Category Archives: Holocaust

The BDS Movement: Now with Plasma TV’s.

Sue Fisckoff writes in the JTA about the off season preparations of Team Israel, aka Hillel, the Jewish student organization. The article highlights the very real panic the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has caused and its automatic equation with anti-Semitism in the minds of some.

Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month. “There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.

We begin with some descriptions of actual anti-Semitism, namely an ad denying the Holocaust and anonymous internet posts, which sound bad if not exactly a groundswell of hatred. But within a sentence, we move to an unnamed professor charged with “making openly false statements about Israel.” No examples are given, but the professor whoever she or he is, is now in league with neo-Nazis and people who believe Jews had it coming. Whatever the real threats this student faces are now conflated with political views that differ from hers, and it sounds like Hillel’s trainings on Israel advocacy are doing nothing to sharpen that distinction. The article does not give any other examples of the titular “anti-Israel” sentiment “on the lesson plan,” implying in the classroom.

Rather, the focus is on the BDS movement, which is predicted to be “better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic” this school year. The first two seem quite likely, but no evidence of the latter is given. Instead, anti Divestment students are warned that their foes have…better technology!

Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.

Now we come to the heart of the matter, divestment resolutions on campus.

Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, activists say, the charged atmosphere leaves lasting wounds.

Actually, Berkeley passed one too, and it was vetoed by a campus President. And what are those lasting wounds? Seeing Jews who disagree with you.

When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April, Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing across the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.

The article does not actually interview any of these strange creatures, these Jews for BDS, But their very existence is painful,and Copans feels bad for them.

‘Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,’ she said. ‘I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.’

However much pain is being felt, it seems clear that Hillel has NOT drawn the lesson that truly representing all Jewish students means allowing for a range of positions on Israel. Instead, students with differing views or who just don’t want to engage in this debate are compared to a piece of defective furniture.

‘For the average student, Israel is a problem — and they don’t want more problems,’ said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. ‘It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.’

Wayne Firestone, the Hillel executive, said: ‘We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear.

We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.’

Free advice, Michael and Wayne: lay off the carpentry metaphors, stick to the actual anti-Semitsim your students face, and stand up for them and their values, not the “Israel issue.”

PS The article also interviews StandWithUs as a “pro-Israel” organization, last seen on Muzzlewatch making Jewish Voice for Peace members feel highly unsafe with slurs and threats on their family members.

–Jesse Bacon

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Pogrebin on the “Israel-right-or-wrong mafia” in Moment magazine

First Jewish Week’s James Besser, and now the writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, known to many as a feminist hero and Jewish activist, has written a groundbreaking piece in the Jewish magazine Moment. Her essay, “Jewish McCarthyism Strikes Gold(stone)”, in which she decries the shameful campaign against Richard Goldstone who investigated the war with Gaza on behalf of the UN, is remarkable because of where it appears, a respected Jewish magazine read by members of all branches of American Judaism. More evidence that the Jewish center is shifting and that the starry-eyed love-affair we American Jews have had with our fantasy of Israel is ending. Pogrebin writes:

Some weeks after the report’s release, a rabbi friend emailed me asking what I thought of it, promising me “confidentiality.” He knew how perilous it can be for a Jew to go public with an opinion that diverges from the “mainstream,” meaning the views expressed by “Jewish leaders” of “major Jewish organizations” and others who purport to speak for “the Jewish community.”

To understand the price for breaking ranks, just look at how mercilessly Judge Goldstone—a proud Jew and declared Zionist—was vilified, not by gentile anti-Semites or Arabist Israel-haters but by Jews in the Israel-right-or-wrong mafia who, rather than address the troubling issues raised in the report, resorted to character assassination to delegitimate its lead author.

