Monthly Archives: March 2012

Jewish Community Relations Council of SF to young Jews: You can’t speak here

We said that restrictive funding guidelines written by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of San Francisco, and implemented by the Bay Area’s Jewish Community Federation, would be used as a form of good old fashioned banishment of those who don’t toe the line on Israel. In this letter just released today, see how the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) was pressured to cancel an entire panel, “Reclaiming Jewish Activism: Re-discovering Voices of Our Ancestors,” organized by members of Workmen’s Circle and Progressive Jewish Alliance. The Jewish Community Federation is a major funder of BJE.

The problem? Not the topic. Just one of the panelists’ associations. Rae Abileah, who works with Code Pink and is a member of the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace, happens to be one of the Bay Area’s most inspiring and heartfelt young Jewish social justice activists. She was going to talk about her great uncle, the Israeli peace activist Joseph Abileah.

The great news is that socially and politically diverse SF-based Congregation Sha’ar Zahav has no such problems with the panel (or, to cut to the chase: funding) and is sponsoring the panel there on May 24.

While the JCRC/Fed will argue this is not a message to all young Jews, just to Rae and her many colleagues and friends, it’s clear that this move will resonate far and wide among young people who wonder rightly if there is a future for them inside the Jewish communal world. The letter (full version embedded below) says:

From our discussions, we understand that the event was cancelled by the Jewish Community Library, in consultation with its parent organization, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), consultant-advisor to the local Jewish Community Federation Endowment. Federation funds support many BJE programs.

The Federation’s 2010 revised funding guidelines, which prohibit grant recipients from associating with organizations and individuals who oppose its strong support for Israel, apparently triggered the cancellation. Of specific concern was panelist Rae Abileah’s work with an organization that opposes occupation profiteering and supports the boycott of products made in illegal Israeli settlements. Ms. Abileah is not officially representing her organization but speaking about the work of her great-uncle, a spiritual Zionist nominated by fellow musician Yehudi Menuhin for numerous peace awards.

Six decades after McCarthyism’s assault on progressives and their values, we reassert that censorship by association is dangerous and unconscionable: that it subverts truth, unity, and democracy. Need we point out the chilling effect of the Federation’s exclusionary funding guidelines –adopted in response to criticism of its support for the 2010 Jewish Film Festival, after screening of a documentary about Rachel Corrie — on dialogue about Israel within our community.

Here’s the whole letter. Click on first button at bottom of image for a full screen view.  Hover over other buttons to find those that allow you to share or download. Or go here.

Inspired by the attempts to police thought here in the Bay Area, Jewish Daily Forward editorial cartoonist Eli Valley has an old cartoon that refers to the “Frisco way- toe the line or say hello to the blacklist.” h/t Richard Silverstein. Seems appropriate.

-Cecilie Surasky, Muzzlewatch

Adrienne Rich at the JCCSF, a real hero

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted here on January 26, 2007. We thought that re-posting it now would be a fitting tribute to a profoundly courageous and thoughtful hero who passed away this week. Adrienne Rich z”l.

“[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holdsA Rich it hostage.”

Adrienne Rich has been honored with almost every award a poet could dream of winning. But it’s not just her mind and heart that puts mere mortals to shame, but her courage.

Rich once refused to accept the National Book Award for poetry individually, and instead shared it with her 2 other nominees at the time, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. Later, she refused the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton, telling him “the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.”

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Muzzling Roundup: Attacking Iran, Dershowitz v. MJ Rosenberg, Harvard One-State Conference

It’s been a few weeks of major Muzzling attempts on Israel/Palestine. Last week in Washington, DC, AIPAC held their annual conference, or shall we say chorus, where over half the US Congress and thousands of Likud supporters cheered on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that Iran’s potentially-maybe-would-be nuclear capacity is the same thing as Auschwitz, a move some keen observers see as making it that much harder for Netanyahu not to attack Iran. As Jon Stewart makes only too clear, American politicians do not – cannot? – oppose Netanyahu. (In this excellent essay, Peter Beinart lays out the history of Obama’s failure to stand up to Netanyahu, warning that the cost of this failure may be war with Iran.)

