To the Editor:
Pamela Geller is an Islamophobe whose public remarks about Muslims have rightly been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate speech. But she has the last word in your article (“Organizer of Cartoon Contest Trumpets the Results,” news article, May 5), wrapping herself in the mantle of the First Amendment as if she had made a useful contribution to a public dialogue about Islam.
She has not. While hate speech is protected by the Constitution, the sole purpose of such speech is to inflame bigotry and to inflict injury. Your reference to the case of Debbie Almontaser is a case in point.
Ms. Almontaser, a respected educator and community leader, was selected by the New York City Department of Education to head the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s first Arabic dual-language school. In the months after the announcement of the school’s creation, Ms. Geller and her allies unleashed a hate-filled barrage of false and Islamophobic accusations about Ms. Almontaser and the school.
Capitulating to the campaign, city officials forced her to resign. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In ruling that Ms. Almontaser had been the victim of anti-Muslim prejudice, the commission said that the Department of Education had “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer.”
Ms. Almontaser’s reputation and career survived Ms. Geller’s onslaught. However, her ordeal should be a reminder that those who propagate hate speech are not proponents of First Amendment rights, but destroyers of lives.
The writer is a civil rights lawyer who represented Ms. Almontaser in her suit against the Department of Education.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Naomi Dann 845-377-5745
Donna Nevel email@example.com
4/28/15 Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition stands strongly in opposition to Islamophobia in all its manifestations. Most recently, the courts ruled that Pamela Geller has the right to put up her virulently anti-Muslim ads on public buses. As a community, we will make our voices heard as forcefully as we can in protest of Islamophobic hate speech.
“The minute I read Geller’s language for the ads,* I was reminded of the history of accusations of blood libel against the Jewish community that provoked, and fed into, anti-Semitism,” said Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
According to Rosalind Petchesky from Jewish Voice for Peace-New York, “These ads are bad enough in and of themselves. But, this hate speech also operates within the context of continued discriminatory surveillance of the Muslim community. And I have seen the pernicious effects this had had on Muslim and Arab students at CUNY, where I have been a professor for many years. That is why we pledge to continue our work with Muslim groups and others concerned with state-sponsored discrimination against the Muslim community.”
Geller is the lead instigator and public face of a nationwide anti-Muslim ad campaign. She co-founded, with Robert Spencer, three groups designated as anti-Muslim hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), one of these groups, is the sponsor of the ads.
Geller’s ad campaigns most often explicitly link Israel with Islamophobia through images and words that smear Muslims and Palestinians. These campaigns have engendered bold and creative opposition by a wide range of communities—and this time will be no different.
JAIC calls upon the Jewish community—together with all communities– to speak out loud and clear against these bus ads and to demand the full civil and human rights of the Muslim community. *
*The ad reads: Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.
Jews Against Islamophobia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Donna Nevel on April 15, 2015
As someone who has participated in programs on a number of campuses and has a child in college, I have been inspired by the organizing taking place for justice in Palestine. My own organizing has been strengthened by what I have seen. Through Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Muslim Student Associations (MSA), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), organizing for justice in Palestine on campuses across the US has been thoughtful, principled and bold. Further, the movement to open Hillels to those voices supporting justice in Palestine has also been a positive development.
Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, the organizing has creatively highlighted and challenged Israel’s ongoing apartheid. It has opened up spaces for discussion and dialogue that college administrators and defenders of Israeli government policy have tried to shut down. Perhaps most importantly, student organizers have made important links and connections among different movements for justice. Just this past fall, SJP’s national conference, held at Tufts University, had as its theme, “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine.”
I spoke at two Boston campuses recently on Islamophobia and Israel, co-sponsored by the SJP and the MSA at Suffolk University and Tufts University. Yasmeen Hamdoun, one of the organizers of the event at Suffolk, told me why she organized such an event: “I believe the Islamophobic narrative is so pervasive, and people often don’t reflect about who is benefiting from this narrative and its repercussions. As a Muslim in America, I face the consequences of the misrepresentation of Muslims in the media through discrimination on a daily basis, but the Muslims overseas, such as the Palestinians, face it even harder. The Islamophobic propaganda campaign driven by the imperialist powers, such as the U.S. and Israel, dehumanizes Muslims overseas and thereby justifies violence against them.”
