Monthly Archives: August 2010

How to be a Muzzler.

The sad case of Iman Rauf is bringing the practice of muzzling to a much wider audience. The potential target is literally concrete: a thirteen story building rather than someone’s job or right to speak. And the victim, is unusually well connected, an envoy of the US Government.

But the process is much the same. So for all the people who’ve joined us late, it would be a good time to write the definitive guide to “muzzling” debate on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

First, pick someone whose crime is not their outlandish views, but their very reasonableness. A few out-of -context quotes, and that very reasonableness can appear sinister, evidence of a hidden agenda!

Second, in addition to being reasonable, this person should have some particular influence credibility. There is no percentage in gagging a random nut on the internet. Particular points will accrue to you if the person is seeking an expanded role for Arab or Muslim Americans in public life or an expanded debate within the Jewish community about Israel. Neither development can be tolerated, for the Jewish community must remain utterly lockstep on Israel. Who knows to what use Jewish Americans with dissenting views might put their ethical traditions or feeling of connection to others? And what would occur if Arab and Muslim Americans could report on the Middle East, raise money for charities in their countries of origin, or build community centers like everyone else?

If you have done your homework well on the first and second points, this third should go without saying, but the person you are targetting should actually care what other people think. While hard line lunatics can sometimes be useful, they only derive gratification on your attacks on them. Whereas the tolerant liberalism of the muzzlee and their actual opposition to anti-Semitism can be their own undoing! It’s no fun if they don’t cry.

Once the first three conditions are met, mazel tov, you have your victim, now go get ‘em! Here’s a tip, if you are a liberal-seeming organization, let conservative blowhards do your dirty work. Their accusations will be eagerly reported by journalists who believe the only “real Americans” are white rural protestant blowhards and the people they like, not coffee drinking liberals like themselves. Once the reporters do their work, good liberals will be earnestly repeating slanders, after all they read them in the New York Times!

If this muzzling attempt is an internal Jewish community affair, you can either use the Jewish version of the right wing blowhards or if the community is small enough, create a new group! You could name it something like “Jewish Americans for Peace, Kugel, and Continuity” or something equally heart-tugging. In the post-Madoff age where so many Jewish organizations have gone belly-up, there is valuable community growth to be had from muzzling!

Ok, now to actually apply the muzzle. Make sure you begin your speech/ blogspot/ oped by saying how against the thing you are doing you are. You are NOT against Muslims or an Open Debate on Israel, just THIS Muslim or Open Debate. And every other one you have met. The word “BUT” can be given a world of innuendo and meaning here.

Congratulations, you are now a muzzler. But sadly your work is not done. In the good old days, it would have been but now the other side has blogs of their own, and plasma televisions. They will complain. You should also be prepared to alienate everyone in your community, many of them younger, who are disgusted that you engage in such activity. This should be your cue to lament how “we are losing the young people” and plug the indoctrination program of your choice.

Your work is finally done. Your reasonable, open-minded opponent will now lack a platform for their speech/reportage/Islamic community center and you can lament how there is no one to talk to. Your supporters will be suitably terrified by the enemies you have conjured under every rock and lower Manhattan block. Any backlash against your group for bullying and moral blindness will only feed those fears. Most meaningfully of all, Israeli government officials will thank you, for you will have provided an invaluable distraction from their latest outrage against Palestinians. So everyone will be happy.

Until the day when this game no longer works. When your community begins to hold you accountable to their actual needs and values. When Israel’s abuses can no longer be justified as self-defense. When Muslim and Arab in the United States and Israel/Palestine no longer accept second class citizenship or none at all.

So your last move should be to hope that day has not yet arrived, and repeat the entire cycle until you no longer can.

–Jesse Bacon

New Israel Fund, itself a victim, considers (and rejects) some muzzling of its own. UPDATE: the muzzlers fail.

