Pitzer Students for Justice in Palestine Defy Censorship Attempts with Display of Mock Israeli Apartheid Wall

In defiance against attempts at censorship, Students for Justice in Palestine activists at Pitzer College in Claremont California will erect a mock Apartheid Wall to educate their campus about the Israeli occupation and how Israeli policies confiscate Palestinian land and separate Palestinian families and communities.

photo 1 (2)

Here is their press release explaining the school’s attempt to censor SJP’s freedom of speech:

Pitzer Students for Justice in Palestine to Display Mock Israeli Apartheid Wall Despite Campus Attempts to Censor Its Speech

Claremont, CA — On Tuesday, March 31st, Pitzer Students for Justice in Palestine will display a mock Israeli apartheid wall on campus to raise awareness about Palestinian suffering and the realities of the Israeli occupation, as well as to stimulate conversation around necessary changes in global and domestic human rights policy. SJP is continuing with this demonstration despite attempts by the administration to censor free speech.

SJP Member Dan Solomon explains, “Pitzer College prides itself on ‘social responsibility’, ‘interdisciplinary learning’, and ‘student engagement’ so we hope that the administration will not interfere with our attempt to display those values in our political demonstration. We intend to educate our campus about the Israeli apartheid wall and to build the movement pressuring Israel to respect basic human rights.”

SJP is dismayed at apparent attempts by Pitzer College to stop the display of the wall. When a group of SJP members met with the Pitzer Dean of Students about their plan to display the apartheid wall, the Dean told them he was concerned someone may attempt to damage the wall or “burn it down.” He told them that someone would inevitably submit a formal complaint about the wall being ‘discriminatory.’ He also told SJP they would need approval from the Campus Aesthetics Committee. SJP’s proposal was rejected without formal explanation.

On Friday March 27, Pitzer warned SJP that their plans to proceed with the mock wall would be in blatant defiance of College policy. This is despite the Campus Demonstration’s policy statementthat Pitzer “respects the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly and supports their exercise.”

“We hope Pitzer College thinks twice before violating its own policies to censor SJP’s advocacy for Palestinian rights,” said Liz Jackson, staff attorney with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, whowrote to Pitzer officials Monday. “As it should, Pitzer claims to embrace a compelling interest in unfettered inquiry and the collective search for knowledge. Under California law, there can be no ‘Palestine exception’ to this policy. The accusation that displaying a mock Israeli apartheid wall would target Jewish students is an attempt to divert the conversation away from the human rights policy issues SJP is attempting to raise; SJP’s activity targets the Israeli state, not any individual. In response to recent incidents of deplorable anti-Semitic yik yak comments on campus, SJP emphasizes, “As a group advocating for equality, universal human rights, and collective liberation, SJP strongly condemns any form of oppression on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, national origin, or disability,” explains Solomon, “We strongly condemn any form of anti-Semitism on campus.”

Motivated by the same opposition to racism, SJP will display the mock Israeli apartheid wall, in the hopes of educating the Pitzer campus about the Israeli system of race-based separation and subjugation of Palestinians. “If you agree with SJP, and the International Court of Justice, that an apartheid wall violates basic human rights, we invite you to join Pitzer SJP in dismantling the wall at the end the day,” said Solomon.

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Students urged to conduct mock hangings on college campuses this April in support of Israel

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.21.14 PMPop Quiz!

Who is giving pro-Israel college students step-by-step instructions for holding mock hangings, stonings and whippings?

Is it the Onion in an attempt at satire gone awry? Or is it the former Marxist-turned-rabid Muslim-hater David Horowitz’s ironically named ‘Freedom Center’ in their newly published and freely downloadable “Student Handbook”?

If you guess David Horowitz and gang, ding ding ding! You win!

The ‘Mock Hangings’ portion of the student Handbook begins with one of the most extraordinary sentences ever written in the English language:

“To highlight Israel’s comparatively stellar record on human rights, we encourage you to hold a mock hanging, mock stoning or mock whipping on your campus.”

Really?

The book is featured on a new Freedom Center website actually titled “Jew Hatred on Campus“, written with a weird, Ted Kaczynski-like obsession with getting back at the country’s largest student group working for Palestinian rights, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). (We’ll let others dig into a point by point response to the distorted charges within about the student group which includes Muslims, Christian, Jews and others. We at Jewish Voice for Peace are privileged to know many wonderful SJP leaders— and we can say with confidence that calling SJP an anti-Jewish hate group is like calling President Obama a Communist! Oh wait, David Horowitz did that!)

