Category Archives: Censorship

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.

Arts censorship at Klinghoffer opera opening

By Becca Hanna

Monday night, October 20, over 400 people gathered outside of New York’s Lincoln Center to protest an opera many of them admittedly have never seen. “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a John Adams and Alice Goodman collaboration opened at the Metropolitan Opera to a standing ovation.

In yet another example of claims of anti-semitism being leveraged to silence artistic expression, protestors wielded signs reading, “Cancel Racist Opera Insult to the Arts,” and shouted at theater-goers, calling them “Nazi Pigs.”

The protest, which was widely advertised in email blasts from the Jewish Defamation League, Zionist Organization of America and others was lead by Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY board of trustee member who tried (and failed) to block playwright, Palestinian human rights activist, and member of the Jewish Voice for Peace advisory board member Tony Kushner from receiving an honorary degree and said in an interview that his mother would have called Kushner a “Kapo.”

The Jewish Defense League showed up in full force, handing out Stars of David with the words “never again” printed on them as well as flyers offering a self-defense and gun training course.

Former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani spoke at the protest, adding his voice to the chorus of political figures including former governor George Pataki, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Congressman Eliot Engel and Catholic League President Bill Donahoe, who have criticized the opera for being “anti-semitic.”

The Met’s response? “See it. Then Decide.”

The opera retells and contextualizes the events that lead to death of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American who was thrown overboard after the cruise ship he was vacationing on was taken over by Palestinian Liberation Front militants in 1985.

In its nearly 25 year history, the show has met repetitive criticism for being anti-semitic and sympathetic to terrorists. In fact, according to Times of Israel reviewer Jordan Hoffman, “the opera does not portray the hijackers as mindless, bloodthirsty monsters, but dares to give the men and their cause a degree of backstory.” For the some, however, the mere attempt to humanize Palestinians’ decades of displacement or life under occupation is an attack on Jews. In their view, there can be no room for nuance, history or moral complexity–which, ironically, is the role of the arts.

In what Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb calls a “compromise” with protestors of the work, the Met cancelled its planned movie theater and radio broadcasts of the opera that were set for November. With the denial of access to a large international audience, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a form of censorship and capitulation to the hard right of the pro-Israel world.

The Zionist Organization of America, an organization that supports settlement expansion and a greater israel referred to the piece as “an operatic Kristallnact” that “humanizes killers of Jews” and called out donors and Jewish leaders for not speaking out against the Met’s production of the show.

The ZOA even email-blasted members of its listserv to help organize a “100 Wheelchair March” in protest of the opera, renting wheelchairs and asking for volunteers to sit in and push the chairs.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a right-wing political advocacy organization whose board members include William Kristol, former Chief of Staff to the Vice President under Dan Quayle, funded an advertisement accusing the show of “drawing a moral equivalence between terrorism and its victims” and “glorifying terrorism.” The advertisement is just one in a long line of neo-conservative attack ads, a signature of the group.

Alternet.org writer Max Blumenthal tweeted and posted images from the protest:

Appropriating images and shouting “anti-semite” at the slightest sign of criticism cheapens the effect that these tactics could have on truly grotesque and hateful acts of discrimination.

The speed at which the JDL, ZOA and the like rush to condemn and shut down anything that might be anti-semitic without discretion creates an environment where legitimate criticism of Israel cannot be heard. These groups, funded by conservative politicians, feed off of fear-mongering and Islamophobia, distracting from the complex issues at hand by pointing fingers and censoring media.

The performance, as reported by the Associated Press went off without issue, and was met with a standing ovation by a sold-out audience which included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.

Open Hillel logo

This is huge: Swarthmore Hillel breaks with Israel policy

Our friends at the Open Hillel campaign have won a landmark victory in their efforts to transform campus Hillel chapter into spaces that welcome all Jews, instead of marginalizing those who oppose Israel’s discriminatory policies. The passage of this resolution by the Swarthmore Hillel Student Board is a historic event, and a victory for all who support a more inclusive vision of Jewish community:

Swarthmore Hillel is an Open Hillel

Unanimously adopted by Swarthmore Hillel Student Board, December 8, 2013

Whereas Hillel International prohibits partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who (a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

And whereas this policy has resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella;

And whereas this policy runs counter to the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai;

And whereas Hillel, while purporting to support all Jewish Campus Life, presents a monolithic face pertaining to Zionism that does not accurately reflect the diverse opinions of young American Jews;

And whereas Hillel’s statement that Israel is a core element of Jewish life and a gateway to Jewish identification for students does not allow space for others who perceive it as irrelevant to their Judaism;

And whereas Hillel International’s Israel guidelines privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome;

And whereas the goals of fostering a diverse community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be met when Hillel International’s guidelines are in place;

Therefore be it resolved that Swarthmore Hillel declares itself to be an Open Hillel; an organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view, but rather to open up space that encourages dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body and the larger community at Swarthmore; an organization that will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines; and an organization that will always strive to be in keeping with the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel.

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.”

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

By Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Long Island University Puts Kibosh on Academic Freedom

 

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

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

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

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

To: President Kimberly Cline, Long Island University

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

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

Continue reading

Chill the Champagne?

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

In a world with a surfeit of bad news, two recent victories for freedom of expression are worth celebrating. Both were cases in which apologists for the occupation sought — unsuccessfully! — to stifle criticism of Israeli policies.

The first ruling, which came down last month from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), threw out claims that three University of California campuses — Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz — violated TItle VI of the Civil Rights Act by fostering antisemitic climates by allowing protests against Israeli policies to take place. As part of the ongoing “lawfare” campaign to silence pro-Palestinian speech, some Jewish UC students contended that the political speech expressed in these demonstrations created a “hostile” atmosphere and amounted to illegal harassment and intimidation. But encountering views contrary to one’s own, hardly constitutes harassment, the OCR concluded. As their letter closing the Berkeley complaint aptly stated, “In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance a reasonable student in higher education may experience.” That something so obvious would be contested through a series of formal complaints suggests that there is nothing “reasonable” about students cynically trying to silence political opponents. Continue reading

Who’s the Hypocrite?

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

The rush to denounce the renowned British physicist, Stephen Hawking, for withdrawing from the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference in order to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, should have run its course in early May, flaring up as these things do, and then simmering down until Israel’s purported defenders stir up the next flap. But a cartoon in the Forward by Eli Valley reignited the frenzy.

Valley was responding to the hypocrisy he observed in right-wing Zionist charges that Hawking was a hypocrite. Their criticisms followed the usual script familiar to readers of Muzzlewatch (accusations of smug self-righteousness, the usual fulminations of Alan Dershowitz). 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