Author Archives: Cecilie Surasky

Students urged to conduct mock hangings on college campuses this April in support of Israel

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.21.14 PMPop Quiz!

Who is giving pro-Israel college students step-by-step instructions for holding mock hangings, stonings and whippings?

Is it the Onion in an attempt at satire gone awry? Or is it the former Marxist-turned-rabid Muslim-hater David Horowitz’s ironically named ‘Freedom Center’ in their newly published and freely downloadable “Student Handbook”?

If you guess David Horowitz and gang, ding ding ding! You win!

The ‘Mock Hangings’ portion of the student Handbook begins with one of the most extraordinary sentences ever written in the English language:

“To highlight Israel’s comparatively stellar record on human rights, we encourage you to hold a mock hanging, mock stoning or mock whipping on your campus.”

Really?

The book is featured on a new Freedom Center website actually titled “Jew Hatred on Campus“, written with a weird, Ted Kaczynski-like obsession with getting back at the country’s largest student group working for Palestinian rights, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). (We’ll let others dig into a point by point response to the distorted charges within about the student group which includes Muslims, Christian, Jews and others. We at Jewish Voice for Peace are privileged to know many wonderful SJP leaders— and we can say with confidence that calling SJP an anti-Jewish hate group is like calling President Obama a Communist! Oh wait, David Horowitz did that!)

Apparently oblivious to the fact that it might be, um, a tad insensitive to black or queer students especially to fake-hang a “homosexual” dummy on a campus, they offer step by step directions:

Staging a mock hanging on your campus will expose SJP’s hypocrisy. Students can produce a dummy dressed in normal attire with a rope around his neck. A sign on him will read “I’m a gay Iranian and SJP doesn’t care about me.” If you cannot produce a dummy, contact the Freedom Center and we will help you.

A minimum of 4 students are needed. 1 student to hold the dummy
1 student to help
1 student recording their team
1 student to record the crowd

Students staging a mock hanging must follow these rules:
- Wear plain clothes (no logos, political shirts, bright colors)
- No chanting, yelling or talking
- Do not engage in debate or arguments
For more information on how to stage a mock hanging on your campus contact DELETED@truthrevolt.org.

Because seeing is believing, here are some more screenshots. More ways to win over women this time:
Excerpt from Freedom Center's Student Guidebook- Advice for Teach-Ins about Intolerance

But truly, this is no laughing matter: The clearly well-funded Freedom Center’s “Jew Hatred on Campus” campaign is calling for action around the country in April as a counter to Israeli Apartheid Week activities. And it may be the source of one of the most truly disturbing intimidation campaigns we’ve seen.

Freedom Center Linked to Horrific Posters?
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.21.14 PM

This week, students at at least five schools across the U.S. woke up to these identical and truly terrifying posters (also above). Each had a massive image of Hamas militants enacting violence on Palestinians. Each one had the same text, large letters at the top which simply stated “Students for Justice in Palestine,” and on the bottom, “#JewHaters.”

Initial statements from school administrators are condemning these posters as hateful, with a UCLA spokesperson saying the school “repudiate[s] them in the strongest possible terms.”

In fact, even other pro-Israel groups have reached out to support SJP against this bigotry. Students across the country have the same question: who is responsible?

Though no one has publicly taken credit,* given the near identical images, language, timing and targets, all signs point to Freedom Center. If so, one might even argue they are themselves engaging in a form of terrorism targeted at students, and mostly though not exclusively, students of color.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center has a long history of grotesque anti-Arab racism and Islamaphobia. Once again, they have crossed a dangerous line. Their campaign is nothing less than a medieval witch hunt.

Cecilie Surasky and Gabi Kirk, Jewish Voice for Peace
Gabi@jvp.org

*UPDATE: In an interview published 2/25/15 in the Jewish Journal, David Horowitz admitted to being behind the anti-SJP posters. See: http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/conservative_activist_david_horowitz_admits_responsibility_for_posters

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Hillel International and Simon Wiesenthal Center’s incredibly creepy new campus surveillance tool

New app has a creepy logo!The Simon Weisenthal Center and Hillel International just proudly announced a new phone app “to fight anti-Semitism” which will be deployed on 550 US campuses with Hillel centers.

In reality, however, the partnership is less Southern Poverty Law Project, and more J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn-decide-to-make-an-enemies list.

