I subscribe to the American Jewish Committee’s newsletter, and it’s an itneresting window into their psychology. As readers of this blog know, involving oneself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict invariably provokes strong reaction. My perception is that you are at much greater risk of your job if you are seen as “taking the side” of Palestinians, say if you are a respected journalist.
The American Jewish Committee though is not interested in such victims of the conflict, and certainly has not spoken out against the economic blockade of Gaza or people like Abdallah Abu Rahmah who are imprisoned for the “crime” of organizing peaceful protests.
So who does the AJC defend instead? An Irish woman who volunteered for the israeli Army. Ben Cohen writes in the Huffington Post,
It’s very rare that you come across someone deserving of the title “hero” – or “heroine,” for that matter – but I just did.
Cliona Campbell is a 19-year old student from Cork, in Ireland. She is something of a prodigy; in 2008, she was a finalist in the Young Journalist of the Year competition run by British broadcaster Sky News. Last year, she won the essay-writing competition run by the law faculty at University College in Cork, one of the more prestigious institutions of higher education in Europe. She has, it would seem, everything going for her.
Except that right now, Cliona lives in fear. She’s become an object of vilification in parts of the Irish press. Grown men have walked to up to her in the street and abused her. Browsing in a clothes store, the security guard recognized her and showered her with insults. Threats have been emailed to her.
And all this because Cliona spent a couple of months in Israel as a volunteer for the IDF.
The article then goes on to complain about how the “pro-Hamas” International Solidarity Movement volunteers are treated like “Anne Frank,”(a reference to Rachel Corrie who unlike Cliona Campbell was killed while volunteering in the Gaza Strip) and how people accused Israel of “murder” in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which occurred while this woman did her volunteer shift.
While I don’t think anyone should be threatened for their views, I find Ben Cohen’s outrage a bit much, given that this women did not simply visit to “see for herself,” she volunteered in an occupying army. In contrast, International Solidarity Movement volunteers do not in fact “volunteer for Hamas. From the group’s website,
The ISM is not affiliated with any one political party. The movement is open to all individuals and groups who choose nonviolent direct-action and other forms of unarmed resistance as a method for confronting and challenging the Israeli occupation.
Ben Cohen’s hero has an answer for me.
But why the army? Because over the years, I had seen the Israelis suffer incessant rocket attacks from terrorists and, when they eventually retaliated, be castigated when the same terrorists placed their own civilian people in the line of fire as ‘human shields.’”
I will leave it to the mountain of human rights reports that debunk Campbell’s mischaracterization of who is responsible for Palestinian civilian deaths and document the Israeli army’s use of human shields. But I disagree that her one month volunteer gig did anything to make such rocket attacks on Israeli civilians less likely, only a just solution can do that. I would note that the “vilification in parts of the Irish Press” seems to consist of one letter to the editor calling her brainwashed. And I am fascinated by Ben Cohen’s claims regarding the Israeli Defense Forces.
This keen observation captures the essence of that much maligned word, “Zionism.” If Zionism is about Jewish empowerment – in other words, engineering a state of affairs in which Jews exercise control over their security and destiny – then the IDF is the most tangible expression of that principle. For someone who is intellectually sympathetic to the fate of Jews without sovereignty, the IDF becomes a compelling story.
Cohen does not even try to claim that the people who bullied Cliona Campbell were motivated by anti-Semitism; the term does not appear in the article. But in the very title, he slanders an entire political philosophy anti-Zionism as being the force motivating the accosting thugs and hateful emailers and engages in McCarthyist guilt by association.
What is it about the nature of the Palestinian solidarity movement that enables a defenseless young woman to become an object of hatred? And how have those anti-Zionists who sit in the media and the academy, who would doubtless throw up their hands in horror at being associated with such thuggish behavior, contributed to the atmosphere of loathing which increasingly surrounds those who publicly support Israel? Are they in any way culpable for those spiteful individuals who email this pretty redhead to tell her that she “looks rough?”
Um, no, unnamed anti-Zionist intellectuals are not responsible for random sexist emails . And none of this is remotely as bad a violation of Ireland’s “democratic norms” as is Israel’s imprisonment of unarmed activists like Abdallah Abu Rahmah. Or how about the treatment of member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi? So deep is Cohen’s sense of victimization that he must search the world to find a fellow victim, and he must equate opposition to the Israeli Army as tantamount to opposing Jewish self-determination. I believe Jewish self-determination is much more threatened by declining democracy here in the United States and in Israel than a badly behaved Irish security guard. Why doesn’t Cohen speak out against that?
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