I most appreciated the discussions that followed the presentation. Students asked questions and made comments that reflected not just a commitment to the issues but genuine depth and critical analysis, and for many of them who were engaging with others on their campuses, clear thinking about how the information and discussion could support their organizing and build critical connections.
Tufts SJP member Leila N. spoke about these connections: “Within the SJP movement and the Palestine movement more generally, we’re seeing an increasing focus on joint struggle— the notion that all forms of oppression are interconnected and interdependent and therefore our resistance and struggle against them must also be connected. Encompassed within this commitment to joint struggle is the urgency to understand and engage issues of Islamophobia. As a group we are interested in exposing the impacts of state violence on Arabs and Muslims in the US, the Palestine movement, and around the world, as well as addressing our own complicity in this violence.”
At Pitzer College in California, students recently erected a mock apartheid wall. Before it was erected, the dean of students told them that the wall could be considered “discriminatory” and directed SJP to seek approval from the Campus Aesthetics Committee, which turned them down. SJP students made their voices heard and demanded their rights. They worked with lawyers from Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), who wrote a letter to the administration: “There was no basis for that advice, given that the Aesthetics Committee has no jurisdiction to consider the propriety of students exercising their right to political expression.”
After the administration informed them the wall would be in violation of campus policy, SJP, in a written statement, pointed out that the administration’s warnings went against the campus demonstration’s policy statement that Pitzer “respects the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly and supports their exercise.” In response to SJP being told a student had sent a complaint that the wall was anti-Semitic and would make Jewish students on campus uncomfortable, PSLS’s letter also made clear: “This is straightforward political speech focused on a critical examination of Israeli state policy. It is not criticism of Jews, Jewish students, or Israel as a “Jewish state,” but criticism of Israeli state policies towards Palestinians, which are the focus of international debate.”
The wall remained for four days without interference by the administration.
In addition to this organizing, the Open Hillel movement is gaining momentum across the country. As described by Naomi Dann, a staff member of JVP who participated in opening Hillel on her campus when she was a student at Vassar College, “Open Hillel is a campaign to pressure Hillel International to drop its ‘Standards of Partnership,’ which currently prohibit campus affiliates from partnering with or hosting individuals and groups who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
Recently students at Guilford College in North Carolina began a process at their campus to become an Open Hillel. This will make them the fourth Open Hillel so far. Guilford students wrote in a public statement: “As an open Hillel, we believe that Jewish students should be supported in expressing their Jewish identity and values in the way that is most meaningful to them. … To be an open Hillel is to welcome all perspectives on Israel-Palestine.”
Guilford SJP student leader Walid Mosarsaa also pointed out that “Opening Guilford’s Hillel is necessary because there seemed to be a lot of conflation among Hillel members in specific, and on campus in general, that Jews have to support Israel and that Palestinians hate Jews, which we know is not the case. With an Open Hillel Palestinians and Jews who do not support Zionism will not feel discriminated against.”
While these student groups and activists are generating new ideas, they are also bringing in a host of older speakers who have been part of movements for justice in communities that have resisted oppression. Students are meeting with leaders and organizers from Palestine, indigenous leaders in the US, black civil rights activists, transnational feminists, and prison abolition activists, among others. In the Jewish community, Open Hillel has also highlighted and brought to their campuses Jewish civil rights workers from the ’60s who worked with SNCC and other groups in the South and are active on Palestine issues today. One of these activists, Dorothy Zellner, said that the Open Hillel movement is “a sign of things changing, and it’s because of these students. Students were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and these students are going to change [things] too.”
The power of the organizing among young people makes it no coincidence that campuses have been and are sites of repression. As they work to effect change, the students are fully aware the they are up against a typically well-funded opposition that focuses more on vitriol, name-calling and intimidation than on substantive debate. As a result of their activism on behalf of the Palestinian movement for justice and their efforts to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of human rights, many students are facing accusations of being anti-Semitic and creating “unsafe spaces” for Jewish students. This has also been true at a number of University of California campuses, where student organizing has resulted in successful efforts to pass resolutions that call upon their universities to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.