In a truly alarming marriage of Paranoid Surveillance Culture and the no-desperate-move-surprises-us-anymore Israel lobby…the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), the group known for actually building a “Museum of Tolerance” on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, has developed the app to encourage students to literally report their teachers and fellow students. Reminiscent of surveillance posters found in places like Singapore, and I’d imagine, North Korea, this app’s catch phrase is “See it. Report It”

Explained Hillel International spokesperson David Eden:

“Working against anti-Semitism with the Wiesenthal Center is a natural for Hillel International. We’re proud to stand shoulder to shoulder by promoting this important tool to those who most often take the brunt of anti-Semitic attacks – students,” said David Eden, Chief Administrative Officer and chief spokesperson for Hillel International. “This innovative and simple to use app is another resource that we can use to help keep North American college campuses safe for Jewish students.”

Keeping Jewish students safe from anti-Jewish hatred is of course laudable, but this app comes with its own Twitter feed, and almost none of the 54 tweets are about anti-Semitism. (Quelle surprise!)

With the exception of a small handful of stories about swastika graffiti, the list reads like it was curated by Alan Dershowitz’s far right-wing cousin. It’s almost entirely obsessed with criticism of Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions–the movement to hold Israel accountable for violating human rights violations. (In fact, BDS is a tactic embraced by literally thousands of Jews around the world, and BDS movement leaders have repeatedly condemned all forms of bigotry.)

On the Twitter feed, there are numerous links to articles condemning student and faculty groups for involvement in divestment campaigns, and even some suggesting that such campaigns violate the law. There is a full transcript, with key phrases bolded for emphasis, of Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor’s speech opposing Palestinian Statehood. Natch, another tweet links to an article about the dangerous Open Hillel movement itself–a movement, again, led by Hillel students.

And then, for camp effect, there is the incredibly strange police badge logo above, giving app users the illusion that they are acting as a deputized citizens’ police force rather than, um HUAC-style spies.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a lost cause. Run by Marvin Hier, which the Jewish Forward called “by far the most overpaid CEO” of a Jewish organization in America, it has a long and terrible history of promoting hate against Palestinians and others under the guise of being a human rights group.

But Hillel International is supposed to be “the center for Jewish life on campuses.” They have special access and claim to represent all Jewish students on 550 campuses across the US.

But more important to them than welcoming Jewish students, is waging an all out PR war against the inspiring Open Hillel students who want to make Hillel open to all ideas, not just those vetted by the Israel-is-always-right thought police.

Instead, Hillel International is finding itself on the wrong side of history–plus they’ve just turned every Hillel student into a potential spy, asking them to literally turn in other students and teachers for public shaming and in some cases, worse.

One supposes that much like other failed efforts by Campus Watch, and the David Project, the ultimate homerun for Hillel and SWC will be gotcha videos of Middle East Studies professors in their classes where free inquiry is supposed to be encouraged.

Beyond appalling.

Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace

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Anti-Defamation League creates blacklist of groups that link Ferguson to Palestine

Wow. The ADL below considers the photo below a hateful message.

Screenshot from the ADL's Israel advocacy page.

Screenshot from the ADL’s Israel advocacy page.

File this under “You can’t make this up.”

Abe Foxman, whose $688,000 annual salary makes him one of the most over-paid pro-Israel lobbyists in the country, recently embarrassed himself (again) by actually releasing a press statement lecturing NFL star Reggie Bush on his Twitter feed— Bush had dared compared Ferguson and Gaza.

But it gets worse.

The Anti-Defamation League, which leverages its reputation as a fighter of bigotry to silence human rights critics of the Israeli government (thereby actually perpetuating bigotry and worse), has published a defacto blacklist of groups that dared to link Ferguson with Palestine.

I mean, what could the militarization of U.S. police forces and repeated, unaccountable killing of unarmed people of color possibly have to do with Palestine? According to the ADL—daring to make the connection is purely cynical at best, and a form of hate at worst.

But here is where the ADL gets the chutzpah award: singled out for particular opprobrium are those who link what’s happening in Ferguson to the training of police in Israel. The ADL, for example, calls out the inimitable Trita Parsi, head of the National Iran­ian Amer­i­can Coun­cil (NIAC). for this Tweet:

“Won­der­ing why the exces­sive police vio­lence? Here’s a guess: #Fer­gu­son police chief got train­ing in Israel…#Gaza.”

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 7.30.36 PMThey also call out someone for holding a sign at a protest that says “Google It!!! Israel trains the NYPD.”

