Category Archives: Educational Institutions

Mazel Tov LGBT Center, Shame on Christine C. Quinn et al

First the good news:

Welcome back to the 21st century NYC LGBT Center!

The Center just posted a statement overturning their absurd two-year ban on allowing Israel-Palestine related programming, which led to the barring of renowned lesbian thinker Sarah Schulman. Now it’s time to write director Glennda Testone (glennda@gaycenter.org) a note of congratulations for finally ending this embarrassing ban— along with a request that Islamophobe Michael Lucas and others who fuel anti-Palestinian bigotry be responded to appropriately under anti-hate policies. ( Lucas lobbied for the ban in response to a Palestinian rights group’s attempt to rent at the center.) Continue reading

Holy Moley Batman—Palestinian textbooks don’t demonize Jews!

If you are quiet and can hear a loud cracking noise in the distance, that’s the sound of the Hasbaraniks losing one of their favorite stock charges against the “big, scary, bad” Palestinians. To quote Hillary Clinton when she was held captive to local interests and regularly said stuff she didn’t believe a U.S senator in NY, Palestinian textbooks don’t, “give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination.” This oft-heard charge about Palestinian textbooks filled with horrific portrayals of Jews has been a lynchpin component of the Israel-as-innocent-victim narrative which AIPAC and company promote everywhere from churches to Congress. All to keep the dollars and protection flowing. Continue reading

Supporting free speech at Brooklyn College

A lot has been written in the past few days about the attempts to shut down an event this coming February 7th, at which leading Palestinian rights activist Omar Barghouti and world-renowned scholar Judith Butler (who is also a member of JVP’s Advisory Board) are scheduled to give a talk about Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) on the campus of Brooklyn College. Continue reading

Why Judith Butler had to be shut down

The announcement of a prestigious international academic prize doesn’t typically generate endless sturm und drang on the pages of major newspapers around the world, threatening to turn into an international incident. But when that prize is given by a German city, and the recipient is Judith Butler, one of the great thinkers of our time– who also happens to be a vocal critic of Israeli policies—apparently it signifies the end is near. Continue reading

No Free Speech in Canada? Banning “Israeli Apartheid” at Toronto Pride

Canada’s Gay and Lesbian Newspaper, Xtra reports on 9/11/12:

Toronto City Council’s executive committee has asked the city manager to rewrite the city’s anti-discrimination policy to prohibit criticism of Israel, which would directly affect funding for Pride Toronto.

Council requested the review in June because some councillors say Pride Toronto’s $123,807 city grant should be contingent on the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Pride parade.

The executive committee vote was a stunning 9 to 1.

We’ve been covering the ups and downs of this remarkable story about efforts to ban two simple words: “Israeli apartheid.” This example of trying to legislate a permanent protective shield around only one country in the world is a dramatic example of similar efforts happening across N. America and Europe driven by groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee.

The recent passage of HR35 by the California State Assembly, a resolution that grotesquely conflates criticism of Israel, and pro-human rights activism, with anti-Semitism, exemplifies this disturbing trend.

Most cynical of all- these efforts to run roughshod over free speech rights claim to protect Jews. In fact, they are about protecting the rightwing government of Israel, often from Jews (and of course many others). Meanwhile, no other country in the world, not even the United States, enjoys such protections. Or at least straight-faced efforts to legislate such protections.

And why this debate is only happening around the LGBT Pride Parade is another question altogether-which you can find answered at this ground-breaking conference on Homonationalism sponsored by CUNY in NY.

Continue reading

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

State University Hosts Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe- Says No to McCarthyite Campaign

Breaking news/a good day for free speech: despite extensive efforts by the new Amcha Initiative to get Israeli historian Ilan Pappe booted from Cal State University campuses, where he is scheduled to speak next week, the presidents of Cal State Fresno, Cal State Northridge, and Cal Poly have taken a strong, unanimous stand in support of free speech on college campuses.