I don’t have a lot to add to Richard Silverstein’s sobering post on the New Israel Fund’s proposal to denying grants to groups that do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The Forward brings distressing news that the New Israel Fund has prepared draft funding guidelines that would bar any Israeli NGO which did not endorse Israel as a Jewish state.

I have, throughout the Im Tirzu attacks, stood by NIF and championed its cause.  But if it follows through on such guidelines it will have succumbed to the venom spewed by Im Tirzu.  It will have caved to pressure from the Israeli right to conform its mission to a pro-Zionist one, rather than one that embraces the notion of Israel as a state that empowers all its citizens, including those who are not Jewish.

Silverstein goes on to point out how if this is a response to right wing attacks on New Israel Fund, it is unlikely to appease those critics.

The NIF, under enormous pressure from the Israeli right, determines that it must compromise with its values in order to appease its enemies? Does NIF really believe this will protect it from the worst of the hatred coming its way?

If this is what NIF’s leaders are thinking they are sadly mistaken.  If they cave, the right will see this as a sign of weakness and it will crowd in for what it hopes to be the kill.  And such compromise will destroy the organization’s credibility among its Arab donees.  Who in the Palestinian community will want to accept money from it under such conditions?

We have also supported the New Israel Fund many times on these pages, and been inspired by their work. One of my first posts here at Muzzlewatch was how impressed I was by a panel at JStreet’s conference organized by the New Israel Fund. Its most powerful moment came when a Jewish Israeli, Hagai El-Ad of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said he was not afraid of the Palestinian narrative of their own dispossession in the  creation of Israel being taught in Israeli schools. He was afraid of an Israel where such a thing would not be possible.

I think the New Israel Fund should apply the words of their donee El-Ad in this case. NIF has nothing to fear from groups who have a different vision of just what a “New Israel” would look like. Provided they advocate their vision democratically, such groups, many of them Palestinian citizens of Israel, can only strengthen the democratic values that sustain Jewish Israelis as well, values that the New Israel Fund has supported in the past. What they should fear is a country that outlaws such alternative visions, a country that would make it far more difficult for the NIF to do its important work.

UPDATE: Richard Silverstein reports that the attempts to muzzle grantees were defeated. Good news!

My source tells me the proposed guidelines will include a provision acknowledging Israel as a Jewish homeland.  But the language will also affirm that Israel is:

…A democracy dedicated to the full equality of all its citizens and communities.

Not perfect language, but Silverstein beileves the compromise to be in good faith.

–Jesse Bacon

“Anti-Zionists” scare volunteer soldier

I subscribe to the American Jewish Committee’s newsletter, and it’s an itneresting window into their psychology. As readers of this blog know, involving oneself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict invariably provokes strong reaction. My perception is that you are at much greater risk of your job if you are seen as “taking the side” of Palestinians, say if you are a respected journalist.

The American Jewish Committee though is not interested in such victims of the conflict, and certainly has not spoken out against the economic blockade of Gaza or people like Abdallah Abu Rahmah who are imprisoned for the “crime” of organizing peaceful protests.

So who does the AJC defend instead? An Irish woman who volunteered for the israeli Army. Ben Cohen writes in the Huffington Post,

It’s very rare that you come across someone deserving of the title “hero” – or “heroine,” for that matter – but I just did.

Cliona Campbell is a 19-year old student from Cork, in Ireland. She is something of a prodigy; in 2008, she was a finalist in the Young Journalist of the Year competition run by British broadcaster Sky News. Last year, she won the essay-writing competition run by the law faculty at University College in Cork, one of the more prestigious institutions of higher education in Europe. She has, it would seem, everything going for her.

Except that right now, Cliona lives in fear. She’s become an object of vilification in parts of the Irish press. Grown men have walked to up to her in the street and abused her. Browsing in a clothes store, the security guard recognized her and showered her with insults. Threats have been emailed to her.

And all this because Cliona spent a couple of months in Israel as a volunteer for the IDF.

