Tag Archives: Free speech

Israeli Knesset completes step 1 of 3 in criminalizing nonviolent economic pressure against the Occupation

Real News Network, a professional online alternative to US corporate media, has this comprehensive report about a Knesset bill to criminalize Palestinian, international and Israeli efforts to promote and enact boycotts against Israel. Last week, it passed its “preliminary reading” in the Knesset, with two more rounds to go to become law.

If passed, this stunning bill will mark the most severe and antidemocratic backlash thus far against the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement (BDS) to pressure Israel to abide by international law. Continue reading

UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union possibly suspended for 1 year for Israeli ambassador protest

When is the last time you heard of a student group being suspended for a year for doing what student groups do all the time-protesting a speaker? Probably never. And therein lies the question– some members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of UC Irvine planned to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk at the campus. Eleven of them did so and were peacefully escorted out of the room by security, one by one. The plan was discussed on the MSU e-list but planned separately, according to the students’ attorney Reem Salahi. In fact, MSU members were divided on the protest so did not endorse it.

And yet, as UC Irvine’s Daily Pilot reports: “A UC Irvine student conduct committee has recommended suspending the Muslim Student Union, following repeated disruptions by several of its members during a February speech by the Israeli ambassador, a campus spokeswoman said. The recommendation has not taken effect because the student group has appealed the decision, said UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.”

If something seems off here, the Los Angeles Times thinks so too in UC Irvine protest case raises questions about discipline practices. They say “Experts say it’s unusual for a whole group to be sanctioned in civil disobedience cases.” Indeed. Is such a judgment fair or consistent? And if not, why not?

Attorney Reem Salahi responds with this damning litany of hypocrisy:

The University’s disciplinary recommendation never explains why the alleged violations and particularly the alleged lie justifies the massive, unprecedented sanction that the University has levied against the MSU.  In the past, UCI has permitted protestors to disrupt speakers by heckling, breaking into song and even, on one occasion, allowing an organized group of students to surround an MSU speaker critical of Israel with posters and continually shout him down to the point that he was unable to be heard. Neither these students nor their respective organizations were administratively sanctioned. Similarly egregious protests have taken place at the different UCs with little to no administrative response.

At UC Riverside earlier this academic year, Republican students shouted down and visually blocked a panel of speakers. These students espoused hate speech and yelled homophobic and racist epithets at the panelists.  Police and administrators stood by and permitted the presentation to be thoroughly disrupted for over an hour.  They made no attempt to detain, arrest or identify those students, even though the faculty speakers and others present could readily identify them.  Nor did they conduct an investigation, punish them, or punish the campus organization with which these disorderly students were associated. Similarly at UC Berkeley, pro Israeli students interrupted a distinguished pro-Palestinian scholar and UN Special Rapporteur using a bullhorn after they were explicitly told by the police not to do so. They were not arrested and following an internal investigation, no disciplinary sanctions were levied. So, while the University preaches the “marketplace of ideas,” the disparate treatment of those who speak on the wrong side of the Israel/Palestine question reveals the weakness of the University’s commitment to this ideal.

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Media Circus: Bill Moyers, 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon and the backlash

Bill Moyers My sister recently stumbled on a blog post by a far right pseudo-journalist that accused me, her peace-love-and-justice baby sister and the keeper of our family’s terrible Holocaust history archives, of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her reaction was a mix of horror at the viciousness of the post, and amusement at its unintentional camp hilarity. My response to her was, “Welcome to my world. This is what it’s like to work on Israel-Palestine issues. Every day.” (I am on staff with Jewish Voice for Peace, which works to end Israel’s 41-year occupation.)

Most journalists don’t cover Israel-Palestine every day, and so they are unaccustomed to the inevitable tsunami of hyperbolic nastiness sure to come their way should they dare to touch the topic.

Bill Moyers, however, one of America’s most respected journalists and moral voices, could not have been surprised by the response last week to his powerful video commentary in which he condemned Hamas and asserted Israel’s right to defend itself, but also said,

Brute force can turn self defense into state terrorism. It’s what the US did in Vietnam with B-52s and napalm, and again in Iraq with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately, the elderly, kids, entire families… Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.

He presciently went on to describe exactly the muzzled world in which we live here in the U.S.