Apparently oblivious to the fact that it might be, um, a tad insensitive to black or queer students especially to fake-hang a “homosexual” dummy on a campus, they offer step by step directions:

Staging a mock hanging on your campus will expose SJP’s hypocrisy. Students can produce a dummy dressed in normal attire with a rope around his neck. A sign on him will read “I’m a gay Iranian and SJP doesn’t care about me.” If you cannot produce a dummy, contact the Freedom Center and we will help you.

A minimum of 4 students are needed. 1 student to hold the dummy
1 student to help
1 student recording their team
1 student to record the crowd

Students staging a mock hanging must follow these rules:
- Wear plain clothes (no logos, political shirts, bright colors)
- No chanting, yelling or talking
- Do not engage in debate or arguments
For more information on how to stage a mock hanging on your campus contact DELETED@truthrevolt.org.

Because seeing is believing, here are some more screenshots. More ways to win over women this time:
Excerpt from Freedom Center's Student Guidebook- Advice for Teach-Ins about Intolerance

But truly, this is no laughing matter: The clearly well-funded Freedom Center’s “Jew Hatred on Campus” campaign is calling for action around the country in April as a counter to Israeli Apartheid Week activities. And it may be the source of one of the most truly disturbing intimidation campaigns we’ve seen.

Freedom Center Linked to Horrific Posters?
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.21.14 PM

This week, students at at least five schools across the U.S. woke up to these identical and truly terrifying posters (also above). Each had a massive image of Hamas militants enacting violence on Palestinians. Each one had the same text, large letters at the top which simply stated “Students for Justice in Palestine,” and on the bottom, “#JewHaters.”

Initial statements from school administrators are condemning these posters as hateful, with a UCLA spokesperson saying the school “repudiate[s] them in the strongest possible terms.”

In fact, even other pro-Israel groups have reached out to support SJP against this bigotry. Students across the country have the same question: who is responsible?

Though no one has publicly taken credit,* given the near identical images, language, timing and targets, all signs point to Freedom Center. If so, one might even argue they are themselves engaging in a form of terrorism targeted at students, and mostly though not exclusively, students of color.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center has a long history of grotesque anti-Arab racism and Islamaphobia. Once again, they have crossed a dangerous line. Their campaign is nothing less than a medieval witch hunt.

Cecilie Surasky and Gabi Kirk, Jewish Voice for Peace
Gabi@jvp.org

*UPDATE: In an interview published 2/25/15 in the Jewish Journal, David Horowitz admitted to being behind the anti-SJP posters. See: http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/conservative_activist_david_horowitz_admits_responsibility_for_posters

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Hillel International and Simon Wiesenthal Center’s incredibly creepy new campus surveillance tool

New app has a creepy logo!The Simon Weisenthal Center and Hillel International just proudly announced a new phone app “to fight anti-Semitism” which will be deployed on 550 US campuses with Hillel centers.

In reality, however, the partnership is less Southern Poverty Law Project, and more J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn-decide-to-make-an-enemies list.

In a truly alarming marriage of Paranoid Surveillance Culture and the no-desperate-move-surprises-us-anymore Israel lobby…the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), the group known for actually building a “Museum of Tolerance” on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, has developed the app to encourage students to literally report their teachers and fellow students. Reminiscent of surveillance posters found in places like Singapore, and I’d imagine, North Korea, this app’s catch phrase is “See it. Report It”

Explained Hillel International spokesperson David Eden:

“Working against anti-Semitism with the Wiesenthal Center is a natural for Hillel International. We’re proud to stand shoulder to shoulder by promoting this important tool to those who most often take the brunt of anti-Semitic attacks – students,” said David Eden, Chief Administrative Officer and chief spokesperson for Hillel International. “This innovative and simple to use app is another resource that we can use to help keep North American college campuses safe for Jewish students.”

Keeping Jewish students safe from anti-Jewish hatred is of course laudable, but this app comes with its own Twitter feed, and almost none of the 54 tweets are about anti-Semitism. (Quelle surprise!)

