Category Archives: JVP

Muzzling Roundup: Attacking Iran, Dershowitz v. MJ Rosenberg, Harvard One-State Conference

It’s been a few weeks of major Muzzling attempts on Israel/Palestine. Last week in Washington, DC, AIPAC held their annual conference, or shall we say chorus, where over half the US Congress and thousands of Likud supporters cheered on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that Iran’s potentially-maybe-would-be nuclear capacity is the same thing as Auschwitz, a move some keen observers see as making it that much harder for Netanyahu not to attack Iran. As Jon Stewart makes only too clear, American politicians do not – cannot? – oppose Netanyahu. (In this excellent essay, Peter Beinart lays out the history of Obama’s failure to stand up to Netanyahu, warning that the cost of this failure may be war with Iran.)

JVP activists were among the hundreds of activists who occupied AIPAC from within and without, reminding attendees and the media that AIPAC does not speak for Jews, and that many, many Jews, allies and others oppose the Israeli government’s planned war on Iran and policies of occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Though JVP’s truck ad was silenced, JVP’s voice came through loud & clear, both displayed on the outside wall of the Convention Center on the night of the AIPAC Gala and as JVP Board Member and general badass Liza Behrendt directly challenged AIPAC, StandWithUs, the David Project and Hillel for silencing young Jews on the issue of Israel/Palestine.

And beyond AIPAC, the campaign to silence the indomitable, indispensible MJ Rosenberg (whose analysis of Netanyahu, Obama and AIPAC is the only glimmer of light we’ve seen) continues. The Emergency Committee for Israel (a truer McCarthyite organization there never was) published an attack in the NYTimes against MJ’s employer, Media Matters, as well as the Center for American Progress, two organizations with close ties to the Democratic Party. The ad quotes Alan Dershowitz’s critique of Media Matters and CAP, and Dershowitz didn’t like that – and in his articles and interviews opposing the ECI’s use of his words, Dersh has been very clear that he won’t stop until Media Matters fires MJ or the White House fires Media Matters. MJ is the latest target of this chief muzzler, or “heresy hunter from Harvard,” as Jeremiah Haber calls Dershowitz, whose targets have included Richard Goldstone, Norm Finkelstein, Shlomo Sand, Anat Matar, Rachel Giora – at least MJ is in good company. JJ Goldberg of the Forward defends MJ here and MJ’s latest column is as smart, impassioned, insightful and indispensible as ever, proving, once again, how much we need his thinking, his intuition, his guts, and his voice. May he only get stronger and louder.

And last, the March 3 & 4 One State Conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was a success even before it took place, before an array of fascinating, bold thinkers,  including JVP Advisory Board member Sarah Schulman and Rabbinical Council co-founder Brant Rosen, aired nuanced, thoughtful and difficult ideas to a sold out crowd.

This conference was a success simply because it happened. No less a powerful figure than Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown tried to get it shut down, while the ADL led the charge among dominant Jewish organizations in demanding that Harvard denounce the conference and the legitimacy of discussing a one-state solution. More than 4,000 “students, alumni and friends” of Harvard signed a petition calling for the university to effectively prevent the conference by denying it funding and facilities. The AJC called it a “non-starter”.

The condemnation of the conference took the same forms, calling the discussion of a one state solution anti-Semitic, and worse: organizers are “soft eliminationists” (Jeffrey Goldberg) who seek Israel’s “elimination (ADL) through a “Final Solution” that will lead to the “extermination” and “annihilation” of Israel (FrontPage Magazine). As the ADL put it in a letter to Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, “there can never be any legitimate discussion” about a one-state solution. Yet do they lob the same critique at Knesset members calling for one state – one Jewish supremacist state, that is – or the state legislatures of Florida and South Carolina, which recently passed resolutions supporting one state, meaning the state of Israel in the greater land of Israel?

