First, in response to a firestorm of criticism and vilification, Atlanta resident and iconic film star Jane Fonda issued a mea culpa about the wording of a petition she signed protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. She said she signed it, “without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue”. To her credit, Fonda did not remove her signature. But it was still an extraordinary move that reflected the intense pressure she was under. (This level-headed group of Atlanta Jewish leaders rose to her defense.)
And now, Jimmy Carter, reportedly in an effort to ease his grandson’s political path to a Georgia state Senate seat, has written an open letter of apology to, well, the entire Jewish people.
An open letter to the Jewish community at the season of Chanukah from former President Jimmy Carter:
The time of Chanukah and the Christian holidays presents an occasion for reflection on the past and for looking to the future. In that vein, I wish to share some thoughts with you about the State of Israel and the Middle East.
I have the hope and a prayer that the State of Israel will flourish as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and with all the Moslem States, and that this peaceful co-existence will bring security, prosperity and happiness to the people of Israel and to the people of the Middle East of all faiths.
I have the hope and a prayer that the bloodshed and hatred will change to mutual respect and cooperation, fulfilling the prophetic aspiration that the lion shall lie down with the lamb in harmony and peace. I likewise hope that violent attacks against all civilians will end, which will help set a better framework for commencing negotiations. I further hope that peace negotiations can soon commence, with all issues on the negotiating table.
Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney .
Every time the State of Israel is confronted with substantial international criticism for its political behavior and its violations of basic international standards, it counter-attacks by using the infamous tool of accusations of anti-Semitism. One remembers the campaign on anti-Semitism launched by Ariel Sharon and his friends throughout the world, Jews and non-Jews, after the murder of Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza in September 2000, in order to create a diversion (in the very words of Roger Cukierman, then chairman of the French Jewish umbrella organization—CRIF) and to transform the victim into a victimizer and the victimizer into a victim: for more than two years, western media “exposed” the anti-Semitism of the critics of Israel instead of denouncing the massacres committed by the Israeli military in Gaza and the West Bank.Sixty five years after the end of WWII, the ashes of the victims of Nazi genocide have not yet disappeared from the sky of Poland, and the accusation of anti-Semitism remains connected to one of the bloodiest crimes of the twentieth century; as French journalist, Daniel Mermet, one of the targets of this campaign, pointed at, “no accusation can be worse, and even after you are proved not guilty of charge, the bad smell of such an accusation will be with you forever.”
The massacre in Gaza, a year ago, provoked a world-wide outrage, bigger even than in 2000-2002. The U.N. was forced to appoint an inquiry commission, and its report—the Goldstone report—is devastating for Israel. Moreover, for the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, an international campaign calling for sanctions against Israel for its innumerous violations of international law, has been successful in drawing huge public attention and initiating a great number of mobilizations and initiatives around the world.
Or so claims what Alternet’s Josh Holland calls a “ridiculous” new study by the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs. Holland writes:
Given how ubiquitous unsubstantiated charges of anti-Semitism have become in the debate over the Middle East conflict, I’m tempted to ignore the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs’ recent “report” supposedly exposing the liberal blogosphere as a teaming hotbed of raw Jew-hatred.
It’s easy to dismiss. It may dress itself as some sort of empirical research project, but the “study” is transparently devoid of any informational value, intellectually bankrupt and clearly the product of working backwards from a conclusion arrived at on ideological grounds.
But I won’t ignore it, because the strategic decision to pin one’s political opponents with charges of anti-Semitism only dilutes the power of that word. Then, like the boy who cried wolf, when real anti-Semitism rears its decidedly ugly head the word loses its all-important power to shame. I’m Jewish, and I don’t fear sharp-elbowed criticism of Israeli policy on websites, so it’s not in my interest to allow it to be conflated with true anti-Semitism, which is absolutely no joke.
Most of what passes for anti-Semitism in this new “report” is nothing new to readers of Muzzlewatch, and you should read Holland’s full piece where he does a fantastic job of dissecting the terrible methodology of this blatantly propagandistic report. But this is the part of Holland’s analysis I find most heart-breakingly sad and true:
It’s a slanderous report, and just to bring home the point of how dangerous it is to minimize real anti-Semitism by bitching about mean commenters on websites: I’m on various list-servs with progressives who write about Israel and Palestine — most of them Jewish — and when the report was issued our reaction was: ‘what do you have to do to get on this list — why weren’t we included?’