JVP activists were among the hundreds of activists who occupied AIPAC from within and without, reminding attendees and the media that AIPAC does not speak for Jews, and that many, many Jews, allies and others oppose the Israeli government’s planned war on Iran and policies of occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Though JVP’s truck ad was silenced, JVP’s voice came through loud & clear, both displayed on the outside wall of the Convention Center on the night of the AIPAC Gala and as JVP Board Member and general badass Liza Behrendt directly challenged AIPAC, StandWithUs, the David Project and Hillel for silencing young Jews on the issue of Israel/Palestine.

And beyond AIPAC, the campaign to silence the indomitable, indispensible MJ Rosenberg (whose analysis of Netanyahu, Obama and AIPAC is the only glimmer of light we’ve seen) continues. The Emergency Committee for Israel (a truer McCarthyite organization there never was) published an attack in the NYTimes against MJ’s employer, Media Matters, as well as the Center for American Progress, two organizations with close ties to the Democratic Party. The ad quotes Alan Dershowitz’s critique of Media Matters and CAP, and Dershowitz didn’t like that – and in his articles and interviews opposing the ECI’s use of his words, Dersh has been very clear that he won’t stop until Media Matters fires MJ or the White House fires Media Matters. MJ is the latest target of this chief muzzler, or “heresy hunter from Harvard,” as Jeremiah Haber calls Dershowitz, whose targets have included Richard Goldstone, Norm Finkelstein, Shlomo Sand, Anat Matar, Rachel Giora – at least MJ is in good company. JJ Goldberg of the Forward defends MJ here and MJ’s latest column is as smart, impassioned, insightful and indispensible as ever, proving, once again, how much we need his thinking, his intuition, his guts, and his voice. May he only get stronger and louder.

And last, the March 3 & 4 One State Conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was a success even before it took place, before an array of fascinating, bold thinkers,  including JVP Advisory Board member Sarah Schulman and Rabbinical Council co-founder Brant Rosen, aired nuanced, thoughtful and difficult ideas to a sold out crowd.

This conference was a success simply because it happened. No less a powerful figure than Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown tried to get it shut down, while the ADL led the charge among dominant Jewish organizations in demanding that Harvard denounce the conference and the legitimacy of discussing a one-state solution. More than 4,000 “students, alumni and friends” of Harvard signed a petition calling for the university to effectively prevent the conference by denying it funding and facilities. The AJC called it a “non-starter”.

The condemnation of the conference took the same forms, calling the discussion of a one state solution anti-Semitic, and worse: organizers are “soft eliminationists” (Jeffrey Goldberg) who seek Israel’s “elimination (ADL) through a “Final Solution” that will lead to the “extermination” and “annihilation” of Israel (FrontPage Magazine). As the ADL put it in a letter to Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, “there can never be any legitimate discussion” about a one-state solution. Yet do they lob the same critique at Knesset members calling for one state – one Jewish supremacist state, that is – or the state legislatures of Florida and South Carolina, which recently passed resolutions supporting one state, meaning the state of Israel in the greater land of Israel?

No, on the topic of a viable solution for Israel/Palestine, these muzzlers reserve their muzzling for perceived leftists. What they’re doing is trying to make it impossible for anyone but speakers they’ve vetted and chosen to speak about Israel’s future. Palestinians need not apply – and nor should anyone who thinks there’s more to the story than “why the Palestinians have inflicted so much unnecessary suffering on themselves, as the ADL’s New England Regional Director put it.

Harvard hosted the conference in spite of the attacks, yet it did something else, too. Dean David Ellwood of the Kennedy School issued a statement regarding the conference, saying “We would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel.” Does “the Jewish State of Israel” ring any bells? That’s the new language / negotiation precondition imposed by Netanyahu in 2007. Never before did Israel demand official recognition as “the Jewish state;” this demand flummoxed diplomats and threw a wrench in potential negotiations with Palestinians. Israel as the “Jewish state”: what impact would this declaration have on discrimination against Palestinian citizens? Or civil rights for Jewish Israelis, who also suffer from ultra-orthodox domination? On negotiations over the Palestinian right of return? In short, Dean Ellwood’s use of that language is a victory for Netanyahu and a loss for democracy, equality, civil rights and justice. Congratulations, ADL. Congratulations, Harvard.

AIPAC: The writing is on the wall

Since we announced on Monday our outrage at the sudden cancellation of our mobile ad, carrying our message to the AIPAC Policy Conference, we have received many expressions of support as well as some suggestions as to what to do next. Some recommended that we rent alternative vehicles, others that we sue the rental company. There were other intriguing creative suggestions as well.