With the exception of a small handful of stories about swastika graffiti, the list reads like it was curated by Alan Dershowitz’s far right-wing cousin. It’s almost entirely obsessed with criticism of Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions–the movement to hold Israel accountable for violating human rights violations. (In fact, BDS is a tactic embraced by literally thousands of Jews around the world, and BDS movement leaders have repeatedly condemned all forms of bigotry.)

On the Twitter feed, there are numerous links to articles condemning student and faculty groups for involvement in divestment campaigns, and even some suggesting that such campaigns violate the law. There is a full transcript, with key phrases bolded for emphasis, of Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor’s speech opposing Palestinian Statehood. Natch, another tweet links to an article about the dangerous Open Hillel movement itself–a movement, again, led by Hillel students.

And then, for camp effect, there is the incredibly strange police badge logo above, giving app users the illusion that they are acting as a deputized citizens’ police force rather than, um HUAC-style spies.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a lost cause. Run by Marvin Hier, which the Jewish Forward called “by far the most overpaid CEO” of a Jewish organization in America, it has a long and terrible history of promoting hate against Palestinians and others under the guise of being a human rights group.

But Hillel International is supposed to be “the center for Jewish life on campuses.” They have special access and claim to represent all Jewish students on 550 campuses across the US.

But more important to them than welcoming Jewish students, is waging an all out PR war against the inspiring Open Hillel students who want to make Hillel open to all ideas, not just those vetted by the Israel-is-always-right thought police.

Instead, Hillel International is finding itself on the wrong side of history–plus they’ve just turned every Hillel student into a potential spy, asking them to literally turn in other students and teachers for public shaming and in some cases, worse.

One supposes that much like other failed efforts by Campus Watch, and the David Project, the ultimate homerun for Hillel and SWC will be gotcha videos of Middle East Studies professors in their classes where free inquiry is supposed to be encouraged.

Beyond appalling.

Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace

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Anti-Defamation League creates blacklist of groups that link Ferguson to Palestine

Wow. The ADL below considers the photo below a hateful message.

Screenshot from the ADL's Israel advocacy page.

Screenshot from the ADL’s Israel advocacy page.

File this under “You can’t make this up.”

Abe Foxman, whose $688,000 annual salary makes him one of the most over-paid pro-Israel lobbyists in the country, recently embarrassed himself (again) by actually releasing a press statement lecturing NFL star Reggie Bush on his Twitter feed— Bush had dared compared Ferguson and Gaza.

But it gets worse.

The Anti-Defamation League, which leverages its reputation as a fighter of bigotry to silence human rights critics of the Israeli government (thereby actually perpetuating bigotry and worse), has published a defacto blacklist of groups that dared to link Ferguson with Palestine.

I mean, what could the militarization of U.S. police forces and repeated, unaccountable killing of unarmed people of color possibly have to do with Palestine? According to the ADL—daring to make the connection is purely cynical at best, and a form of hate at worst.

But here is where the ADL gets the chutzpah award: singled out for particular opprobrium are those who link what’s happening in Ferguson to the training of police in Israel. The ADL, for example, calls out the inimitable Trita Parsi, head of the National Iran­ian Amer­i­can Coun­cil (NIAC). for this Tweet:

“Won­der­ing why the exces­sive police vio­lence? Here’s a guess: #Fer­gu­son police chief got train­ing in Israel…#Gaza.”

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 7.30.36 PMThey also call out someone for holding a sign at a protest that says “Google It!!! Israel trains the NYPD.”

So do who do you think is responsible for an awful lot of those free police trainings in Israel? The Anti-Defamation League, natch. Which I guess is why they are condemning people as opportunists and bigots for saying, well, the obvious.

As Kristian Davis Bailey wrote in Ebony Magazine in August:

The St. Louis County Police Department that killed Michael Brown and initially placed Ferguson on siege has trained with the Israeli military. Former County Police Chief Timothy Fitch was one of 15 American officials to participate in a weeklong training in Israel three years ago.
The April 2011 National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). It brought together leaders from the largest American police departments, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with members of the Israeli National Police, Israel Defense Forces and other intelligence organizations.

Oddly, the quick-to-issue-a-statement ADL was too busy to respond to Bailey’s requests for comment. Bailey went on:

Over 9,000 American officials have trained with Israeli police and military units on responding to civilian protests and terrorism. These operations reflect failure to distinguish between the apparent duty of police to protect civilians and military responses to war. This fusion has had life-costing implications for Americans, specifically black, Muslim and Arab people.