As in the case of Pitzer and elsewhere, one of the challenges student activists face is to demand that college administrations do not capitulate to those seeking to silence criticism of Israel, but rather resist such pressure by citing their colleges’ commitment to open inquiry and critical thinking. Right-wing Zionists can apply pressure, but it is the job of the institutions not to give credence to those who try to prevent voices for justice from being heard. It is hard to imagine any more fundamental obligation of a college administration than to stand up for their students’ rights in this regard against those who would like nothing more than to intimidate, silence or punish them. Academics on college campuses face many of these same challenges as well as others, and both students and academics—together with legal and other activists—have joined forces in their organizing.
From cultural resistance, campaigns to pressure their campuses to oppose apartheid, sit-ins and community programs and actions rooted in intersecting struggles, students across the country have joined one another and the broader movement for justice and dignity in transformative ways. The challenges are formidable, but so is their determination.
– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net
Philip Weiss on Mondoweiss March 31, 2015
This is the story of a tragedy inside the Jewish community.
The four American Jews above are on a national campus tour. All in their 70s, they are veterans of the civil rights movement; they went south 50 years ago to help free our country from Jim Crow, risking their lives for equal rights.
But they have been banned from speaking at Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, because they have come out in favor of Palestinian human rights.
Last Wednesday they were to speak at Swarthmore Hillel, but the gangster who runs Hillel, former congressman Eric Fingerhut, hinted at legal action if the students dared to let them speak– so the students had to start a new Jewish group called Kehilah just to hear them.
Eric Fingerhut, the head of Hillel International. (Photo: Shahar Azran for Hillel)
The next night they spoke to an overflow crowd at Muhlenberg College, introduced by former Hillel president Caroline Dorn. Dorn had to quit Hillel in order to host them—and she also had to meet with the college provost even to get permission for the four to come on campus because the college administration was afraid of alienating Jewish students. “It was devastating,” she says. And last night they spoke to more than 100 at the University of Michigan. Again: barred from Hillel.
So these four travelers are freedom riders twice. First in their 20s in the civil rights movement, now in their 70s, sponsored by the Open Hillel movement.
“Why are they so afraid about what a bunch of old folks are going to say to you?” Mark Levy asked at Swarthmore.
Why? Because when I saw them at Swarthmore, three of them started to weep as they told their stories, even 50 years later. Why? Because they witnessed an American social revolution in which many people suffered, and they are extending that experience to Palestine.
Levy is the man on the left. A retired teacher in New York, he went south because he thought the best way to fight anti-semitism was to fight discrimination against all people.
Next to him is Larry Rubin. Rubin went south “automatically” from the Sholom Aleichem Club in Philadelphia 50 years ago because “I wanted to make my country better.” But in Belzoni Mississippi, a sheriff said to him, “We haven’t hanged us a Hebe in a long time” and the white people said he was trying to “destroy” the country. The same charge was hurled at him when he went to Palestine and witnessed the apartheid conditions there.
Next in line, Dorothy Zellner. Like Rubin, she worked for SNCC, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. She went south because she believed Jews fought injustice in the garment industry, in the Spanish Civil war, in the Warsaw Ghetto, because the Talmud told them to:
“Who is honored? The one who honors all human beings.”
On Zellner’s left is the baby of the group, Ira Grupper. He grew up Orthodox in Brooklyn, and twice he broke down last week as he spoke. First when he said that he had named his daughter after his friend Vernon Dahmer, who was murdered in Mississippi for helping black people to vote. The second time when he told of his arrest with hundreds of other men at the Mississippi Fairgrounds, and every night as a form of humiliation and control the cops served the white prisoners their bologna sandwich and cup of milk first but every prisoner set the cup on the floor with the sandwich on top of it till the last black prisoner was served.
“Then all of us prisoners, black and white together, picked up our sandwiches as one, and that is what the civil rights movement means to me, and as a Jew I have to fight for the rights of all people and that includes Palestinians.”
You’d think that these four Jews would be hallowed by the Jewish community, that Grupper would be telling his stories at the 92d Street Y and the DC JCC and the Center for Jewish History in New York. No: they are pariahs, because they speak out for Palestine, and cross Hillel International’s red lines for accepted speech.