When you have progressive Jewish writers looking at charges of anti-Semitism as a badge of courage, it’s time to re-think your tactics.
Despite a 35-year collaboration, the Canadian church group KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, “one of Canada’s most respected and important charitable organizations,” was stunned when their likely routine 7 million dollar request for the human rights program was denied by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). But they were even more surprised when they discovered why: although the group’s board had made public their opposition to sanctions and boycotts against Israel 2 years earlier, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a speech he gave this week in Israel charged the group with being anti-Semitic for “taking a leadership role in the boycott.” Kenney, speaking at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, said they were “defunding” groups as part of their new “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. (Read the full text of his speech here. )
In his speech, Kenney included in a list of acts of anti-Semitism, like the spray-painting of swastikas on a Canadian Holocaust memorial, the spray-painting of the phrase “Stop the Israeli genocide in Gaza”.
Anti-human rights/Israel lobby group NGO Monitor built an extensive dossier on KAIROS– which represents Canada’s Mennonites, the Anglican, United and Catholic Churches and does work in some of the poorest regions of the world.
Kairos came under fire for co-sponsoring, along with 50 other groups, an international Sabeel conference in 2005 on morally responsible investment. (Sabeel is “an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” and Jewish Voice for Peace frequently co-sponsors Sabeel conferences here in the United States.)
In this comprehensive and thoughtful 2008 strategy paper on using “economic advocacy measures… to advance peace between Palestinians and Israelis, ” KAIROS said:
KAIROS affirms the desire of the Israeli people for a secure homeland, recognizing the long, terrible and continuing history of anti-Semitism, and the vital role of Israel to Jewish people around the world. KAIROS also recognizes the great suffering of the Palestinian people, many of whom live as refugees in surrounding countries, and others who have lived under Occupation for 40 years, and affirms their right to a secure and viable homeland. KAIROS calls for an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories and for two secure states based on the June 4, 1967 borders.
They also explicitly rejected “sanctions against Israel” and “a boycott of products from Israel.” But in line with the universal recognition of the illegality of settlements, they did also advocate for things like:
limiting the geographical applicability of Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement to within the 1967 borders of the State of Israel; and
enforcing a certification of origin for goods coming from settlements in the Occupied Palestinians Territories;
and, almost identical to the Presbyterian Church USA’s strategy:
That where KAIROS members opt to pursue shareholder action respecting Canadian companies doing business in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories (that are contributing directly or indirectly to violence, occupation or other human rights abuses in the region), shareholder action shall move through several stages, from dialogue with senior company management to filing shareholder proposals and, as a last resort, divestment.
So, after so much thoughtful and sensitive delving into ways to responsibly use economic pressure and investment, what did they get for their troubles? Charges of anti-Semitism.
(At Jewish Voice for Peace, where we have devised a similarly nuanced approach to economic pressure that works for us, choosing to focus on companies that profit from the occupation, or groups that fund settlements, we’ve seen from day one how pro-occupation groups purposefully and immediately ignore the facts, and raise the urgent flag of anti-Semitism as a strategy to kill virtually any resistance activity that goes beyond nicely asking the Israeli government to stop violating international law. Ironically, as they deny more and more people the right to boycott settlement goods only, they leave them with no choice but to boycott all Israeli products. )
“It’s a horrible charge to make, and to do it with so little thought cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves,” said United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregersen. “We’re quite disappointed in the government on this.
“The policies of KAIROS have all been approved by the collective board of KAIROS, so in a sense what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic and I think that’s really unfortunate,”
on Shabbat Hannukah (Saturday December 27, 2008), Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. On that day, Saturday December 27, 2008, at 11:30 in the morning, a time when schoolchildren were still in school, 88 Israeli aircraft simultaneously attacked 100 preplanned targets in Gaza within a span of 4 minutes. This initial attack was followed by another attack and by the end of that Sabbath day, at least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured. Shabbat Hannukah last year, was the day with the highest one-day death toll in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
By its end, nearly 1,400 Gazans and 13 Israelis were dead, thousands more Gazans injured and left homeless.
