Israel

Elizabeth Warren visits Netanyahu, even as he undermines US negotiations with Iran

11/25/14

Elizabeth Warren has gone on her first foreign trip to… Israel. Palestine and Jordan are thrown in as the fixins. Reported first by the Boston Globe, Warren’s jaunt took her to the rightwing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she met Monday– even as the prime minister was doing his utmost to undermine any American deal with Iran. What kind of signal does that send to our State Department?

The road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue runs through Jerusalem. Politico plays down the presidential speculation, but not the Jerusalem Post:

While there are two full years before the 2016 US presidential race, the parade of possible candidates to Israel began Monday afternoon in Jerusalem with a meeting between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

You may remember that Warren refused to criticize Israel during the Gaza slaughter last summer. Progressives protested her hawkish views at an event she had in September. And watch Warren running away from a reporter at Netroots July 18 in the video below when he sought to ask her about all the civilians dying. What power does Israel have over Elizabeth Warren? This is a strict case of the power of the lobby, the big donors inside the Democratic Party, many of them liberal Zionists whom Obama also relied upon when he launched his coracle on the sea of national politics. Obama jokingly referred to three big J Street-affiliated donors as his “cabal.” 
For more on donors, read Anshel Pfeffer on that meeting of Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson recently where they talked about buying the New York Times.

It was like a scene out of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Two immensely wealthy Jews, key financiers of the main political parties of the world’s superpower, discussing how to wage war on the enemies of the Jews, and control the media and presidents. Only, instead of taking place at the dead of night in a Jewish cemetery in Prague, they were sitting on stage in a Washington, D.C. hotel conference room, in full view and making no attempt to hide their intentions.

You’d never see that in an American publication. No; here the emperor is fully clad. As William McGowan pointed out before I did.

Efforts to suppress Palestinian activism on US campuses won’t work

11/25/14

What do you do if you are a committed American supporter of Israel and find that everywhere you look campaigns for Palestinian rights are gaining ground? You could, as a number have done, use whatever resources and platforms you possess to try to persuade Israel to change course and negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians that is at least relatively just and practical. Along these lines you could vigorously encourage American efforts to impose on Israel a two state solution. Alternatively you could double down on repeating various Israeli talking points—villa in the jungle, children as human shields, America’s best friend, what about Tibet and Darfur? Or you could escalate  your financing of American politicians who will do Israel’s bidding automatically, and pray that Palestinian activism somehow runs its course like a bad fever.

But there is fourth, more innovative and indeed daring alternative, which was analyzed at a fascinating Institute for Palestine Studies forum held last Friday at the SEIU conference center near Washington’s Du Pont Circle: initiate active measures to suppress Palestinian activism. This tactic is bold because it seems obvious that in most respects, it comes into direct conflict with the First Amendment, and thus is based on the premise that forced to choose between Israel and the American Constitution, Americans will choose Israel.

I believe this premise is almost certainly incorrect, and that the activism suppression movement will eventually be seen as a wild and desperate overreach. But before that, there will be a long and grinding political fight: the suppression movement has had some successes, and Palestine activists need lawyers to defend themselves and journalists  to expose these activities for what they are.

Dima Khalidi

Dima Khalidi

For me the heart of Friday’s event was the elucidation—by Dima Khalidi of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support–  of the numerous avenues  pro-Israel groups have opened up in attempts to hinder, entangle or actually suppress activists who advocate for Palestinian rights on American college campuses. It is here of course, in the battle  for the sympathies of educated young Americans, where Israel has lost the most ground in the past fifteen years.  Khalidi’s group provides legal advice to activists, and finds attorneys for individuals and student groups which need them. In the past year her organization fielded a staggering 215 requests for legal assistance – from matters as relatively minor as a student group being barred from holding an event and as grave as activists facing criminal prosecution. While most cases fall in the harassment category,  their volume points to a coordinated effort to target and harass pro-Palestinian young people.  Khalidi provided several examples: pro-Palestinian campus  groups being unable to reserve spaces to hold meetings, or being forbidden to publicize an event until it receives official approval, (which is not forthcoming until the last minute)  or being told that because the views presented at their events are controversial, they have to pay fees for additional “security”.  Occasionally widely-ignored campus regulations  – such as one prohibiting distribution of flyers in dormitories –are  resurrected and treated as terribly important when they can be used as a basis to punish pro-Palestinian students. One such case involved students who leafleted dorm rooms with mock eviction notices – representative  of the very real evictions that Israel regularly gives Palestinian homeowners whose property Israel desires or finds inconvenient.  Palestinian students are regularly accused by Zionist ones of supporting or raising money for Hamas—and though of course such charges are typically baseless, they serve their purpose if they catalyze formal federal investigations, chilling to anyone, much less a college student.

Then there is the unintentionally comic tactic: an eruption of complaints by pro-Israel students that pro-Palestine banners and street theater make them feel “unsafe.”  Thus a banner at Barnard College, calling for an end to the occupation and  portraying a map of whole Palestine, implying support of a non-religious state—was removed by administrators because some Barnard women allegedly felt menaced. More amusing still was the complaint of a young pro-Israel woman from the University of California at Berkeley who claimed in a lawsuit that she felt threatened and intimidated by a mock checkpoint, the kind of thing where students go through the motions of asking passers  their religion and demanding to search them. It  was of course transparently obvious that the “soldiers” manning the checkpoint were students playacting as Israelis.  Was this young woman who filed the suit, a Berkeley alumna no less, genuinely, as she claimed, “terrified for weeks” by the experience?  What a delicate flower she must be!  Other Zionists have likened make-believe checkpoints to passion plays of medieval Europe.  One can contemplate that if a make believe checkpoint on a University quad has such an impact, what must it be like for Palestinians who are subjected to the real thing, manned by young Israelis with real guns,  every day of their lives.

