Monthly Archives: October 2013

Canadian censorship: Palestinian ‘disappearing land’ bus ads, Le Mood bans Jewish Birthright critics

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Canada’s Jewish population is relatively small — some 370,000. About half live in Toronto and a quarter in Montreal.  But what it lacks in numbers, it possesses in the ferocity of its organized community’s defense of what they see as Israel’s interests.

For example, the organized Jewish community has tried to keep Queers Against Israeli Apartheid out of the city’s annual Gay Pride parade since the group was founded in 2008. Although it sometimes came up to the wire, so far the group has marched in every Parade.

400_300_DisappearingAd_ censIn the latest effort to muzzle critics of Israel, as the Electronic Intifada reports, “The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has rejected a group’s bus ad showing Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian land over time, claiming the ad could incite anti-Jewish discrimination and violence,” as if it is the information rather than the practice itself that’s the problem.

Not to be left behind, Canada’s second city, Montreal, has ramped up censorship of Israel’s critics. Two panels scheduled for the November 3rd Le Mood, “an annual festival aimed at engaging Jewish youth in Montreal” were peremptorily cancelled because the festival’s major funder, Federation CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal), objected to the panel hosts. Le Mood festival director, Mike Savatovsky, is reported to have told one of the hosts that “You have a specific instance when you did go against a program that our funders support; we’re not willing to create a platform for people whose mission goes against the beliefs of our funders.”  According to a press release from Aaron Lakoff, one of the banned hosts:

“The ‘specific instance’ to which Savatovsky is likely referring is an article, co-written by Woolf, critiquing the Taglit-Birthright Israel program. Lakoff was not told why he had been banned from speaking, but we have been led to believe that Woolf and Lakoff’s respective engagements with Palestine solidarity activism and writing were underscored as a reason for the ban and panel cancellation. It should be noted that neither panel was planned to focus on the Birthright program or Palestine, though, in principle, we do not believe that either of these topics should be off limits.”

The Nakba in the New Yorker

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Refugees from Lydda, 1948

The publication of Avi Shavit’s “Lydda, 1948: A city, a massacre and the Middle East Today” in The New Yorker, October 21, 2013, is a welcome chink in the wall of silence around the Nakba, the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state. That’s a very good thing, regardless of what one thinks of Shavit’s conclusions.

For decades, the subject was declared off-limits, even for a former Israeli prime minister who wanted to talk about brutalities he’d witnessed himself. As David Shipler reported in the New York Times in 1979, in “Israel Bars Rabin From Relating ’48 Eviction of Arabs,” a “censorship board composed of five Cabinet members prohibited former Prime Minister Rabin from including in his memoirs a first-person account of the expulsion of 50,000 Palestinian civilians from their homes” in Ramle and Lydda (Lod) during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. (Rabin attributed the expulsion orders to David Ben Gurion.)

But thanks to the research  in the late 1980s of the New Historians ( Benny Morris’sThe Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem1947-1949; Simha Flapan’s The Birth of Israel; Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, among others) and, more recently, the work of  Zochrot, the events of 1947-1949 have been discussed and angrily disputed within Israel, despite the efforts of a variety of right-wing organizations to prevent such discourse and of Israeli legislationto penalize commemoration of the Nakba (American Jews on the other hand have been more successful in stifling discussion, at least until now.)

In vivid, excruciating, undeniable, documented detail, Shavit’s New Yorker article describesboth the massacre of hundreds and the expulsion of 35,000 residents of Lydda.  And with astonishing bluntness, Shavit states:

“Lydda is the black box of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear the Arab city of Lydda. From the very beginning, there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to exist, Lydda could not exist.  If Lydda was to exist, Zionism could not exist. In retrospect it’s all too clear.”

But then, like Benny Morris before him, Shavit concludes with the sentiment — if not the slogan — so often expressed by defenders of Zionism: eyn breira: There’s no choice.

“Do I wash my hands of Zionism? Do I turn my back on the Jewish national movement that carried out the destruction of Lydda? No. Like the brigade commander, I am faced with something too immense to deal with.  Like the military governor, I see a reality I cannot contain. When one opens the black box, one understands that, whereas the massacre at the mosque could have been triggered by a misunderstanding brought about by a tragic chain of accidental events, the conquest of Lydda and the expulsion of Lydda’s population were no accident. Those events were a crucial phase of the Zionist revolution, and they laid the foundation for the Jewish state. Lydda is an integral and essential part of the story. And, when I try to be honest about it, I see that the choice is stark: either reject Zionism because of Lydda or accept Zionsim along with Lydda.
Put that way, it’s no wonder Shavit concludes despairing of the future:
“But, looking straight ahead at Lydda, I wonder if peace is possible.  Our side is clear: we had to come into the Lydda Valley and we had to take the Lydda Valley.  There is no other home for us, and there was no other way.  But the Arab’s side, the Palestinian side, is equally clear; they cannot forget Lydda and they cannot forgive us for Lydda.  You can argue that it is not the occupation of 1967 that is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but the tragedy of 1948, It’s  not only the settlements that are an obstacle to peace but the Palestinians’ yearning to return, one way or another, to Lydda and to dozens of other towns and villages that vanished during one cataclysmic year.  But the Jewish State cannot let them return. Israel has a right to live, and if Israel is to live it cannot resolve the Lydda issue. What is needed to make peace now between the two peoples of this land may prove more than humans can summon.”
It’s a startling admission that strangely points to where hope, if there is to be any, will be found: in Israeli recognition of the Nakba and the demand that Israelis either embrace a history as ethnic cleansers or work toward a future in which Israel becomes a democracy of all its people. There is a choice there.