No, on the topic of a viable solution for Israel/Palestine, these muzzlers reserve their muzzling for perceived leftists. What they’re doing is trying to make it impossible for anyone but speakers they’ve vetted and chosen to speak about Israel’s future. Palestinians need not apply – and nor should anyone who thinks there’s more to the story than “why the Palestinians have inflicted so much unnecessary suffering on themselves, as the ADL’s New England Regional Director put it.

Harvard hosted the conference in spite of the attacks, yet it did something else, too. Dean David Ellwood of the Kennedy School issued a statement regarding the conference, saying “We would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel.” Does “the Jewish State of Israel” ring any bells? That’s the new language / negotiation precondition imposed by Netanyahu in 2007. Never before did Israel demand official recognition as “the Jewish state;” this demand flummoxed diplomats and threw a wrench in potential negotiations with Palestinians. Israel as the “Jewish state”: what impact would this declaration have on discrimination against Palestinian citizens? Or civil rights for Jewish Israelis, who also suffer from ultra-orthodox domination? On negotiations over the Palestinian right of return? In short, Dean Ellwood’s use of that language is a victory for Netanyahu and a loss for democracy, equality, civil rights and justice. Congratulations, ADL. Congratulations, Harvard.

AIPAC Bars Me From Media Access to Their Conference

This is a guest post by Souciant Magazine and Inter Press Service writer Mitchell Plitnick, formerly with Jewish Voice for Peace and B’Tselem:

It’s a little hard to imagine. The self-proclaimed “most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill,” an admittedly deserved sobriquet, is apparently afraid of what little old me might say about their conference.

It’s hard to interpret what has happened in any other way, after my approved media credentials for AIPAC’s annual policy conference were rescinded without explanation just a few days before the event.

I applied for media access to the conference back in January. Soon after, I received an email from AIPAC’s then-media relations officer, Ari Goldberg, confirming acceptance of my application to attend as a reporter.

I am hardly unknown in this arena, and a quick search on Google would certainly have revealed that I was a progressive blogger, but also that I had written numerous pieces of straight journalism for Inter Press Service, the agency for which I will still be reporting on the conference.

So, it was no surprise that AIPAC credentialed me. Just as a major event at, say, the Center for American Progress (a think tank with unabashed ties to the Democratic Party) would not think twice about credentialing someone from FOX News, it is standard practice that such large organizations credential a wide range of media.

More surprising was the revocation of those credentials with just a few days to go before the conference.

With the conference slated to start on Sunday, I got a curt note on Wednesday, simply stating: “Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press.   However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you.  We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

It came from someone named Sarah Coopersmith at Scott Circle Communications, a firm AIPAC contracted with to handle the press logistics. The email wasn’t even signed.

Inquiries to both Coopersmith and AIPAC’s new press officer, Adam Harris brought no response. Ari Goldberg, despite having left AIPAC, did respond to me, expressing surprise and the hope that this was just a mistake.

To say this is highly unusual behavior would be an understatement. And I wasn’t the only one this happened to.

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, who had been credentialed the past three years without incident, and Adele Stan, the Washington Bureau Chief at AlterNet were also rejected without explanation. As I understand it, Phil and Adele were rejected outright. In my case, I was given media access and then had it revoked.

The combination was enough to get the attention of Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Ron has been in the DC scene writing about the politics here around Israel for years. He knows just how unusual this is. As he wrote, “Barring coverage in Washington is rare; Government institutions in Washington are known for accommodating a broad range of journalists, including those adamantly hostile to the government of the day.”

Apparently, as well, Chris McGreal of the Guardian (UK) was also summarily excluded, but after Ron’s piece came out in the JTA, AIPAC reinstated him, saying it was an oversight. Maybe it had nothing to do with trying to prevent the story from getting much bigger by excluding such a large international news source. Maybe it had everything to do with it, and Ron’s story made AIPAC nervous. I’ll let you make that call.

Kampeas, who has known me personally for several years, described me in JTA this way: “… a liberal blogger who has sparred with right-wing pro-Israel groups as well as anti-Zionists, and who was going to provide coverage for Inter Press Service, which emphasizes developing nations coverage as well as what it calls marginalized groups.”