The article then goes on to complain about how the “pro-Hamas” International Solidarity Movement volunteers are treated like “Anne Frank,”(a reference to Rachel Corrie who unlike Cliona Campbell was killed while volunteering in the Gaza Strip)  and how people accused Israel of “murder” in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which occurred while this woman did her volunteer shift.

While I don’t think anyone should be threatened for their views, I find Ben Cohen’s outrage a bit much, given that this women did not simply visit to “see for herself,” she volunteered in an occupying army. In contrast, International Solidarity Movement volunteers do not in fact “volunteer for Hamas. From the group’s website,

The ISM is not affiliated with any one political party. The movement is open to all individuals and groups who choose nonviolent direct-action and other forms of unarmed resistance as a method for confronting and challenging the Israeli occupation.

Ben Cohen’s hero has an answer for me.

But why the army? Because over the years, I had seen the Israelis suffer incessant rocket attacks from terrorists and, when they eventually retaliated, be castigated when the same terrorists placed their own civilian people in the line of fire as ‘human shields.’”

I will leave it to the mountain of human rights reports that debunk Campbell’s mischaracterization of who is responsible for Palestinian civilian deaths and document the Israeli army’s use of human shields. But I disagree that her one month volunteer gig did anything to make such rocket attacks on Israeli civilians less likely, only a just solution can do that. I would note that the “vilification in parts of the Irish Press” seems to consist of one letter to the editor calling her brainwashed. And I am fascinated by Ben Cohen’s claims regarding the Israeli Defense Forces.

This keen observation captures the essence of that much maligned word, “Zionism.” If Zionism is about Jewish empowerment – in other words, engineering a state of affairs in which Jews exercise control over their security and destiny – then the IDF is the most tangible expression of that principle. For someone who is intellectually sympathetic to the fate of Jews without sovereignty, the IDF becomes a compelling story.

Cohen does not even try to claim that the people who bullied Cliona Campbell were motivated by anti-Semitism; the term does not appear in the article. But in the very title, he slanders an entire political philosophy anti-Zionism as being the force motivating the accosting thugs and hateful emailers and engages in McCarthyist guilt by association.

What is it about the nature of the Palestinian solidarity movement that enables a defenseless young woman to become an object of hatred? And how have those anti-Zionists who sit in the media and the academy, who would doubtless throw up their hands in horror at being associated with such thuggish behavior, contributed to the atmosphere of loathing which increasingly surrounds those who publicly support Israel? Are they in any way culpable for those spiteful individuals who email this pretty redhead to tell her that she “looks rough?”

Um, no, unnamed anti-Zionist intellectuals are not responsible for random sexist emails . And none of this is remotely as bad a violation of Ireland’s “democratic norms” as is Israel’s imprisonment of unarmed activists like Abdallah Abu Rahmah. Or how about the treatment of member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi? So deep is Cohen’s sense of victimization that he must search the world to find a fellow victim, and he must equate opposition to the Israeli Army as tantamount to opposing Jewish self-determination. I believe Jewish self-determination is much more threatened by declining democracy here in the United States and in Israel than a badly behaved Irish security guard. Why doesn’t Cohen speak out against that?

–Jesse Bacon

The BDS Movement: Now with Plasma TV’s.

Sue Fisckoff writes in the JTA about the off season preparations of Team Israel, aka Hillel, the Jewish student organization. The article highlights the very real panic the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has caused and its automatic equation with anti-Semitism in the minds of some.

Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month. “There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.

We begin with some descriptions of actual anti-Semitism, namely an ad denying the Holocaust and anonymous internet posts, which sound bad if not exactly a groundswell of hatred. But within a sentence, we move to an unnamed professor charged with “making openly false statements about Israel.” No examples are given, but the professor whoever she or he is, is now in league with neo-Nazis and people who believe Jews had it coming. Whatever the real threats this student faces are now conflated with political views that differ from hers, and it sounds like Hillel’s trainings on Israel advocacy are doing nothing to sharpen that distinction. The article does not give any other examples of the titular “anti-Israel” sentiment “on the lesson plan,” implying in the classroom.