The night I saw them was tense. Joshua Wolfsun of Kehilah warned the crowd, you may disagree vehemently with what you are about to hear, but please try and listen resiliently and if you have to blow off steam, take a walk outside. A rabbi who sat near the back asked what was the difference between blind loyalty to Israel that the group was opposing and support for the Jewish people. An older man said equal rights and civil rights and peace are all great, but what do you owe the Jewish community?
Levy said the demand is something out of the Spanish Inquisition. “There’s a single definition of being Jewish: I have to be a Zionist, 110 percent uncritical of Israel, otherwise I can’t call myself a Jew. And I think there’s something wrong with that.”
Rubin said the thought control reminds him of Communist days, when friends said he should never criticize the Soviet Union because Russia was the savior of the working class, and criticism would hurt the movement.
“Now Israel is the savior of the Jewish community so don’t say anything. Israel is supposed to be a Jewish country–and they don’t want Jews to argue? This is not the way that Jews do business.”
Zellner said Israel is not a Jewish country, any more than the U.S. was a white country when 12 percent of the country was black. But she said the demands of Jewish nationalism have made Jews sick.
“What’s happening now in the Jewish community, the enforced loyalty to the state of Israel, has made us sick. We are a sick population, we are under such extreme tension. We have people storming out of seder meals, and we in Jews Say No, when we’re out on the street. I have seen normal people who you would not look at twice go from zero to 60 in a second and become raving maniacs. Calling us everything that you can possibly say. We are in a situation where people can’t ask the questions and they can’t talk. “
She said the young Jews in the room were the “prize” that the older Jews are fighting over, and the Fingerhuts will lose.
“You signal the end of the occupation. I am the oldest one here. I will tell you my age, I’m 77, and I am going to be live to the end of this occupation. You all have done the final blow. When hundred of J Street student went outside of Fingerhut’s office [to protest restrictions], this is the end, the ship is going down and it’s because of you guys..”
Others on this site are not as thrilled as I am by this movement. They say it’s fine for Jews to save the Jewish soul, but that’s not going to bring justice to Palestine. I say we need to change the Jewish community, because we hold the keys to changing U.S. policy. One thing we agree about, the Jewish community is reactionary when it comes to Palestinian rights; and these four Jews in their 70s are working with Jews in their teens and 20s to try and change that culture.
Dorothy Zellner said the Jewish establishment miscalculated, promising its loyalty to Israel, saying, “We are all in lockstep. But we’re not.” The young people are breaking those chains and the Fingerhuts and Foxmans are terrified of the change. And when the change happens American public opinion will break.
The young Jews issued a statement of their own yesterday. After the threats to Swarthmore and the resignation of Caroline Dorn, the Open Hillel movement issued a calm challenge to their elders:
Hillel is facing a choice – it can continue to spend valuable resources devoted to fighting its own students in an attempt to dictate what students can and cannot say about Israel/Palestine, or it can return to its mission of engaging Jewish students.
The vets will be at the University of Chicago on April 1st. We’ll announce additional stops on the midwest tour when we learn about them. And then they hit the South, April 15-18.
One of the things that I kept hearing this past weekend at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Membership Meeting (JVP NMM) was how people felt pushed in their thinking. Guided by the weekend’s theme — We’re not waiting — more than 600 people from across the country gathered both to envision the future and think concretely about how to be as meaningfully engaged as possible with the movement for justice in Palestine.
The weekend was intergenerational, inspirational, challenging, and, most significantly for me, had us all struggling with issues — from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and Assaults on Academic Freedom to Islamophobia and Challenging Militarization and Police Violence — in new ways and more intentionally recognizing and building upon the intersections among the various parts of our work and organizing.
Plenary sessions, which included JVP leaders along with deep thinkers and activists Sa’ed Adel Atshan, Reverend Dr. Heber M. Brown III, Amer Shurrab, Andrea Smith and others — helped lay the groundwork for the weekend. Amer Shurrab stated in the opening plenary, which was echoed by others throughout the weekend, that peace and justice required, quite simply and directly, equal rights for all. Reverend Brown, who had recently been to Palestine and Israel, spoke with tremendous passion about how to engage in our inter-connected work for justice: “It is important that struggles engage in deep listening and allow themselves to be transformed by each other.” Back and forth between theoretical analyses and concrete strategies for action, their words clearly resonated with an audience of energetic and committed people.