Time was short before the end of the conference, so we settled for an alternative that would give us more splash on the spot. With the help of our friends on the ground in CodePink-organizers of OccupyAIPAC- we were able to have our messages projected on the wall of the convention center as attendees entered for the big Gala. This was prime ad space, I’d say!

The AIPAC Conference may be over, but we still got a few tricks up our sleeves in order to counter AIPAC’s pro-war, pro-settlement message. We will keep you posted–only next time we will keep the element of surprise!

– Sydney Levy

Cecilie Surasky’s monday letter, in case you had not seen it… (and watch the dramatic video of Liza Behrendt, a leader in Young, Jewish and Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace, occupying an AIPAC workshop as well!)

March 5, 2012

Supporter—I’m furious.

After signing contracts and paying in full for a mobile ad to carry your message to the AIPAC Policy Conference today; after letting 100,000 of you know about the truck; after nearly 5,000 of you signed the ad and let all of your friends know; after hundreds more chipped in for the ad; after sending a press release out to the media….After all that, the owner of the truck changed his mind at the last minute and decided not to let our ad run.

Why? What was so terrible about the ad that no one could be allowed to see it?

Its main message was: “AIPAC speaks for AIPAC, not for the Jews. AIPAC supports war with Iran and settlements, Jews do not.”

But the company let slip that they have other business with AIPAC, and didn’t want to upset them. I’m angry, but I can’t say I’m surprised. While I can’t say for sure if the truck owner got a call that scared him or if he simply got cold feet, I do know this is pretty much business as usual when dealing with matters related to AIPAC.

In fact, I started a blog called Muzzlewatch years ago when an AIPAC staffer threatened to get the funding for a Jewish youth leadership program completely pulled if I was allowed to speak to the students alongside the AIPAC representative.

Back then, the threat of losing that much money meant the people who ran the youth program folded, even though they knew it was wrong. And just last night, the truck owner folded too.

And now there’s the spreading story about AIPAC’s new and unprecedented policy of yanking press credentials from “unfriendly” reporters including Inter Press Service journalist and former Jewish Voice for Peace staffer Mitchell Plitnick, Mondoweiss’ Phil Weiss and Alternet’s Adele Stan.

So much for the free exchange of ideas in an open democracy.

After some very difficult conversations with the Jewish Voice for Peace board and lawyers, I spoke to the owner who said he’d try to fix things this morning. But it’s pretty clear his decision is made, so now I’m letting you know:

There will be no truck ad.

I’m really angry. But you can be sure of this—we will not be silenced. In fact, now we are committed to doing something even bigger to make sure our critical message gets out—so that our elected officials know that AIPAC doesn’t speak for us, and they don’t speak for millions of American Jews.

It’s going to take some time. But we’ll make sure our voices—your voices—are heard loud and clear by Congress. And once we’re up and running, we’ll let you know how you can help. To those of you who chipped in for the ad—every penny will go to this new effort.

In the meantime, we’re not sitting on our hands. We’re making sure the voices of the millions of Jews who are not represented by AIPAC are being heard loud and clear. In the image at left is Liza Behrendt, a leader in Young, Jewish and Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. She’s shouting from the stage at the AIPAC youth conference yesterday: “I will not be silenced!” You can watch the dramatic video here.

Liza, a participant in OccupyAIPAC, walked onto the dais, stood right next to the CEO of Hillel, Wayne Firestone, and told the story of how his McCarthyite guidelines kept her Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace chapter from being accepted in Hillel.

And this morning, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council also released this historic letter opposing war with Iran. Read the letter and share it with all the rabbis and rabbinical students in your circle—we need them to sign on to this powerful message.

These actions—representing your values— are already being magnified in the national and international press including the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, +972magazine, RT Television and many more.

Stay tuned. You will not be silenced.

Sincerely,


Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director
Jewish Voice for Peace

AIPAC Bars Me From Media Access to Their Conference

This is a guest post by Souciant Magazine and Inter Press Service writer Mitchell Plitnick, formerly with Jewish Voice for Peace and B’Tselem:

It’s a little hard to imagine. The self-proclaimed “most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill,” an admittedly deserved sobriquet, is apparently afraid of what little old me might say about their conference.