Sounds like someone critical of AIPAC, but hardly like someone who would frighten them so much they would revoke credentials already given.

Now, I certainly have been very critical of AIPAC and the so-called “Israel Lobby.” But I have also engaged in public debates, including one appearance just after his book came out with Stephen Walt (who, in spirit of full disclosure, knows I disagree with parts of his thesis and nevertheless has developed a personal and professional relationship with me that has, at least from my end, been amazingly rewarding), when I believe the influence of that very powerful lobby is exaggerated.

Put simply, I’ve always called it like I saw it, both when that has gotten me some positive exposure and when it brought me into conflict, sometimes even with people in organizations I was working for.

No doubt, my professional experience as Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and Director of the US Office of B’Tselemdoes not strike the folks at AIPAC well. Yet, I have, on more than one occasion, had very civil conversations with AIPAC staff members and officials.

It sure looks to me like AIPAC changed the way it deals with the press when Ari Goldberg left and Adam Harris replaced him. Perhaps reflecting a sense that, while the polls show no change in US citizens’ view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the public discourse has been slowly shifting these past few years. It seems that the new regime at AIPAC is trying to manage the news with a much heavier hand as a result.

I’ll still be reporting on the conference, and I’ll still be doing it for Inter Press. What I won’t be able to do is give as full a picture as I could have of the feeling in the room, the people in attendance, the pulse of the crowd, the nuance and diversity there.

If I’m so threatening to AIPAC as a reporter, it’s hard to see how setting those limits on what I will have access to write about serves their purpose.

This conference is likely to be focused very strongly on the push for increased aggression  towards Iran. Maybe they feel their case is so weak that they have to resort to such heavy-handed tactics.

Again, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Stand With Us/SF Voices for Israel shout Pigs for Palestine, threaten activists in San Francisco

[Video of threats and taunts embedded above.]  On June 6th, 2010, peace activists including members of Bay Area Women in Black and Jewish Voice for Peace held a silent vigil outside the main entrance to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s annual “Israel in the Gardens” celebration. The peace activists called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territories and an end to the siege on Gaza. Their silent, dignified march was greeted by members of StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel and other affiliates who called them “kapos” (concentration camp prisoners who carried out Nazi orders on other prisoners) and suggested that Israel should “sink the next flotilla with you on it.”  One man made repeated explicit threats against the peace activists and their families and used a camera to take pictures. No one from StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel intervened. Rather, they kept up their vicious and abusive chants which included, according to multiple witnesses:

“Nazi, Nazi, Nazi!” – this done as a group chant
“You’re all being identified, every last one of you…we will find out where you live. We’re going to make your lives difficult..we will disrupt your families…”, all on above video.
“Sink the flotilla—and you on it!”
“Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists.”
One man yelled (to someone who may have looked heat exhausted) “I hope you stroke out, old man!”
“Ugly bitches” said to older women.
“You’re not a Jew! you gave up your Jewishness!”
“Witches in black! Bitches in black!” (hard to tell which one it was, or whether they alternated the chant)
“You fucking…!”
“Bin Laden loves you! you support terrorism!”
“Is there a coroner in the house? Women in Black are dead!”
“Is there a doctor in the house? Women in Black are sick!”
“End the occupation of our sidewalk.”
“Remember 9/11, they were dancing in the streets.”
“Sharmuta!” this was chanted for a while (means “slut” or “whore” in Arabic and which was particularly shocking for Arabic speakers to hear)
“Commit suicide!”
“Anti-women, anti-gay, why support Hamas today!”
They were also lesbian-baiting, even though they were chanting “Anti-women, anti-gay, why support Hamas today?” One guy yelled “lesbian” at me and my friend (correctly assessing our sexual identity) and maybe the same guy yelled at someone else, “When’s the last time you dated a man?”

One guy kept saying “you’re looking at real people now (meaning Stand with Israel folks); you are not people.”

Signs said: “JVP, Proud to be ashamed to be Jewish.”
and “Don’t fuck with the Jews”.