The Nakba and right of return were also centered throughout the weekend, with presentations by Basem Sbaih from Badil and Liat Rosenberg from Zochrot, which reflected a commitment to insuring that these foundational issues would not simply be an “add-on” to other discussions. Rosenberg stated with clarity: “The Nakba was not a one-time event in 1948; it is ongoing,” with further emphasis by Sbaih. “We have to be honest, this work is really hard. The displacement of Palestinians is ongoing today.”
People seemed anxious to learn more, to connect with others engaged in this work, and to deepen their own analysis that would help shape and inform their organizing.
I thought Andrea Smith’s thinking and analysis were transformative and helped lift us to a new level. She spoke of the struggles and challenges of Native peoples in this country — one that is ongoing — and about the importance of understanding colonization in all its manifestations. She also spoke about the importance of envisioning what is possible in new and expansive ways.
Well over 100 college students attended the meeting. I spent time with lovely, committed students from Guilford College and Pitzer College, all of whom are involved with SJP on their campuses. They are facing formidable challenges from those on their campuses who want to shut down their organizing and silence the position that supports justice for Palestine, but they will not be deterred. Responding to attacks from members of the local Jewish community and from Hillel that her college isn’t safe for Jewish students because they bring in pro-Palestine speakers like Steven Salaita, Guilford College student Sara Minsky recently wrote a letter explaining why she feels safe as a Jewish student at Guilford precisely because of its stated commitment to fostering critical, open discussion about Palestine/Israel.
JVP’s role in the broader movement was also interwoven into numbers of discussions. People spoke about how to be an effective and responsible and responsive partner in a Palestinian-led movement; to continue to grow and deepen its work in Jewish communities across the country; to be intentional and bold. At the final plenary, Angela Davis spoke about the importance of JVP’s leadership and the pivotal role of JVP in conjunction with movements against racism in the U.S., while also stressing the importance of leadership coming from communities of color.
The weekend was not without its tensions or differences. From quite different perspectives on the nature and reality of anti-Semitism today and whether it should be integrated into JVP’s work to those struggling with the specifics and actual meaning of the right of return and the articulated concept of dezionizing Israel, probing discussion and debate on these and other issues continued well after the sessions had ended.
The most powerful part of the meeting for me was what felt like a wide-spread recognition that all that was generated throughout the weekend would become part of the thinking, the strategizing, and the organizing after it ended. And that JVP is doing its work in concert with, and as part of a global movement for racial justice that truly spans from Ferguson to Palestine.
*I am a member of JVP’s board of directors.
On the eve of an important event to discuss the Nakba* scheduled to take place this evening, the Executive Director of a tony uptown synagogue in New York City where the event was contracted to take place has attempted to cancel the event with no explanation in what can only be perceived as an effort to shut down discussion of the “ongoing Nakba” within the Jewish community.
The event was to feature the Palestinian human rights organization, Badil (whose timely recently released Corporate Complicity in Violations of International Law in Palestine [pdf] is a must read), and Israeli human rights organization Zochrot. It is part of multi-city speaking tour, and was sponsored in New York by four organizations: Jewish Voice for Peace-New York; Nakba Education Project; Jews Say No!; and the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee.
Prior to LSS Executive Director Ben Keil signing a contract to rent space for the event and accepting a $600 payment, Gail Miller of Jews Say No! made clear the event was “an opportunity for an Israeli group and a Palestinian group to talk about their work”, and expressly emphasized in writing “we need to be sure that somewhere down the line there won’t be a problem.”
Thusly, Keil responded, “For a rental like this, I’m not particularly concerned about the political stance of your program.”
So what happened? Yesterday Miller received an apologetic email from Keil “I’m sorry, but we cannot host your event at Lincoln Square Synagogue.”
Civil rights attorney and Jews Say No! member Alan Levine, informed Keil returning the rental fee did not relieve the LSS of its contractual obligations and warned him the sponsoring organizations retained their right “to pursue appropriate legal remedies” urging the synagogue to reconsider.
