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Max Blumenthal Shares Lessons from U Michigan Divestment Campaign

7:30 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Max+Blumenthal+in+Anchorage

Author, journalist and videographer Max Blumenthal participated in the debate before the University of Michigan’s Central Government Council, on March 25th, regarding possible divestment from companies that profit from Israeli occupation of Palestine, and repression of Palestinian society. He was the leadoff presenter for Michigan Students Allied for Equality. Blumenthal spoke for just under thirty minutes. It is one of the most powerfully passionate speeches I’ve ever heard on Palestinian rights and what that should mean to colleges in the United States, whose investments are intertwined with elements of the illegal occupation by Israel of the West Bank, and with the draconian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Here is Max Blumenthal’s March 25th presentation:

Today, Mondoweiss carried an essay by Blumenthal, titled “‘A Painful Price’: The escalating war on Palestine solidarity at U of Michigan and beyond.” In the article, he describes the intimidation tactics used against some of the student coordinators for Michigan Students Allied for Equality. His findings are somewhat disturbing. In the midst of accusations against a number of the student activists of intimidation, the activists are themselves undergoing organized intimidation tactics:

During SAFE’s week-long sit-in, a close-knit group of pro-Israel students filed a series of incendiary accusations against SAFE members, accusing them in formal reports to university administrators of delivering anti-Semitic tirades laced with antiquated terms like ‘kike’ and ‘dirty Jew.’ At the same time, Facebook profiles belonging to SAFE members were invaded by a mysterious account named ‘ZPC Viper Matrix.‘ Personal information of SAFE members, their families, and Palestine rights supporters across the country including American Studies Association President-elect Lisa Duggan have appeared on the Viper Matrix Facebook page, often in distorted form alongside derogatory comments, prompting several students to cancel their accounts.

Among those who told me their profile photos and personal information were uploaded at the Viper Matrix page was Sharifah Abdallah, a Palestinian member of Loyola University’s Student Government Association who has actively supported Loyola SJP’s divestment campaign. ‘People are scared in my community,’ Abdallah remarked to me. ‘Unlike other Palestinians from the diaspora, we return frequently to our land. So these tactics are designed to silence us by making us afraid that we won’t be allowed back in to Palestine.’

Blumenthal, in his Mondoweiss article, recounts many other intimidation episodes. Please read it. Especially chilling are Blumenthal’s concluding paragraphs:

As divestment resolutions are introduced at new campuses each month, pro-Israel partisans appear determined to introduce more counter-measures. In a recent editorial for the Jerusalem Post, former advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Caroline Glick demanded that universities that allow Palestine solidarity activism on campus ‘pay a painful price.’

‘Only the threat of civil lawsuits, federal investigations of civil rights violations, and alumni threats to withhold gifts will force university administrations to take action against the anti-Semitic thugs that are instituting a reign of terror at university after university,’ Glick wrote.

Declaring Northeastern’s suspension of its SJP chapter to be ‘minimal,’ she called for the mass firing of campus police officers who enforce university rules around Palestine-related events. Finally, Glick demanded that Students for Justice in Palestine be ‘permanently barred from operating on campus.’

Though they are far from realizing their draconian goals, Glick and her allies are setting a clear precedent at Northeastern, Michigan, and beyond.

Wednesday, writer and recent University of California Santa Cruz graduate, Rebecca Pierce, wrote, also at Mondoweiss, about current tactics being deployed by militant expansionist, exceptionalist Zionists, against Middle East Studies programs at American Universities:

On March 19, Louis D. Brandeis Center President Kenneth Marcus keynoted a Washington DC panel organized by the hardline pro-Israel Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). It was titled ‘Politicizing Education: Title VI of the Higher Education Act.’

Speaking from an ornate room in Washington DC’s Russell Senate Office Building, Marcus described the seminar as ‘the first public event inaugurating phase two of Title VI reform.’ Sitting alongside him were Campus Watch Director Winfield Myers, National Review Online columnist Stanley Kurtz and Tammi Rossman Benjamin, Amcha Initiative co-founder and a member of the Brandeis Center Academic Advisory Board. The panel was introduced and moderated by Sarah Stern, founder and president of EMET and a member of the Islamophobic Clarion Fund’s advisory board.

Using the seemingly benign terminology of ‘Title VI reform,’ Marcus and his fellow panelists laid out the blueprint for a right-wing pro-Israel attack on federal funding for Middle Eastern studies programs. By using amendments to Title VI of the Higher Education Act that were originally created to police programs deemed too critical of of US foreign policy following 9/11, Marcus and his allies are seeking to pull federal grants from Middle Eastern studies programs they deem overly critical of Israel.

Blumenthal, in his article, describes such tactics as “a desperate but determined fighting retreat.” He is correct in this characterization. In the struggle by students nationwide, in Canada, in the United Kingdom and in Europe, who support Palestinian civil rights, the victories by these activists are growing in number. At the University of Michigan, the student activists failed to get their resolution passed. But each week, more and more campuses are taking up this matter, some with marked success.

