Category Archives: ZOA

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. 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.

Zionist Organization of America board member leads class action lawsuit against Jimmy Carter for Apartheid book

This is an extraordinary and clunky attack on free speech by a group of Americans and Israelis who simply didn’t like former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.

Tablet’s Marc Tracy reports that on Monday, a group represented by attorney David Schoen ( a board member of the Zionist Organization of America who boasts defending members of the Israel mafia ) announced it was filing a class action lawsuit against Carter and his publisher Simon & Shuster. They claim the book, marketed as nonfiction, contains“demonstrable falsehoods, omissions, and knowing misrepresentations designed to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda.”

The publisher responded to Tablet:

“This lawsuit is a frivolous and transparent attempt by the plaintiffs, despite their protestations to the contrary, to punish the author, a Nobel Peace prize-winner and world-renowned statesmen, and his publisher, for writing and publishing a book with which the plaintiffs simply disagree. It is a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.”

The plaintiffs, Stephen Unterberg, Susan Eckman, Ryan Shuman, Danica Bernard and Steven Tabak, and apparently a cast of thousands who were traumatized by the book,  are demanding “damages” for everyone who ever bought the book. Seriously. You can read the lawsuit yourself below–

Carter Complaint- Lawsuit Against Jimmy Carter

-cecilie surasky

ZOA says Harvard Hillel encouraging “anti-Semitic hatred” with IDF exhibit, Hillel fights back

We reported earlier on the Breaking the Silence tour featuring the powerful voices of Israeli veterans talking about the price both they and Palestinians pay for the occupation. Last year, the Zionist Organization of America tried (unsuccessfully) to expel the Union of Progressive Zionists from the an Israel on Campus Coalition for sponsoring the Breaking the Silence tour.

This year, the tour is back but with more institutional Jewish co-sponsors than ever. The ZOA, known for their old-school take-no-prisoners tactics, tried another approach, since they found little support for their expulsion campaign last year. They issued a press statement titled “Dershowitz and Sharansky: Israel Has Best Human Rights Record,” demanding the immediate cancellation of the exhibit and all future showings in Hillels:

This exhibit at the Harvard Hillel not only doesnt present all the facts, but promotes an anti-Israel lie. It focuses on isolated events and aberrations. Those who see the exhibit will not be in any position to discuss the Middle East conflict knowledgeably and intelligently. Instead, they will be left with one biased and false conclusion: that Israelis and Israeli soldiers regularly and deliberately commit human rights violations against Palestinian Arabs, and that Israel is a brutal and callous oppressor. Those who know the context and history of the conflict in the Middle East know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Pulling no punches, ZOA goes on:

The Harvard Hillel is sponsoring an exhibit that encourages anti-Semitic hate and bigotry, and giving it credibility and legitimacy that it doesnt deserve. The exhibit will not build Jewish identity and love for Israel. Jewish students may even feel threatened personally and distance themselves from their identity as Jews. Some may even feel an unwarranted sense of shame about Israel and the brave soldiers who are committed to defending it, while doing all they can to protect Palestinian civilians under extremely difficult circumstances.

The director of the Harvard Hillel, himself an IDF veteran, fought back in an open letter defending their decision to sponsor the exhibit. It’s interesting to note that the idea to mount the exhibit inside of Hillel and at certain times, instead of in a more prominent location on campus, was originated by the Harvard Students for Israel group which had grave concerns about the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s decision to bring the exhibit to campus. The Hillel steering committee decided that campus controversy could be better controlled or avoided if the exhibit were brought inside the Hillel, complete with lengthy statements critical of the exhibit by other IDF veterans.

Nonetheless, this is what we call progress. The letter is important because it sets out an alternative approach, not surprisingly being led by younger Jews, that allows for difference, discussion, and critical questioning: all things the ZOA and their ilk believe are a danger to Israel, and Jews.

An Open Letter to Mr. Morton Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) From: Dr. Bernie Steinberg, President and Director, Harvard Hillel

Dear Mr. Klein:

We have never met, yet I can infer from your public statements that we share much in common. Like you, we Harvard Hillel and I, personally – are passionately committed to the security, well-being, and flourishing of Israel as a Jewish state. Indeed, the centrality of Israel is a pillar of our mission statement. And Harvard Hillel acts on that ideal consistently and with energy: In the past year alone, we have conducted more than 60 programs on Israel; this winter break, we sent 40 students to Israel, including our specially-designed Netivot Fellowshipknown as a premier Israel program for its intellectual depth and breadth, and for its power to transform lives. Your own campus intern discovered his love for, and commitment to, Israel as a Netivot Fellow. Ask him. Personally, my wife and I lived in Israel for over thirteen years. Our children were born there. I served in the IDF. Family and close friends live there still. Like you, I have devoted my personal and professional life to building bridges between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora.

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Amazing! End of Tutu smear! St Thomas reverses position and invites Tutu!

So much good news to report for a change.
We had a back and forth with folks at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the false Tutu quote after they used it in a release. Well, these guys are good and went to the source, the Zionist Organization of America, and finally put to bed this terrible smear against Tutu.

They also broke the story that Abe Foxman came out in support of Tutu speaking. (We’re in the piece as well.) The extreme rightwing ZOA still insists Tutu is an anti-Semite.
Mitchell Plitnick and I wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Minneapolis/St Paul Star Tribune today suggesting that silencing Tutu and silencing debate is not the best way to be a friend to Jews.
Best of all — and the timing is no coincidence — this afternoon, the University of St Thomas announced a reversal of their decision.

I’ll leave you with a link to Tony Karon’s piece, My Favorite ‘Anti-Semite’, which I’ve been wanting to highlight since he write it about Archbishop Tutu when the story broke. Karon, a senior editor, is Jewish and a former anti-apartheid activist from south Africa.

Interesting tidbits.

Generational change is scary. Very scary.

New Voices has a wrap-up of the recent unsuccessful attempts by the Zionist Organization of America and StandWithUs to have the Union of Progressive Zionists kicked out of the Israel on Campus Coalition for sponsoring a tour of Israeli soldiers (Breaking the Silence) critical of and traumatized by their military service in the West Bank.

Shapiro remained undaunted. I think the outcome sends a message that even though these well-established, older, better-funded organizations were advocating our removal, the ICC chose to listen to the voice of youth. I hope this is a sign of changing times where there will be no such thing as a Jewish thought police and the voice of Jewish youth will be regarded as important.

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