If you’re near any of these campuses, please go hear Ilan Pappe speak the week of February 20th. He’s a brave, important scholar whose analysis and insights are invaluable to understanding Israel and Palestine. He’s speaking at Cal State NorthridgeCal Poly in San Luis Obispo and Cal State Fresno.

In the attempt to censor Pappe, who is a Jewish Israeli, UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammy Rossman-Benjamin, under the aegis of her new group, “The Amcha Initiative: Protecting Jewish Students,”  recently sent a letter to the president of the CSU system against Pappe and his CSU hosts. The letter is a prime example of doublespeak, emphasizing – using bold font and capital letters – that “are NOT asking that these three events be cancelled or that Ilan Pappe be censored.” (emphasis in original)

What, then, were they asking for? For the Cal State campuses and Cal Poly to “rescind all … sponsorship and support” from the Pappe events. What does that mean, exactly? Removing the events from campus and preventing the faculty from hosting Pappe in their official capacity. So no, that wouldn’t exactly be censoring Pappe – he could still speak off-campus, we presume – but it would surely be censoring the faculty who invited him, making a mockery of the freedom of intellectual inquiry and free speech that are so essential to college campuses.

There’s more to this story, too. The Amcha letter claims that Pappe’s event is propaganda, not education, and cites the political activism of the faculty who invited him (including the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at CSU-Fresno) as evidence. This claim that political people can’t be interested in education, or that people can’t simultaneously be committed to a political cause and to rigorous scholarship is both insulting and revealing. Revealing because it suggests on which side of the scale Rossman-Benjamin, an educator paid by the state of California, would fall.

And today, Rossman-Benjamin’s efforts failed. The presidents’ statement is strong and clear. In it, they state that “Universities are places where debate, discussion and free ideas are welcome and encouraged. … Academic freedom and freedom of speech are … cornerstones … of a functioning democracy.”

That’s right – free speech, higher education, functioning democracy are all deeply intertwined.

And moreover, they say, “Universities are charged with teaching students how to think for themselves….We seek to instill in students the tools to fairly and intelligently assess all data and views, as well as the personal integrity and values to come to a rational and reasonable conclusion.”

Exactly. They trust the learning process. They trust that students are intelligent and capable and have integrity, and can learn how to assess data and opposing, conflicting viewpoints.

That is, their educational philosophy is the opposite of Tammy Rossman-Benjamin, who has been the most visible leader behind a growing campaign to eliminate from college campuses virtually any criticism, however mild, of Israeli human rights practices.

In 2010, Rossman-Benjamin succeeded in getting Israeli peace activists kicked off of UC Santa Cruz campus. In March 2011, she – together with the SF Jewish Community Relations Council and the ADL – failed to do the same for a conference on Palestinians legal rights at UC Hastings (though they did get Hastings to pull its “name and brand” from the proceedings.

Also in March 2011, Rossman-Benjamin filed a complaint against UC-Santa Cruz, her employer, with the federal Office on Civil Rights, under the newly revamped anti-bullying guidelines (Eyal Mazor wrote a report on these guidelines for Muzzlewatch here. Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint alleges a “hostile environment” for Jewish students at UC-Santa Cruz and fills 29 pages with reports mainly about human rights activists speaking on campus. According to this complaint, any criticism of Israel is “anti-semitic” and “inciting hatred” against Israel – which, according to Benjamin, automatically means against Jewish students, too. We expect the Office of Civil Rights to dismiss this complaint: despite Rossman-Benjamin’s statement in the Forward suggesting that investigation itself proves the validity of her claim, if a complaint is filed, the OCR must investigate, like firefighters responding to a fire.

Which brings us back to the Amcha letter on Israeli historian Ilan Pappe- it says that hosting the Jewish Israeli historian on campus “cannot help but create a hostile environment for Jewish students” at these three campuses. That language sounds a lot like a threat, or maybe a promise. Are these campuses next on Rossman-Benjamin’s list for an Office of Civil Rights Title VI complaint?

