” despite its almost commonplace usage by many Israelis–have resorted to openly duplicitous and unethical means for literally banishing the group and harming the parade to achieve their aims.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. You can’t ban a group for using the word ‘apartheid’, so you have to fabricate evidence to suggest the group is a hate group. And that’s exactly what’s happening to QuAIA, which, surprise surprise, includes a lot of self-loving anti-occupation Jews.

The formation of Canada’s Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) was an inevitable response to Brand Israel efforts to “Pinkwash” Israel. That is, make the occupation disappear and fuel anti-Arab contempt by promoting Israel as a Middle Eastern “modern, Occidental and liberal” mecca in contrast to its “anti-gay”, “darkly exotic” and entirely unsympathetic Oriental neighbors. Yeah, the bigotry is that obvious. (And exactly how are you supposed to organize for LGBT rights when you’re literally fighting for your survival while under a 43 year long occupation?)

But groups like B’nai Brith (which, in Canada, is inexplicably to the right of AIPAC) and the Simon Weisenthal Center, as well as –apparently acting on his own–a lawyer named Martin Gladstone, have been pushing back and demanding that Toronto Pride ban the group from marching in any future parades.

The curiously right-wing Canadian B’nai Brith, which, as Andy Lehrer of Independent Jewish Voices mockingly said, “discovered gay rights this week,” has been complaining about the “hijacking” of gay agenda. So they’ve been going after Pride advertisers.

Gay lawyer Gladstone may be genuinely concerned about what he feels is a hostile anti-Israeli environment at the pride parade, but that wouldn’t explain why he has resorted to a series of unethical actions from possibly trying to stack community focus groups, to creating a propaganda video (see below) with generous footage of anti-Semitic signs from anti-war marches in…. another country! His charges, which have found their way to the mainstream media even after they were debunked, include false claims about a QuAIA chant and transparently false charges that the contingent included anti-Semites who sported swastikas.

QuAIA responds to these false charges here- but Gladstone’s video is still making the rounds, which amusingly asserts that if you march in a gay pride parade you automatically endorse every single group in the parade (tell that to the queer quakers and the LGBT Veterans group.)

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AIPAC- We’ll take over the UC Berkeley student government

Why both with moral persuasion when you can just threaten to take over government… everywhere?

On March 18, UC Berkeley’s student senate voted 16 to 4 in favor of divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. A week later, in a move oddly predicted by AIPAC’s Jonathan Kessler at AIPAC’s policy conference, the vote was vetoed by the student senate president. (Students hope the senate will overturn the veto next Wednesday.)

When asked about fighting the Berkeley pro-divest initiative, Kessler said, “we’re going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote…This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capital. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”  Kessler is at 3:58 in video below. Student elections are happening now at UC Berkeley and you can bet everyone’s looking for the AIPAC-Manchurian candidate, if such a thing exists.