An 88-year-old woman reported being told, “You’re halfway in your grave already’.
“Jihad!” chanted repeatedly at Muslim peace activists.

They also had signs that read, “JVP cons the world”, etc.

One woman waved the end of the large stick of her Israeli flag in a very threatening manner, as if to hit one of us (it happened to me several times as i walked by her), directed especially to those of us who carried signs identifying ourselves as Jews.

At an earlier demonstration last week at the consulate, there was a huge sign on the Stand with Us side (which Stand with Us later condemned). On one side it said “Until Gaza is destroyed, the job is not complete.” On the other, it said “God is great. It’s Islam that sucks.”
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B’Tselem’s Anat Biletzki: the worst thing that we do is we don’t use words at all

Chanukah has ended. As Rabbi Brian Walt reminded us, one year ago

on Shabbat Hannukah (Saturday December 27, 2008), Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. On that day, Saturday December 27, 2008, at 11:30 in the morning, a time when schoolchildren were still in school, 88 Israeli aircraft simultaneously attacked 100 preplanned targets in Gaza within a span of 4 minutes. This initial attack was followed by another attack and by the end of that Sabbath day, at least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured. Shabbat Hannukah last year, was the day with the highest one-day death toll in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By its end, nearly 1,400 Gazans and 13 Israelis were dead, thousands more Gazans injured and left homeless.

Vicious character assassination, event cancellations, social isolation, and the infrequent lost job (or more frequent lost funding) all take their toll on our collective search for full equality for Palestinians and Israelis. Countless people remain silent when we could speak, bury our heads precisely at the moment we must raise them.

While we understand why this works, the truth is that there’s simply no excuse, not now, to allow ourselves to be silenced. Not when we know the price we pay is nothing compared to the price paid by millions of mostly Palestinians but also Israelis, all of whom love their children as much as we love ours. Not when we all know our silence will only lead to another Operation Cast Lead, another Jenin, another Sderot, another Mohammad Othman, another Rachel Corrie, another suicide bombing, another leg of the wall, another Yitzhak Rabin.

ABOVE: VIDEO From the vaults of Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem’s Anat Biletzki poses the question, “What do we do with our voice?” She says, “Words don’t fail, it’s people who fail…We fail in using words: we misuse them, we abuse words, we do terrible things with words, but the worst thing that we do is we don’t use words at all. That we keep silent, that we don’t give voice to things that must be given voice.”

Every time you are silenced or allow yourself to be silenced, you must come back stronger and louder than ever. On this, the anniversay of the attack on Gaza, I hope you too will make a promise to speak the truth you know, to stand for full equality and humanity and against repression in all its forms, to assertively challenge someone who puts forth lies or hatred. It’s not just the humanity of Palestinians that is at stake, it’s the humanity of Israelis, and indeed, we Jews and Americans.

-Cecilie Surasky

Free Speech Also Means Responding To Hate Speech

A short while ago, I received an e-mail requesting support for a speaker appearing at a forum in Oregon. Included was an op-ed which apparently appeared in the local newspaper which was essentially making the point that free speech was absolute. It was headlined “Freedom of Speech Threatened When Speakers Are Attacked.” The author was defending the appearance of Mark Weber, the director of the Institute for Historical Review, an organization whose primary goal is to “prove” that the Holocaust either never happened or was greatly exaggerated.

Needless to say, the request for support was refused. That the author of the op-ed mentioned above would conflate a holocaust denier like Weber with Desmond Tutu and Norman Finkelstein, however, also reflects the dangers of spurious accusations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Tutu has been accused of the former, Finkelstein of the latter. When such people, however deeply anyone disagrees with them, are painted with the same brush as someone like Weber, the parable of the boy who cried wolf is proven.

Muzzlewatch is, of course, dedicated to opening up debate and defending both the right and ability of individuals to speak from their conscience about Israel and the conflicts in the Middle East without fear of professional and personal attacks. That includes those who support current American and Israeli policies, and Muzzlewatch has defended such people in this space.

