McCarthyist Blacklisting of Jews Who Support Justice for Both Israelis and Palestinians
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 02:32:11 PM EST
Berkeley, California is famous for Free Speech issues, so it is especially shocking that the East Bay Jewish Community Center (JCC) withdrew its sponsorship of a speech by Peter Beinart, a Daily Beast political writer. Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism has now cancelled his appearance.

JCC announced last Friday it was withdrawing sponsorship after it found out that the person slated to introduce Beinart was Penny Rosenwasser, a founding board member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Originally, the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace was co-sponsoring the April 17 speech by Beinart along with the JCC and KPFA Radio, a Pacifica Radio affiliate in the Bay area.

Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a senior fellow at The New America Foundation. He was formerly an editor of The New Republic. In a review of Beinart’s book in the New York Times, Roger Cohen calls it an “important new book that rejects the manipulation of Jewish victimhood in the name of Israel’s domination of the Palestinians” and suggests it is a timely discussion “for the future of Israel." Kirkus Reviews adds: "An elegant, deeply honest look at the failure of Jewish liberalism in forging Israel as a democratic state… Straight talk by a clear-thinking intellectual with his heart in the right place."

In a statement released by the JCC they wrote they “do not support the activist platform of an organization on which the moderator serves as a board member, and it is for this reason we are withdrawing our sponsorship.”

They then added:

===“We believe everyone should rightly have their say and participate in debate and decisions about how to best support democracy in Israel. However, we will not sponsor a speaking platform for a representative of an organization that calls for withdrawal of economic support for Israel.”

How exactly does that work? A free and open debate does not include a political blacklist of groups and individuals.

President Bill Clinton praised the Beinart book, saying:

"Peter Beinart has written a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for a just and lasting peace. Beinart explains the roots of the current political and religious debates within Israel, raises the tough questions that can’t be avoided, and offers a new way forward to achieve Zionism’s founding ideals, both in Israel and among the diaspora Jews in the United States and elsewhere.

The way this controversy developed was a perfect media ambush storm aimed at embarrassing Beinart either way. If he spoke, Beinart, Rosenwasser, Jewish Voices for Peace, and the BDS movement could be marginalized and attacked. If Beinart withdrew, (as he did), Rosenwasser, Jewish Voices for Peace, and the BDS movement could be marginalized and attacked. It is a win-win strategy designed to suppress dissent and expand what can be legitimately labeled as antisemitism.

This incident is part of a larger campaign to silence an open debate on college campuses and inside the US Jewish community over Middle East issues. This right-wing ideological project seeks to shift the boundaries for the question of when it is appropriate to condemn supporters of Palestinian rights for stepping over the line into antisemitism. Apparently the goal is to make it possible to condemn as antisemites all Jews who support both Israeli and Palestinian rights.

The political blacklist forced on the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay by funders--and the recent silencing of staffer Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee for defending an open discussion on college campuses--is part of this campaign. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are both real issues that need attention in the United States. To use the real issue of antisemitism to push a right-wing foreign policy agenda is despicable.

As a journalist, I interviewed Penny Rosenwasser for an article in the New Internationalist on combatting conspiracist antisemitism on the Political Left.  Here is her first response from the full interview posted online as a supplement to the article: “ Both Jewish Israeli people and the Palestinian people have a right to land, resources, dignity, security, peace, and most important…justice.” So what line is Rosenwasser crossing? Is agitating for peace evidence of being an enemy of Israel?

An answer comes from inside Israel since this controversy is already garnering international attention. In criticizing Rosenwasser and Jewish Voice for Peace a blogger based in Jerusalem wrote that “Peter Beinart may be the darling of the radical-liberal-academic Left, but the established Jewish community to which he is trying to appeal appears to be fed up with him.” The blogger, calling himself “Carl in Jerusalem” castigated Rosenwasser by citing a portion of her interview for the New Internationalist:

===Rosenwasser: I was at a peace demonstration recently and I saw someone with a sign that had a Nazi swastika inside a Jewish Star of David. It breaks my heart what the Israeli government and army and settlers are doing to Palestinians. Some of these things are similar to what was done to Jews by the Nazis-but it's not on the same scale as the Nazi genocide. And this is an example of how some people blur the distinction between the Jewish people and the policies of the Israeli government. So I try to make it a teaching moment, and I went up to the person and pointed this out and explained that it doesn't help anyone or anything to have those types of hyperbolic signs."