Another case was the Hillel complaint at Berkeley when pro-Palestinian students signed up to register at its Birthright Table. Of course a campus regulation was found to accommodate Hillel—the Students for Justice in Palestine had failed to register their demonstration fourteen days in advance. (And the nerve of kids whose parents or grandparents were, in many cases, ethnically cleansed from Palestine, trying to claim  that they have as much right to a Birthright trip as American Jews.)

Yet after all this, one gets the impression that the wave of campus activism is essentially irrepressible. Yes, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine constantly face petty harassment, and in many cases college administrators, scared themselves, will bend campus regulations to favor  Zionist groups.  But in many cases they won’t.  And on campus the activism has reached a critical mass, and thus has passed  the point where Israel’s insistence on no equal rights for Palestinians in what used to be Palestine has begun to sound kind of un-American.  There are now thousands of politicized Palestinian American kids on American campuses, and perhaps nearly equal number of American Jews who find Israel a racist embarrassment.  Beyond these two core groups, are more students going to empathize with the side that is bombing and bulldozing houses and enforcing the checkpoints, or the victims? Twenty years ago, before there were a significant number of organized, visible and thoroughly-Americanized Palestinian kids on campuses, the Zionist narrative pushed aggressively by a relatively small number of students was  unchallenged and could prevail by default. That era is gone  forever.  The new means used to suppress Palestinian campus activism surely makes things more difficult, but my sense is that these difficulties might be viewed by many young men and women as a worthwhile challenge. The petty regulations administrators used to harass pro-Palestinian groups have an echo: perhaps not so obvious  as the regulations deployed by the storied racist voting registrar of Missisippi in 1960’s, but they nonetheless convey the sense of a tilted playing field. Meanwhile the torrent of complaints by Zionist students that campus protests make them “feel unsafe” may arouse some college administrators with nanny state attitudes or extreme readiness to cater to the desires of some major university donors.  But won’t these claims simply be laughed out of court?    You don’t need to have gone to college in the sixties (though many did) to realize that campus politicking can be tough and challenging. Former Mayor Bloomberg (actually a major supporter of Israel) brought an instant halt to New York politicians whining about a pro-BDS event at Brooklyn College by saying, look, we don’t live in North Korea here. I would wager that the “this makes me feel unsafe” tactic will get enough well-deserved derision that  its proponents will be forced to drop it.

The above is my opinion, but at the forum Dima Khalidi was similarly, if more guardedly, optimistic.  After cataloging instance after instance of efforts to suppress pro-Palestinian activism, she came to this conclusion: “While the effect of all this is damaging and chilling, it is not working that well. A lot of these efforts are failing, because of the First Amendment, and because people refuse to be intimidated.”

I think she’s right, and I also think that to the degree pro-Zionist organizations resort to tactics transparently opposed to the spirit of the First Amendment, they will embarrass and eventually marginalize themselves.  None of this to say that the burdens and stress these tactics put on Palestinian groups are not considerable. The various legal groups working to defend political speech desperately need more attorneys, more resources. But in the American context, they hold the winning cards.

I’ve given short shrift to other important parts of the forum, including efforts to target Mideast studies departments which receive Title VI funding, using the argument that the departments are not “balanced” because their course offerings are too critical of Israel; legislative efforts are afoot to compel the Department of Education to defund academic departments which don’t toe the line. Yet at a  moment when the United States shows no sign of not being inextricably involved with the Mideast for years to come, it’s hard to believe that that even the Congress will agree to sever America from its main sources of academic and linguistic and cultural knowledge about the region on Israel’s say so.

There was also a presentation on the selective prosecution of individuals—especially the case of Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman now being prosecuted on a visa violation which is at once revelatory and mysterious.  The mystery to me, and to the panelists, is who decided to prosecute this case and why. The case’s pettiness (Odeh failed to state her past imprisonment in Israel forty years on a visa application) is breathtaking.

But so long as Palestinian activists –on campus and outside—know their rights and can access attorneys to advise and defend them, their ascent will continue. As Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi stated in his introduction to the forum, those who oppose Palestinian equal rights do not have an easy time making their case in America when the story is fully debated. Few want to identify as advocates of colonization, or supporters of the house demolitions and checkpoints and unequal rights which are the foundation of the Israeli occupation.  Defenders of the status quo have run out of persuasive arguments; their resort to debate suppression can mean nothing else.  America has many flaws, but respect for the First Amendment is deeply embedded in its political culture.  The Israel lobby has chosen a tactic which will profoundly discredit it.

The Minds of Others: An interview with Max Blumenthal

11/25/14

And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism:
that for too long it has diminished the rights of man,
that its concept of those rights has been – and still is –
narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and,
all things considered, sordidly racist.

Aimé Césaire (1955/1972), Discourse on Colonialism.

The following interview was conducted in Berlin, Germany on November 13, 2014.

Anna-Esther Younes: Mr. Blumenthal, you had quite a turbulent stay in Germany. You and David Sheen, a journalist from Israel, came to speak about the atrocities committed in Gaza by the Israeli army this summer and Mr. Sheen came to talk about racism in Israel before, during and after the Gaza war. However, you were denied your first public speech at the Volksbühne due to an intervention by the Left Party (Die Linke) that stopped it from happening around 15 hours before the event was supposed to start. The allegations were that of “severe Israel hatred” and “Anti-Semitism”, which were ostensibly the reasons for some people in the Linke to stop both of you from speaking. Instead, you needed to give your talks in a small and crowded anti-war café nearby. At the same time you gave your talk, Neo-Nazis were allowed to march and protest less than a kilometer away at the center of Berlin, at Alexanderplatz. Furthermore, the MPs that invited you are now facing a public call with more than 500 signatories in just a few days for their exclusion from the Linke party. The Spiegel, the most internationally renown German magazine, ran an article by Sibylle Berg who writes: “Almost mischievously, I dare a Freudian analysis and of course it is completely speculative, but I want to suggest that the cause of their resentment is of a sexual nature. Let me guess: Inge and Annette, the left-wing ladies critical of Israel, once went on a holiday in Gaza.” The articles alludes to the idea that the women MPs are primarily interested in Palestine due to a sexualized interest in Palestinian men and their revolution. Did you expect this when you came to Germany?

