Category Archives: NGOs

Muzzling Discussion of the Nakba and Palestinian History

By Donna Nevel

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

We know all too well how adamantly pro-Israel forces in the U.S. Jewish community and Israel consider certain conversations and actions critical of Israel “beyond the pale,” and how blatant their hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) attempts are to silence and suppress them.

Although the parameters (of what is “acceptable”) may change at times, what doesn’t seem to change is how hasbara intensifies as efforts to reveal historical and current truths and demand change become more visible and powerful.

Most recently, Al Jazeera reports that right wing groups have tried to censor schoolbooks and silence organizations that make visible to the Israeli public the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe that refers to the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state.

A bit of context: Some of these recent attempts at muzzling come as Zochrot, an Israeli organization, was planning (and recently held) a monumental conference, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees.” The conference had as its focus “the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other.”  This conference aligned with Zochrot’s ongoing commitment to “challenge the Israeli Jewish public’s preconceptions and promote awareness, political and cultural change within it to create the conditions for the Return of Palestinian Refugees and a shared life in this country.”  

Some of those engaged in the nastiest tactics are extreme right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or NGO Monitor, which are both closely connected to the Israeli government. Recently, in response to an NGO Monitor report attacking it, the U.S. group, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote: “NGO Monitor has a long history, broadly documented, of attacking any organization that it believes is effectively criticizing Israeli policies. The organizations NGO Monitor has attacked include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq, and the New Israel Fund, to name just a few. We are honored to be among them.”

But we also know that attempts to erase the Nakba have been standard policy and practice since the creation of the State, and they have been undertaken by people and groups across the political spectrum.  (More about this in a follow-up piece.)

Although the opposition may step up its tactics–of censoring; spying on organizations; prohibiting groups from even referring to the Nakba; shutting down funding; intimidating justice workers–that won’t change the fact that the history, the stories, the evidence, the documentation about the Nakba are indisputable.

Zochrot is having a truth commission for the events of 1948, to be held in March 2014,  “that will seek to collect and document information about the 1948 events, focusing in particular on the actions that led to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By exposing the public to this information, the event will seek to encourage various audiences in Israel to acknowledge these actions and take personal and collective responsibility for them.” This critical work continues.

Adrienne Rich at the JCCSF, a real hero

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted here on January 26, 2007. We thought that re-posting it now would be a fitting tribute to a profoundly courageous and thoughtful hero who passed away this week. Adrienne Rich z”l.

“[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holdsA Rich it hostage.”

Adrienne Rich has been honored with almost every award a poet could dream of winning. But it’s not just her mind and heart that puts mere mortals to shame, but her courage.

Rich once refused to accept the National Book Award for poetry individually, and instead shared it with her 2 other nominees at the time, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. Later, she refused the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton, telling him “the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.”

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Goldstone, Human Rights Watch, New Profile et al. The Israeli govt. assault on human rights.

The proxy war between Israel and its critics is growing more intense, more desperate, more anti-democratic, more comically absurd.

Just a few weeks ago, and with a straight face, professional defender-of-Israeli-human-rights-violations Hillel Neuer of UN Watch happily compared Naomi Klein to Goebbels and said she was “today’s leading opponent of Israel in the Western world.”

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Yglesias points out, “the Goldstone Report just doesn’t say anything remotely like this.”

But these uncommonly vicious, nasty and unintentionally campy attacks are no coincidence.

In The Nation, Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss have a very important article detailing the range of human rights groups that are being targeted by Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

“For the first time the Israeli government is taking an active role in the smearing of human rights groups,” says Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch workers had long been a target of Gerald Steinberg’s NGO Monitor, which seeks to gut the international law enforcement infrastructure because they believe it is a threat to the Israeli status quo- which of course it is. (They call journalists, diplomats and human rights workers part of the ‘axis of evil.’)  Steinberg has been busily scanning the internet to build extensive dossiers on anyone who has worked in the Middle East division at HRW, and is also part of the campaign to defund human rights groups in Israel that get EU funds. But there’s more:

The Israeli government has also sought to quash domestic dissent. In April it targeted the anti-militarism organization New Profile, seizing computers and detaining activists. In July, when a group of Israeli veterans called Breaking the Silence released dozens of anonymous soldiers’ testimonies from the Gaza assault describing indifference to civilian targets, the Israeli government went, well, ballistic. It threatened to cut off the financial support the group receives from the Dutch, Spanish and British governments and warned those governments that their support was illegal. Israel indicated that it would look into foreign support that Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Machsom Watch receive as well.

Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu adviser who was raised in Florida, struck a fearsome tone: “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups. We are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity.”

Meanwhile, Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, ominously wants to “exorcise the [Jewish] renegades from our midst,” through some form of excommunication.