Rather, the focus is on the BDS movement, which is predicted to be “better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic” this school year. The first two seem quite likely, but no evidence of the latter is given. Instead, anti Divestment students are warned that their foes have…better technology!

Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.

Now we come to the heart of the matter, divestment resolutions on campus.

Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, activists say, the charged atmosphere leaves lasting wounds.

Actually, Berkeley passed one too, and it was vetoed by a campus President. And what are those lasting wounds? Seeing Jews who disagree with you.

When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April, Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing across the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.

The article does not actually interview any of these strange creatures, these Jews for BDS, But their very existence is painful,and Copans feels bad for them.

‘Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,’ she said. ‘I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.’

However much pain is being felt, it seems clear that Hillel has NOT drawn the lesson that truly representing all Jewish students means allowing for a range of positions on Israel. Instead, students with differing views or who just don’t want to engage in this debate are compared to a piece of defective furniture.

‘For the average student, Israel is a problem — and they don’t want more problems,’ said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. ‘It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.’

Wayne Firestone, the Hillel executive, said: ‘We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear.

We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.’

Free advice, Michael and Wayne: lay off the carpentry metaphors, stick to the actual anti-Semitsim your students face, and stand up for them and their values, not the “Israel issue.”

PS The article also interviews StandWithUs as a “pro-Israel” organization, last seen on Muzzlewatch making Jewish Voice for Peace members feel highly unsafe with slurs and threats on their family members.

–Jesse Bacon

Hudson’s co-founder, the Israeli academic purge and the subversion of US Middle East policy

Reposted from Didi Remez’s Coteret blog.

Evidence is mounting that the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) — an Israeli NGO at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to purge Israeli Universities of faculty and programs deemed “left-wing” — is a creature of  The Hudson Institute, a major Washington based neoconservative think-tank, which played an active role in shaping the Bush administration’s Middle East policies.

Hudson is the primary financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of the organizations’s total reported multi-year funding, but the connection does not end there.

Max SingerMax Singer

Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, its former President and current Senior Fellow, is also the IZS’s Research Director. At least according to his bio on the Hudson website: The IZS site only identifies him as a member of the Advisory Committee. Its 2006 brochure (page 8), however, states that he is a member of the International Board of Governors and as one of the ex-officio members of the Projects Committee, which “as such, are invited to all deliberative sessions and events.” According to the IZS’s verbal report to the to the Israeli Registrar of Associations for 2008 (the last one filed), Singer’s wife, Suzanne, is one of three members of the NGO’s “Council”, the sovereign decision-making body under Israeli law.

As the IZS’s Research Director, Singer would presumably be responsible for the research that pressured the President of Tel-Aviv University to take the extraordinary step of examining the syllabi of his institution’s Sociology Department for “left-wing bias”. The introduction to the IZS’s 2006 brochure (page 1), which Singer co-signed, indicates that he saw this type of activity as part of the organization’s strategic purpose:

IZS 2006 Brochure

The IZS will help liberate the public discourse in Israeli society from the self-imposed constraints of the prevalent dogma and internalized notions of the politically correct. Israeli society needs to be freed from the acceptance of double standards so that we can become comfortable asserting our own national purpose as a sovereign Jewish community.

This goal would fit well within the stated purpose of a Hudson Institute project, which was launched at the same time as funding of the IZS began (emphasis in the original):

The Future of Zionism. The Center for Middle East Policy is launching a multi-year project to examine the future of Zionism and its implications for the State of Israel. Israel faces an ideological crisis: As the recent Gaza pullout showed, societal divisions between secular and religious Israelis and between left and right wing camps have become so pronounced that they threaten to overpower the Zionist consensus that traditionally unified the nation. [Hudson Institute Form 990 Report to the IRS for 2005, page 23].