Max Blumenthal: Based on what I knew about Germany and its national pathology and its failure to really take the right lessons from its own history, I was hardly surprised by the reaction that I received for attempting to describe the situation in Israel-Palestine. For instance, I wasn’t surprised that there were attempts to shut my talks with David Sheen down. However, when I was so promiscuously described as an anti-Semite, including by gentile politicians like Volker Beck, and that this behavior was considered perfectly normal in German society, I have to admit to some level of shock.

Are you calling us pathological?

Max Blumenthal: Yes, this is a sick society that hasn’t addressed the core political and psychological and social trends that lead to the Holocaust. If anything it’s simply repackaged them beneath the fog of Holocaust guilt.

But “because of the Holocaust, we need Israel”. It’s one of the most important lessons for many people in this country.

Max Blumenthal: According to the commonly accepted German national narrative, because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel Dolphin class submarines with launching tubes retrofitted for launching nuclear missiles. And because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel discounted Corvette boats to attack fishermen in the Gaza Strip who are ghettoized and permanently confined to the second most densely populated place on Earth, surrounded by walls and remote controlled machine gun turrets — all because of the Holocaust. How this honors the millions turned to ash is beyond me.

But at least Jews are strong and they can defend themselves!

Max Blumenthal: In the German cultural frame, Jews can only be strong within the Israeli military, which means that Jewish strength is synonymous with the oppression of Palestinians. This warped understanding of Jewish strength implicates all Jews in Israel’s crimes, which is also what actual anti-Semites seek to do. It also hollows out the identity of Jews who have no interest in Israel or in living inside of it, and casts them as weak, as lesser Jews.

Bild Zeitung, the most famous German daily newspapers, called Sheen and Blumenthal "Insane Israel haters" in this headline and later on refused comments concerning their allegations to Sheen and Blumenthal.

Bild Zeitung, the most famous German daily newspapers, called Sheen and Blumenthal “Insane Israel haters” in this headline and later on refused comments concerning their allegations to Sheen and Blumenthal.

So are you a weak Jew then? Do you see yourself as a weak Jew? Are you a Jew according to their address?

Max Blumenthal: In Germany I apparently am not as Jewish as Volker Beck, a man who has never had a Bris or a Bar Mitzvah.

On top of that, you and David Sheen have been accused of anti-Semitism. How does that personally feel for you?

Max Blumenthal: My work was called “consequentially anti-Semitic” in the Berliner Morgenpost by Volker Beck, who has never read anything I’ve written.

But how does it feel, Mr. Blumenthal?

Max Blumenthal: This is not the first time I’ve been to Germany but it’s my first visit as a political actor. And my initial feeling was that I was an alien exploring another planet. Now that I’ve had more time to insinuate myself into the political environment, I can make out a vision of what Zionism is doing to Jewish identity, and how this political ideology is permanently altering what it means to be a Jew. I am terrified by the sight.

As long as Judaism is conflated with Zionism, a pro-Israel gentile like Volker Beck can declare himself in so many words more Jewish than I am, and I can be essentially de-Judaized; my Jewish identity can be negated, simply because I’ve defined it outside the frontiers of Israeli nationalism and to some extent, against Zionism.

Does that make Germany a Jewish friendly country?

Max Blumenthal: It makes it a white country where Zionism is proscribed as part of the hegemonic narrative that’s imposed on everyone and used to advance the culture of whiteness. Germany is the whitest country in the world. It’s so white that it doesn’t know that it’s white or what whiteness is.

Could you explain what you mean by “Whiteness”, please? 

Max Blumenthal: Whiteness is the supreme embodiment of privilege. Whiteness is expressed through the wielding of power against calls for equality and the simultaneous denial of the very existence of the privilege to do so — a willful lack of self-awareness.

In my own country, we Jewish-Americans have generally superseded the WASP’s as the new elite, as the new “whites.” But unlike other white people in America, we are able to claim persecution when anyone challenges our privilege, and our claims of persecution will be taken very seriously. For example, when pro-Israel students complain to university administrators that their identity as Jews was threatened by some Palestinian solidarity demonstration full of brown skinned Muslims, those demonstrators are often punished or sanctioned. We saw that take place recently at Loyola University in Chicago, where a bunch of affluent, all-white students claimed they were “bullied” by Palestinian-American students who had attempted to sign up for Birthright Israel, the free, Jews-only tour of the Holy Land. In the end, the Palestinian-American students were charged with “discrimination” for protesting a Jews-only luxury vacation to historic Palestine. Can you imagine what would have happened if African-American students were punished for protesting an all-white vacation tour to the American South? There would have been a national uproar. So from my perspective, pro-Israel organizations on American college campuses are functioning as White Students Unions that are pandered to instead of properly stigmatized. And they reflect how the anti-Semitism trope is employed to defend Whiteness.

And how does that whitewashing of Jewish identity relate transnationally to the politics inside of Europe, North America and Israel-Palestine. Where is the connection?