In Toronto, Jews were at the forefront of a campaign to boycott Israeli films at a film festival because the anniversary of Tel Aviv – ‘built on the destroyed villages of Palestinians’ – was being celebrated; two Israeli women who evaded national service are conducting a North American campus tour under the auspices of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ to persuade students to intensify their role in the “resistance movement”; in San Francisco the local Jewish Federation is providing funds for a film festival which promotes the vilest anti-Israel films; radical Rabbi Michael Lerner invited a woman who justifies suicide bombings to address his synagogue on Yom Kippur; and so on.

IM EIN ani li mi li? If we are not for ourselves, who will be? We are engaged in a battle against fiendish enemies committed to our destruction. The Israeli government must now take steps to neutralize the impact of renegade Jews who present themselves as legitimate alternative Jewish viewpoints. Such an initiative by a country which provides genuine democratic rights to all its citizens, including Arabs, could hardly be categorized as eradicating freedom of expression. It would rather represent a highly overdue effort to exorcise such odious groups from the mainstream and expose them as unrepresentative fringe groups with no standing.

The heightened discourse of nastiness is matched on the ground by what many observers believe is an  intentional effort by Netanyahu to trigger a third intifada.

Cecilie Surasky

Durban Review UN Conference 2009- Ahmadinejad, Dershowitz and Angelina Jolie’s crazy dad

Palestinian groups banned from UN conference side-events while Alan Dershowitz and Angelina’s dad get special treatment.

I’m writing this post from Geneva and already the surreal circus has begun. The controversy over Israel threatens to once again completely overshadow the massive, important work done by NGOs to combat racism and discrimination. First, the US just announced it is boycotting Durban II. As Mondoweiss says:

The conference is a follow up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The US walked out of that conference due to criticism of Israel and Zionism (and pressure over reparations for slavery also allegedly played a role). The State Department has said the US is boycotting the review conference for the same reasons. There was a concerted effort by Israel and the Israel lobby here in the US to pressure the US to boycott and they are wasting no time in celebrating the victory.

And no wonder, the final Durban I document was 61 solid pages of ranting against Israel, invective-filled hate, epithets, vile denunciations, plans for Muslim world domination ….Oh wait, oops, I was reading a right-wing press release!

Actually, out of 61 solid pages on racism and discrimination, these are the 6 relevant paragraphs that refer in some way to Israel and Jews (updated):

58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten; 

61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities; 

63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;

64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security; 

151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect  for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;

151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom; 


Moshe Yaroni makes the point that justifying the US boycott on Durban II’s endorsement of these words is absurd. (The atmosphere of Durban I, he stresses, is a different question.) On the other hand, a conference where Iran’s Ahmadinejad, yes, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day  “bodes very ill.” No kidding. (Apparently unaware of their own shameful human rights record, in keeping with Ahmadinejad’s provocations, a government-sanctioned Iranian group tried to hand out vile anti-Israel propaganda today. Organizers of the NGO parallel forum turned them away.)

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NGO Monitor: attacking New Israel Fund, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International

By Rob Lipton with Cecilie Surasky
Although using language that would appear to give the impression of a neutral watch dog of non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs), NGO Monitor (NGOM) is a partisan organization that weakens universal human rights infrastructure by charging many of the world’s best known human rights organizations with bias against Israel.

Their mission statement says they were founded to:

promote accountability, and advance a vigorous discussion on the reports and activities of humanitarian NGOs in the framework of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, a more straightforward description of their ideological bias comes from liberal Jewish thinker Leonard Fein who says:

. NGO Monitor, an organization that believes that the best way to defend Israel is to condemn anyone who criticizes it.

NGO Monitor operates out of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs. Its editor is Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who wrote not just about NGOs, but also journalists and academics in 2003:

Israel-bashing is promoted by that other axis of evil journalists, diplomats (including the United Nations), academics and self-proclaimed universal human rights groups. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) enjoy a halo effect, and an image of promoting noble causes without political bias exempts them from scrutiny. They are also extremely influential, and their reports are quoted extensively. In reality, however, these NGOs are at the very core of the anti-Israel axis of evil. By promoting the campaign of hatred and delegitimization, such groups are morally guilty of justifying terrorism.

This world-view is behind the single-minded commitment to weakening some of the worlds most respected human rights and civil society groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, BTselem and the New Israel Fund.

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Who speaks for Jews in Britain?

More on the fascinating parallel UK debate. Oxford philosophy professor Brian Klug, who wrote “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism”, penned this essay as part of the launch of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).

If there is one thing on which Jews can agree, it is this: it’s good to argue. Jewish culture has thrived on argument – frank, sincere disagreement – ever since Moses disputed with God. But today an oppressive and unhealthy atmosphere is leading many Jews to feel uncertain about speaking out on Israel and Zionism. People are anxious about contravening an unwritten law on what you can and cannot discuss, may or may not assert.

It’s worth checking out both the essay and the many comments.

Prominent British Jews call for freer debate on Israel in UK

Special thanks to our friend Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam who alerted us to this story.

It’s not just a problem in the United States. The British Guardian reported today about an extraordinary open letter signed by 130 well-known Jews including actor Stephen Fry and Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter. The letter is part of a campaign by Independent Jewish Voices, a new initiative that says “there is a need for alternative Jewish voices to be heard – especially in the light of the grave situation in the Middle East.”