Carl in Jerusalem then posted: “Moderator? Sounds like an advocate to me.”

Yes, an advocate for peace and justice in the Middle East. That clearly makes Rosenwasser what exactly? I have known Penny Rosenwasser for over 30 years. Both of us advocate a peaceful solution in which Israelis and Palestinians have land, resources, dignity, security, peace, and justice. Should all of us who agree be silenced by a political blacklist? How about President Clinton?

President Bill Clinton praised the Beinart book, saying:

==="Peter Beinart has written a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for a just and lasting peace. Beinart explains the roots of the current political and religious debates within Israel, raises the tough questions that can’t be avoided, and offers a new way forward to achieve Zionism’s founding ideals, both in Israel and among the diaspora Jews in the United States and elsewhere."

Apparently Bill Clinton would not be an appropriate moderator for the cancelled East Bay event. After all, Clinton is an advocate of “Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for a just and lasting peace” who has called for raising “the tough questions that can’t be avoided” in the “current political and religious debates within Israel.”

An honest version of this much-needed discussion will not take place in the United States as long as the political blacklist against BDS is accepted within the Jewish community here.

The entire press release from Jewish Voice for Peace is posted below.


Jewish Voice for Peace

East Bay won’t get to hear Daily Beast writer Peter Beinart on the “Crisis of Zionism” thanks to McCarthyite atmosphere in Jewish institutional world:

Event moderator deemed too controversial because of affiliation with Jewish peace group.

[Oakland, March 27, 2012] The national organization Jewish Voice for Peace is profoundly disappointed by the sudden cancellation of the upcoming Berkeley talk on “the Crisis of Zionism” by Daily Beast political writer Peter Beinart. Beinart withdrew yesterday following the Friday announcement by the East Bay Jewish Community Center that they were withdrawing sponsorship, they said, after realizing that Dr. Penny Rosenwasser, the agreed-upon moderator of the talk, was a founding board member of Jewish Voice for Peace. The Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the East Bay Jewish Community Center had been the planned co-sponsors of the April 17 talk organized by local Pacifica affiliate KPFA Radio.

While many Bay Area supporters of Jewish Voice for Peace have been or are also supporters of the East Bay JCC, we recognize that withdrawing sponsorship at this late date is likely one more result of an increasingly McCarthyite atmosphere in the Jewish institutional world. In the Bay Area especially, more and more, Jewish institutions are required to police speakers and events based on the narrow requirements of a handful of influential funders.

Dr. Penny Rosenwasser, author of several books including Voices from a 'Promised Land': Palestinian & Israeli Peace Activists Speak Their Hearts" and co-instructor of San Francisco City College course “Anti-Semitism/Anti-Arabism” said:

It’s exactly this guilt by association accusation that I think is one of the most destructive aspects of these kinds of guidelines. They try to keep disparate Jewish groups from joining together to present events that allow us to examine huge ethical and social justice issues. I’m proud to be an active Jewish Voice for Peace member, I’m proud of our advocacy for human rights and justice for all the peoples of the Middle East: including Israelis, including Palestinians. 

In 2010, an ad in the Jewish Daily Forward warned about new, vaguely written funding guidelines instituted by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation which said that the Federation would not fund groups that “advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel… including through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” nor would they support programming that is co-sponsored or co-presented by such organizations.

The Forward ad, signed by 73 rabbis, professors and other Jewish leaders in the Bay Area, warned that these guidelines, which were preceded by similar ones implemented by the highly influential Koret/Taube Foundation, would “…curtail freedom of speech and artistic expression by declaring certain opinions and organizations out of bounds. This policy does grave damage to the vibrancy of the American Jewish community. The language that describes excluded organizations is vague and open-ended—those that “advocate for or endorse undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.”