Max Blumenthal: The completely mono-cultural narrative on what it means to be a German holds that the Holocaust towers above all other crimes, that those who perished in it were the ultimate victims of history, and that the Jewish nation that rose up in its wake must therefore float above the weight of history. Inadvertently or not, Germany is instrumentalizing the Holocaust and Zionism to compromise the citizenship rights of Muslim and Arab immigrants, to silence their narratives, and to complicate their naturalization process. The hegemonic narrative makes whiteness the ultimate qualification for full German nationality, since only native German whites can sincerely express guilt for the crimes their own ancestors perpetrated, and only German whites can genuinely transmute their guilt into unwavering, unthinking support for the Jewish state. And, as you explain in your article, it also allows for a new discourse of security to be directly connected to an unwanted, unassimilable and ostensibly “anti-Semitic” Muslim figure, inside Germany and beyond, which is then also connected to the right to be a citizen – or not. [1] In fact, under the Hessen citizenship test, which asks immigrants several questions about the Holocaust and basically demands they recognize the state of Israel’s “right to exist,” they can literally be denied citizenship.

But is it not deeply Anti-Semitic to view Jews as a special people, or as special victims? 

Max Blumenthal: Of course. Germans have gone from believing that Jews are especially pernicious to believing they are special victims who require an ethnically exclusive state as a token of their suffering. They simply can not accept that Jews are normal people capable of being oppressors like everyone else; of practicing apartheid or developing a class of extremists who behave almost identically to Christian neo-Nazis. We have to recognize that the kind of settler-colonialism that Israel practices is a completely normal project in the context of Western history. White people from the West have practiced ethnic cleansing before and they will likely do it again. Germany is one of these “normal” nations — displacing the natives is normal European behavior. But through its fetishization of Jews and its unfortunate conflation of Judaism with Zionism, Germany’s meta-narrative places Israel outside the frame of history and above scrutiny.

Amongst all those racialized and genocidally exterminated by white Europeans, why do you think have Jews been singled out from all racially persecuted minorities in Europe in your opinion? 

Max Blumenthal: Because European Jews were white and in these societies the hegemonic narrative demands reverence for Whiteness as a representation of national identity. The only victims who can be respected are the white ones. That must be why we see so much more uproar when a random neo-Nazi shouts something anti-Jewish at a protest in Berlin against the war on Gaza then when the German government passes a law to allow for the mass deportation of Roma to supposedly “safe” countries in the East.

Aimée Cesaire is making a similar argument like you and said that fascism came back from the colonies to Europe during the 2nd World War. Cesaire made the argument that fascism was practices already in the colonies and was practiced by Europe for a long time before already, however, not within European borders. What does that mean for people who are against a fascist narrative? And what does it mean for people who are Jews and who are against that narrative?

Max Blumenthal: In Germany, Jews like me who have been called Anti-Semites by Christians like Volker Beck are actually being otherized, if not racialized. We get lumped together with the rest of the people in Germany who don´t accept the hegemonic narrative — Muslims and black immigrants — and whose citizenship is compromised as a result. So you go from being placed above history and above criticism and fetishized to being placed below history and denied the ability to have any influence on it. It seems that the allegation of anti-Semitism is wielded in an especially aggressive way in Germany against anti-Zionist Jews because of the danger they present to the narrative that protects whiteness above all else.

In what way is your experience in Germany as an outspoken anti-racist and critic different from the US context? 

Max Blumenthal: My experience here in Germany has been dramatically different from what I’ve lived through in the U.S. The sorts of allegation that have been leveled against me here are not taken seriously in the US, except by right-wing pro-Israel elements that might have loads of money but have no grass-roots base. The most popular talk show host in the US, Jon Stewart, recently called right-wing attacks on Israel critics “fascistic,” and said something really important that Germans can’t seem to understand: ‘The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.”

Obviously we have a long way to go in the US before views like mine are entertained in the mainstream, but we have competing traditions and a massively diverse society that is in constant flux, so it’s possible to introduce new ideas on supposedly taboo subjects without being demolished under the weight of a single-note master narrative.

Do you see any development in the long or short run. Do you think that you broke a little bit of this discourse; do you think you achieved anything?

Max Blumenthal: I think the cyborg-like German media was able to reinforce the dominant narrative with machine-like efficiency. Whether it was the media owned by Axel Springer, which literally demands all of its employees take a loyalty oath to the German special relationship with Israel, or the left-of-center papers like Der Spiegel, they all repeated the same fabrications and distortions about me. They each painted me as an anti-Semite in a uniform fashion without ever referring to the content of my work as a journalist. None of them called me for comment and all played their role in shielding the public from a counter-narrative. So I can’t claim that I opened the debate. It seems clear to me that Germany is encircled by psychological wall, which is at least as damaging to its culture as the Berlin Wall. The only way that I see change occurring in Germany is through the involvement at high levels of society of immigrants who can disrupt the mono-cultural national discourse.

There’s been nobody else who wrote you any letters of sympathy? 

Max Blumenthal: I’ve met quite a few white Germans who are supportive of the idea of Palestinians having basic human rights and are actually willing to do something about it. But it seems to me that they have been medicalized in their society as lunatics. As Erich Fromm said, the sane man in the insane society is always portrayed as insane.

So, what do the German elites gain from using that anti-Semitism trope?

Max Blumenthal: Genuinely left-wing anti-racists tend to be supportive of Palestinian rights. And through the anti-Semitism meta-narrative, German elites are able to weaken and divide the left by painting its most devoted activists as Jew haters; they are able to sever solidarity between Palestinians and Black Germans and other refugee groups in Germany by demanding immigrant support for Israel, and of course, they receive material benefits through the military relationship with Israel. The weapons sales not only take the form of state-to-state transactions, but also benefit the mercenary force Frontex, which uses to maintain the fortress Europe that Germany demands.

If you come back, would you do anything differently?

Max Blumenthal: If I return, I’ll operate more as an observer and chronicler. It is truly fascinating to observe this freak-show as an outsider. And as an American I have a natural attraction to freak-shows.