For a generation, Singer has been involved in designing and promoting aggressive US foreign policy. In the early 1980′s he was on the board of Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA), a controversial organization involved in the Iran-Contras scandal. In 2002, he published The Many Compelling Reasons for War with Iraq.

A Democratic administration is in power in Washington and Singer has moved to Jerusalem, so he has found a new instrument for beltway influence: The government of Israel. From a July 17 policy note published by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University (emphasis mine):

To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make.

Netanyahu’s Senior Diplomatic Adviser, Ron Dermer, seems to have acted on this advice, incurring the wrath of Rahm Emanuel. From Ben Caspit’s August 19 column in Maariv:

Emanuel was angry, he claimed, because Dermer briefed certain Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, against the President and and Emanuel himself.

It’s better not to ask questions

Here’s a lesson in democracy. In preparation for the upcoming November elections a group of local activists sent a questionnaire to the 85 candidates from their county running for seats in the state legislature. They hoped the information they’d receive would encourage debate and allow voters to make better decisions at the ballot box.

What did they get instead? They got slammed. Their survey was called “abhorrent and repulsive,” and the newspaper that brought the charges against them ignored their calls for a reasonable policy debate and did not allow them to respond with as little as a letter to the editor.

The candidate survey from Peace Action Montgomery came under attack for a single question in it, that – you guessed it – addressed the Israeli occupation.

Del. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery), one of the candidates receiving the survey, issued a public letter calling the questionnaire “anti-Semitic” and promising to encourage fellow candidates to ignore it.

Anti-Semitic? You be the judge.

Question 5 is composed of only three sentences. The first two are statements of facts:

1. “In the past, the Maryland state legislature has exercised its power to order the state’s pension system to divest its holdings in companies that are complicit in illegal activities in other countries.”

2. “The World Court has ruled that Israel’s separation wall and settlements in the West Bank are illegal.”

Based on those facts, a legitimate policy question is asked:

“Would you support a similar divestment bill targeting companies that knowingly participate in these illegal activities in Israel?”

The question does not single out Jews. It does not even single out Israel. It does single out actions that break international law. What’s wrong with that?

Ask Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who described the questionnaire by Peace Action Montgomery as “abhorrent and repulsive.” The JCRC holds its own set of candidate forums and distributes questionnaires to inform its members. But apparently others cannot do as much.

This whole controversy erupted on the front page of the local Washington Jewish Week (“Parsing the D-word”). 

Peace Action Montgomery was quoted in the D-article, but its letter to the editor following the publication of the slander was never printed. In that letter, Peace Action Montgomery called for an open, reasonable debate on the merits of BDS, pro and con. The group even invited the paper that slandered it to co-moderate the debate. But the Washington Jewish Week has chosen to ignore the invitation altogether. What are they so afraid of?

We print here what the Washington Jewish week would not publish:

“Parsing the D Word” (July 29) not only pointed out the controversy over using divestment as a strategy to encourage Israel to abide by international laws regarding human rights; it also included statements by an unidentified Jewish backer to MD Delegate, Jim Pettit, that slammed Peace Action Montgomery as “a façade” and questioned its legitimacy as an organization that truly promotes peace. In reality, anyone who took the time to review our activities would see that we have consistently opposed military interventions and U.S. funding of ALL military occupations, but particularly those in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, since they garner by far the largest chunk of U.S. taxpayer dollars. We also vehemently oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry and are offended at being defamed for our support for human rights, protection of civil rights and opposition to violations of the rule of law.

Our question to the Washington Jewish Week is why the published article neglected to point out that our letter in response to Delegate Kramer invited him to join us in a public debate on the issue of how best to advance a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with Washington Jewish Week as a co-moderator of the event, along with a representative of another organization.

We have had no response to that invitation and so propose it again. We hope that Del. Kramer and/or Washington Jewish Week will accept this invitation for a much needed dialogue on this significant issue.