So do who do you think is responsible for an awful lot of those free police trainings in Israel? The Anti-Defamation League, natch. Which I guess is why they are condemning people as opportunists and bigots for saying, well, the obvious.

As Kristian Davis Bailey wrote in Ebony Magazine in August:

The St. Louis County Police Department that killed Michael Brown and initially placed Ferguson on siege has trained with the Israeli military. Former County Police Chief Timothy Fitch was one of 15 American officials to participate in a weeklong training in Israel three years ago.
The April 2011 National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). It brought together leaders from the largest American police departments, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with members of the Israeli National Police, Israel Defense Forces and other intelligence organizations.

Oddly, the quick-to-issue-a-statement ADL was too busy to respond to Bailey’s requests for comment. Bailey went on:

Over 9,000 American officials have trained with Israeli police and military units on responding to civilian protests and terrorism. These operations reflect failure to distinguish between the apparent duty of police to protect civilians and military responses to war. This fusion has had life-costing implications for Americans, specifically black, Muslim and Arab people.

Normally, the ADL boasts about training lots and lots and lots of police officers , which includes special trips for US police officials to Israel for training in counter-terrorism tactics (which are then deployed against American citizens.)

I guess that in this case, they have decided that the best defense is a good offense. Reggie Bush, a running back, probably knows all about that.

-Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace

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Hillel International hires Armenian Genocide denier Noam Neusner to fight Open Hillel movement, BDS

Tuesday night’s epic UCLA debate over divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation was notable for what it included—a coalition of over 30 diverse campus groups in support of divestment, and for what it lacked—a robust, organized opposition. (The divestment vote won in a landslide.)

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 4.28.33 PMThe likely reason for the relative silence of Israel-aligned student groups can be traced to a leaked memo in which a beleaguered UCLA Hillel head, concerned about the upcoming divestment vote, is cautioned by the PR firm 30 Point Strategies to not “put out any statements.” In other words, remain silent.

But 30 Point Strategies’ relationship with Hillel International, the “largest Jewish campus organization in the world”, on whose behalf they offered advice in the email, is no secret.

30 Point Strategies principal, Noam Neusner (pictured at right), is regularly identified as the spokesperson for Hillel International in articles relating to the upstart Open Hillel movement or other initiatives related to boycott, divestment and sanctions on campus. He was also spotted at the groundbreaking Open Hillel conference, though Hillel insisted they would send no official representatives.

But what is less known, or has been conveniently forgotten, is that Neusner was employed by the Turkish government to lobby the American Jewish community and Congress to deny the Armenian genocide, at least through 2010.

Back in 2008, Nathan Guttman wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward

Armenian activists are crying foul over Turkey’s hiring of a Jewish lobbyist to work against the recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Noam Neusner, former chief speechwriter on policy issues for President Bush and White House liaison to the Jewish community, was hired by the government of Turkey to promote strong ties with major Jewish groups and to urge these groups to oppose House Resolution 106, which would have labeled the murders genocide.

The information was uncovered when Neusner registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Guttman continues:

According to the filings, Neusner Communications, where Neusner is listed as principal, received a monthly retainer that recently was increased to $8,500 for Neusner’s extensive contacts with major figures in the Jewish community. It was the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy group with goals that include “ensuring the appropriate commemoration of the Armenian genocide,” that first made the documents public.

Neusner Communications received a total of $80,833 for the period from November 2007 to September 2008, according to the filings. Neusner said he “does not discuss client relationships.”

… Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director, called the hiring of Neusner to work on behalf of the Turkish government “a misguided attempt to manipulate Jewish-American opinion.” Hamparian argued that Jewish support in America for the Turkish side is “crumbling” and therefore there is a need to hire a lobbying firm aimed specifically at the community.

And Hamparian was right. The issue has understandably divided Jewish Americans, and caused a real rift in the Anti-Defamation League, whose involvement in lobbying against official Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is documented on the site NoPlaceforDenial.com.

But wait, there’s more.

Another of the 30 Point Strategies projects was the infamous hate-film Obsession, possibly one of the most expensive hate campaigns in US history. Some 28 million copies of the documentary which essentially compared Islam to Nazism, were sent to newsletter subscribers in mostly swing states during the ’08 presidential election. They provoked charges of efforts to influence an American election. (Funding was later traced in part to Aish HaTorah, a religious Zionist Israel aligned organization). According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 30 Point Strategies was one of two communications firms that worked on the project.

