Category Archives: BDS

Odeh Not Given Full and Fair Trial, Found Guilty in Jury Verdict

By Becca Hanna

Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh was found guilty this morning of “Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization” stemming from questions she answered on immigration documents a decade ago.rasmea_0

Odeh, a 67 year old community organizer with Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, was arrested in her home on October 22, 2013 by Department of Homeland Security agents. She was charged with omitting information about a prior conviction on her naturalization documents.

That conviction was a 1969 decision by an Israeli Military Court indicting Odeh for alleged involvment with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accusing her of direct involvement in a bombing of the British Consulate in Jerusalem.

Odeh was arrested in a 1969 and jailed in an Israeli prison where she was brutally tortured and abused until she finally confessed to the bombings. At trial, Odeh immediately recanted her confession given under torture, but was sentenced to life in prison by the all military court.

Odeh served 10 years before her sentence was commuted in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP. Odeh eventually made her way to Jordan where she became a lawyer, then came to the United States in 1994 to care for her ailing father.

Odeh has lived and worked in the United States since then, committing herself particularly to organizing Arab-American women in the greater Chicago area. Odeh has widely been recognized as an exemplary community leader, even garnering praise for the Chicago Cultural Alliance as such in 2013.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Censorship in Pre-trial Motions

The arrest and subsequent trial of Rasmea Odeh has been legally questionable from the start. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression among others, argue that the discrepancy on the naturalization application was purposefully sought out in an effort to jail activist by any means necessary,

Odeh is a member of a prominent Arab-American community which garnered national attention after a 2010 FBI raid on 14 activist’s homes. Though none of those subpoenad activists have yet been jailed, Stopfbi.net called the raids and subsequent grand jury indictments a “witch hunt” for pro-Arab activists.

The injustices, for Odeh, did not stop there.

Early on in her trial process, Odeh met many barriers to a full and fair trail, starting with inadequate representation, and ending with censorship of her own testimony.

In a criticized evedentiary hearing, Eastern Michigan District Judge Gershwin Drain ruled that evidence that Odeh was tortured in Israeli custody and forced into a confession was inadmissable . Though Justice Drain said the court was “sympathetic” to the story of Odeh’s torture and admitted that there is truth in her accusation of torture, he claimed that the torture had already been tried in 1969 and he was not looking to “rehash” the previous trial.

Rasmea’s lawyers intended to use her admission under torture, immediate recantation and subsequent diagnosis of PTSD to build a case for the omission of the conviction being due to Odeh’s intense trauma surrounding the confession.

In his ruling, Justice Drain also alluded to a 1998 treaty between the United States and Israel ”on mutual assistance in criminal matters.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.01.53 AM

This treaty effectively binds the United States to honor any decisions made by the Israeli courts, and promises legal assistance in prosecuting anyone that the Israeli Government sees fit to prosecute.

This treaty was the ultimate reason for Judge Drain’s refusal to allow Odeh’s testimony: a pact with the Israeli Government.

Odeh’s defense also tried to get the court to throw out the trial on the grounds that the information gathered about Odeh was gathered from illegal investigation into the Arab American Action Network’s activities, and was a politcally motivated attempt to abuse the criminal justice system to jail activists doing politicized work. The court sided with the prosecution on this motion as well, denying it outright.

While Odeh did win a small victory with a motion to exlude the battery of charges brought against Odeh by the Israeli courts in favor of focusing on just the bombing indictment, the defense’s entire case was gutted by the evidentiary ruling barring the torture allegations. The jurors for the case would not be able to hear anything about how the confession was obtained by the Israeli Military. Further, the judge granted the prosecution’s motion for a jury sequester, assuring that the jurors would not see any signs of protest outside of the courthouse by picking them up from an unspecified location and bringing them in a different entrance. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.39.07 PM

The Trial

At trial, the prosecution worked to paint Odeh as a convicted and dangerous terrorist who omitted information about her previous arrests to unlawfully gain access to the United States and further her political agenda.

Putting Odeh’s story into context, defense attorney Michael Deutsch used his opening statements to tell the story of Rasmea’s family’s loss of their home and land in 1948 and the indiscriminant sweep of arrests in 1969 that put Odeh in jail where she would eventually be “interrogated for weeks.” Deutsch spoke of the Nakbah and Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land, telling the jury that Odeh “embodies the history of the Palestinian People.”