But the issue of free speech is taken to absurd lengths when one argues that hate speech must have a platform. That is very different from arguing, as I certainly would, that even the most hateful bigot has a right to his or her views and the right to be free from government restriction on the expression of those views. But that doesn’t mean that a public, private, educational or media institution must provide a platform for hate speech.

Indeed, the very premise the op-ed author uses to defend Weber’s appearance, that “free speech is threatened when speakers are attacked” is the height of absurdity. Public speakers are attacked all the time. In my own case, as someone who has been critical of Israeli and American policies as well as those of the Arab states, Iran and the various Palestinian factions, I have been attacked from all sides of this debate. I’m still speaking as freely as ever. Continue reading

Synchronicity: Forward publishes article about vitriol on blogs

On the very same day we posted our decision to stop comments indefinitely, the Forward published Vitriol Proliferates on Jewish Blogs, in which Rebecca Spence describes the difficulty in having civil conversations about Israel-Palestine politics in particular on Jewish blogs.

Is the harshness of language a natural outgrowth of a male-dominated medium in which anonymity gives many a chance to speak without accountability? Does verbally attacking others give generally powerless people the illusion of power? Is it a sincere expression of anger between people discussing emotional issues? Or is it a deliberate strategy to muzzle debate about US-Israeli policy, with people simply wearing others down through a daily onslaught of verbal abuse?

How about, all of the above?

Spence describes the vicious fake blog that was started just days after Tikun Olam‘s Richard Silverstein took credit for bringing down the extremist, hate-filled Masada2000 website (When the site was moved to another host, Silverstein successfully got it taken down again. The site seems to be up now with yet another provider.)

The case of Silverstein, a 53-year-old former Jewish charity fundraiser who operates his Tikun Olam Web site out of Seattle, is but one example of the below-the-belt discourse that has taken hold in the world of Jewish blogging. Scurrilous barbs and sharp-tongued insults are routinely tossed back and forth through cyberspace from one Jewish blogger to another, appearing in long threads in the sections reserved for reader comments. The invective often revolves around political stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with bloggers on the left and on the right painting one another into corners and caricaturing one anothers beliefs.

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Shutting down comments indefinitely

After almost 2,500 comments in about 4 months, it’s time to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog and do some serious reflection.

While some readers might find this decision rather sudden–our sincerest apologies to those of you who feel cut off from an important outlet for your writing and/or reading — for others, this decision comes as no surprise. (Fortunately, many commenters have their own blogs, so there will be no shortage of outlets in which you can fully air your views.)

From day one, it seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and US foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. Lately, the site has become a forum for posting anti-Semitic in particular, and also other bigoted and racist comments, as well as ugly personal attacks.

Given our focus on open debate, at the beginning it seemed to make sense to offer an open forum for discussion, and to avoid moderating every single post and playing the role of politically correct police (Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s English message boards, for example, are unmoderated). We thought that the boards would be ultimately self-regulating in that sense. Instead, the vitriol, demonization and outright bigotry seems to have increased.
Because JVP stands against anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds, we decided we cannot justify hosting a forum where these views are promoted and spread. Further, within Jewish Voice for Peace, we strive to use a language that does not dehumanize or promote hate, but rather illuminates complex moral issues.

We thought, in the spirit of free speech, it was the right thing to do to make a place where people not affiliated with the organization might discuss these issues. Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.

Knowing that a lively comments sections typically means a larger audience, we feel particularly comfortable making this decision because Muzzlewatch has already grown tremendously, far exceeding our hopes and expectations for a brand new blog.

Finally, this decision will actually free up time for us to report stories and write analysis, which is why we started the blog.

In the meantime, we’ll be consulting with other bloggers to see if it’s possible or even worthwhile to come up with a much stricter set of commenting guidelines. But for the moment, comments are closed indefinitely.

Again, our deepest apologies to those of you for whom the comments section has been a daily part of your lives.