It’s hard to interpret what has happened in any other way, after my approved media credentials for AIPAC’s annual policy conference were rescinded without explanation just a few days before the event.

I applied for media access to the conference back in January. Soon after, I received an email from AIPAC’s then-media relations officer, Ari Goldberg, confirming acceptance of my application to attend as a reporter.

I am hardly unknown in this arena, and a quick search on Google would certainly have revealed that I was a progressive blogger, but also that I had written numerous pieces of straight journalism for Inter Press Service, the agency for which I will still be reporting on the conference.

So, it was no surprise that AIPAC credentialed me. Just as a major event at, say, the Center for American Progress (a think tank with unabashed ties to the Democratic Party) would not think twice about credentialing someone from FOX News, it is standard practice that such large organizations credential a wide range of media.

More surprising was the revocation of those credentials with just a few days to go before the conference.

With the conference slated to start on Sunday, I got a curt note on Wednesday, simply stating: “Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press.   However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you.  We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

It came from someone named Sarah Coopersmith at Scott Circle Communications, a firm AIPAC contracted with to handle the press logistics. The email wasn’t even signed.

Inquiries to both Coopersmith and AIPAC’s new press officer, Adam Harris brought no response. Ari Goldberg, despite having left AIPAC, did respond to me, expressing surprise and the hope that this was just a mistake.

To say this is highly unusual behavior would be an understatement. And I wasn’t the only one this happened to.

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, who had been credentialed the past three years without incident, and Adele Stan, the Washington Bureau Chief at AlterNet were also rejected without explanation. As I understand it, Phil and Adele were rejected outright. In my case, I was given media access and then had it revoked.

The combination was enough to get the attention of Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Ron has been in the DC scene writing about the politics here around Israel for years. He knows just how unusual this is. As he wrote, “Barring coverage in Washington is rare; Government institutions in Washington are known for accommodating a broad range of journalists, including those adamantly hostile to the government of the day.”

Apparently, as well, Chris McGreal of the Guardian (UK) was also summarily excluded, but after Ron’s piece came out in the JTA, AIPAC reinstated him, saying it was an oversight. Maybe it had nothing to do with trying to prevent the story from getting much bigger by excluding such a large international news source. Maybe it had everything to do with it, and Ron’s story made AIPAC nervous. I’ll let you make that call.

Kampeas, who has known me personally for several years, described me in JTA this way: “… a liberal blogger who has sparred with right-wing pro-Israel groups as well as anti-Zionists, and who was going to provide coverage for Inter Press Service, which emphasizes developing nations coverage as well as what it calls marginalized groups.”

Sounds like someone critical of AIPAC, but hardly like someone who would frighten them so much they would revoke credentials already given.

Now, I certainly have been very critical of AIPAC and the so-called “Israel Lobby.” But I have also engaged in public debates, including one appearance just after his book came out with Stephen Walt (who, in spirit of full disclosure, knows I disagree with parts of his thesis and nevertheless has developed a personal and professional relationship with me that has, at least from my end, been amazingly rewarding), when I believe the influence of that very powerful lobby is exaggerated.

Put simply, I’ve always called it like I saw it, both when that has gotten me some positive exposure and when it brought me into conflict, sometimes even with people in organizations I was working for.

No doubt, my professional experience as Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and Director of the US Office of B’Tselemdoes not strike the folks at AIPAC well. Yet, I have, on more than one occasion, had very civil conversations with AIPAC staff members and officials.

It sure looks to me like AIPAC changed the way it deals with the press when Ari Goldberg left and Adam Harris replaced him. Perhaps reflecting a sense that, while the polls show no change in US citizens’ view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the public discourse has been slowly shifting these past few years. It seems that the new regime at AIPAC is trying to manage the news with a much heavier hand as a result.

I’ll still be reporting on the conference, and I’ll still be doing it for Inter Press. What I won’t be able to do is give as full a picture as I could have of the feeling in the room, the people in attendance, the pulse of the crowd, the nuance and diversity there.

If I’m so threatening to AIPAC as a reporter, it’s hard to see how setting those limits on what I will have access to write about serves their purpose.

This conference is likely to be focused very strongly on the push for increased aggression  towards Iran. Maybe they feel their case is so weak that they have to resort to such heavy-handed tactics.

Again, I’ll leave that for you to decide.