Expect the Zionist tactics to get more nasty and desperate by the month.

New Presbyterian Study Guide: Zionism is a “false theology”

1:51 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Palestine_www.palestineremembered.com_NK10355

Palestine


In mid-January, the Presbyterian Church (USA) announced publication and distribution of a new package titled Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide.  The 74-page booklet with accompanying CD-ROM is intended to be a “how-to guide for class leaders and focused discussion prompts make it an ideal resource for multi-week exploratory education programs in churches, mosques, synagogues, and all classroom settings.”

I first read about the booklet and some of its endorsements back on January 15th, in a post at Mondoweiss by Annie Robbins.  Surprisingly, in the two-plus weeks since the announcement, the tract has apparently not been denounced as anti-Semitic by any leading Zionist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, for instance, which has vehemently attacked the church’s leadership in the past.

I haven’t ordered the booklet yet.  At the church’s mission network web page, the manual appears to be very well done – scroll down.

So I’ve been waiting for reviews of the material to show up.  On January 31st, Joe Catron published a sort of review for Electronic Intifada.  Catron has read the booklet and taken notes as he viewed the material on the CD.  He notes that the main issue the Presbyterian Church (USA) takes with what Zionism means is its mixing of selected religious beliefs, dogmas, passages and so on, with politics.  Catron quotes from the CD:

“With Zionism Unsettled, we are hoping to shine a light on the effects of Zionism as a political ideology that is justified by appeal to selective biblical texts,” Walt Davis, co-chairperson of the IPMN’s education committee and Zionism Unsettled project coordinator, told The Electronic Intifada.

“There’s a good deal of examination of various theologies in Zionism Unsettled, but through the lens of how they have been affected by a nationalist ideology,” Davis added.

“The problem now is that the issue is no longer just a secular political ideology; it has become an ideology infused with biblical and theological justifications. Therefore it now needs to be examined through a theological lens too.”

Apparently, the guide approaches Zionism as a sort of myth, similar to what led many Southern U.S. Christian churches to justify slavery before the Civil War, and led Afrikaaner Calvinists to embrace political apartheid as being warranted or even mandated by biblical teachings.  Catron quotes on myths:

“Israeli and American myths of origin are similar and derived from the same biblical sources,” Zionism Unsettled says, noting that “the history and ideology of settler colonialism have been so central to the political history of the United States that it is not surprising the political and religious leadership in the US has been predisposed to uncritical support for the Zionist movement.”

The publication and dissemination of this educational packet in the months before the church’s 2014 general assembly may or may not have been intentional.  I haven’t read anything indicating it was:

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be held from June 14 to 21, 2014 at the COBO Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan.  This biennial meeting brings together commissioners and advisory delegates from all 172 presbyteries, as well as other delegates and observers from around the world.  We begin and end with worship, and in between there are celebrations, deliberations and inspirations for everyone. See the proposed docket.

Detroit, a city rediscovering its future and celebrating its rich diversity will play host to the assembly and provide inspiration to the church.  All of the general proceedings and worship will be streamed live, but you are invited to learn more here or to join us as we seek to hear scripture calling us to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

In 2012, the assembly narrowly voted down a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlitt-Packard, but passed a motion to divest from any business with or investment in Israeli interests in the Occupied Territories.  At the time, an attendee noted:

It was interesting to watch the 2012 General Assembly debate concerning divestment. The Presbyterian Church has youth advisory delegates who don’t count on the final vote but vote before the voting delegates. The divestment motion for the Presbyterian Board of Pensions barely failed but the youth delegates nearly unanimously supported it. Generational overturn inside the Presbyterian Church will ultimately change things.

The list of Christian churches worldwide who view the “facts-on-the-ground” applications of Zionism with increasing concern is growing rapidly.  It is hard for wikipedia to keep up.

Catron concludes his EI review:

With divestment set to return to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s agenda in Detroit this summer, two years of dialogue, e­ducation, and organizing by activists within the church may be nearing fruition.

Meanwhile, members, perhaps young delegates, will be studying the dangers of a myth called Zionism.
Read the rest of this entry →

Scarlett Johansson Breaks Up with Oxfam, Leaves Note on Pillow

8:32 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Scarlett Johannson in a shoulderless black dress, hands on hips.

Johansson chooses Sodastream over Oxfam.

Wednesday evening, actress Scarlett Johansson brought the nine-day dilemma over the conflict between her seven-year relationship with the global relief organization, Oxfam, and her new commercial relationship with the Israeli company, SodaStream, to a conclusion with this announcement:

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has ‘a fundamental difference of opinion’ with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

‘Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,’ the statement said. ‘She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.’

Earlier this month, The Avengers and Her actress signed on as the first global brand ambassador of SodaStream International Ltd., and she’s set to appear in an ad for the at-home soda maker during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

Oxfam announced late last week that it was in discussion with Johansson:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” it added.

‘Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.’

Johansson responded to Oxfam without directly addressing the most pressing of Oxfam’s problems with the conflict:

SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

The workers do not actually enjoy equal rights with their Israeli employers:

One mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture, however.