And here’s the great letter from the Cal State Presidents:

Oakland Children’s Museum Cancels Palestinian Children’s Art Exhibit Under Pressure from Local Jewish Groups

Berkeley, CA’s Middle East Children’s Alliance broke the news yesterday that the exhibit of children’s artwork from Gaza that they had worked on for months with Oakland’s Children’s Museum of Art was suddenly canceled by the board before the planned September 24 opening reception. The show featured drawings by children about Israel’s infamous Operation Cast Lead, the military assault of December 2008-January 2009 that led to the deaths of some 1,400 Palestinians, over 300 of them children.

(Check regularly at mecaforpeace.org for updates and planned actions- they won’t be taking this lying down.)

MECA said in a statement:

The Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) has decided to cancel an exhibit of art by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which was partnering with MOCHA to present the exhibit, was informed of the decision by the Museum’s board president on Thursday, September 8, 2011. For several months, MECA and the museum had been working together on the exhibit, which is titled “A Child’s View From Gaza.”

MECA has learned that there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.

Barbara Lubin, the Executive Director of MECA, expressed her dismay that the museum decided to censor this exhibit in contradiction of its mission “to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.”

“We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose,” she said.

“The only winners here are those who spend millions of dollars censoring any criticism of Israel and silencing the voices of children who live every day under military siege and occupation.”

Recognizing that the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council has an established track record of targeting Palestinian cultural expression, I wrote directly to JCRC Executive Director Doug Kahn to find out if they were involved in the board’s sudden decision to cancel the show. Indeed it seems they were, though perhaps not alone. This was his response in full:

East Bay JCRC, working closely with the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, shared with the leadership of MOCHA our concerns about the inappropriateness of this exhibit given the fact that MOCHA – an important and valued community institution – serves very young children.

(MOCHA has only stated that they received complaints “from Jewish groups as well as others in the community.”)

However, it doesn’t seem likely that this is about concerns for children’s sensitivities to war imagery. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its coverage of the incident today, MOCHA has a significant track record of showing the artwork of children living under war, including WWII, without incident. These images apparently aren’t substantively different.

This is, however, about giving voice to Palestinians-in this case children- who endured a simply extraordinary attack on an illegally captive population of 1.5 million people otherwise known as Operation Cast Lead.

The Israel government and its proxies pulled out all of the stops to undermine criticism of the Operation which drew nearly universal condemnation and triggered massive protest marches around the world. An unprecedented smear campaign was launched against a respected Jewish South African jurist named Richard Goldstone who led a UN task force examining Israeli and Hamas war crimes.

The canceling of the art show should be seen in the context of the Goldstone smear campaign, as well as previous successful efforts by a handful of Bay Area Jewish communal organizations to determine what Palestinians can and cannot say. (In contrast, exhibit organizer, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, enjoys significant Jewish support, and the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is one of many exhibit co-sponsors.)

In 2007, the JCRC pressured San Francisco State University to change the content of a mural dedicated to the late great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. It’s worth looking at the mural and then reading the JCRC’s critique to understand the depth of their fear of imagery that is so essential to Palestinian memory of fleeing or being expelled from their homes to make way for the then new state. It is odd, to put it mildly, to read Jewish communal professionals so closely aligned with the Israeli Consulate offering in depth art critiques of Palestinian symbolism in a policy-making capacity.

The JCRC was also involved in a deeply messy battle, along with the Anti-Defamation League, over the content of a San Francisco mural painted by young members of the nonprofit H.O.M.E.Y. which works with at-risk kids in San Francisco’s mission district. Not surprisingly, the groups’ insistence that they represented the vast majority of Jews in the Bay Area-an area known for its commitment to independent thought and open artistic expression– triggered significant Jewish opposition. And of course the JCRC is behind the highly controversial restrictive funding guidelines that essentially bar (or should I say threaten to bar) critics of Israel , including BDS proponents, from speaking prominently on panels of institutions funded in some way by San Francisco’s Jewish Federation.