As Corey Saylor, who is in charge of monitoring Islamophobia at the DC- based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, “The PR firm 30 Points Strategies has a troubling involvement, such as distributing the hate-film Obsession, in poisoning public discussions. It is not productive for groups seeking an inclusive society to accept advice from them.”

Kate Nahapetian, Government Affairs Director of the Armenian National Committte of America, had even stronger words: “30 Point Strategies’ profiting from Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial inflicts pain and suffering on the families of survivors and is despicable.”

It is clear that Hillel International has become a designated frontline defense against the growing number of campus based efforts to make Israel accountable to international law. As such, Neusner seems to be the person being dispatched to monitor and respond.

Image courtesy UCLA SJP

Image courtesy UCLA SJP

But oddly, Hillel International’s pick is likely to even further exacerbate tensions with the remarkably diverse and growing, broad-based movement for divestment and boycott on campuses. Seen another way, their pick of Neusner is in some way a perfect illustration of why these unified coalitions are forming—students of color, Muslims, students from colonized countries, queer and trans students, feminists and so forth all see clearly the links between the oppression of Palestinians and their own historic marginalization. In this case, the links couldn’t be more concrete.

And more obvious, the increasingly vocal new generation of thinking, progressive Jews like those of Open Hillel simply won’t accept such horrific moral game-playing. Moves like these are simply further evidence of the growing irrelevance of old-school Jewish communal politics that throw out everything young Jews learned about Tikkun Olam, healing the world, when it comes to supporting Israel, right or wrong. As one student repeated at the UCLA hearing, they believe without a doubt that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Tactics aside, Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director gets the last word here. As he said of Neusner and his lobbying back in 2008 “This is a moral issue,” he said. “There is no wiggle room on the issue of genocide denial, just as on the issue of Holocaust denial.”

There is no public record that we could find of Neusner ever having disavowed his work on behalf of these clients.

-Cecilie Surasky

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Frank Luntz’s latest hasbara talking points – how to defend Israel post-Gaza

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 9.56.50 PM
The man we can all thank for catchy Orwellian phrases like “The Personal Responsibility Act” (which gutted federal support for poor families) and the “Death Tax”, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, is also the guru for Israeli hasbara. That’s right, more than any single person in the U.S., Frank Luntz has been responsible for teaching thousands of eager warriors for the Israeli government how to sell human rights violations and settlement expansion to increasingly dubious audiences. One example is this Israel Project 2009 classic, oddly euphemistically titled the Global Language Dictionary.

JNFBut now I’ve got great news boys and girls. The long wait for the latest “Words that Work” from Frank Luntz is now over (thanks for posting a leaked copy Jewish Philosophy Place–we almost missed the best read of the year! ) You can now download your own 2014, post-Gaza version of Communicating the Truth About Israel.

Lucky for us, it includes a great deal of current, original research on what Americans think about Israel, and what words test well in responding to their doubts. It seems to have been commissioned after Israel’s horrific attacks on Gaza–groups like the Jewish National Fund recognized that the reaction of near universal horror to Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians was, indeed, the mother of all Israeli public relations problems.

We decided to hunt down the document after spotting Frank with a Powerpoint walking around in an odd new propaganda video filled with well-dressed young Jewish fraternity members–looking like they’d just stopped by on their way to internships on Wall Street. In each interview, these young men seem increasingly isolated and devastated by pro-Palestinian activism on their campuses which they conflate with anti-Semitism. One can’t help but feel for these students. I have no doubt that for many of them, the isolation and confusion they feel is real. And I hope they get support. After all, having your world view turned upside down, and your own power and privilege challenged in ways that make you uncomfortable, is part and parcel of what we used to call a good education.

But it says everything that these students are not at a gathering with therapists, or spiritual leaders, or experts in reconciliation and peace or building a healthy Jewish life on campus. No, they are at a conference with literally one of the world’s greatest propagandists for hire.

In fact, the video calls for a kind of war against “these radical, hate-driven organizations,” aka student groups that support Palestinian rights.

Hasbarists have been telling students at divestment hearings to avoid the facts and use the talking point “I feel unsafe” for years. Their elders are not doing these students a service by making encouraging them to feel even more fearful and separated.

In his presentation, Luntz relies on standard hasbara fare–thinly veiled racism and “oppositelandia” attacks on peace and justice advocates, as though church groups and pro-BDS Jewish college students were actually the ones responsible for the gradual closing of the door on a two state solution.