Vicious character assassination, event cancellations, social isolation, and the infrequent lost job (or more frequent lost funding) all take their toll on our collective search for full equality for Palestinians and Israelis. Countless people remain silent when we could speak, bury our heads precisely at the moment we must raise them.
While we understand why this works, the truth is that there’s simply no excuse, not now, to allow ourselves to be silenced. Not when we know the price we pay is nothing compared to the price paid by millions of mostly Palestinians but also Israelis, all of whom love their children as much as we love ours. Not when we all know our silence will only lead to another Operation Cast Lead, another Jenin, another Sderot, another Mohammad Othman, another Rachel Corrie, another suicide bombing, another leg of the wall, another Yitzhak Rabin.
ABOVE: VIDEO From the vaults of Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem’s Anat Biletzki poses the question, “What do we do with our voice?” She says, “Words don’t fail, it’s people who fail…We fail in using words: we misuse them, we abuse words, we do terrible things with words, but the worst thing that we do is we don’t use words at all. That we keep silent, that we don’t give voice to things that must be given voice.”
Every time you are silenced or allow yourself to be silenced, you must come back stronger and louder than ever. On this, the anniversay of the attack on Gaza, I hope you too will make a promise to speak the truth you know, to stand for full equality and humanity and against repression in all its forms, to assertively challenge someone who puts forth lies or hatred. It’s not just the humanity of Palestinians that is at stake, it’s the humanity of Israelis, and indeed, we Jews and Americans.
Hey friends, we rarely ask you for donations to support our work-but I’m going to ask you now. It takes a lot of hard work from a crew of great folks to maintain a blog like this. It costs money to report from the UN Conference Against Racism in Geneva (aka Durban II) or the J Street conference in Washington DC. It takes time to read news reports.
(IMAGE: screenshot from The Israel Project website.) The important Israeli group New Profile, which makes clear the terrible impact militarism has on Israeli society, has this December 13 press release. As part of the ongoing assault on Israeli human rights groups, New Profile’s computers were seized by the government back in the spring. Now, dissenters are being banned from student debates. So much for free speech in a “true democracy.”
New Profile response to the Minister of Education’s directive
banning New Profile speakers from high school debates on civil rights
NEW PROFILE WRITES THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION:
THE EDUCATION SYSTEM PROMOTES VENERATION OF THE USE OF FORCE, RAMPANT FEAR AND DREAD OF A NEW HOLOCAUST
“The Minister’s decision unveils the truth behind the government’s claim to defend the values of democracy and behind the claim of the Ministry of Education to educate for tolerance.”
New Profile, the feminist movement to civil-ize Israeli society, wrote Minister of Education, Gideon Saar, this morning, strongly condemning his recent instructions to prohibit its members’ participation in high school debates convened by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on questions of human rights and freedom of expression.
New Profile wrote the minister that his act had exposed the government’s true stand on civil rights and freedom of expression, also belying the Education Ministry’s professed respect for tolerance. “The minister’s step was taken in tandem with the decision he took to send yet more military personnel into schools—a move designed to increase enthusiasm for fighting,” New Profile advised in its letter. “For over a decade now, our movement has been cautioning of the danger of ignoring the wishes of students, parents, and teachers to freely and openly discuss these subjects prior to the students’ induction into the military at age 18. The Minister’s present steps increase the repression of voices seeking to frame and examine social responsibility in non-militarized terms.”
New Profile’s letter explained that, “The perceptions transmitted by the present educational system generate an acceptance of warfare as a sound national strategy. They encourage veneration for the use of force and aggrandize Jewish nationalism, while devaluing the lives of Palestinians. At the same time, they sow rampant fear and dread of a new Holocaust. Ongoing endorsement of the use of force in combination with the consistent enhancement of nationalism and constantly fanned fears, maintain a state of war and, also, of severe social stratification and inequality. The military has long since become a normalized, daily aspect of Israeli education and upholds war as the apparent, sole solution to Israel ’s political problems. The continuous state of warfare serves as a pretext for prolonging the military occupation and seemingly excuses the state of Israel from its accountability to the Palestinian people but also, no less, its accountability to the young Israelis that it deploys to perform the occupying, policing, destruction, and terrorization.” New Profile sharply criticized the abuse of authority evident in the minister’s ban, adding that his decision silences not only New Profile but also the voice of every individual striving for a free and open civil society discourse on relations of military and society.