Regarding Goldstone’s final report, she concludes:

I wish the document’s charges were being actively discussed and convincingly rebutted by an internal investigation, but debate has been effectively squelched. Smears and death threats have done little to erode Judge Goldstone’s prestige among those familiar with his lifelong commitment to truth and justice. But the ad hominen attacks have deeply wounded him, his wife, two daughters and four grandsons who must relate to their Jewish friends and colleagues under a cloud of McCarthyite slander.

Of course, on the surface, such a deliberate and calculated attempt by a significant portion of the Jewish and Israeli leadership to destroy the life of another Jew, who by all accounts is not just a great human being but a true friend to Israel, makes absolutely no sense. But as we see in this older but must-read Nation article, Israeli historian Idith Zertal shows in Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood that the builders of the state of Israel, like Ben-Gurion, long acted as though the interests of the Zionist project far outweighed the interests of individual Jews, whether Mizrachi Jews from Arab countries or traumatized Holocaust survivors. The stories are sadly numerous: From the tragic 4,500 Holocaust survivors on the famous Exodus ship, who through Ben-Gurion’s intervention were forced to stay on the boat for 7 months (Chaim Weizmann convinced the French Prime Minister to take them in as refugees, but Ben-Gurion thought they were more useful to him if they remained on the ship and helped build sympathy for a future Israel) — to the coerced “recruitment”  of exhausted Holocaust survivors into the Haganah, the Jewish underground militia that fought the war of ’48.

Certainly anyone who has witnessed protests by elderly, poverty-stricken Israeli Holocaust survivors and their families against an Israeli government that failed to care for them would find this history believable. Or those aware of the cavalier attitudes towards Jewish life exemplified by the settlement project itself. And so on and so forth…

In that sense, Pogrebin’s piece is striking for what it doesn’t say explicitly but necessarily plants in the minds of Jewish readers: perhaps it’s long past time to assume the interests of most Jews are aligned with the interests of Israeli governments when it comes to valuing the lives of Jews, let alone our cousins, Palestinians. As a Jew essentially sacrificed at the altar of toxic nationalism, Goldstone sadly has plenty of good company.

-Cecilie Surasky
cecilie@jvp.org

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Magic is powerless to stop censorship of Harry Potter actress


“I know with all my heart, my Jewish heart, that it’s wrong.” Watch Margolyes in 2007 supporting Enough! Coalition to End the Israeli Occupation.

Miriam Margolyes,  a prominent English actress, perhaps best known for her appearance in the Harry Potter movies, (she is in the middle of the photo below) had a performance canceled by a Jewish organization in Melbourne because of her forthcoming participation in a controversial play, reported on here, about Israel.   Apparently, “Seven Jewish Children” is practically radioactive in terms of its effect on the establishment Jewish community, erroneous claims of “blood libel” are being thrown around cavalierly.   As discussed previously, only some people get to ever reference the Holocaust, while others are anti-Semites of the worst order.

Margolyes, who splits her time between England and Australia, was scheduled to entertain residents at JewishCare, a large elder care facility in Melbourne but was told that her appearance could offend some residents who were Holocaust survivors.

This need to protect the elderly residents from the appearance of Margolyes, not because her performance might be offensive, but because she will be acting in Seven Jewish Children,  speaks to the irrational fears that are so much a part of the effort to muzzle any criticism of Israel.

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First Employee at Yad Vashem fired for voicing the wrong kind of political views.

Former Israeli combatant Itamar Shapira was recently fired for mentioning the 1948 massacre in the village of Deir Yassin, the ruins of which are visible from Israel’s official Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem talks about the Holocaust survivors’ arrival in Israel and about creating a refuge here for the world’s Jews. I said there were people who lived on this land and mentioned that there are other traumas that provide other nations with motivation ….

The Holocaust moved us to establish a Jewish state and the Palestinian nation’s trauma is moving it to seek self-determination, identity, land and dignity, just as Zionism sought these things

A Yad Vashem official astonishingly claimed that the institution “objects” to any political use of the Holocaust. If I may be so bold, I could reframe this to say that Yad Vashem objects to any political use that is not in service to the interests of the state of Israel. (Please refer to the stream of  foreign dignitaries that flow through  Yad Vashem in a “must do” ceremony that is designed to represent the absolute evil that was done in the Holocaust [no argument here], and the absolute incomparability of this terrible event to anything else in history). Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, has written extensively and controversially (a good thing) about this in his book. The Holocaust Industry: reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”.