Normally, the ADL boasts about training lots and lots and lots of police officers , which includes special trips for US police officials to Israel for training in counter-terrorism tactics (which are then deployed against American citizens.)

I guess that in this case, they have decided that the best defense is a good offense. Reggie Bush, a running back, probably knows all about that.

-Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace

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photo-2-1

Conflict Kitchen controversy displays fear of facing Palestinian reality

A local perspective on the effort to shut down a restaurant that serves up Palestinian food and perspectives. By Ella Mason, Jewish Voice for Peace Pittsburgh

When you think about the sites that play a role in the Israel/Palestine conflict, a few places may come to mind: 
Oslo, Egypt, Camp David. . . but probably not Pittsburgh.  Yet this
 small post-industrial town has been embroiled in a 
controversy that has made headlines around the world.

It all begins with the story of the Conflict Kitchen, an innovative art project created by Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon
 Rubin.  The Conflict Kitchen is a takeout restaurant that only serves 
food from countries with whom the United States is in some type of 
conflict.  Since its opening in 2010 it has served food from 
Afghanistan, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and Colombia.
 Alongside food, the Kitchen produces written educational works:
 usually interviews with people from the country in question about
 their perspectives on food, dating, aging, school, and politics.
The Kitchen sees its mission as bringing Americans a deeper
 understanding of the people and culture(s) of these nations we hear 
about primarily as headline abstractions.

At the end of September the Conflict Kitchen opened their newest 
installment of the project; a Palestinian takeout restaurant.  Some
argued that Palestine was a strange choice for the Kitchen. They ask: Is the
 U.S. really at conflict with Palestine? The US gives roughly four billion dollars
 of aid (much of it military) to Israel, the nation actively at war 
with/occupying Palestine. Furthermore, the U.S.’s continuing blockage in the U.N. of Palestinian statehood helps to maintain what has become the status quo of occupation. 

In this context the U.S. could certainly be seen as having a conflict with 
Palestine, or at the very least, as being fundamentally entangled in 
the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.photo 2

Pittsburgh has a very small Palestinian population, so as a local
 Jewish artist with a great deal of interest in the ongoing conflict I 
was thrilled to hear that the Conflict Kitchen was taking on Palestine 
and giving these often-silenced voices a platform to be heard in 
Pittsburgh. 

Unfortunately, even before the Palestinian iteration
 opened, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh (JFGP) made 
efforts to have the restaurant shut down.  Gregg Roman, a former
 Israeli soldier and current director of Jewish Community Relations for 
the Federation, attempted to strong arm the University of
 Pittsburgh’s Honors College (one of the project’s sponsors) into
 canceling the September 30th kickoff event.

When that didn’t work, he 
pressured them to add him to a panel on Palestinian culture (how he 
attempted to justify this, being neither a Palestinian nor an academic 
nor a cultural worker I do not know).  When this tactic also failed, 
Roman came to the event with an organized group of right-wing 
Israelis, who used their time to participate by claiming that
 Palestinians living in Israel face no discrimination there. 

Continue reading

Hillel International hires Armenian Genocide denier Noam Neusner to fight Open Hillel movement, BDS

Tuesday night’s epic UCLA debate over divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation was notable for what it included—a coalition of over 30 diverse campus groups in support of divestment, and for what it lacked—a robust, organized opposition. (The divestment vote won in a landslide.)

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 4.28.33 PMThe likely reason for the relative silence of Israel-aligned student groups can be traced to a leaked memo in which a beleaguered UCLA Hillel head, concerned about the upcoming divestment vote, is cautioned by the PR firm 30 Point Strategies to not “put out any statements.” In other words, remain silent.

But 30 Point Strategies’ relationship with Hillel International, the “largest Jewish campus organization in the world”, on whose behalf they offered advice in the email, is no secret.

30 Point Strategies principal, Noam Neusner (pictured at right), is regularly identified as the spokesperson for Hillel International in articles relating to the upstart Open Hillel movement or other initiatives related to boycott, divestment and sanctions on campus. He was also spotted at the groundbreaking Open Hillel conference, though Hillel insisted they would send no official representatives.

But what is less known, or has been conveniently forgotten, is that Neusner was employed by the Turkish government to lobby the American Jewish community and Congress to deny the Armenian genocide, at least through 2010.