During the trial, the defense was able to show that Odeh was questioned in 2010 by a Homeland Security Officer who lied about his interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to get Odeh to talk about her recent trip to Palestine. Deutsch showed that the original immigration documentation was never signed by Odeh, that the immigration official who went through the naturalization questions with Rasmea in 2004 never asked Odeh about the questions involving previous convictions, and that the paperwork itself is confusing — asking questions meant about convictions in the U.S. and abroad after asking a series of U.S. focused questions.

When Odeh finally took the stand herself on Thursday, she bravely told the story of her life, hinting at, but omitting the torture she endured in Israeli prison at the threat of being held in contempt by the Judge. “It’s my life,” she told the judge, “I have a right to talk about the things that happened to me!”

The prosecution vigerously cross-examined Odeh, trying to trap her into misspeaking, but she stayed strong, asserting her innocence and giving careful explanations about her conduct.

The trial ended on Friday with the jury taking 15 minutes for deliberation before adjourning for the weekend.

This morning, after less than 2 hours of deliberation the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, likely sending Odeh to jail and putting her citizenship in danger. Judge Drain, in a rare move, praised the jury for their decision.

After the ruling, in usual Rasmea Odeh form, the activist addressed her supporters outside of the Detroit Couthouse saying, “Someday we’ll find fairness, some place in the world. If we didn’t get justice now, we will get it later.”

Odeh is set to appear before the judge for sentencing at 2PM CST.

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

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

 

A Boycott by Any Other Name

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Just mention the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and, as readers of Muzzlewatch well know, certain folks who declare themselves Israel’s greatest supporters try to shut down the discussion. And nothing makes them more apoplectic than the piece of BDS that is sticky even for many who embrace the tactic generally: the academic and cultural boycott. To impede the free exchange of ideas among scholars and artists, the argument goes, violates a core value.

So how will Israel’s self-appointed defenders respond to a recent threat by some Israeli scientists to remove themselves from international scientific bodies, scholarly journals and conferences, and even opportunities for research grants? No, not a new lab-coat brigade joining the BDS campaign. These scientists propose withdrawing from $106 million of potential funding in the name of defending their state against European “scorn for Israel.” They mean to punish the European Union by refusing to cooperate with them. Continue reading

Hold the Pickle

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Unlike hamburgers, which are either kosher or not, some boycotts are apparently more kosher than others.

The state of Israel and its supporters in the US have launched a full court press against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) — even though they’ve often dismissed the campaign as inconsequential and ineffective. Go figure. Such fruitless efforts have inspired legislation in the Knesset, passed in the spring, that allows targets of BDS to sue its advocates without having to prove that they sustained any harm. And here in the U.S., Malcolm Hoenlein head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, recently announced plans for a major offensive against the BDS movement on college campuses. This drive will be joining a multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network.

But at the end of June, when McDonald’s Israel franchise turned down an invitation to open a branch at a mall under construction in the West Bank’s sprawling Jewish settlement, Ariel, settlers immediately called for a boycott of the chain. Continue reading

San Francisco bus ads condemn Israeli apartheid: backlash begins

American Muslims for Palestine launched an ad campaign this week on San Francisco buses condemning Israeli apartheid. (See below.) Predictably, local branches of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Jewish Community Relations Council, immediately issued a statement in effect calling the ad hate speech for using the word ‘apartheid’. They have called on “all civic, ethnic and religious leaders who oppose bigoted lies and demonization to exercise their constitutional rights by condemning these inflammatory advertisements.”

Below is a line by line reading of their media statement.

First, it’s hard to know if the people who wrote this press release actually believe what they wrote. The points they make against the ad are so off the mark, and often offensive, it’s hard to believe anyone could write them sincerely. (I’m deleting the names on the release because I don’t think it’s fair to blame them. I think people at the top should be held accountable for such nonsense.) Continue reading

A Tale of Two Rabbis as Passover Draws Near

By Donna Nevel

An event is taking place in New York City on April 4th to discuss the following questions: Is Israel—or can it be—a democracy? Is there—or can there be—equality in Israel? Can a Jewish state be democratic? The current realities in Palestine/Israel, and deep concerns about justice and equality, make this conversation urgent. Two high-profile rabbis in New York City played key, and starkly contrasting, roles as the planning for this event unfolded.

One rabbi did not want the conversation to happen at all—at least not in any space over which he had control.The very mention of BDS in the flyer announcing the event—that this panel had grown out of questions asked at an earlier panel on BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions]—made the conversation, in his words, “beyond the pale;” it was not going to take place in his “home.” And so he had his assistant cancel the contract the synagogue had signed to rent out its space for the event. (Only when we held him to account with his contractual liability did he grudgingly back down, telling us he wished we would go elsewhere and demanding that we not use the name of the synagogue even as part of the address in our promotional materials lest the synagogue suffer “reputational harm” for which we would be held responsible.) Continue reading

Can Israel be Jewish and democratic? Ansche Chesed cancels forum contract.