In this vein, Shapira said that:

Yad Vashem chooses to examine only some of the events that took place in the War of Indpendence. “It is being hypocritical. I only tried to expose the visitors to the facts, not to political conclusions. If Yad Vashem chooses to ignore the facts, for example the massacre at Dir Yassin, or the Nakba… it means that it’s afraid of something and that its historic approach is flawed.

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Clark University Cancels Norman Finklestein Updated (4-23-09)

Apparently Clark University can’t chew gum and walk at the same time. Norman Finklestein had, in February, accepted an invitation from the Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights to speak on April 21st, which apparently coincides with a Holocaust conference at the Clark Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Clark University’s President John Bassett called the two events “conflicting” after Hillel objected to Finkelstein’s scheduled appearance.  Bassett canceled the Finklestein talk because of the possible threat of violence.   There was no available information on exactly where this violence might come, and who might instigate it…… Hillel, the students for Palestinian rights?

Further, its not clear how these events are actually conflicting, are they occurring in the same auditorium, are they located in nearby rooms and more importantly, what might the conflict be about?  Norman Finklestein is an expert commentator on issues related to the Holocaust and the Palestine/Israel conflict (his invited talk was to be on Gaza), whether his specific viewpoint is similar or different than those at the conference is within the realm of academic debate/discussion, and is essentially academically/intellectually, irrelevant.

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Taboo-breaking books look at Israeli occupation and the Holocaust

A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity is a must-read new book featuring thought-provoking essays on a range of topics.

In “The ‘Arab Nazi’ and the ‘Nazi Jew’”, British sociologist Anne Karpf has written a nuanced exploration and condemnation of the ways in which the terms “The Holocaust” and “Nazis” have been nearly emptied of meaning through their political exploitation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Glenn Greewald has written about the freewheeling use of these images on Fox News to condemn liberals.) While Karpf documents the myriad ways in which Jewish and Israeli leaders have invoked this imagery to characterize Arabs and Palestinians, Karpf also looks at how Arab and Muslim leaders have characterized Israelis as Nazis and Palestinians as Jews, wondering how this comports with a policy Holocaust denial.

While Karpf largely considers the issue of name-calling and explosive imagery, we should also ask if there is a place for a thoughtful historical, political and even personal consideration of the relationship between the dehumanization practiced by the National Socialists, and that which is practiced by the Israeli military? In this country, self appointed thought police like the Anti-Defamation League would say no.

Hajo Meyer, a Dutch physicist from Germany who survived 10 months in Auschwitz in 1944, has answered this question with a resounding YES in his absolutely captivating memoir: The End of Judaism. An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. With tremendous love for the Jewish tradition he knew as a child, Meyer’s morally challenging and well documented book is not the kind that makes hyperbolic charges of equivalency between the gas chambers and Israel’s occupation that we have come to expect from the fringes. Far from it.

Rather, he poignantly describes the many years, prior to the mass murder of some 6 million Jews and 5 million others, of his own family’s experiences of dehumanization and humiliation at the hands of other Germans. He is fearless about making the connection to the callousness he sees displayed by many Israeli soldiers in the territories:

We are all too familiar with photographs of Germans in their immaculate uniforms making fun of destitute and frightened Jews. Jews in Germany could count on such humiliation at the hands of the authorities and their fellow citizens. The intimidation and harassment at Israeli checkpoints is not much different from what I experienced in my youth. I will never forget what I went through in this regard, even though it is no longer particularly painful. What I do find painful, however, is the knowledge that the Jews, who are my own people, are involved in similar humiliation of Palestinians.

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