Luntz tells advocates to talk about Israel as standing on the front lines against global terrorism, a beacon of civility in a tough neighborhood, and to trot out the constant line about Hamas using human shields. He instructs hasbarists to use human, emotional, heart-felt language. He tells his followers to blame Palestinian rejectionism for Palestinian suffering, and to divert questions away from the realities of Israel occupation and repression.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 7.38.23 PM

And remember, as Frank always says, “It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.” And I’d add, “It’s not what is actually happening on the ground that counts, it’s what Frank Luntz tells you to say.”

-Cecilie Surasky

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Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the American Jewish Community

By Donna Nevel

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

jvp-sodastreamThe Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

These attacks simply don’t address or grapple with the core aspirations or realities of BDS. As described by Hanan Ashrawi, executive committee member of the PLO, in a recent letter in the New York Times, BDS “does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.” She goes on to explain that “B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.”

The use of name-calling like “anti-Semites” and “delegtimizers” is problematic for a number of reasons, not only because its claims are untrue, but also because it takes the focus off the real issue at hand – whether and how Israel is, in fact, violating international law and basic human rights principles – and, instead, recklessly impugns the characters of those advocating for Israel to be held accountable.

Criticisms, even extremely harsh ones, of the Israeli state or calls to make a state democratic and adhere to equal rights for all its citizens are not anti-Semitic. Rather, anti-Semitism is about hatred of, and discrimination against the Jewish people, which is not anywhere to be found in the call for BDS, and these kinds of accusations also serve to trivialize the long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

Most recently, the anti-BDS effort has moved to the legislative front. A bill, introduced in the New York State Assembly last month, would have trampled academic freedom and the right to support BDS in its quest to punish the ASA and deter any who might dare to emulate its endorsement of the academic boycott. Those supporting the bill were opposed by a broad coalition of education, civil rights, legal, academic, and Palestine solidarity organizations, as well as Jewish social justice groups. The bill was withdrawn, but a revised version has been introduced that is designed, like the original, to punish colleges that use public funds for activities related to groups that support boycotts of Israel, including mere attendance at their meetings.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) worked closely with the sponsors of the New York bill.

Like the JCRC, rather than engaging in substantive debate about the issues raised in relation to BDS, the Israeli government and many Jewish communal organizations choose, instead, to try to discredit and derail the efforts of those supporting BDS.

For example, as recently reported by Ha’aretz, the Israeli Knesset is debating how to continue to counter BDS efforts across the globe, that is, “whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.” It is also considering what the role of AIPAC might be in introducing anti-boycott legislation and how to best bolster military surveillance–which has significant funding behind it–against supporters of BDS.

American Jewish communal organizations have also expended massive resources and energy in their campaigns to demonize endorsers of BDS. The Israel Action Network (IAN)–which describes itself as “a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), created to counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy”–has funded the anti-BDS effort to the tune of at least six million dollars over a three-year period.

The IAN website characterizes supporters of BDS as “delegitimizers”and says that, in order to gain support from “vulnerable targets,” which include “college campuses, churches, labor unions, and human rights organizations,” delegitimizers utilize Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactics, “the same tools used to isolate and vilify apartheid South Africa, Iran, or Nazi Germany. BDS activists, IAN continues, “present distortions, fabrications and misrepresentations of international law in an attempt to paint Israel with the same brush.”

In another example of name-calling without any substance, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) July 2013 report attacked Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), featuring ad hominem accusations (JVP “intentionally exploits Jewish culture”), rather than discussing JVP’s actual positions. (A JVP report on the ADL points out that the ADL not only targets JVP but is well-known for its long history of spying on Arabs and supporters of the Palestinian movement.)

On the charge of anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its call to fight the BDS movement, urges it supporters to “learn the facts behind this hypocritical and anti-Semitic campaign,” and the ADL’s Abe Foxman echoed those same sentiments: “The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.” And most recently, in his speech to AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after shamelessly drawing upon classic anti-Semitic imagery of Jews to speak of supporters of BDS, says: “So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti- Semitism.”

