Category Archives: American Jewish Committee

American Jewish Committee Sderot ad refused airtime on NY station

AJC head David Harris compares attacks on Sderot to London blitz

The American Jewish Committee, the group known for efforts to oppose congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide, has this video about the refusal of New York Times-owned radio station, WQXR, to run their ad raising money for an emergency fund for the people of Sderot, Israel.

AJC head David Harris, in criticizing the refusal of the station to run the ad, doesn’t do his cause any favors when he compares the situation of the residents of Sderot to the London blitz in 1940 and 1941 (and by extension, Hamas to Nazis) in which over 43,000 were killed. He asks if an ad about the London blitz would also be refused by the station “on the grounds that we failed to refer reciprocal British miltary actions against Nazi Germany.”

In fact, according to the UN, from 2000 through the beginning of 2008, 11 residents of Sderot were killed by Qassam rockets, while 2,677 Gazans were killed by Israeli rocket fire and incursions. It is likely the one-sidedness and sensationalism of the ad which caused the station manager to reject it. (Other writers will likely give the ad the detailed critique it requires.)

Nonetheless, the ad should have been accepted–and also, any ad which talked about the Gazans who have also endured. It is in the nature of wars and conflicts, in which people on both sides endure real and terrible suffering, that people only tell the story from their side. Can more really be expected? And can a free and open society withstand that kind of speech? I think so. Watch the video here: AJC video about Sderot ad

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More on Finkelstein’s ban. Is this what democracy looks like?

In a story widely reported in the rest of the world, well known critic of Israel’s human rights record and child of Holocaust survivors Norman Finkelstein has been banned from entering Israel for 10 years. Israel has every right to choose who it lets in to the country, and Finkelstein supported Hezbollah during the Israel-Lebanon war, so Israel is justified in keeping him out of the country for 10 years. He consorted with the enemy. He’s a threat to the state. Right? Well, not according to Haaretz, which editorializes that a move seemingly meant more to punish Finkelstein for his views than to protect Israelis “hurts us more than it hurts him.” In fact, according to the Jerusalem Post:

Officials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world.

This is pretty shocking stuff. It’s particularly surreal, as Haaretz points out, because as a Jew with no criminal record, Finkelstein would be eligible to be an Israeli citizen. And then what? Glenn Greenwald over at Salon has a very thorough analysis of the entire story: he interviewed Finkelstein and his nemesis, Alan Dershowitz, who, shockingly, “was quite critical of Israel’s exclusion of Finkelstein.” Of course, none of the analysis mentions a) that Finkelstein isn’t just banned from Israel but from the Palestinian Territories over which Israel exercises complete control and b) that many, including Palestinian Americans and nonviolent human rights activists, are regularly held and turned back at the border. Even Condi Rice has complained about the treatment of American citizens of Palestinian descent, who are denied the right to see their own families and homes, while Jews who are in no danger and who may have never set foot outside of their hometown in the US or elsewhere are regularly invited to come “home” and become citizens. For those of us who have heard, witnessed or experienced these chilling first hand accounts of people turned back at the border, this is not new news. What is disturbing are newer reports that videotapes of US human rights activists are ending up in the hands of the Shin Bet, and that the FBI is working directly with the Israeli government to monitor US -based nonviolent activists. There is currently no way to document if these are just a few isolated cases or a trend. Haaretz says

The Shin Bet argues that Finkelstein constitutes a security risk. But it is more reasonable to assume that Finkelstein is persona non grata and that the Shin Bet, whose influence has increased to frightening proportions, latched onto his meetings with Hezbollah operatives in order to punish him. And the decision is all the more surprising when one recalls the ease with which right-wing activists from the Meir Kahane camp – the kind whose activities pose a security threat that no longer requires further proof – are able to enter the country.

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New poll: Jewish neocons don’t represent Jews. Duh.

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece in Salon today about the American Jewish Committee’s newest poll on American Jewish attitudes towards the Middle East, domestic politics and more. Greenwald says the poll demonstrates that:

(1) right-wing neocons (the Bill Kristol/Commentary/ AIPAC/Marty Peretz faction) who relentlessly claim to speak for Israel and for Jews generally hold views that are shared only by a small minority of American Jews; (2) viewpoints that are routinely demonized as reflective of animus towards Israel or even anti-Semitism are ones that are held by large majorities of American Jews; and (3) most American Jews oppose U.S. military action in the Middle East — including both in Iraq and against Iran.