The last-minute cancellation has sparked outrage in the community. “We encourage the pursuit of justice” stated Candace Graff from Jewish Voice for Peace-NY , “it is precisely these kinds of open discussions that we claim to value in the Jewish community yet many synagogues and other Jewish institutions are shutting down fundamental discussions about how to achieve it.”
The sponsoring organizations, who represent hundreds of New Yorkers, are holding a protest tonight in front of Manhattan’s first new temple in 50 years, the Upper West Side’s landmark Lincoln Square Synagogue, at 6PM.
Thankfully undeterred, the organizers have found a new venue. Advent Lutheran Church (2504 Broadway, corner of 93rd St. and Broadway) has offered to host the event which will take place on schedule tonight at 7 PM after the protest.
The timing of the LSS cancellation is auspicious. Julia Kessler of the Nakba Education Project, one of the organizations sponsoring the event, said: “Given the election results in Israel, in which it is clearer than ever that Israel is becoming increasingly anti-democratic and unapologetic in its occupation of the Palestinian people, it’s obvious that we have to do more talking, not less, about the crucial issues like the Nakba and what happened in 1948 and how its effects are being felt, even today. Shutting down discussions and closing the doors to differing views will not help us to arrive at justice for all peoples.”
*Nakba, means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the forced displacement of Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948, and continues to this day.
News coverage of Israel’s response to the murders in France of four hostages at a kosher supermarket and 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices highlighted two ways in which Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to exploit the violence for Israel’s (and his own) political purposes. At the huge march against terrorism in Paris (which the French president had asked Netanyahu not to attend), video showed him pushing to the front row of the march and waving to the crowd as if he were at a pro-Israel rally. At a Paris synagogue, he encouraged French Jews to respond to the country’s anti-Semitism by emigrating to Israel, as the only “safe place” for them—a theme he reiterated at the funeral in Israel for the four murdered Jews, as well as after the most recent killing of two people outside a Copenhagen synagogue and a free-speech event.
Another aspect of Netanyahu’s response to the Paris murders, which received less media attention, relates specifically to an Islamophobic narrative that pro-Israel advocates have turned to again and again. Almost as soon as the news broke, Netanyahu combined his condemnation of such acts of terror with his insistence that those responsible are indistinguishable from Hamas. As Netanyahu said in response to the French attacks, “They might have different names — ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah — but all of them are driven by the same hatred and blood-thirsty fanaticism. . . . . And all of them seek to destroy our freedoms and to impose on all of us a violent, medieval tyranny.”
These comments echoed those Netanyahu had made during Israel’s brutal 2014 assault on Gaza, when he tweeted “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. They’re the enemies of Peace. They’re the enemies of all civilized countries.” Israeli officials and other militantly pro-Israel supporters have made the ISIS-Hamas meme a prominent part of their hasbara (propaganda) campaign. In the United States, the meme has been picked up by adamantly pro-Israel elected and former officials, neoconservatives, the right-wing blogosphere, parts of the mainstream media, and Islamophobes like Pamela Geller, who has incorporated the statement that “Hamas = ISIS” into her latest New York City subway and bus ad.
Numerous people have already commented on the inaccuracy of this linkage, the Islamophobia inherent in the conflation of ISIS and Hamas, and the larger political context. Their analysis of the differences between Hamas and ISIS, including a dissimilar “ideological agenda” and political focus, continue to be relevant in the light of Israel’s latest linkage of Hamas with the murderers in France. (For commentary on these issues, see “Hamas = ISIS? What People Are Saying about This Meme, Islamophobia, and Israel,” in the December 2014 newsletter of the Network Against Islamophobia, a new project of JVP.)
The pro-Israel conflation of Hamas with ISIS and other such groups is part of the classic Islamophobic framework of the “clash of civilizations,” which attributes “unavoidable” conflict to fundamental cultural differences between Islamic and Western civilizations. In this context, where the issues are viewed as cultural, not political, “The core, but always evolving, message that Zionists keep sending out,” Rami G. Khouri writes, “is that Palestinians who challenge Israel are part and parcel of a larger universe of frightening figures that espouse criminal values, and represent a direct, mortal threat to Israel and also to all Western civilization. The latest version of this fear-mongering campaign of lies and fantasy seeks to paint Hamas and other militant Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza as integral elements in the world of vicious actors and terrorists who fight in the name of Islam . . . .” Once again, as Jonathan Cook has written about the Hamas = ISIS meme, “Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists.”