We’ve covered NGO Monitor’s strategy to weaken the human rights infrastructure because they regard it as essentially a plot against Israel, rather than a necessary part of a healthy and functioning civil society. Israel’s Didi Remez sounds the alarm on their latest efforts to sideline human rights organizations through enacting new laws.
Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, and his associates in government, have entered a new phase in their campaign to suppress Israeli human rights NGOs. This morning (November 27 2009) Haaretz’s English edition ran an op-ed by Steinberg. No longer satisfied with de-legitimization, Israeli neoconservatives have begun taking concrete parliamentary action to silence internal dissent.
As Steinberg writes
For over a decade, European governments have been major sources of funding for dozens of Israeli and Palestinian organizations claiming to promote human rights and similar moral causes. While these groups are known as “nongovernmental organizations,” or NGOs, they are, in fact, selected and nurtured by foreign governments. And as seen in research to be discussed in a Knesset conference on December 1, their agendas are more political than moral.
With little acknowledgment that Israel was built and is in many ways maintained by international funds, in his campaign against human rights groups like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, he calls for a new Israeli law to demand full “transparency” for donated funds coming from the EU in particular.
Predictably enough, as Remez points out in his response in Ha’aretz, Steinberg holds up Israeli human rights groups for opprobrium, but has nothing to say about the numerous US based NGOs which fund overtly illegal settlement activity (See Akiva Eldar’s recent piece on the growing backlash against U.S. tax-breaks for law-breaking 501c3s, and hear Akiva on Beyond the Pale radio). The gutting of human rights organizations, I’m fairly certain, is not what our grandparents had in mind when they imagined the creation of a Jewish state.
The government of Israel is waging an aggressive campaign to suppress internal dissent. Most of its targets have been organizations operating in the occupied territories, and the campaigners would have us believe that they are acting in the interest of “national security.” However, a closer look indicates that they are motivated by a general disrespect for the role of civil society in a democracy. Any NGO in the government’s way seems to have become fair game; indeed, officials have even started calling refugee-aid groups a fifth column.
Last weekend I started the first of regular monthly guest spots on WBAI’s Beyond the Pale radio program. I’ll be updating listeners on the latest Muzzlewatch stories. You can listen to the round-up of hot topics here. Beyond the Pale “explores cutting edge Jewish culture and offers local, national, and international political debate and analysis from a Jewish perspective.” It is also hosted by two dynamic and brilliant thinkers, Marilyn Neimark and Esther Kaplan. It is a pleasure to be in conversation with them.
For those of you who are in the Chicago area, I’ll be speaking on January 10 about Jewish blogging that counters the old-guard mainstream. I’m excited to be on a panel with heroes Mondoweiss’s Adam Horowitz, and Shalom Rav’s Rabbi Brant Rosen.
Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign against the BDP, is quoted as saying: “We think that [publisher Becky O’Malley] is addicted to anti-Israel expression…If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safe avoiding the subject entirely.” Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and says “I think that is unusual to say the least that anybody would think that they could dictate a whole area of the world that is simply off limits for discussion….” She points out that the Planet has always had an open-forum policy of printing all letters from local readers that are not obscene or defamatory.
Not covered in the New York Times article was the community response to the censorship campaign. Although many advertisers have been frightened away, readers have spoken out to protect free speech in their town and to keep the BDP alive. Scores of people have weighed in with supportive letters to the editor, and many Jewish residents signed petitions letting it be known that Mr. Sinkinson and his two allies in no way speak for the Jewish community. In addition, a coalition of local peace and justice groups — including Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area — took out a series of ads to expose the facts of Palestinian life under Occupation, to support the BDP free-speech policy, and to provide desperately needed advertising revenue to the paper.
Notwithstanding reader support, BDP advertising revenue has been drastically reduced as a result of the campaign against it, together with the impact of the economic recession. To support the BDP’s commitment to free speech, you can write to the editor using this email: opinion at berkeleydailyplanet.com. Consider also contributing to the paper’s Fund for Local Reporting.
This is a Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jvp.org) blog. JVP is dedicated to achieving a lasting peace that recognizes the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination. Our core principles are justice and equality.