Further, most American Jews worry about the same things other Americans worry about:

Contrary to the bottomless obssession which most neocon pundits and office-holders have with All Matters Israel, the principal political concerns of most American Jews have nothing to do with the Middle East. Thus, they identify “economy/jobs” (22) and “health care” (19) — not Terrorism — as “the most important problem facing the U.S. today.”

And still, 69% of the Jews interviewed (exactly one half of the sample is affiliated with a synagogue) agreed with the statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” And why shouldn’t we? And what does that really mean? Caring about Israel can mean any number of things, donating money to Rabbis for Human Rights, helping rebuild homes with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, wanting the country to cease its destructive and self-destructive actions.
Greenwald continues, saying the neocons’…

reckless exploitation of “anti-Israel” and anti-Semitism accusations as instruments in their political rhetoric and their corresponding, deceitful equation of their own views with being “pro-Israel” — often casts the appearance that they are some sort of spokespeople for the “pro-Israel” agenda or the Jewish viewpoint.

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A different angle: Braverman challenges Rosenfeld’s attack on progressive Jews

In his thought-provoking essay, Answer to Rosenfeld: Jewish History, Anti-Semitism, and the Challenge, Dr. Mark Braverman takes on the man who famously attacked progressive Jews who are critical of Israel. Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “Progressive Jewish Thought”, was written at the behest of the American Jewish Committee, and caused a large firestorm.

Rosenfeld’s report’s sloppy methodology and overt ideological approach have been duly noted by numerous critics. Braverman adds something new to the conversation by addressing something even more insidious. Rosenfeld’s work betrays a disturbing sense of superiority (that is partly a response to Jewish oppression) which profoundly belittles Palestinian suffering and by extension, the fundamental humanity of all Palestinians.

In Rosenfeld’s strident call for a circling of the wagons, we see the tragedy of modern Jewry in its confrontation with the uncomfortable realities of Israel: the refusal to deal with anyone’s suffering but our own. To be sure, and as discussed above, there are historical reasons for this attitude, and we are doubtless not the only group to have been guilty of this willful blindness, this inexcusable sense of entitlement and specialness. But this tendency among many Jews today is so powerful and pervasive that it reaches the level of outright denial. Nowhere – nowhere in Rosenfeld’s piece is to be found even a gratuitous nod to the suffering of the Palestinians – not even the minimizing, grudging, disingenuous acknowledgment of the “unfortunate abuses” suffered by the occupied Palestinians that one sometimes hears from the “pro-Israel” camp. But even more important, and ultimately more disturbing and potentially tragic, is the absence of any consideration of the issue of justice. To be sure, Israel may be threatened – the future is uncertain, geopolitics are fickle. In the global arena, what gives you birth and supports you one day can turn against you the next – and to be sure, anti-Semitism is alive, and where not active it is very likely dormant – but where is Justice, what is the state of your conscience?

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With Friends Like these: Christian Zionists stifle US Jews and inhibit peace efforts.

The recent death of Jerry Falwell can serve as an opportunity to reflect on the growing Christian Zionist (CZ) movement and how such a movement is related to other establishment pro-Israel groups such as The David Project, ADL and AIPAC. To be clear, there is a Faustian bargain being forged, for short term political and financial gain, Israel and the American Jewish establishment are willing to engage with people such as John Hagee of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) “who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

This bargain also entails muzzling – American Jewish leaders who have been critical of CUFI sponsored local “Nights to Honor Israel” say they have been pressured into silence.

“The pressure has been enormous,” said a prominent Jewish leader who said he was contacted by local community officials after he raised questions about a local Christians United For Israel (CUFI) event. “I can’t even talk about it now; I feel a real sense of intimidation because people in our own community are saying I’m opposing something that’s good for Israel, that I’m hurting Israel.”