Thank you for the interview.

Notes

Thanks to Pary El-Qalqili and Mona Katawi for helping with the interview.

1. Younes, Anna-Esther (2014), A Chronicle of A Disappearance. Mapping the Figure of the Muslim in Berlin’s Verfassungsschutz Reports (2002-2009), Islamophobia Studies Journal (forthcoming).

Like an unrequited lover, ‘NYT’ confesses itself heartbroken over Israel’s (latest) betrayal of democracy

11/25/14

You surely saw the news that the Israeli cabinet approved a bill to define Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people.” The State Department issued mild criticism of the measure: “we would expect [Israel] to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.” Israel’s centrist cabinet ministers objected strongly to the bill. And even the Anti-Defamation League has come out against the legislation, saying it’s “unnecessary.”

But look who’s heartbroken: The New York Times has a big editorial titled “Israel Narrows Its Democracy,” expressing such upset over the move that you’d think that Israel was a borough of New York.

Since its founding in 1948, Israel’s very existence and promise — fully embraced by the United States and the world of nations — has been based on the ideal of democracy for all of its people.

Its Declaration of Independence, which provides the guiding principles for the state, makes clear that the country was established as a homeland for the Jews and guarantees “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

That is why it is heartbreaking to see the Israeli cabinet approve a contentious bill that would officially define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, reserving “national rights” only for Jews.

The Times is unable to separate the American story from the Israeli one. It seems to regard both societies as modern democracies that are struggling toward equal rights for all.

This is not for us just a theoretical concern. The systematic denial of full rights to minorities — principally African-Americans and disproportionately in the American South — well into the 1960s caused great harm to our own country, is not fully resolved yet and is a remaining stain on American democracy….

Having experienced the grievous legacies created when a government diminishes the rights of its people, we know this is not the path that Israel should take.

The Times is being entirely too deferential. Israel has been taking that path for a long time. In her recent book Citizen Strangers, Shira Robinson documented Israel’s discrimination and worse against its Palestinian citizens, including its refusal to allow hundreds of thousands to come back to their homes even as it welcomed Jews into the country. “[T]he structural contradictions that are at the foundation of the state will continue to haunt the state and all of its citizens until they’re resolved,” she says. The New York Times has failed to tell its readers about that book or about Goliath, Max Blumenthal’s expose of Israel’s racist political culture. And we’re not even talking about the stain of the near-50-year-old occupation and the massacres of children in Gaza.

As for that mild criticism from the State Department? “[W]e would expect [Israel] to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.” The Israeli right wing is biting back, hard, saying Bug out! Of course, Israel interferes in our politics all the time, with the complicity of the New York Times. But raise a voice in displeasure, and they let you have it. Haaretz:

Economics Minister… Naftali Bennett slammed the U.S. State Department response to the Jewish nation-state bill, saying the U.S. shouldn’t intervene in Israel’s internal issues, as politicians from Israel’s right also came out in criticism.
“I say to the Americans that the affairs of the State of Israel – we will manage [ourselves],” Bennett told Army Radio, according to Israel National News.
“At the end it is our problem,” he said. “This is an internal issue and I think that no one has the right to intervene with it.”…
Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the U.S. statement by assuring that Israel is a “model democracy,” and that’s how it will remain, other politicians on the Israeli right responded vehemently.
“We can keep the foundations of democracy even without the help of the partner over the ocean,” Coalition whip and Likud MK Zeev Elkin said following the U.S. response, according to Yisrael Hayom.

Debunking Netanyahu’s propaganda on Jerusalem

11/25/14

This short piece of inflammatory propaganda above has been circulated by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. It is dangerous and should be explained and put into context urgently:

1. The Temple Mount is not in a bubble, it is in Jerusalem/AlQuds (this much you know). But did you know:

2. If you are not Jewish in Jerusalem you do not have citizenship and do not have the right to vote for government. Palestinians have residency and although the majority of families have been stewards of the city for generations they do not have the right to vote for any national government.

3. Jerusalem Al/Quds is the largest Palestinian metropolis and capital, but as a central business district it has been cut off from the workforce in the suburbs — causing over 5,000 business to close in just one decade (since the Wall was built) and in some area’s causing unemployment rates to rise over 75%.

4.  It is illegal for the first time in over 2,000 years to sell fruits and vegetables from local farmlands in the old city market. Instead, Palestinian shop owners are forced to sell imported Israeli Tnuva products, a militarily captive market, not a “free market”.

5. Israel has used age old divide and conquer tactics to boot the historic political leadership out of town and construct the 24 foot high wall which has fragmented the city. Approximately 30% of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents live on the other side of the wall. Thus, they receive no municipal services but continue to pay taxes so as not to lose their legal status as a resident of the city.

6. Israel has withheld civil services to non-Jewish (Palestinian) neighborhoods systematically for decades, leading to mass home demolitions, inaccessible healthcare and poor to no educational opportunities. The Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction in Jerusalem.  No political body is designed to argue on behalf of over 360,000 Palestinians in the largest Palestinian city. Long term plans about anything from waste-management to playgrounds to healthcare do not have a political address.

7. Instead: The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) coordinate civil service provision through International NGOs in Palestinian Jerusalem. So, in other words:

a- Mostly western, short term NGO employees, accountable to a boss not an elected representative decide the fate of the city and its Palestinian inhabitants.

b- Services provided through humanitarian programs administered as if to a natural disaster use most often annual programs and funding.  No one discusses long term employment, health care, education, master planing needs in the largest metropolis and capital. Leaving the planing playing field empty for Zionist colonialist groups to move full speed ahead with expansion plans.