 

DC’s Theater J, The Admission, and The Threat of Truth Telling

By Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Israeli playwright Mott Lerner's play, the Admission, won't be performed as planned at Theater J.

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner. In 1994 he won the Prime Minister of Israel Award for his creative work but his play the Admission won’t be performed as planned at Theater J.

Culture is the arena through which collective memory is created and sustained, and that’s why it’s often so disputatious.  Among the most powerful of these collective memories is the Zionist narrative of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, which presents Zionist conduct as pure and always justifiable.  And that’s why the Palestinian counter-narrative of that war, the Nakba, remains so threatening,  especially when the righteousness of Zionist actions are challenged, and maybe most especially when Jewish Israelis themselves raise the challenge.

One of the most controversial of these is the claim that Israeli soldiers massacred many Palestinian civilians and expelled others before razing the Palestinian village of Tantura in late-May, 1948.  The controversy over what happened in Tantura (fictionalized as Tantur) lies at the heart of a new play by the Jewish Israeli playwright Motti Lerner called The Admission.

Washington DC’s Theater J had scheduled the play for a 34-performance, full production this spring, but came immediately under fire from an ad hoc group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA).   Claiming that the play focuses on “a vicious lie about Israel” COPMA called on “donors to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to withdraw their funding from the Federation unless it ceased its support for the Washington DCJCC” (which supports Theater J).

The theater has now reduced the production to a 16 week “workshop” run in proposed repertory with “Golda’s Balcony.”  Golda’s Balcony, which starred Telva Feldshuh in a 2003 Broadway production, is a hagiographic tribute to Golda Meier and the Israeli state during the1973 war.

COPMA has been gunning for Theater J for some time, often attacking the works brought over in an annual series called “Voices from a Changing Middle East,” such as the Jewish Israeli playwright, Boaz Gaon’s, adaptation of Return to Haifa, from the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, which was presented at Theater J in 2011, after a successful run at Tel Aviv’s most prominent theater, the Cameri. For COPMA, these are  “theatrical productions that attack and defame Israel.” (In Washington, it was a critical and box office hit.)

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Long Island University Puts Kibosh on Academic Freedom

 

US WWII propaganda poster remix courtesy: http://propagandaremix.com/gallery/?pid=478

This fast-growing petition tells a sad story about the decline of academic scholarship in the face of Israel criticism-phobia.

In a nutshell: professor Harriet Malinowitz gets support from her department for proposal to take sabbatical and write about Zionism and Propaganda. University administration inexplicably denies proposal. Union gets involved, and University accepts sabbatical if professor takes early retirement and “agrees that the deal ‘not be used or introduced as evidence’ in the future.” Evidence for what?

Said professor, Harriet Malinowitz, refuses the offer, and now asks for your help by signing this petition:

To: President Kimberly Cline, Long Island University

President Cline, don’t punish Dr. Harriet Malinowitz for writing about a controversial issue. Make LIU’s decision-making transparent, equitable, and accountable to the principles of academic freedom.

Of course, the existence of Zionist Propaganda isn’t a state secret. In fact it’s a thriving, proud industry worthy of in-depth study. There are literally countless examples throughout the history of Zionism — like this, this and this and so on and so forth.

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Muzzling Discussion of the Nakba and Palestinian History

By Donna Nevel
10/12/13

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

We know all too well how adamantly pro-Israel forces in the U.S. Jewish community and Israel consider certain conversations and actions critical of Israel “beyond the pale,” and how blatant their hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) attempts are to silence and suppress them.

Although the parameters (of what is “acceptable”) may change at times, what doesn’t seem to change is how hasbara intensifies as efforts to reveal historical and current truths and demand change become more visible and powerful.

Most recently, Al Jazeera reports that right wing groups have tried to censor schoolbooks and silence organizations that make visible to the Israeli public the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe that refers to the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state.

A bit of context: Some of these recent attempts at muzzling come as Zochrot, an Israeli organization, was planning (and recently held) a monumental conference, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees.” The conference had as its focus “the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other.”  This conference aligned with Zochrot’s ongoing commitment to “challenge the Israeli Jewish public’s preconceptions and promote awareness, political and cultural change within it to create the conditions for the Return of Palestinian Refugees and a shared life in this country.”  

Some of those engaged in the nastiest tactics are extreme right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or NGO Monitor, which are both closely connected to the Israeli government. Recently, in response to an NGO Monitor report attacking it, the U.S. group, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote: “NGO Monitor has a long history, broadly documented, of attacking any organization that it believes is effectively criticizing Israeli policies. The organizations NGO Monitor has attacked include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq, and the New Israel Fund, to name just a few. We are honored to be among them.”

But we also know that attempts to erase the Nakba have been standard policy and practice since the creation of the State, and they have been undertaken by people and groups across the political spectrum.  (More about this in a follow-up piece.)

Although the opposition may step up its tactics–of censoring; spying on organizations; prohibiting groups from even referring to the Nakba; shutting down funding; intimidating justice workers–that won’t change the fact that the history, the stories, the evidence, the documentation about the Nakba are indisputable.

Zochrot is having a truth commission for the events of 1948, to be held in March 2014,  “that will seek to collect and document information about the 1948 events, focusing in particular on the actions that led to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By exposing the public to this information, the event will seek to encourage various audiences in Israel to acknowledge these actions and take personal and collective responsibility for them.” This critical work continues.