Back in 2008, Nathan Guttman wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward

Armenian activists are crying foul over Turkey’s hiring of a Jewish lobbyist to work against the recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Noam Neusner, former chief speechwriter on policy issues for President Bush and White House liaison to the Jewish community, was hired by the government of Turkey to promote strong ties with major Jewish groups and to urge these groups to oppose House Resolution 106, which would have labeled the murders genocide.

The information was uncovered when Neusner registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Guttman continues:

According to the filings, Neusner Communications, where Neusner is listed as principal, received a monthly retainer that recently was increased to $8,500 for Neusner’s extensive contacts with major figures in the Jewish community. It was the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy group with goals that include “ensuring the appropriate commemoration of the Armenian genocide,” that first made the documents public.

Neusner Communications received a total of $80,833 for the period from November 2007 to September 2008, according to the filings. Neusner said he “does not discuss client relationships.”

… Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director, called the hiring of Neusner to work on behalf of the Turkish government “a misguided attempt to manipulate Jewish-American opinion.” Hamparian argued that Jewish support in America for the Turkish side is “crumbling” and therefore there is a need to hire a lobbying firm aimed specifically at the community.

And Hamparian was right. The issue has understandably divided Jewish Americans, and caused a real rift in the Anti-Defamation League, whose involvement in lobbying against official Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is documented on the site NoPlaceforDenial.com.

But wait, there’s more.

Another of the 30 Point Strategies projects was the infamous hate-film Obsession, possibly one of the most expensive hate campaigns in US history. Some 28 million copies of the documentary which essentially compared Islam to Nazism, were sent to newsletter subscribers in mostly swing states during the ’08 presidential election. They provoked charges of efforts to influence an American election. (Funding was later traced in part to Aish HaTorah, a religious Zionist Israel aligned organization). According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 30 Point Strategies was one of two communications firms that worked on the project.

As Corey Saylor, who is in charge of monitoring Islamophobia at the DC- based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, “The PR firm 30 Points Strategies has a troubling involvement, such as distributing the hate-film Obsession, in poisoning public discussions. It is not productive for groups seeking an inclusive society to accept advice from them.”

Kate Nahapetian, Government Affairs Director of the Armenian National Committte of America, had even stronger words: “30 Point Strategies’ profiting from Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial inflicts pain and suffering on the families of survivors and is despicable.”

It is clear that Hillel International has become a designated frontline defense against the growing number of campus based efforts to make Israel accountable to international law. As such, Neusner seems to be the person being dispatched to monitor and respond.

Image courtesy UCLA SJP

Image courtesy UCLA SJP

But oddly, Hillel International’s pick is likely to even further exacerbate tensions with the remarkably diverse and growing, broad-based movement for divestment and boycott on campuses. Seen another way, their pick of Neusner is in some way a perfect illustration of why these unified coalitions are forming—students of color, Muslims, students from colonized countries, queer and trans students, feminists and so forth all see clearly the links between the oppression of Palestinians and their own historic marginalization. In this case, the links couldn’t be more concrete.

And more obvious, the increasingly vocal new generation of thinking, progressive Jews like those of Open Hillel simply won’t accept such horrific moral game-playing. Moves like these are simply further evidence of the growing irrelevance of old-school Jewish communal politics that throw out everything young Jews learned about Tikkun Olam, healing the world, when it comes to supporting Israel, right or wrong. As one student repeated at the UCLA hearing, they believe without a doubt that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Tactics aside, Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director gets the last word here. As he said of Neusner and his lobbying back in 2008 “This is a moral issue,” he said. “There is no wiggle room on the issue of genocide denial, just as on the issue of Holocaust denial.”

There is no public record that we could find of Neusner ever having disavowed his work on behalf of these clients.

-Cecilie Surasky

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Frank Luntz’s latest hasbara talking points – how to defend Israel post-Gaza

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 9.56.50 PM
The man we can all thank for catchy Orwellian phrases like “The Personal Responsibility Act” (which gutted federal support for poor families) and the “Death Tax”, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, is also the guru for Israeli hasbara. That’s right, more than any single person in the U.S., Frank Luntz has been responsible for teaching thousands of eager warriors for the Israeli government how to sell human rights violations and settlement expansion to increasingly dubious audiences. One example is this Israel Project 2009 classic, oddly euphemistically titled the Global Language Dictionary.