8. Netanyahu guaranties the right for Jewish Israeli citizens to live anywhere in Jerusalem, and indeed over to 250,000 now live on occupied and stolen Palestinian lands east of the green line. However for young Palestinian families it is legally and economically practically impossible to purchase an apartment in Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in Jerusalem.  While no new Palestinian neighbourhood has been built since 1967, consecutive Israeli governments support Jewish supremacist group to push Palestinian families from homes in almost every Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem.

9. The Israeli government at best turns a blind eye towards, or at worst actively supports, Jewish supremacist youth groups to spread racist propaganda, regularly enabling incitement to reach new peak levels all over downtown Jerusalem.

Israeli policy since this summer is designed to “Hebronize” Jerusalem; to bring it to such peak tension and violence that the Temple Mount Noble Sanctuary, the most holy of places for Palestinians will shut down, as described by Netanyahu- “equally”, so that it can be reopened “equally” to government supported Jewish supremacists who are openly planing to build the 3rd Jewish temple to replace it. Palestinians are not permitted to visit let alone pray at the Western Wall, also known as Hait AlBuraq- where the Prophet Mohammed’s winged horse took flight to the seventh heaven.

10. If you still think this is about peace and coexistence between two peoples – get over it. Peace is an empty, useless word here.

Indeed Jerusalem/AlQuds can be one of the most amazing cosmopolitan metropolis capitals of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but not until FREEDOM of movement is restored, EQUALITY guaranteed and JUSTICE is valued for all by all.

I feel compelled to clarify this because while what is happening in Jerusalem should not be considered genocide, it sure as hell- is gradual ethnic cleansing. Contrary to (successfully decreasing) global common belief, Israeli policies are neither democratic nor Jewish. If at all, it is a democracy for Jews… and even so, a system inherently racist to nonwhite Jews.

I write this as a proud Jewish Jerusalemite, but a very embarrassed Israeli. EVERYONE HERE DESERVES BETTER, but there is a colonial arms industry in the way of our happiness!

Unspoken inspiring Palestinian leaders choose to participate. They are active in every neighbourhood in Jerusalem on both sides of the wall to revive a heritage and remain here, knowing that existing is resisting… the definition of unarmed resistance.

They live and work under hypocritical international double standards, an unforgiving media magnifying, searching, highlighting any Palestinian violence, while Israel arms 18 year olds to control a civilian population and forgives routine massacres in Gaza and systematic race based policies across the Holy Land.

Tragically it’s a reality that millions are missing. Even more tragic than that, unless we, as in you, me and the rest of us step up now to participate and demand an end to race based policies and a free Jerusalem…. it is a historic and sacred city that will not be here for much longer…

Start with BDS, and as my friend and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb says: Do a mitzvah, end the occupation!

A handful of Wellesley students are trying to shut down discussion of Israel/Palestine

11/25/14

In an attempt to foster critical thought on campus and include pro-Palestinian viewpoints, Wellesley Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP) has been dragged into a larger set of administrative issues that are out of our control, and falsely accused of contributing to a growing hostile and anti-Jewish environment on our campus. We feel compelled to address the repeated attempts to slander our premises, goals, and work toward the improvement of Palestinian and Israeli human rights.

During its first semester on campus this fall, 2014, WSJP has engaged in self-education as well as the planning and implementation of three different educational initiatives: the “A Name to the Number” poster campaign, the “What Does Zionism Mean to You?” poster campaign, and a public lecture on nonviolent movements wherein Israelis and Palestinians co-resist the occupation. Both poster campaigns were supplemented with publicized statements addressing their intentions, which were respectively released online on October 22 and November 20.

In an article titled, “Wellesley College fires Hillel staff as Jewish students face upped anti-Israel activity,” written by Debra Nussbaum Cohen and published in Haaretz on November 21, WSJP actions were misrepresented as hostile. While we empathize with Jewish students whose religious leadership is in transition at Hillel, we would like to point out that we have no input in such decisions, and our actions have been exaggerated disproportionately and represented inaccurately. We agree with Ms. Cohen’s statement that at times, “intense anti-Israel sentiment bleeds into anti-Semitism.” We have, however, carefully monitored our efforts to assure this is not the case with our work. With a full understanding of these concerns, we emphasize that the central goal of our actions is to resist all forms of oppression – not just anti-Palestinian animus, which we see too often on this campus, but anti-Semitism as well.

Sa'ed Adel Atshan

Sa’ed Adel Atshan

In our programming, we seek to open the campus to challenging and respectful public discourse. Our “What Does Zionism Mean to You” poster contains a disclaimer that reads, “Please be respectful. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism will not be tolerated.” In this way, we created an open discussion encompassing a variety of perspectives that reflects and represents the diversity of our community, while also being respectful. Additionally, we invited Professor Sa’ed Adel Atshan, human rights activist and professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Brown University, to speak at Wellesley on November 13. In his lecture, entitled “On Heroes and Hope: Nonviolence and Resilience in Israel/ Palestine,” Atshan spoke of various Israeli and Palestinian community leaders who are striving to create a reality where both communities, and the minorities within them, can coexist in a way that serves justice. Following the lecture, students engaged in discussion with Professor Atshan, free to ask questions on points of contention; they were met with thoughtful responses. Yet the fact that some found this lecture and discussion to be “extremely destructive” suggests a sense of unwillingness to engage with ideas that challenge one’s opinions and call for cooperation and coexistence.

Despite attempts to foster a public discourse, our actions are deemed destructive by a handful of very vocal students and adamant supporters concerned with alleged discrimination towards the Jewish Community. Comments that portray Wellesley SJP, its programming, and anti-Israel criticisms as “menacing” threats to safety and security are anti-Arab and reinforce a racialized image of the Other, thus perpetuating cycles of hatred and violence. Additionally, this racialized language, positing WSJP as monolithically “Arab,” as opposed to the supposedly universally pro-Israeli Jewish student, must be challenged if one is to find truth in this discourse. Wellesley SJP strives to question this racialized polarization in all possible ways: in reality, our membership is composed of students from various racial, religious and nonreligious, and ethnic backgrounds, and our programming enables the expression of diverse voices from the conflict. Paramount to our mission as an organization is the realization that racist hegemony must be dismantled if justice is to be achieved.