More recently, Netanyahu has used the Paris attacks to ratchet up support for Israeli policies: placing Israel on the side of “France on this difficult day,” and maintaining that “The terror of Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIL and Al-Qaeda will not stop unless the West fights it physically, rather than fighting its false arguments. Islamic terror is not mainly targeting Israel, but is even targeting the West and its civilization.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement that “stressed that the world has to help Israel in its war against the Palestinian factions that adopt principles common with those who carried out the attack.”
We can expect that, when Netanyahu addresses Congress in March, he will once again draw on the Islamophobic narratives that are integral to Israel’s attempts to gain international support for its policies.
Elly Bulkin is a member of Jews Say No! (NYC); a co-convener of the Network Against Islamophobia (NAI), a project of Jewish Voice for Peace; and co-author, with Donna Nevel, of Israel & Islamophobia (2014).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Donna Nevel email@example.com
January 12, 2015
To New York City Council Members Who Are Intending to Participate in a Trip to Israel Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)
Dear Council Members,
Because we know many of you have spoken out strongly against Islamophobia, we are writing at this time to call your attention to some of the ways in which the JCRC of New York, which is sponsoring your upcoming trip to Israel, has supported practices and policies that foster Islamophobia. It is clear that the JCRC has helped undermine the basic civil rights and liberties of our city’s Muslim residents, and we hope you agree with us that it is a most inappropriate organization to lead such a trip. (Others have been in touch with you about JCRC’s egregious support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. We agree with those views.)
Elly Bulkin, Marjorie Dove Kent, Alan Levine, Donna Nevel, Rebecca Vilkomerson
Members, Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition
THE JCRC AND NEW YORK CITY’S MUSLIM RESIDENTS
JCRC Support for NYPD Surveillance of the NYC Muslim Community
The JCRC fully supported former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s anti-Muslim policies. In February 2012, when a dozen of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press (AP) articles on the NYPD surveillance of the Muslim community had already been published, the JCRC’s president, executive vice president and CEO, and associate executive director published an article in The Jewish Week making “The Case for Ray Kelly.” As a published response to this opinion piece pointed out: (1) the JCRC leadership’s expressed concern for the safety of New Yorkers did not extend to the Muslim community; (2) JCRC leaders “trivialized the impact of constant surveillance upon the Muslim community”; and (3) the JCRC statement did “not acknowledge that Ray Kelly was a featured interviewee in ‘The Third Jihad,’ a rabidly Islamophobic film — a fact he conveniently ‘forgot.’ Under Kelly’s watch, according to files uncovered by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, the NYPD showed nearly 1,500 police officers during their training this anti-Islam propaganda film whose main narrative is that Muslims are trying to violently ‘infiltrate and dominate America.’ Though the JCRC claims part of its mission is to “build bridges to, and work with, many leaders in New York’s Muslim communities,” during this massive assault on the city’s Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities, the JCRC wasn’t just silent, which would have been bad enough—but its top leadership spoke in strong support of the person in charge of this Islamophobic campaign.
Long-time Member of the JCRC Board of Directors Who Has Worked with Pamela Geller and Other Leading Islamophobes Additionally, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a member of the JCRC’s Board of Directors, was a leading figure in the 2007 attacks on Debbie Almontaser, founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), planned as the country’s first English-Arabic dual language public school. Wiesenfeld was New York chair of Stop the Madrassa, a self-described “community coalition” that formed in June 2007 to prevent KGIA from opening. Another key player in Stop the Madrassa was Pamela Geller, who subsequently spearheaded the opposition to Park51 and spewed anti-Muslim hate across the country’s transit systems; Geller got her start as an activist, not just a blogger, when she joined Stop the Madrassa. Three other central figures in Stop the Madrassa—Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, and David Yerushalmi—are discussed at length in the Center for American Progress’ Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America. When Wiesenfeld attacked Almontaser and claimed that KGIA was trying to carry out a “soft jihad,” she asked that the JCRC respond to these attacks. But they did nothing and, as Almontaser reports, refused her requests to meet with them. Almontaser was forced to resign in 2007 after public officials, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later determined, “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel….” Wiesenfeld remains on the JCRC board.