Our political elites show neither independence nor courage by challenging the consensus that Israel can do no wrong.  Although one recent poll found Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24 point margin, Democratic party leaders in Congress nonetheless march in lockstep to the hardliners in Israel and the White House. Rarely does our mainstream media depart from the montonous monologue of the party line. Many American Jews know, as Aaron David Miller writes in the current edition of Newsweek, that the destruction in Gaza won’t do much to address Israel’s longer term needs. But those who raise questions are accused by a prominent reform rabbi of being “morally deficient“. One Jewish American activist told me this week, that never in 30 years has he seen such blind and binding conformity in his community. You’d never know, he says, that it is the Gazans who are doing most of the suffering.

Moyers’ analysis, it turned out, was prescient because the backlash of calls and letters calling him a rabid anti-Semite, and one would presume Nazi-sympathizer, was so strong–even good old Abe Foxman of the ADL got into the fight– forced him to take the rather unusual step of addressing the onslaught of criticism at the top of his next show. (Sorry Bill, welcome to my world.)

A satirical columnist for the SF Chronicle learned a similar lesson this week an off-hand reference about “recalcitrant Israelis,” part of a humorous litany.

I knew I’d hear from American supporters of Israel, because that’s what happens. Any journalist can tell you that – pro-Israeli journalists, Jewish journalists, any writer who says anything that might be taken by somebody as a criticism of Israel or its current policies is gonna get reamed out. Dead babies are frequently mentioned, and crazed Palestinian fanatics – these folks go right for the top of the rhetorical ladder.

Finally, we can only imagine what awaits 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon for this generally fantastic and in the U.S, downright courageous piece of journalism,  Time Running Out for a Two-State Solution? (I say generally, because at times it erroneously gives the impression that “reasonable” voices like Tzipi “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” Livni are drowned out by the extremist settlers. In fact, Likud, Labor and Kadima have all been deeply complicit in the settlement project and the violation of human rights of Palestinians.)

Send your support to Bob Simon by commenting here. Bill Moyers might like to hear from you as well. Comment here.

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Dissent despite repressive silencing in Israel

Photo by Keren Manor/Activestills.org:Protest against the killing of civilians in Gaza, Jaffa, Israel, 1/22/2009.Relevant items by the independent information service,  Jewish Peace News, will now be cross-posted at Muzzlewatch. Go here to subscribe to JPN’s news service.

1) Alert from the Alternative Information Center (AIC) on the detention of AIC worker Mohammed Abu Humus;
2) Interview in the Guardian with Sharon Shalev
3) Report on Gathering to Mourn and Protest in Jaffa

Up to and also after Israel announced its unilateral cease fire, just in time to make sure that U.S. inaugural celebrations could go ahead unmarred, people all over Israel were vehemently expressing their outrage at the government’s (equally unilateral) blanket destruction of Gaza. Despite repeated claims that a huge majority supported government and military actions, protests were a visible presence in the public sphere all over the country. In fact, the repressive measures taken by state authorities, clearly intended to stifle public opposition, seemed to belie the alleged wall-to-wall support described by media and identified in polls. Police resorted to arrests on an unprecedented scale to intimidate, stem and silence dissent. Among many others (most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel), the police arrested Nir Oren, co-chair of the Bereaved Families Forum and such (by her own account; see: http://meretzusa.blogspot.com/2009/01/peace-activist-leah-shakdiel-under.html)
“wishy-washy … middle of the road” figures as Leah Shakdiel, an orthodox feminist pedagogue and Israel’s first female member of a local Religious Council.

An intensified version of Shakdiel’s comments on her own arrest is applicable to the overall treatment, by Israeli authorities and media, of acts and statements of opposition to the “war”: “The police these dark days are apparently instructed to play an active role in boosting public morale and national unity, [i.e.: forcefully stifling opposition, R.M.] so they jumped into our midst literally and grabbed six of us on Wednesday into their cars … Worrisome is the silence of the press on all this in a country where there is freedom of the press, i.e. it is self imposed censorship. Many journalists called, were there at the watch, took pictures and interviewed, telephoned later, promised to come to the court, and nada, not a word, no coverage published.”

Some of the milder intimidation tactics included strobe lights shown from low-flying police helicopters into a Saturday night protest I attended (January 17 2009), when many thousands marched from southern Tel-Aviv through the heart of Jaffa beating drums and chanting. On the ground, a power cut shut off Jaffa streetlights as police motorcycles bulldozed their way back and forth through the middle of the crowd.

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