JNFBut now I’ve got great news boys and girls. The long wait for the latest “Words that Work” from Frank Luntz is now over (thanks for posting a leaked copy Jewish Philosophy Place–we almost missed the best read of the year! ) You can now download your own 2014, post-Gaza version of Communicating the Truth About Israel.

Lucky for us, it includes a great deal of current, original research on what Americans think about Israel, and what words test well in responding to their doubts. It seems to have been commissioned after Israel’s horrific attacks on Gaza–groups like the Jewish National Fund recognized that the reaction of near universal horror to Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians was, indeed, the mother of all Israeli public relations problems.

We decided to hunt down the document after spotting Frank with a Powerpoint walking around in an odd new propaganda video filled with well-dressed young Jewish fraternity members–looking like they’d just stopped by on their way to internships on Wall Street. In each interview, these young men seem increasingly isolated and devastated by pro-Palestinian activism on their campuses which they conflate with anti-Semitism. One can’t help but feel for these students. I have no doubt that for many of them, the isolation and confusion they feel is real. And I hope they get support. After all, having your world view turned upside down, and your own power and privilege challenged in ways that make you uncomfortable, is part and parcel of what we used to call a good education.

But it says everything that these students are not at a gathering with therapists, or spiritual leaders, or experts in reconciliation and peace or building a healthy Jewish life on campus. No, they are at a conference with literally one of the world’s greatest propagandists for hire.

In fact, the video calls for a kind of war against “these radical, hate-driven organizations,” aka student groups that support Palestinian rights.

Hasbarists have been telling students at divestment hearings to avoid the facts and use the talking point “I feel unsafe” for years. Their elders are not doing these students a service by making encouraging them to feel even more fearful and separated.

In his presentation, Luntz relies on standard hasbara fare–thinly veiled racism and “oppositelandia” attacks on peace and justice advocates, as though church groups and pro-BDS Jewish college students were actually the ones responsible for the gradual closing of the door on a two state solution.

Luntz tells advocates to talk about Israel as standing on the front lines against global terrorism, a beacon of civility in a tough neighborhood, and to trot out the constant line about Hamas using human shields. He instructs hasbarists to use human, emotional, heart-felt language. He tells his followers to blame Palestinian rejectionism for Palestinian suffering, and to divert questions away from the realities of Israel occupation and repression.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 7.38.23 PM

And remember, as Frank always says, “It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.” And I’d add, “It’s not what is actually happening on the ground that counts, it’s what Frank Luntz tells you to say.”

-Cecilie Surasky

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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.

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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.

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Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the American Jewish Community

By Donna Nevel

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

jvp-sodastreamThe Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

These attacks simply don’t address or grapple with the core aspirations or realities of BDS. As described by Hanan Ashrawi, executive committee member of the PLO, in a recent letter in the New York Times, BDS “does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.” She goes on to explain that “B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.”

The use of name-calling like “anti-Semites” and “delegtimizers” is problematic for a number of reasons, not only because its claims are untrue, but also because it takes the focus off the real issue at hand – whether and how Israel is, in fact, violating international law and basic human rights principles – and, instead, recklessly impugns the characters of those advocating for Israel to be held accountable.

Criticisms, even extremely harsh ones, of the Israeli state or calls to make a state democratic and adhere to equal rights for all its citizens are not anti-Semitic. Rather, anti-Semitism is about hatred of, and discrimination against the Jewish people, which is not anywhere to be found in the call for BDS, and these kinds of accusations also serve to trivialize the long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

Most recently, the anti-BDS effort has moved to the legislative front. A bill, introduced in the New York State Assembly last month, would have trampled academic freedom and the right to support BDS in its quest to punish the ASA and deter any who might dare to emulate its endorsement of the academic boycott. Those supporting the bill were opposed by a broad coalition of education, civil rights, legal, academic, and Palestine solidarity organizations, as well as Jewish social justice groups. The bill was withdrawn, but a revised version has been introduced that is designed, like the original, to punish colleges that use public funds for activities related to groups that support boycotts of Israel, including mere attendance at their meetings.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) worked closely with the sponsors of the New York bill.