Just 28% of US Jews identify as Zionist

As efforts to conflate anti-Zionism (or non- and even post-Zionism for that matter) and anti-Semitism continue to shut down open exchanges everywhere, it’s interesting that Leonard Fein notes in The Forward:

In a forthcoming paper on American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman find that while 82% of their broadly representative sample regard themselves as pro-Israel, only 28% and fewer still in the younger cohorts see themselves as Zionists. Thus, even among the Jews, even among Israels supporters, the word has become musty or worse, an unwelcome evocation of the judgment of its least sympathetic critics.

Fein’s interesting essay, by the way, offers a survey of the criticisms of Zionism, and seeks to defend it by focusing on the Right of Return as a fundamental right under international law.

His acknowledgement that the Palestinian and Jewish Rights of Return are in direct conflict with each other is to be lauded. I may have misread him, but his implication, however, that a well-off Philadelphia home-owner who may have never set foot in the Middle East, and a Palestinian living in a refugee camp still holding the deed to her house behind the 67 border, have the identical moral and legal claim to the same land seems, well, less than convincing. Perhaps Muzzlewatch readers can provide a more nuanced analysis. For example, I once heard Brit Tzedek’s Marcia Freedman talk at a UN conference about the idea of a Jewish “Right of Refuge”, which I found intriguing.

Muzzlewatch finalist for Jewish Israeli Blog Awards- not without controversy

Muzzlewatch is a finalist for 3 awards over at the Jewish and Israeli blog awards. Vote here for best new blog, here for best left-wing blog, and here for best anti-establishment blog. Better yet, just go to JIBA and check out all sorts of interesting Jewish blogs-right, left, center, personal and more. Each category has a nominees list that has a range of interesting choices.

Hat tip to Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam (who is nominated for best music post, vote here) who let me know about the debate over Muzzlewatch’s inclusion in the awards.

Over at The Baleboostah (gotta love the name-plus a Jewish woman blogger, finally!), a blogger named Aussie Dave offers a number criticisms of the JIB Awards, including this one:

David does have some valid points about this year’s JIBs, though. Especially the decision to allow anti-Israel blogs like Muzzlewatch to compete, in the spirit of “inclusiveness.” This needs to be changed if the JIBs are to achieve their purposes.

Interestingly, Akiva, who is apparently part of the team running JIBs this year and who identifies himself as a “right wing Zionist”, defends the inclusion of Muzzlewatch on principle:

Dave – We polled a number of Jbloggers for their category opinions in advance, as well as solicited community input (on the site).

If the JIBs are the zionist right wing Jewish blog awards, then I agree with you. If they are the Jewish & Israeli blog awards, then those with various viewpoints on the matter are welcome.

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Beyond the pale is the new self-hating Jew

Daniel Fleshler has a terrific new blog, Realistic Dove, to put on your RSS feed. He has the audacity to say things and offer solutions that make sense.

Here he gives Jewish blogs, including Muzzlewatch, a nod, and tells friends who think Jewish Voice for Peace is “beyond the pale” to take a second look. Like Dan, we too see the power of the phrase “beyond the pale” to literally make people unable to see what is before their eyes.

When referring to Jewish Voice for Peace and others who take similar positions, the phrase is used as a nice and neat way to unilaterally draw a line around what can be said, and what is off limits.

It’s convenient, because it need not deal with substance. Better yet, it doesn’t have the hysterical impact of calling someone a self-hating Jew, but with a certain kind of soft dignity, it allows the person using it to create exactly the same impact: don’t listen to this person, they’re beyond the pale. It’s muzzling light, for the lazy thinker.

And it’s become increasingly popular as a way to silence critics, especially Jewish ones, of Israeli human rights violations.

Knowing JVPers and supporters as I do– the enormous number of smart, compassionate, and thoughtful human beings who live perfectly integrated lives as model social workers, artists, craftspeople, bus drivers, doctors, students, lawyers, computer programmers, bubbies and zaydes, moms and dads, professors, house painters, plumbers, community organizers, rabbis, graphic designers and more — calling these people beyond the pale is actually funny.

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