But something tells me that this cancellation of Gazan children’s art, some of which you see here, may well cross a line for a lot of fence-sitters. While I reject the argument of parity that only applies to Palestinian stories, it certainly would have been wiser to lobby the MOCHA board to either work with MECA on adapting the exhibit or to hold an exhibit-like the Israeli government and others have – of artwork by the children of the Israeli city of Sderot rather than cancel the Gazan exhibit.  And to be fair, perhaps they were lobbied to do that but the board chose to wash their hands of the entire issue. We don’t know. I myself would have attended exhibits of children’s art from Gaza or Sderot, and brought my young son. But instead, we have what amounts to yet more erasure. The Israeli government has in essence locked the over 60% of Gazans who are children behind a wall and thrown away the key and forgotten entirely about them. Now the rest of us are supposed to forget about them too.

In the meantime, this must feel like deja vu all over again for MECA. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported about this incident in late 2005:

MECA had teamed up with the Berkeley Art Center and Alliance Graphics to present an exhibit last November and December called “Justice Matters: Artists Consider Palestine.” In their works 14 Palestinian and American artists addressed Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.

The artists, MECA and the Berkeley Art Center were attacked by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other people who claimed to represent the mainstream Jewish community. According to Jos Sances, curator of “Justice Matters,” “there was even an effort to close the show down and have the city withdraw its annual support for the Berkeley Art Center.”

Fourteen rabbis (one for each artist?) visited Berkeley’s mayor to condemn the exhibit. The artists were charged with glorifying violence and terrorism, perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes and even lying about their own history.

On the other hand, there was support from the community and e-mails to the Berkeley Art Center included comments like: “A powerful, scathing experience. Thank you for it” and “It was very thought provoking to see the other side.” Even an Israeli offered ”my admiration for your courage in showing this important protest art.”

MECA’s Barbara Lubin says the mayor of Berkeley stood up to pressure and the show went on. The level of denial about Israeli human rights violations has dropped so dramatically in many Jewish communities in recent years—synagogues everywhere across the country are split — that I wonder if 6 years later most of those rabbis would have the same response to challenging art. I suppose we’re about to find out.


CUNY trustees dishonor academic freedom in Tony Kushner snub

Fresh off a failed attempt to fire a Brooklyn college professor for not properly toeing the line on Israel, CUNY Board of Trustees member Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld chose a much higher-profile target: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Wiesenfeld, who is a repeat abuser of his power as a CUNY Trustee,  succeeded in getting CUNY to table Kushner’s honorary degree for what is believed to be the first time ever. Kushner’s crimes? Criticizing Israel, and serving on the Advisory Board of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Here’s Kushner’s searing rebuke:

Letter to CUNY Trustees 05-04-11

[Ed. note: Jewish Voice for Peace engages in campaigns that promote boycott and divestment from companies that profit from  the Israeli occupation, not Israel as a whole.)

Wiesenfield cited the “disingenuousness and non-intellectual activity” on US campuses as a reason for barring Kushner, though barring a figure of Kushner’s brilliance seems like a funny way to combat that problem. Unless of course your real goal is ideological control.

Here’s a comparison of the views of Tony Kushner with those of former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who unlike Kushner, received unanimous support for getting an honorary degree from CUNY this year :

As for Wiesenfeld, he knows something about shady proceedings, being appointed by then-governor George Pataki in a last minute session after concerns were raised about his calling blacks “savages” and Jews “thieves.” He also led the Stop the Madrassa coalition to block Debbie Almontaser from opening an Arabic language and culture school in  New York City. Kushner and Almontaser, both are winners of the “Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards” from Jews For Racial and Economic Justice. Koch also defended Glenn Beck from charges of anti-semitism..
Who would you rather honor?

-Jesse Bacon