Like the JCRC, rather than engaging in substantive debate about the issues raised in relation to BDS, the Israeli government and many Jewish communal organizations choose, instead, to try to discredit and derail the efforts of those supporting BDS.

For example, as recently reported by Ha’aretz, the Israeli Knesset is debating how to continue to counter BDS efforts across the globe, that is, “whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.” It is also considering what the role of AIPAC might be in introducing anti-boycott legislation and how to best bolster military surveillance–which has significant funding behind it–against supporters of BDS.

American Jewish communal organizations have also expended massive resources and energy in their campaigns to demonize endorsers of BDS. The Israel Action Network (IAN)–which describes itself as “a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), created to counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy”–has funded the anti-BDS effort to the tune of at least six million dollars over a three-year period.

The IAN website characterizes supporters of BDS as “delegitimizers”and says that, in order to gain support from “vulnerable targets,” which include “college campuses, churches, labor unions, and human rights organizations,” delegitimizers utilize Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactics, “the same tools used to isolate and vilify apartheid South Africa, Iran, or Nazi Germany. BDS activists, IAN continues, “present distortions, fabrications and misrepresentations of international law in an attempt to paint Israel with the same brush.”

In another example of name-calling without any substance, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) July 2013 report attacked Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), featuring ad hominem accusations (JVP “intentionally exploits Jewish culture”), rather than discussing JVP’s actual positions. (A JVP report on the ADL points out that the ADL not only targets JVP but is well-known for its long history of spying on Arabs and supporters of the Palestinian movement.)

On the charge of anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its call to fight the BDS movement, urges it supporters to “learn the facts behind this hypocritical and anti-Semitic campaign,” and the ADL’s Abe Foxman echoed those same sentiments: “The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.” And most recently, in his speech to AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after shamelessly drawing upon classic anti-Semitic imagery of Jews to speak of supporters of BDS, says: “So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti- Semitism.”

The demonization of BDS is not only the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream Jewish community. The self-declared liberal J-Street, in its seemingly relentless quest to stay under the Jewish “tent,” has also jumped on the anti-BDS bandwagon, sometimes in partnership with the IAN, which (precisely because J Street is positioned as a peace group) proudly documents its relationship with J Street in fighting BDS. Discussing how J Street is gaining acceptance in the mainstream Jewish community, JCPA’s CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow points to “its role in pushing back against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement…

Further, the refusal of both liberal land mainstream Jewish groups to discuss substantive issues around Israel’s actions or BDS also reveals itself in language that admonishes BDS as being “beyond the pale.” Recently, for example, as reported by the director of JVP in an op-ed in the Forward, the director of the JCRC of Greater Boston, who has a history of involvement in liberal organizations, explained that “any organization that supports BDS…doesn’t belong at the communal table. In fact, he was referring specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace. He even argued that opening the public conversation to BDS is roughly akin to welcoming the Ku Klux Klan.”

This attempted silencing of those simply discussing BDS plays out even in seemingly minor local skirmishes. For example, last year, the liberal rabbi of a large New York City synagogue cancelled the synagogue’s facilities-usage contract with a group of Jews who, he feared, might, on his premises, discuss BDS. That, he said, would be “beyond the pale.”

These attacks against BDS appear to be an almost desperate reaction to the increasing successes of BDS, not only in the world at large, but also within the broader Jewish community itself. Respected members of the liberal Jewish community as well as a few liberal Zionist groups that were vehemently anti-BDS are now calling for boycotts against products made in the settlements and are engaging with the issue publicly. Further, the mission and vision of groups like Jews Say No and Jewish Voice for Peace – “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights” – are resonating with increasing numbers of Jews who support BDS as a natural outgrowth of their commitments. And that movement is growing in partnership with the broader Palestinian-led movement for justice.

How should the rest of the Jewish community respond? Ad hominem attacks on BDS just will not do. It is time for BDS opponents to take a deep breath. Consider this: BDS is a principled response to Israel’s actions and behavior as an occupier. It is a profound call by Palestinians – and supporters world-wide–for justice. It is not BDS that should be opposed, but, rather, the very policies and practices that have made BDS necessary.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. She was a co-coordinator of the 1989 landmark Road to Peace Conference that brought PLO officials and Knesset members together to the US for the first time. More recently, she was a founding member of Jews Say No!, is a member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project, U.S.

Originally published on the Tikkun Daily Blog

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