Exciting times indeed.

A surprising, even thrilling mix of prominent New York Jews wants to have a discussion about what until recently has been the ultimate unaskable question: can Israel be both a democracy and a Jewish state? And they want to have that discussion in a prominent shul.

The Upper West Side synagogue Ansche Chesed agrees to the forum, until the senior rabbi gets wind of the event and decides to cancel the contract, he says, based on the concern that the topic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) may, possibly, might, perhaps, could potentially…come up in the conversation. (Read the whole breaking story here.)

But the goal-posts for acceptable discourse are shifting rapidly and the tale has a great ending. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), unafraid of a good debate on an issue people are dying to discuss, has stepped up and will host the April 4 event. (Download flyer here.) Continue reading

Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort, Hillel on Campus


[Editor's note: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's video report (above) on Israel-defense training for students made me think that now would be a good time to re-publish Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort. My colleague Sydney Levy and I wrote it this summer in response to the UC Berkeley divestment struggle and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor's rather strange response to the effort.

In watching the JTA video in which the national head of Hillel is trying to make a subtle point but revealingly ends up comparing Muslims to vampires, I'd add that it has never been so clear to me how older Jews have failed this younger generation. Students are smart enough to handle an open conversation about complexity and Israel. But many in the older generation in power don't want that to happen. The fundamental irony, of course, is that when it comes to both delegitimizing and existentially threatening Israel, no critic can hold a candle to Israel itself and its ever-expanding settlement project (and human rights abuses etc...) There is no faster way for Israel to continue down the path of self-destruction than to continue the status quo, unhindered. In that very important sense, the BDS movement may be Israel's last chance. Especially now that we know that Congress and the Obama administration is no more willing to hold Netanyahu accountable than previous administrations.]

Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort

By Cecilie Surasky and Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace

(June 1, 2010) Israel right-or-wrong apologists have reason to be worried after three lengthy UC Berkeley student senate hearings concluded each with a solid majority of votes (60% or more) in favor of divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Though in the end, the vote fell 1 short of the needed supermajority required to overturn a veto, neither our opponents nor we forget that a clear majority consistently supported the bill.

Now, a few weeks after the hearings are over, it is a good time to examine how familiar tactics were deployed to stop the divestment effort and are now being used to prevent future similar ones. These tactics do not advance the cause of peace and have the unintended potential to cause harm to Jews in the US. Silencing debate, confusing the facts, taking over student senates, making indiscriminate charges of anti-Semitism, criminalizing anti-occupation activism, implicitly or explicitly condoning widespread hostility against Muslims, Palestinians, and anti-occupation Jews – these are the tactics with which we’ve unfortunately become too familiar. We’ll review them below.

1) Silencing debate

The first tactic, which predates UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, is the effort to shut down debate within the Jewish community. The story is an old one, but given the growing level of desperation among the Israel right-or-wrong crowd, the measures being deployed are increasingly bold and destructive.

Just a few months ago, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation issued the most restrictive funding guidelines in the country. These guidelines aim to silence open discussion within the institutional Jewish community on Israeli policies and the merits of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. And they also have led to an old-fashioned blacklist of well-known human rights groups now banned from the Federation’s donor designated fund’s acceptable charities list.

The guidelines’ impact has not gone unnoticed. An open letter in The Forward signed by Jewish professors, rabbis, and other notables from both the left and center describes the San Francisco Federation guidelines in these terms:

Despite the guidelines’ repeatedly stated commitment to the values of free and open discussion and diversity, they will have a chilling effect on the entire spectrum of community institutions, including educational, service, social justice and arts organizations. They will also limit American Jewish exposure to the range of art, literature, scholarship, and political discourse that exists in Israel. The guidelines will encourage self-censorship. Organizations will fear losing their funding; individuals will fear losing their jobs.

Though the ad is written in future tense about the negative effects the guidelines will have, we know for certain that these effects have already taken hold. Fearing loss of jobs or funding, people are staying quiet.

More recently, the guidelines were directly linked by a Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston to Israel’s banning of political linguist Noam Chomsky and other indications of incipient “fascism.”

