Tag Archives: World Social Forum

In honor of US Social Forum: my first encounter with the “new anti-Semitism”

Cypriot journalist Christiana Voniati, with whom I recently did this interview, Echoes From The Warsaw Ghetto In Gaza, reminded me this week of an article I wrote in early 2004 about going to the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India. Its cousin, the US Social Forum is happening right now in Detroit, so I thought this would be a good time to reprint what I wrote in 2004 because in many ways it marked my first personal encounter with the way so many groups, in this case the Simon Wiesenthal Center, were willing to lie and dehumanize in service of a political agenda. It also describes what I feel is even more true today-the parallel yet all too often deliberately hidden universe of mutual respect, love and friendship that already exists between many Arabs, Jews, Palestinians, Israelis and others, especially in this movement for justice and equality.

I also thought about my World Social Forum piece because of Robert Fowke’s personal essay in the UK Guardian this week, Why this obsession with Israel and the Palestinians?

One reason why Israel is singled out for so much attention is because its supporters are so very vociferous, pushing their agenda at every opportunity. As a consumer of news, the speed of their responses and their sheer ubiquity inflames my interest and my antipathy. Why do they persist in trying to defend the indefensible?

Another reason for my disproportionate interest in this conflict is that I feel I have been lied to, and I feel that people are still trying to lie to me and I don’t like it. Why try to convince me that those Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara were terrorists? Whatever else they were, they patently were not that. If the word “terrorist” is to have any meaning at all it must refer to those who attack innocent civilians. From an Israeli propaganda perspective, silence would be better than lies.

This is precisely what happened to me when I went to Mumbai.  I was in many ways naive, and it was the confrontation with the smear-machine that politicized me even more. One can only ask the Israeli government – With friends like these (Simon Wiesenthal Center, Canada’s B’nai Brith etc), who needs enemies?

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum? A Personal Report
February, 2004
It is my first morning at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India and I am at a workshop on Palestinian women and the occupation. In the audience is a woman who I first think might be Israeli–she could easily be one of my friends and I feel an immediate kinship with her. She tells me she is 34 and has lived her whole life in Gaza except for college. I ask her if I can interview her.

She cautiously eyes my card, on which I have purposely written in thick, visible letters: Jewish Voice for Peace. “I don’t know, she says. “Do you support the occupation?” It seems such a surreal question. How could anyone support an occupation?

The very word evokes domination, a kind of cruelty. No, I say, we want to end the occupation. We want a peace that is just.

I ask about the checkpoints. She describes sitting in her car waiting to be allowed to drive through. The young Israeli soldiers are in sniper posts. You can’t see them, but they can see you, she explains. They signal it’s time to go by shooting their guns. She waits a long time until the soldiers say, “OK, now the dogs can go.”

“You think, ‘Do I want to be called a dog, or do I just want to go?’ ” she tells me. “I don’t care, so I start my car and they yell ‘No! Not you, I said dogs!’ So she turns her car off, and sometime later they say, “OK, now humans can go!” She starts her car and they look at her and the others and say “No! I said humans.” And she turns her car off and waits until finally this “other” category of Palestinian–neither human nor animal–is allowed to pass. “This,” she says, “is my only contact with Israelis.” And this, I think, and is my first contact with someone from Gaza.

The WSF and the new anti-Semitism
The World Social Forum (WSF) is the populist answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of a gathering of the world’s mostly wealthy, white, and male heads of state and captains of industry in Davos, the WSF is a cacophony of anti-globalization/human rights activists from all over the globe. The roughly 100,000 participants represent every imaginable cause–from Indian “untouchables” and Bhutanese refugees to child trafficking and sexual minorities. They are seen in the hundreds of marches that seem to appear out of nowhere down the main thoroughfare, at the 500 information booths, in more than 1,000 workshops, and on the political posters filling every inch of available wall space.
I have come because my New Voices human rights fellowship has decided to send the fellows to the WSF. But I have an additional reason for being here. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has cited the WSF as one of the centers of what it and others refer to as the “new anti-Semitism”, and these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left. Upon closer reading, most of these accounts make little if any distinction at all between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, or between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

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Summer break over: Durban II, get ready to rumble

Navanethem PillayConcerned about attacks on Israel’s human rights record, Canada, the United States and Israel will likely boycott the Switzerland follow up to the infamous 2001 South African Durban conference on racism. Now, the new UN Human Rights chief Navanethem Pillay is pissed.

“I do not believe that ‘all or nothing’ is the right approach to affirm one’s principles or to win an argument,” Pillay said. “Should differences be allowed to become pretexts for inaction, the hopes and aspirations of the many victims of intolerance would be dashed irreparably.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Shimon Samuels is also upset that the Arab Lawyers Union was one of 6 co-sponsors of a UNESCO workshop, “Human Rights and Armed Conflict: Principles and Practices,” featuring Israeli left-wing historian Ilan Pappe.

Samuels condemns the Arab Lawyers Union because he says they distributed a booklet of “violently” anti-Semitic cartoons in 2001 at Durban.

Samuels tells the UN that

astonishingly, the approval by your organizers to accept this workshop, despite the known record of its cosponsor and speakers, violates the ‘Rules of Engagement’ of your conference issued at its opening, which argues that “(B)igotry of any kind will not be tolerated (including hate literature or vulgarities aimed at demeaning anyone’s race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, social origin, property, disability, birth or any other status).”

Having seen widely available anti-Semitic and anti-Christian literature on book stalls in Egypt with my own eyes, and having heard stories from Egyptian and American friends about the terrible anti-Jewish cartoons you can regularly see in the papers, and how such anti-Semitism serves the elites, I have absolutely no problem believing an Egyptian group could distribute anti-Semitic cartoons. Further, in this case, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency confirmed images of “hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis, spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs.”

That said, I personally encountered Shimon Samuels and his form of human rights “reporting” at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India  in 2004 and I have absolutely no trouble saying he’s either the sloppiest reporter on the face of the planet, or a deliberate prevaricator. Back then, he tried to whip up a frenzy about the extensive WSF Jew hatred. I was there. I went to virtually every session he went to. And his final report pretty much got everything wrong. It was either appalling, or brilliant propaganda, depending on your perspective. When you’re thousands of miles away, and you claim to be the only witness, you can take tiny snippets of real information and use them to make things up out of whole cloth. That’s what Samuels did.

Besides, an easy argument can be made that many fundraising pieces coming out of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and groups like it, are full color pieces of anti-Islam and anti-Arab propaganda. My family gets this stuff in the mail, and it’s cringe-inducing in its crudeness–the anti-Islamic version of a late night infomercial selling you the Magic Bullet or Rejuvenique. Or in this case, Fear-Of-The-Other!

And it works.

Which is really too bad. What do you do when you realize the nut jobs on all sides are out there telling the rest of us the difference between the vicious bigots and the good guys.

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