Under the leadership of Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is celebrating its success in its efforts to expand federal anti-bullying guidelines stipulated under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964. So why in the world would Mort Klein and his pro-occupation and pro-settlement ZOA be interested in federal civil rights and anti-bullying policy in the first place? Perhaps a new-found interest in protecting religious practice and reigning in on all instances of discrimination? Of course not. Read on and prepare yourself to be outraged.
In a policy statement released this week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has adopted new guidelines that include protections against religious groups with “shared ethnic characteristics.” Appearing alongside indisputably positive policy changes that increase protections for LGBT and disabled students facing bullying and discrimination, it may seem totally inappropriate to cast doubt on this particular aspect of the policy, no matter who has brought it to the table. After all, expanding categories of protection is a good thing. However, once we understand the ZOA’s motives, it becomes clear that this development should be cause for alarm for anybody wanting to preserve students’ rights to organize on American campuses for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel!
Indeed, the ZOA took up this effort specifically as a way to clamp down on student activism that has pushed universities to hold Israel accountable to international law. How? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says that colleges and universities that don’t address issues of discrimination can lose their federal funding. This is part of a strategy to scare public universities into putting a stop to entirely legal and non-discriminatory activism that the ZOA and others just don’t like.
Klein is shamelessly trafficking in the language of bigotry and anti-discrimination in an effort to criminalize campus human rights activism in favor of justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. It’s hard to imagine a more reprehensible manipulation of the legacy of civil rights struggle.
The story actually begins in October 2004 when the first complaint to US Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2004 on the behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine. These claims, which form the centerpiece of the ZOA’s whole case to OCR, seem at best to be an extreme misrepresentation of actual goings-on, and at worst totally lack substance–and that’s coming from their subjects: UC Irvine students themselves. In response to the initial complaint the ZOA filed with OCR on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine in October 2004, the most prominent leaders of the campus Jewish community actually came out and publicly refuted the ZOA’s claims that UCI is a hostile environment for Jewish students.
In March 2008, prominent Jewish student leaders of UCI (including the presidents of the campus Hillel, the self-described pro-Israel group Anteaters for Israel, and the Jewish Fraternity and Sorority) issued apublic statement clearly and directly contradicting the ZOA’s claims about their campus, stating instead that “Jewish student life thrives on campus, despite misinformation from outside organizations.”
In a story published in May 2008 issue of New Voices (since expunged from their website, but available below), student leaders from UCI’s Jewish community testify to being ignored, silenced, and even publicly discredited by ZOA and associated activists for speaking the truth of their experience on campus. One student, then President of Anteaters for Israel, even lost his position with the Israel advocacy training group StandWithUs over a statement he made that the threat of anti-Semitism on his campus has been exaggerated by community activists and organizations.
In another case cited in a recent op-ed, Klein also cites a battery case filed by a female pro-Israel activist at the University of California at Berkeley against a Palestinian student activist. In fact, all charges have been dropped against the Palestinian student, Husam Zakharia, who said from the very beginning that he lost control of a shopping cart overflowing with donated toys bound for Gaza when it accidentally hit the female student.
Klein’s campaign seemed to really take off earlier this year when 13 Jewish organizations endorsed a March 16 letter to the Education Minister urging the Office of Civil Rights to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism. Among the endorsing groups are Abe Foxman’s ADL, American Jewish Congress (AJC), and Hillel– all of which have a track record of manipulating charges of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israeli policy.
More recently, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-CA) have been championing in Congress Mort Klein and the ZOA’s proposal to amend the Civil Rights Act. In September, Sherman and Specter introduced legislation that would inscribe into federal law what the Department of Education has just changed in federal policy. Shortly after the new guidelines were announced, Congressman Sherman released a statement naming only Jewish students who face “severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses” among groups who will enjoy new protections under the policy.
Making no mention of any other communities facing religion-based discrimination, such as Muslims, Sikhs and other groups most impacted by the up-swell of Islamophobic discrimination, the political motives of the ZOA’s appeal is perfectly transparent. The ZOA is not and has never claimed to be an organization that fights bigotry or discrimination, nor do they purport to hold a message of universal tolerance. It is an organization set up to promote a pro-settlement, pro-occupation, right-wing Zionist agenda.
In addition to using federal anti-discrimination legislation to pursue a highly politicized agenda, one of the most troubling aspects of this campaign is that it has considerable de-amplifying effects for when authentic instances of anti-Semitism do arise. This type of action will not make Jews, or anyone else, any safer.
It has come to my attention that the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Hillel at the University of New Mexico are actively trying to censor my lecture at the University of New Mexico next month by writing to departments and professors who may co-sponsor it as they co-sponsor countless other educational events on campus. Below is a copy of a letter that has been sent to departments, signed by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Sara Koplik, Director of Hillel at the University of New Mexico.
Typically, they throw in everything to try to defame and tar me: Hamas, Hizbullah, anti-Semitism, making Jewish students feel uncomfortable — all the usual defamatory silencing tactics to try to suppress debate and discussion about Israel’s apartheid and the alternatives that respect everyone. As they surely know, I have been an unflagging advocate of full equality and human rights for all Palestinians and Israeli Jews and others living in historic Palestine, and am guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why do they not want students at the University of New Mexico to hear this message?
Under Abraham Foxman’s leadership, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an embarrassment. It calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency,” dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and protecting the civil rights for all. But there’s a critical exception– “all” does not include those it considers a threat to the Israeli government.