In terms of Falwell specifically, although their relationship has not been seamless, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has called Falwell a “towering figure of the religious right” and a “dear friend of Israel

The fly in the ointment, beyond the occasional “oopsy” anti-Semitic utterances, eg, “the antichrist is probably a Jewish man alive today,” (condemned by Foxman of the ADL), is that the relationship between the Christian Zionists (like Falwell, Pat Robertson and Hagee) and Jews is roughly that of Germany to the Soviet Union before Germany invaded its ally. Christian Zionists believe that as one large piece of the Apocalypse endgame, a unified Jewish state must exist over all of what is now Israel and Palestine and that a new temple must be built on temple mount. The important take home point is that within the framework of Christian Zionist belief is the notion that at the time of Christ’s second coming, Jews will be offered a choice to convert to Christianity or immediately be condemned to hell or some reasonable facsimile.

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“Never Again” Means For Everyone

By Mitchell Plitnick
Cross-posted at The Third Way, JVP’s policy analysis blog.

In one of the most bizarre and appalling developments here in the US, a number of Jewish groups are pressing Congress not to recognize the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. They are opposing bills in both the House and Senate that would formally recognize it.

It’s hard to imagine the cynicism and hypocrisy that this act embodies. Of all people, we Jews have, rightly, pushed the world to acknowledge horrific acts of genocide, to mark them, try to prevent them and to raise our voices loudly in the cry of “Never Again.”

The four Jewish groups that presented the case to Congress, on behalf of the Turkish Jewish community, were the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), B’Nai Brith, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

That JINSA would engage in this is not surprising. A Jewish group in name only, JINSA is a right-wing propaganda machine that has pushed the worst excesses of both the Bush Administration and the Israeli right for years, with no regard for human rights or the welfare of innocents, in Israel or elsewhere. Of the other three groups, it is fair to expect much better than this.

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Zeek: Shaul Magid and Paul Bagdanor on Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Dissent

[Editor's note: Apologies for the noticeable absence of new posts over the past few days. We've been at our sold-out conference, meeting and strategizing with fellow travelers from across the country. But we're back now.]

The April edition of Zeek magazine has an interesting back and forth between Shaul Maggid and Paul Bagnador about the American Jewish Committee’s infamous Alvin Rosenfeld report, “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism.” As we’ve written before, the booklet generated significant backlash by Jews who understood it more as a form of blacklisting, than a substantive piece of scholarship.

Professor Shaul Magid, who is, interestingly, a colleague of Rosenfeld’s at Indiana University, poses the question: Why Must Jews Support a Jewish State? He surveys some of the more egregious examples of polarized ultra-Orthodox theological thinking on the topic: those who think Jews caused the Holocaust because we didn’t move to Eretz Israel fast enough, and those who think we caused it because only “God has the covenantal right to reestablish Israel as part of the Messianic era.”

But I found more compelling his quote-by-quote deconstruction of Rosenfeld’s essay, a shoddy piece of scholarship. Magid takes the time to go back to the original source to provide not only context, but attribution.

Rosenfeld’s first “progressive” Jew under investigation is Jaqueline Rose, author of The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press, 2005). Rosenfeld quotes Rose as saying “In sum, Israel on its present course ‘is bad for the Jews’ …” If we turn to page 154 (Rosenfeld’s citation) we indeed find those words “bad for the Jews” in reference to Israel, but these words are not Rose’s. Rose is quoting Avner Azulay, retired IDF army general and Director of the Rich Foundation in Tel Aviv. In fact, on page 134, Rose quotes Azulay more extensively. Azulay writes, “What is happening in Israel is bad for the Jewish people in the long term. It seems to be coming true that what is happening in Israel is damaging to Jews.”

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American Jewish Committee defines anti-Semitism for European Union?

As we reported yesterday, a spirited debate in the UK ended in the passage of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism by the National Union of Students. Arthur Neslen, in the UK Guardian’s Comment is Free, says that the definition, which declares that many forms of criticism of Israel are anti-Semitic, was in large part written by the American Jewish Committee’s Kenneth Stern. AJC caused an uproar in the Jewish community for their infamous pamphlet charging some of America’s best known progressive Jewish artists, like Adrienne Rich and Tony Kushner, with fomenting anti-Semitism.

Neslen writes:

What do Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi, Ehud Olmert and myself all have in common? We could each be censured for racism according to the European Union Monitoring Centre’s “working definition of anti-semitism” which was last week adopted by the National Union of Students as official policy.