Ever since police killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last August, it seems that every facet of the issue has come under scrutiny in The New York Times: police equipment, police militarization, grand juries, racial disparities, training, trust, local politics and profiling. But one element is missing from nearly all the column inches devoted to this topic—the Ferguson-Israel connection.
Others are talking about this, however, including protesters who took to the streets after the shooting and again when a grand jury refused to indict the officer who killed the teen. In Ferguson some taunted police saying, “You gonna shoot us? You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go,” and at least one of them held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”
The staunchly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League has reported this development with alarm, listing nearly 20 separate U.S. groups that have emphasized the link between Israeli and American police abuse. Commentators in Israeli newspapers (here and here) have taken up the issue, as well as media outlets in the United States.
But the Times has avoided the topic, with one exception: Blogger Robert Mackey reported that Palestinians tweeted advice to protesters on how to deal with tear gas; he also published the taunts to police in Ferguson. However, his blog, “Open Source,” does not appear in print nor does it receive prominent play online, and his post failed to pursue another, deeper connection between Israeli security forces and U.S. law enforcement—“counter-terrorism” police training under Israeli instruction.
The newspaper has reported charges that U.S. police have become overly militarized andran at least one story (in 2005) about Israeli training of American police, but in the recent discussion about militarized police, it has made no mention of the pervasive Israeli influence on local departments.
Since 2004, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has sent9,500 “law enforcement executives” to study with Israeli police, army and intelligence services. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange also sponsor these trips. In addition, Israeli security officers come to the States to give training sessions, Israeli police maintain an office in New York City and the NYPD has an office in Tel Aviv.
The curriculum includes dealing with terrorist operations, transit security, intelligence sharing, surveillance and crowd control during protests. Suppressing protests is a large part of the training, and U.S. police tactics have become a “near replica” of their Israeli counterparts, according to community leader Shakeel Syed of Southern California.
“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” he said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”
An Amnesty International report, “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Excessive Use of Force in the West Bank,” has charged Israeli forces with lethal actions in the face of demonstrators who pose no threat to soldiers. The report cited “willful killings” of some protesters, which amount to war crimes, and “virtual impunity” for those responsible.
Nevertheless, American police speak with admiration of Israeli practices. A Maryland officer trained in Israel told former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati(now a dissident and outspoken critic of the army), “Oh, man, you guys are badasses. You guys are the best!” Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has said that “Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism.”
A recent Center for Investigative Reporting story underscores the effect of this training on U.S. police. It states, “The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California.”
During 2011 Occupy protests in Oakland, U.S. army veteran Scott Olsen was shot in the head with a bean bag round and left with a permanent brain injury. His experience echoes that of protesters in occupied Palestine who have been killed or injured after being hit by “non-lethal” tear gas canisters. Two victims permanently disabled by these projectiles are Americans—Tristan Anderson and Emily Henochowicz, both wounded in the West Bank.
Oakland has a strong connection with Israeli police and army methods.Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern trained in Israel and instituted the annual Urban Shield weekend, in which police forces compete in mock “terrorist attack” exercises. Israel joins local departments in this event and has often taken first place in the competition.
In 2011 journalist Max Blumenthal called the pervasive Israeli influence on U.S. police tactics the “Israelification of America’s security apparatus.” This year others are also making the connection in light of Ferguson.
Ali Winston of the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about the effect of Israeli training in a piece titled “U.S. police get antiterror training in Israel on privately funded trips,” and journalist Rania Khalek of The Electronic Intifada took up the issue in “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth.” Kristian Davis Bailey published a story in Ebony titled “The Ferguson/Palestine Connection”and noted that “Israel has played a role in the militarization of American police.”
All this is worth mention in the Times, but it prefers to look elsewhere in the discussions of police brutality and militarization within the United States. Its 2005 story on Israeli training was apparently never repeated. Now that the effects of this training could be cause for scandal, it has opted for silence.