This effort to stifle debate inside our communities has ironically meant that the only way that Jews have been able to speak face-to-face with other Jews about divestment has been at the UC Berkeley hearings. And what the hearings revealed was striking: an authentic crisis in the Jewish community. By all appearances, the number of Jewish supporters of divestment on campus easily matched the number of opponents. The group that sponsored the divest initiative, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), includes many Israelis and Jews as well as Palestinians and Muslims and many others of various faiths and nationalities, and the co-author of the divest bill himself is an Israeli Jew. Many Jewish professors, including members of the Jewish studies program, came out in support of the divest bill.

The Federation guidelines not only prevent an open conversation on these critically important issues, but they also banish these Jewish studies professors and the Jewish and Israeli students from any public forum on Israel funded by the Federation. The guidelines banish some of our best and most knowledgeable minds from the conversations where we truly need them most. By silencing debate, the Israel right-or-wrong advocates get to act like they’re speaking for the majority of Jews. But we know that they are not. For now, they’ve shut down public debate inside the Jewish institutional world, and their McCarthyite methods cast a long shadow. But the divestment hearing shows that whether or not the Jewish institutional world is ready, these conversations will take place because people, including many Jews, want to have them.

2) Confusing the Facts

The second tactic we saw used, yet again, was a consistent campaign to mislead the public about the nature of specific divestment resolutions. Many in the Jewish world, including the director of Berkeley Hillel ignored the fact that the UC Berkeley divestment resolution addressed only the Israeli occupation and repeatedly suggested instead that it targeted Israel as a whole.

3) Take over student senates

The Forward reported that,

At an AIPAC conference in Washington in late March, AIPAC leadership development director Jonathan Kessler said that his organization would “make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote,” as recorded in a video taken at the conference by the JTA. “This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s Capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses,” he said.

You can watch the chilling but frank video with Mr. Kessler’s statement here, where Mr. Kessler explicitly refers to the Berkeley resolution. This of course did not stop an AIPAC spokesperson from declaring:

“We took no position on the Berkeley student election, since like in any other election, we don’t rate or endorse candidates. Of course we would always, publicly and consistently, encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”

This year alone, about 1,300 students from all 50 states were offered a travel junket to DC to attend an AIPAC conference and learn the finer points of Israeli Hasbara. About a quarter of those in attendance were student government presidents, the kinds of leaders that can veto a divestment bill, just like UC Berkeley student senate president Will Smelko did. What is striking, as documented in the AIPAC video, is that a number of these student leaders had not heard of AIPAC before the offer of the free trip.
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New McCarthyist quotes his mentors directly

It is amazing to me how little the script varies from muzzle attempt to muzzle attempt, but this recent example shows remarkable fealty to muzzling’s rich history.  Josef Olmert, brother of former Prime Minister Ehud, is concerned about the BDS movement’s rise and potential for even greater growth on US college campuses. So how does he express this concern?

I possess a list of thousands of American academics calling for a boycott of Israel. The number of Jews among them is overwhelming.

What’s next, Un-Jewish-American Activities hearings at every Hillel? In a threefer, Olmert manages to reproduce the paranoia of the  Old “I have here in my hand [a list of communists]” McCarthyism as well as its obsession with the number of Jews and State Department employees amongst its enemies.

I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the BDS Movement and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department. . . .

Just kidding, that was actually Joe McCarthy, and I switched out the words “Communist Party.”

Here’s Joe Olmert,

Among students, anti-Israel sentiment is its strongest in Middle Eastern studies departments and research centers, decades ago hijacked by anti-Israel teachers. Frighteningly, present students and researchers are the future staffers of the U.S. State Department and the intelligence community. Clearly, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus is dangerous, Israel and her supporters cannot afford to lose this battle.

All we need now if for him to say something homophobic and the history lesson will be complete. So how can we fight this BDS menace?

To combat these forces, supporters on campus must do a better job at presenting Israel’s case with clear, straight, and concise facts.

Rather like a teacher trainer lecturing about the importance of avoiding lecture, Olmert’s piece does not seem too heavy on facts. But I guess that sounds better than “hysterical innuendo, paranoid hyperbole, and guilt by association.” All this for a transparent movement whose members sign public petitions and have all night open debates on the issue!

Olmert closes with the following battle call,

On the eve of a new academic year, I make an urgent call to the pro-Israel community. Time is running out. Israel can win this war currently raging on the American campus, but for that to happen, Israel’s supporters must act quickly and decisively. My only question is: Who’s coming with me?

My guess is, probably people unconcerned with civil liberties, human rights,  or academic freedom. I look forward to following this BDS-baiting further.

–Jesse Bacon