This definition has lately been sweeping all before it, taking endorsements everywhere from the all-party parliamentary Report on anti-semitism to the US state department’s special envoy for combating anti-semitism. The British government has pledged to re-examine its own definition of anti-semitism if the EUMC’s successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency, ratifies the new lingua franca.

So it’s actually a bit shocking to discover that the new definition was largely drafted by a pro-Israel advocate who gives talks on how to elide the distinction between anti-Zionism and hatred of Jews. Kenneth Stern is the American Jewish Committee’s expert on anti-semitism and in Defining Anti-Semitism, a paper published by Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute, he explained how he developed the working definition “along with other experts” in the second half of 2004.

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The “terrifying” case of Lord Richard Rogers, New York politics and the architecture of fear

A censorship scandal erupted in 2002 when the Israel Association of United Architects (IAUA) commissioned “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture,” and ended up cancelling the exhibition and banning the catalog when they didn’t like the results.

It was an all too honest depiction by Israeli architects and designers about the ways in which they played an essential role in the machinery of Israel’s occupation, helping in myriad ways to deny the Palestinians their human rights. In fact, the controversy inside the Green Line is no less intense over the role of mapmakers and urban planners in the deliberate erasure of Palestinian villages and history.

All this was brought to mind when I read Ken Auletta’s “The Fixer” in the February 12 edition of the New Yorker. Though the article is not online, one of our commenters thankfully posted a copy of the relevant portion.

Last year Lord Rogers, who was slated for the 1.7 billion dollar taxpayer-funded re-design of the Javits Center in NY, became engulfed in controversy when he allowed his UK office to be used for the inaugural meeting of a group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine. This group dared to discuss the possibility of sanctions against those profiting from occupation and “the exposure of those construction industry professionals who accept commissions from schemes that appropriate Palestinian land and resources.”

It’s not hard to guess what happened to Rogers as soon as this was made known. David Harris of the American Jewish Committee wrote then:

Clearly, the agenda of this group reflects very deep seated anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views.

Rogers was made to publicly cut ties with the Architects’ group, which committed the apparently unpardonable crime of considering nonviolent initiatives long-employed by human rights and faith-based groups.

“The Fixer” is about PR macher Howard Rubenstein’s role in Rogers public “redemption.” It offers a sad, cautionary tale about muzzling.

George Arzt, who was a political reporter for the New York Post and press secretary to Mayor Edward I. Koch and now runs his own P.R. firm, recently watched Rubenstein come to the rescue of someone’s good name — in this case, that of Lord Richard Rogers, the British architect who had contracts for a number of New York projects, including the redesign of the Javits Center and the expansion of Silvercup Studios, in Queens. Last February, Rogers lent his London office to a group called Architects and Planners tor Justice in Palestine, who discussed the possibility of boycotting architects and construction firms building Israel’s separation barrier and West Bank settlements, saying in a statement that they were “complicit in social, political, and economic oppression.” The British press reported these statements, and when New York officials like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Representative Anthony Weiner learned about them they demanded that Rogers’s New York government contracts be cancelled; other Jewish leaders chimed in, and editorials followed.

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The self-destructiveness of shutting down debate

Rob Eshman, editor in chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, writes in Shutting Jewish Mouths that the American Jewish Committee report sends the message that “there’s only one way to show you care for the Jewish state — our way.”

Twenty years ago at a park in Beverly Hills, actor Richard Dreyfuss, feminist Betty Friedan and Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, stood before a crowd of some 300 people and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Many in the crowd booed and hissed the speakers. Eventually they shouted Dreyfuss down. He had to be escorted offstage, past Jews who spat at him and called him names.

I know, because, as the local head of Americans for Peace Now back then, I organized the rally. I helped form a human ring around Dreyfuss as he raced for the safety of his car.

And I was there when a screaming protestor broke through our linked arms, called Dreyfuss a traitor, then said, “Hey, Richard, you think I could get your autograph?”

To follow the controversy over members of the Jewish mainstream accusing Jewish liberals of fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred by criticizing the Jewish state is to relive that afternoon in Roxbury Park, and all its attendant stupidity.

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