This is a terrible shame, in part, because the ADL (especially in local offices) does so many good things- speaking out against bullying, criticizing a lawmaker’s “shoot to kill” attitude towards immigrants, supporting the right of gays and lesbian to serve their country. But all of these things, and likely the caring staff-members behind them, are undermined by Foxman and company’s cynical attitudes when it comes to protecting Israel’s right to infinitely expand into Palestinian territory. (Elegantly achieved by simply crying anti-Semitism when anyone says enough already!)
The examples of Israel politics trumping the struggle against bigotry are numerous and appalling. Most notoriously, Foxman and the ADL actually lobbied the US Congress against the recognition of the Armenian genocide when they felt it threatened Israel’s special relationship with Turkey, a country that has worked hard to erase any acknowledgment of its heinous history. Foxman fired a regional ADL head who publicly criticized this particularly craven stand for a Jewish organization that hunts down even a hint of Holocaust denial. (With the Turkish-Israeli relationship on the skids, the ADL and friends have taken a humorous 180, just to underscore the lack of moral compass.)
In the 1980s, at a time when Israel maintained close ties with South Africa, the ADL went on the attack against Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. As Sasha Polakow-Suransky reported in his recent book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, ADL National Director Nathan Perlmutter co-authored an article implying that the ANC was “totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American.” The ADL sent spies into the American anti-apartheid movement, as well as other movements critical of right-wing American foreign policy. Eventually, the organization was surveilling much of the American left. In 1993, a California police raid on the offices of the ADL and one of its investigators yielded files on Greenpeace, the NAACP, Act Up, New Jewish Agenda, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and several Democratic politicians, among hundreds of others. The ADL eventually settled a class-action lawsuit brought by several of its targets.
Most recently Foxman, the head of an organization dedicated to civil rights for all fueled growing anti-Muslim hysteria by condemning the Park 51 Muslim Cultural Center. (Because, as MJ Rosenberg observed, keeping the fires of anti-Muslim hatred and suspicion burning is seen as good for preserving the US-Israel special relationship. Special as in entirely unconditional, and destructive for both parties.)
Jewish Voice for Peace, my group, is on the list. (So is CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Students for Justice in Palestine and other groups.) It’s rather stunning to see what passes for a thorough report at the ADL- they seemed to have signed up on our email lists and scanned the internet a few times. Filled largely with unsubstantiated insinuations, it would barely pass muster in a high school social studies class. Much of what they say about us is dead wrong - we seek a suspension of military aid, not an end. We actually have well over 20 chapters and growing. We are not an anti-Zionist organization nor are we anti-Israel (unless, of course, the ADL’s idea of either Zionism or Israel is in any way threatened by the concept of universal democratic rights, which says a great deal more about the ADL than Jewish Voice for Peace.)
But it’s the ADL, and for reasons I can’t really explain, people still listen to Foxman, so now the top 10 list is in Haaretz, and the Jerusalem Post, and Ynet.
Jewish Voice for Peace statement on making it on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of top ten “anti-Israel” groups
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is at it again. They just came up with a list of the top ten most influential anti-Israel Groups in America, and Jewish Voice for Peace makes the list. We appreciate the honor, except that the ADL–as usual–got a few things wrong in describing us.
TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT JVP THE ADL GOT FLATLY WRONG
(1) JVP IS NEITHER ANTI-ISRAEL NOR ANTI-ZIONIST.
We do not hold Zionism as a litmus test for membership. Some of our members are Zionists, some are anti-Zionists, and some are non-Zionists. We believe you can define yourself in any of these ways as long as you support an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — and Gaza, and you advocate for human rights, which naturally apply equally to Israelis and Palestinians.
We do understand that as Jews we have a special role to play in bringing about a change in American and Israeli policy. Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. Some American Jewish organizations defend Israel right or wrong, claiming to be representing all American Jews. It is up to us to set the record straight.
(3) ACKNOWLEDGING THE NAKBA IS NOT OPPOSING ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE.
Would the ADL call those that acknowledge the genocide of Native-Americans in this land anti-American?
We believe that in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Nakba must be addressed. Without acknowledging the events of 1947-9, there will be no truth and reconciliation. JVP adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.” Israelis should acknowledge the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and negotiate a mutually agreed just solution based on principles established in international law, including return, compensation, and/or resettlement.
We acknowledge our own legacy of suffering and the horrors of the Holocaust, but we do not allow these to blind us to the suffering of others. Quite the opposite, we have learned from our own history and from our own tradition not to stand silent when others are suffering. The ADL, on the other hand, fights Holocaust-deniers and denies full recognition of the Armenian genocide at the same time.
(4) THE ADL IMPOSES ON PALESTINIANS A BURDEN IT DOES NOT IMPOSE ON ITSELF.
Jews in America constitute fewer than 2% of the population. We would be rightfully upset if we had to recognize the United States as a “Christian state.” And yet, he ADL expects Palestinians — 20% of Israel’s population — to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The ADL apparently has learned little from Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
(5) STARVING PALESTINIANS IS NOT OUR JUDAISM.
The ADL protests the fact that JVP members hold signs stating “Starving Palestinians Is Not My Judaism.” This one they got right, and they have the picture to prove it. Our question to the ADL is: what is your Judaism?
An amusing postscript:4 or 5 years ago, the very same ADL office notorious for conducting the largest ever civilian domestic spying operation, started sending me emails under a false name and a yahoo email account. They wanted to know if Jewish Voice for Peace was planning a secret action at their oxymoronically titled conference on progressive anti-Semitism. But the emails were oddly over enthusiastic, and we weren’t planning anything, and I checked the IP number and sure enough, the return address was the ADL office in San Francisco. The then director, blamed, what else, on the intern.
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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.