The demonization of BDS is not only the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream Jewish community. The self-declared liberal J-Street, in its seemingly relentless quest to stay under the Jewish “tent,” has also jumped on the anti-BDS bandwagon, sometimes in partnership with the IAN, which (precisely because J Street is positioned as a peace group) proudly documents its relationship with J Street in fighting BDS. Discussing how J Street is gaining acceptance in the mainstream Jewish community, JCPA’s CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow points to “its role in pushing back against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement…

Further, the refusal of both liberal land mainstream Jewish groups to discuss substantive issues around Israel’s actions or BDS also reveals itself in language that admonishes BDS as being “beyond the pale.” Recently, for example, as reported by the director of JVP in an op-ed in the Forward, the director of the JCRC of Greater Boston, who has a history of involvement in liberal organizations, explained that “any organization that supports BDS…doesn’t belong at the communal table. In fact, he was referring specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace. He even argued that opening the public conversation to BDS is roughly akin to welcoming the Ku Klux Klan.”

This attempted silencing of those simply discussing BDS plays out even in seemingly minor local skirmishes. For example, last year, the liberal rabbi of a large New York City synagogue cancelled the synagogue’s facilities-usage contract with a group of Jews who, he feared, might, on his premises, discuss BDS. That, he said, would be “beyond the pale.”

These attacks against BDS appear to be an almost desperate reaction to the increasing successes of BDS, not only in the world at large, but also within the broader Jewish community itself. Respected members of the liberal Jewish community as well as a few liberal Zionist groups that were vehemently anti-BDS are now calling for boycotts against products made in the settlements and are engaging with the issue publicly. Further, the mission and vision of groups like Jews Say No and Jewish Voice for Peace – “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights” – are resonating with increasing numbers of Jews who support BDS as a natural outgrowth of their commitments. And that movement is growing in partnership with the broader Palestinian-led movement for justice.

How should the rest of the Jewish community respond? Ad hominem attacks on BDS just will not do. It is time for BDS opponents to take a deep breath. Consider this: BDS is a principled response to Israel’s actions and behavior as an occupier. It is a profound call by Palestinians – and supporters world-wide–for justice. It is not BDS that should be opposed, but, rather, the very policies and practices that have made BDS necessary.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. She was a co-coordinator of the 1989 landmark Road to Peace Conference that brought PLO officials and Knesset members together to the US for the first time. More recently, she was a founding member of Jews Say No!, is a member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project, U.S.

Originally published on the Tikkun Daily Blog

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Liberal Values and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

By Rebecca Vilkomerson

The inherent contradictions between American liberalism and support for Israeli policies are on a sudden, public, collision course. Until very recently, it was easy to identify as someone who cares for human rights and equality, while in practice avoiding forms of activism that impose any consequences for its actions on Israel. Those days may be drawing to a close.

Omar Barghouti’s recent op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, the ultimate prize in opinion piece placement, made a cogent, thorough, and, most importantly, principled argument for BDS based on the values of equality and fighting against oppression. Also taking a clear stance against anti-Semitism, his piece was a clarion call for support to the prototypical liberal readers of the New York Times. And, in fact the letters to the editor printed in response to his piece were overwhelmingly positive.

During the same period, two BDS-related campaigns were making headlines around the world. When Scarlett Johansson became the spokesperson for SodaStream, a company with its main factory in an Israeli settlement, the worldwide pressure resulted in her being forced to choose between being a spokesperson for Oxfam, a human rights organization, and her SodaStream gig. It seems that no one, not even A-list celebrities, can be considered humanitarians or human rights advocates any longer if they have anything at all to do with the settlements, which, of course, are illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, when the American Studies Association (ASA) passed a resolution endorsing a form of academic boycott against Israeli institutions in December, the backlash began to build, resulting in multiple states, as well as Congress, introducing legislation that would punish or condemn the ASA for its actions. The first bill, introduced in New York, was backed by Sheldon Silver, the power broker of the state legislature. It sailed through the Senate and was expected to pass within days. But a coalition quickly coalesced to fight the bill, with university faculty and administrators weighing in, culminating in a New York Times editorial that condemned the bill for its assault on political speech on campuses. The bill in its current form was withdrawn. Though a new version is slowly wending its way through the legislature, the lesson to be heeded is that it is no longer cost free for politicians to try to score political points by attacking critics of Israel while shredding free speech.

This is nothing short of a new reality. So it is not surprising that people who identify themselves as liberal, who have been willing to gently criticize Israel—but not to the point of endorsing any action that would compel it to change its behavior—are finding themselves tied in knots in trying to reconcile their values with their positions on Israel.