While a handful of Wellesley’s Jewish students, wrongly claiming to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community, has vocalized that the campus climate is now “difficult,” a Jewish WSJP member who would like to remain anonymous asserts that, “The existence of Students for Justice in Palestine has created a comfortable space for me, as a Jewish student who stands for Palestinian human rights.” Wellesley SJP has served to incorporate pro-Palestinian freedom viewpoints, which have often been excluded from the discussion of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict at Wellesley. In fact, it is the small minority of Palestinian and Arab students on our campus who often feel most marginalized as a result of the policing of discourse, such as is exhibited in the bigoted backlash we’ve faced with our programming.

Just as Wellesley SJP condemns the racism and discrimination underlying many of the policies of the state of Israel, Wellesley SJP also categorically opposes all forms of prejudice or discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. We believe values and standards of integrity and respect should apply across the board, to all political issues and to all those who seek to discuss them.

Eliza Marks, Nour Azzouz, and Mallika Govindan are three of the founding members of Wellesley Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization started in September.

Poster questioning Zionism makes her feel ‘unsafe’, Wellesley student says

11/24/14

Haaretz is reporting that Jewish donors to Wellesley College are suspending donations to the school in part because of the activities of the Students for Justice for Palestine chapter at the school in the wake of the Gaza slaughter:

Wellesley Jewish alums stop donations after Hillel firings
Grads of women’s college irked by layoff of two Jewish leaders as part of so-called ‘restructuring’ move – while anti-Israel sentiments are being fanned by a pro-Palestinian group on campus.

This is sheer alarm. Whatever the school’s reasons for firing the two Hillel staffers (budgetary, it would seem), the anger over anti-Zionist statements at the school is aimed at shutting down free speech about Israel since the massive bloodshed in Gaza.

The Wellesley controversy blew up last week with a piece in Haaretz on increasing Palestinian solidarity activism at the school that gave a megaphone to a student supporter of Israel named Jordan Hannink who said some of the pro-Palestinian messaging on campus makes her feel “unsafe.” That piece was topped by Hannink’s photograph of a poster questioning Zionism that has been controversial. Reporter Debra Nussbaum Cohen:

posters bearing the images of Palestinian children who were killed or wounded during the Gaza war appeared on dining hall walls. A large poster, likewise sponsored by the new campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, went up in the student center asking, “What does Zionism mean to you?” with lots of space for people to fill in answers. Within a week people had written “genocide,” “apartheid” and “murder” on the poster at the Boston-area college.

[Wellesley] has now joined the growing number of college campuses where often-intense anti-Israel sentiment at times bleeds into anti-Semitism, in the view of some there, in the process discomfiting large numbers of Jewish and pro-Israel students.

When Hillel-affiliated students met with SJP leaders about the poster “our goal was to promote conversation,” said Jordan Hannink, a junior, in an interview. Hannink is a peace studies major who worked in Israel last summer and is writing her thesis on the subject of peace through health care….Jewish students want to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict, she said. “But it is an issue we want to discuss respectfully and without polarizing” the community. SJP leaders “said they were uninterested in these kinds of dialogic conversations,” Hannink said.

It is certainly the case that Palestinian solidarity groups don’t go in for dialogue with Israel lobby groups; dialogue has failed to change Palestinian conditions one iota. But the Haaretz piece blurs the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. While the poster specifically called on students not to express anti-Semitic attitudes, Hannink ignores this fact:

Hannink sent a letter to Wellesley’s president and deans saying that the Zionism poster in the student center was offensive, but they have taken no action, she said. It remains the first thing anyone sees when entering the student center. The dining hall posters are also still in place.

“I firmly believe this college is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic,” Hannink wrote in a private email to an alumna, which was shared with Haaretz by another Wellesley graduate…

“For Jewish students being at Wellesley now is quite difficult,” Hannink said.

Here is Hannnink’s latest Facebook post, which is filled with claims about a hostile learning environment because of Palestinian solidarity: 

November 9th, I sent a letter to our campus community calling for dialogue, for nuance, and respectful disagreement. No action was taken by the administration. My question to President [H. Kim] Bottomly and the administrators I met with this week- is where was this call for respectful dialogue weeks ago, when our social contract for such was broken? Where was this reminder of our responsibility when the Jewish community first expressed concern, feelings of being targeted and unsafe on campus?…
In the Jewish community, an additional question to be posited is when does anti-Israel sentiments become anti-Semitism, or at the least, bigotry? It is a question I struggle with daily… Whenever the word “Jew” or “Jewish people” is implicated next to the “effects of Zionism,” including “genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing,” etc. this line is crossed.
However, this is not terribly important in this conversation– because the Wellesley Handbook forbids speech or symbols that create a hostile working and learning environment. Whether or not you agree that the poster is inflammatory- the thirty members of the Jewish community on campus who have voiced that it is remains reason enough to call for the administration to act.
I am severely disappointed that this is the way that Wellesley has chosen to start this conversation- as the end result has been polarizing. As a pro-Palestinian, pro-Israel, Zionist, conscientious Jew, I have been put into the pro-Israel corner, which ignores my activist work to a different end.