Jewish Voice for Peace’s current Advisory Board members include luminaries such as Tony Kushner, Adrienne Rich, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Eve Ensler. JVP actively supports nonviolent efforts to pressure Israel to be accountable to international law through the We Divest campaign which demands that retirement giant TIAA-CREF divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Because of this, we presume that our Advisory Board members would also be ineligible as participants in a talk sponsored by the East Bay JCC, other Bay Area JCCs, and other Federation and Koret/Taube grantees. 

Liberal mainstays like the New Israel Fund and Meretz USA are also targets of similar campaigns to keep them out of New York’s Israel Day parade. Ironically, Peter Beinart’s recent op-ed in the NYT calling for boycott of goods made in the settlements, which he calls Zionist BDS, raises the specter that eventually he too may be boycotted by Jewish institutions due to the pressure by a handful of funding sources. 

This dynamic of policing by funders, especially acute during times of economic difficulty, has already had a destructive impact on Jewish institutions that would otherwise be committed to open dialogue.

Just last week, the Jewish Federations of North America rescinded authorization for our youth-led wing, Young Jewish & Proud (YJP), to operate an exhibition table at Tribefest, the Jewish Federations’ annual youth gathering. In response, YJP circulated an open letter to JFNA’s CEO and President Jerry Silverman urging him to rethink his locking of the gates:

It is disheartening to see an increasing number of Jewish institutions, including those serving Jewish young people, like Hillel, and the Jewish Federations of North America, implement polices that explicitly cut off honest conversation and critical thinking.

…To our Jewish communal institutions and leaders we say: End your polices of exclusion. Let the next generation of young Jews Go & Learn. 

To create space for open dialogue and education about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) In Jewish communities, YJP has initiated “Go & Learn: BDS Education in Jewish communities”. Go & Learn events are spaces for Jews no matter their perspectives on BDS to learn and discuss the issues. Go & Learn events are taking place this spring across the United States including in the Bay Area, Chicago, Boston, Olympia, Philadelphia and in New York City at the 14th Street Y.

With offices in New York, Seattle, and Oakland, and over 30 chapters nationwide, Jewish Voice for Peace is the country’s largest Jewish organization dedicated to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians built on democracy, human rights and equality.

The blackout of information coming from Palestinian voices has been a huge success for the rightwingers in Israel, so this is merely an extension of that exercise.

I wonder if NPR's new policy towards "truthful" rather than "he said-she said" reporting will include more details of the settlement injustices, etc.?

by trog69 on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 03:58:04 PM EST

...I hope this issue gets wider exposure.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 07:58:35 PM EST
It is a very troubling turn of events.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Wed Mar 28, 2012 at 12:12:18 PM EST

I have always viewed with horror the way Palestinians were painted and wondered aloud how Europe could be spot-on in seeing  the Palestinian cause to the absolute opposite of the picture painted in the U.S.  Altho' not Jewish, this Liberal Mainline Protestant  joined Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)a couple of years ago to help its voice continue to be vocal for the rights of Palestinians & ultimate peace for these who have always been occupied. Yes, the news of rockets lobbed from Gaza or street actions which sounded more like what Iraq or Afghanistan do  is not to be taken lightly but as acts of defiance  for a people who do not control their own destiny. Three generations have now existed as auslanders, with their individual & collective psyches affected. The BDS approach to TIAA-CREF for seeking help against Catepillar  in its investment actions touched me greatly since I had chosen its "Social Choice" for my retirement long ago, an effective vote against such suppliers of warfare equipment. TIAA's dance in Annual Meeting change of place(s) to avoid the heat the of protestors was hardly attractive, both physically & symbolically.

American Jews seem to have a large blind spot for Israel who can do nothing wroong even when their action has been horrendous. Beinart's book is not unlike another:Rabbi Michael Lerner's Embracing Israel/Palestine, in sounding a clarion call for Inclusion with Peace which would end The Occupation. A Fourth generation of Palestinians as a Displaced People would be indeed an albatross to become a Badge of Courage for Palestinian Justice....justice that would allow Israeli justice also to prevail.

by achbird65 on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 12:04:52 PM EST

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