Critics of the BDS movement often use loaded language and fear-based appeals to rally opposition against BDS. Right here on Tikkun Daily, for example, Timothy Villareal’s post on Barghouti’s op-ed attributes thoughts to a nameless Palestinian to “prove” that the Palestinians want to “kick the Jews out”—without any acknowledgement of the over 700,000 Palestinians who were “kicked out” of Israel (i.e., became refugees during the Nakba)—including, perhaps, the anonymous man he has just quoted.

Villareal then goes on to accuse Barghouti of “craftily” using references to equality, universal human rights, and historic Jewish liberalism to hoodwink young idealists into supporting BDS.  The blatant appeal to the classic racist stereotype of Arabs who can’t be trusted is dusted off to dismiss the idea that the Palestinian-led campaign for BDS could be taken at face value, without any examination of the consistent application of these values in BDS campaigns worldwide.

He writes:
And yet, he craftily spells this out by tugging at the heartstrings of those who deeply sympathize with the right of Palestinian national self-determination, and broader Arab human rights and dignity.

Roger Cohen expanded on the same theme in a recent column in the New York Times. Stating baldly that “I do not trust the BDS movement,” he goes on to say that “this is the hidden agenda of BDS, its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise, and suffocate.”

Besides the not so subtle recourse, again, to evoking common racist tropes about Arabs, there is one big problem with this statement: there is nothing hidden about the BDS movement’s agenda. The goals of BDS, just as Cohen recounts them, hew closely to the fundamental principles of the liberal world view: human rights, equality, and international law. But to acknowledge the legitimacy of these demands would also demand an accounting of how these universally recognized rights square with the privilege and power accorded to Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.

Rather than wrestle honestly with the contradiction of his values and the instinct to give in to his fears, Cohen goes on the attack. As a way to prove the distance from the current BDS movement to the movement against Apartheid, Cohen quotes Diana Shaw Clark (who according to a quick google search is best known as a fundraising “bundler” for Obama) as saying, “People affiliated with divestment in South Africa had no agenda but the liberation and enfranchisement of an oppressed minority.” No matter that leading veterans of the anti-apartheid movement have embraced the Palestinian BDS movement, noting the similarity of their struggles. More important is the glaring myopia of this statement, not recognizing that the elements and goals of the two struggles are exactly the same.

This creates a conundrum for authors like Cohen, and the vast swath of American Jews who share his views. As a self-described liberal, his fundamental values should be the full equality and liberty of all people. To acknowledge that these are the core goals of the BDS movement should—and hopefully someday will—compel him to join it. But for the moment, his fears of Jewish loss of privilege and control lead him instead to take refuge in vague accusations of anti-Semitism and deceit.

The time has come for liberals with integrity to grapple with the core questions that the BDS movement raises. This is doubly true for Jewish liberals for whom these questions are often the most clouded by emotion and history. Is it possible for Israel to be “Jewish and Democratic” when already over 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian? Can Jewish self-determination legitimately be built on the denial of Palestinian human rights? As a people who have experienced over and over the trauma of refugee-hood and longing for homeland, how can we possibly deny the validity of the right of return for Palestinians? And which do we value more: our fears or our respect for the universality of rights for all people? Perhaps the panic we’re seeing from authors like Villareal and Cohen is because both inside and outside the Jewish community, more and more people are prioritizing rights for all without conflating such rights with the destruction of Israel.

Rebecca Vilkomerson is the Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jvp.org).

Originally published on the Tikkun Daily Blog

 

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Israeli Politician Avraham Burg Barred from Speaking at Harvard Hillel

November 20, 2013, Cambridge, MA— Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel’s Knesset, spoke in an undergraduate dormitory at Harvard College last week after being barred from speaking at Harvard Hillel.
“It’s such a shame that Harvard Hillel would not allow an open discussion about Israel to take place within its walls,” said Sandra Korn ’14, who helped organize the talk. “Hillel should be a space for students to engage with Jewish issues, regardless of religious or political beliefs.”
Burg was allowed to attend an invitation-only dinner in the Hillel building, but was forbidden from hosting the event there since it was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee. The other co-sponsoring student groups included J Street U Harvard and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Harvard Students for Israel and Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance. The event took place in the Quincy House Junior Common Room instead.
“This is an attack on free speech in its most naked form,” said Ann Finkel ’15, a Harvard student who attended the event. “I’m not sure what they were afraid of – people with all kinds of political views had a very constructive conversation with Mr. Burg.”

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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.”

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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.

 

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