I’m sure arguments between Communists and anti-Communists in the 50s were vigorous on American campuses. Ideological arguments with such large real-world consequences are. But it’s hard to see why this poster should make anyone feel unsafe. Also: two years ago Norman Finkelstein said that Zionism might as well be a hairspray, Americans don’t know what it is so let’s not argue about it. I took exception then, seeing Zionism as a root cause of the conflict; and this discussion gives me support, showing that Zionism is an ideology, albeit one with a lot of meanings, that folks need to talk about.

P.S. In 2008 Hannink posted a message on Facebook accusing Obama of loyalties to another country.

 how can any one AMERICAN vote for a presidential candidiate with false loyalties? NOBAMA 2008!!!

I’m sure she was young then, but still.

‘Besides not having a job, everything’s great': Steven Salaita on his firing and what comes next

11/24/14

Steven Salaita has every reason to be down in the dumps.

The Arab-American scholar, who primarily works on indigenous studies, had his job offer revoked by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in the fall. His published work has been attacked. Pro-Israel politicians pressured Brooklyn College to cancel his November 22 talk at the school. He’s without a job and health insurance, an especially scary situation given his two-year-old son. He has no time to work on his scholarship amidst the rush of interviews, conversations with lawyers and speaking engagements.

But Salaita is a cheery guy.

“It’s been really exciting getting to give talks and meet so many new, fantastic people. Besides not having a job, everything’s great,” he jokingly told me last week during the last stretch of a three-week speaking tour.

I caught up with Salaita over breakfast on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last week. Wearing glasses, a blue sweater and jeans, Salaita spoke in a measured tone, with scholarly ruminations on Palestine and Native Americans thrown into the mix of the interview. He is far from the portrayal his critics have painted: a raging, violent, incompetent anti-Semite who has no place in a college classroom. Detractors of the professor have seized on a series of tweets harshly criticizing Israel during last summer’s Gaza war, and it is these messages that appear to have caused his firing.

Salaita says his contract, signed by both sides last year, was terminated by the university in August after University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise decided against forwarding the appointment to the school board of trustees. The trustee vote is usually a formality, and over the summer, a university spokesperson appeared to refer to Salaita as an employee of the university. He was set to join the university’s American Indian Studies program before he was fired.

The case has turned Salaita into a cause celebre for academic freedom advocates and Palestine solidarity activists, and has sparked a campaign of boycotts of the university among scholars defending Salaita. His case, while unique, is broadly similar to professors Kristofer Petersen-Overton, Norman Finkelstein and Joseph Massad, who have been the targets of organized campaigns by pro-Israel groups.

The scholar says his firing is about many factors: the “corporatization” of universities, pro-Israel donor pressure and academic freedom. He also says his identity–his mother is Palestinian, his father Jordanian–has made him an easy target.

“It’s one thing to raise ideas that Israel’s supporters consider troublesome or threatening, and it’s even worse when those ideas are raised by somebody who is identified as and self-identifies as an Arab and/or Palestinian,” he said. “Pro-Israel groups feel very threatened by any sort of Palestine symbology that they aren’t able to appropriate and pass off as their own.” 

Driving the controversy is a series of Twitter messages that Salaita posted as Israel’s assault on Gaza carried on. They included posts like: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza” and “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not:  I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” (The latter was posted a week after three Israeli teens were abducted in the occupied West Bank. They were later found murdered.)

Steven Salaita, center, at Brooklyn College with student Sarah Aly and professors Corey Robin and Katherine Franke. (Photo: Brooklyn College SJP/Facebook)

Steven Salaita, center, at Brooklyn College with student Sarah Aly and professors Corey Robin and Katherine Franke. (Photo: Brooklyn College SJP/Facebook)

Speaking at Brooklyn College on November 22 alongside professors Corey Robin and Katherine Franke, Salaita defended the messages. “There was a pretty profound sense of anguish and horror that I had in common with a lot of people,” Salaita said by way of explaining the context of his tweets. Referring to the West Bank settler tweet, which detractors said celebrated kidnapping or murder, he said: “Am I a shrinking violet on Twitter? I’m not passive-aggressive. If I wanted them murdered or kidnapped, I would have said murdered or kidnapped, right? When I say ‘go missing,’ you gotta understand there’s a long, long tradition of people who have been colonized wishing that their colonizers would go away.” 

Those Twitter messages were highlighted by a right-wing website in July, and the controversy snowballed from there.

In August, Wise wrote a letter explaining why she decided not to hire Salaita. “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them,” she wrote. Wise also repeatedly invoked the notion of “civility,” implying Salaita would not be “civil” in the classroom. While she did eventually forward Salaita’s appointment to the board of trustees, the board decided not to hire Salaita over the protests of some students. 

My conversation with him came just days after Salaita and his lawyers announced a lawsuit against the University of Illinois for not releasing emails that would shed light on how the decision to fire him was made. The e-mails that have been released show that pro-Israel students, parents and alumni wrote in to complain about Salaita–and that donors threatened to stop giving the university money if he was hired. The university has said it could not find other documents, like one known to have been created that the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah requested: a two-page dossier on Salaita’s views prepared by an unnamed person. The dossier was given to Chancellor Wise.

“I’m just dying to know the whole story. I want to know exactly how this decision was made,” Salaita told me. “It’s like watching a pot boil or TV program, but, like, I’m the protagonist, and I’m dying for those missing links to be provided. There’s a real sense of intrigue about what was going on behind the scenes.”

The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit could pave the way towards a larger lawsuit focused on First Amendment violations. 

Salaita is set to return to his parents’ house in Virginia–where he has been living since being fired–and said he will continue to speak in public as long as there’s interest in his case. His preference is to return to the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign as a professor. 

He’s also looking for other jobs, but says that “the university and its supporters have been so persistent in smearing me as an inciter of violence or as an anti-Semite or as an incompetent classroom teacher that I feel like it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to get these jobs.”

Salaita is hoping that as time passes, and the dust settles on his case, those perceptions will go away.