“We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole,” the letter says. Jewish leaders in Britain, it argues “put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people” in conflict with Jewish principles of justice and compassion.

The statement does not name the institutions it is criticising. But one signatory, Brian Klug, an Oxford philosopher, writing an accompanying article on Comment is Free, singles out the Board of Deputies of British Jews for calling itself “the voice of British Jewry” while devoting “much of the time and resources of its international division to the defence of Israel”.

Let the crackdown begin…. sort of

The The Israeli Foreign Ministry campaign to crackdown on refuseniks and the American Jewish groups that host them got off to a rocky start, thanks to the efforts of the Zionist Organization of America. The Forward’s story of ZOA’s unsuccessful attempt to expel the Union of Progressive Zionists from the Israel on Campus Coalition has so many twist and turns, it reads exactly like the Yay, Boo game we used to play as kids. Yay! The Union of Progressive Zionists sponsored a tour of Breaking the Silence! Boo! The ZOA tried to get them kicked out of the Coalition. Yay! Everyone voted unanimously to keep them in. Boo! The American Jewish Congress announced it would leave the coalition in protest. Yay! The AJC said that was a mistake. Boo! No it wasn’t a mistake.

It goes on and on. It also points out that the very groups that want the Union out for criticizing Israel publicly, did just that during the Gaza withdrawal, except of course from the opposite political perspective.
I remember when Bibi Netanyahu’s in-laws came to my house to give a talk about Israel a few years back. Their son, Netanyahu’s nephew, Yoni Ben Artzi, is one of Israel’s best known refuseniks. As they described the slow, quiet emigration of each member of their family to Europe or the United States, Matania Ben Artzi said, “Yoni’s really the only real Zionist in the family now. He’s the one who wants to stay and fight…who believes it can get better.” That can be said of most of the refuseniks. And these are the ones they want to punish.

San Francisco Jewish Community Center Still Bans JVP


JCCSF singlehandedly solves the “who is a Jew question”! Not, apparently, JVP!
In May 2005, Jewish Voice for Peace held a sold-out fundraiser at the JCC of San Francisco, the crown jewel of the Jewish community here in the city. Turns out that in February, shortly after it became public that we’d be holding our shindig there, but before the event was actually held, they rewrote their rental agreement to keep us out. It wasn’t until a year later when we went back to rent a room that they told us we might first want to check out the, ahem, new agreement. (Reportedly, at least one board member who was in the room when the change was pushed through was appalled, but no one has gone on record about what happened.)

Now, sandwiched in between minor contractual details about things like cleaning or leaving a deposit, there is a paragraph which states:

It is the right and responsibility of the JCCSF to determine eligibility, in part, based on a groups mission and activities. Groups that…engage in Israel-related activities without an explicit commitment to Israels right to exist as an independent Jewish State would fall outside of the JCCSFs rental eligibility requirements.

It wasn’t that long ago that a majority of Jews were opposed to Zionism. Many still oppose the idea of a Jewish state for a multitude of reasons.
The funny thing is, JVP is not even anti-Zionist. But our crime is that we’re not Zionist either. We have members who span the spectrum. We support the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination, and keep our focus on international human rights and ending the occupation. You can read why we don’t endorse either a one or two-state solution–it’s up to Israelis and Palestinians, not us, to negotiate what will work for them. So, we don’t pass the new litmus test.

Oh yeah, and we’re Jewish. We’re very Jewish. Many of our supporters are members of the JCCSF. But apparently, we’re not Jewish enough.

In a few days, I’ll post the words of poet Adrienne Rich at a recent Hannukah reading, sitting on the very stage that we can never return to, calling out the JCCSF for making us “unwelcome”.

Who set up

Showing that there is no limit to the ability of political gunslingers to trivialize the serious charge of anti-Semitism, has suddenly become public enemy #1 starting here with this oped in the Washington Times.

Hmmm, silly us, it must be a total coincidence that the campaign started right before the elections. What is even odder is the fact that they are being attacked for anti-Semitic forum comments staff and members didn’t make and which they took down immediately. At least it’s good to know that the conservative commentariat suddenly cares deeply about the Jewish people.
MoveOn’s Noah Winer sets the record straight in this Jewschool interview on the source of the comments posted on a MoveOn forum.

We discovered and removed the posts before the scandal broke. Almost all the comments were posted and rated highly by non-MoveOn members who joined the forum with multiple accounts to create trouble.

In other words, most of the comments arent the real views of anyone, just an effort to smear MoveOn and its members for political gain.

And frankly, even if they were posted by bonafide MoveOn supporters, has anyone read comments on Haaretz lately? Of course, one wonders why Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League wrote a public letter to MoveOn after the comments had already been removed. To his credit, he backed off.

Fortunately, MoveOn has a lot of friends. Jewish Funds for Justice posted this petition, and former representative