‘There’s a lot of racism here,’ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.’

snip:

Israeli labor watchdog Kav LaOved says a lack of oversight over enforcement of minimum wages and worker rights in West Bank factories reflects Israel’s pro-settler policies.

‘The government wants incentives for Israelis to come and build and expand there. The government has demonstrated very clearly that companies in the West Bank will be allowed to have cheap labor,’ Kav LaOved head Hanna Zohar told Reuters.

Early this morning, Oxfam responded to Johansson’s pillow note, changing her page there to reflect that the relationship is over, while at the same time saying nothing new.  A row developed over the early part of this week, with Oxfam America concerned that putting pressure on Johansson over an issue concerning Israel might hurt fundraising activities in this country: Read the rest of this entry →

Is Scarlett Johansson’s SS Super Bowl Deal Blood Money? – UPDATED

11:27 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Scarlett Johansson endorsing Apartheid

Actress Scarlett Johansson‘s next premiere will be in an ad aired at Super Bowl XLVIII, on February 2nd, during the 4th quarter.  The sponsor, Sodastream, is an Israeli company whose main facilities are illegally located in Area C of the Occupied West Bank of Palestine, in the industrial zone known as Mishor Adumim.  Her involvement with a company being boycotted by the Global BDS campaign and others has garnered some attention since the relationship was announced earlier this month.  Most criticism has centered around Johansson’s volunteer role as a spokesperson and activist for Oxfam, a 72-year-old NGO that works to “find solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world.”  Oxfam regards Israeli industrial activity in the Occupied West Bank as illegal.  Such conflicts with Oxfam volunteers have come up in the past:

Oxfam objected in 2009 when another ambassador, the American actress Kristin Davis, agreed to endorse Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company that also has a factory in a West Bank settlement. After a wave of negative publicity, Ahava and Ms. Davis quickly parted ways.

 Oxfam is in touch with Johansson about the conflict.  Her niche at the NGO’s web page had this added late Wednesday:

We are proud of our relationship with Scarlett Johansson who has worked with Oxfam since 2005 to support Oxfam’s mission to end poverty and injustice. As an Oxfam Global Ambassador, she has travelled to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the impact of traumatic disasters and chronic poverty, and she has helped to raise critical funds for life-saving and poverty-fighting work around the world. We deeply value her support.

Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors. However Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

We have made our concerns known to Ms. Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.

Up until late Thursday the story hadn’t been covered by any major U.S. media outlets. The Electronic Intafada and Mondoweiss have both run a number of articles on this through the week.  But Thursday, the New York Times posted a detailed article on-line about the controversy.  Super Bowl commercials are big deals in the advertising and endorsement worlds.  Sodastream has posted Youtube and other media promoting the upcoming commercials:

I have a number of questions on this that haven’t yet been answered:

1.  Was Johansson aware of the true state of affairs for the Palestinian workers at the Mishor Adumim factory when she signed on with Sodastream?  Last year, Sodastream posted a video touting the boon Sodastream’s illegal facility is for Palestinians who are employed there.  An anonymous worker refuted the claim at Electronic Intifada:

A professionally-produced video recently appeared on YouTube, taking the viewer on a carefully-constructed tour of the production facilities for the Israeli companySodaStream, manufacturer of carbonated drink machines.

The 8.5-minute video focuses on the firm’s factory located in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone of the illegal Israeli settlement Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, and its Palestinian workers. The underlying message throughout the video is that the company’s settlement factory is a “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence” and, despite being built on stolen Palestinian land, is beneficial to the Palestinian economy and workers.

The video was recently shown to M., a Palestinian employee of SodaStream who has worked on the assembly line at Mishor Adumim for a long time and lives under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. M. spoke to The Electronic Intifada on condition of anonymity.

His immediate reaction to the blissful setting presented in the video was one of shock.

“Lies”

“I feel humiliated and I am also disgraced as a Palestinian, as the claims in this video are all lies. We Palestinian workers in this factory always feel like we are enslaved,” M. said.

2.  Was Johansson aware that this lucrative product endorsement would most likely lead to a severance of her relationship with Oxfam?

3.  When working with Johansson on coming into a contract, was she informed by Sodastream’s agents, who must have been aware of a potential hazard, of the huge possible liability to the actress’s future career being their spokesperson represents? They certainly should have done that.  Johansson may be under pressure from her team for more public exposure, but Sodastream is under intense pressure.  Partially from BDS effectiveness, partially because the company’s model may have flaws, their stock is down 50% for 2013.

I’ve been a fan of many of Scarlett Johansson’s roles since The Horse Whisperer and Lost in Translation.  If she had better agents she might have won a major film acting award by now.

Whether or not she was a victim of people running her career here or knowingly has become a major spokesperson for Israeli apartheid will probably become known within the next ten days.

Too late to pull the ads.  Can Scarlett handle this upcoming blood money role well enough to actually do something positive for Palestinians living under apartheid in the weird zone her employer exploits 24-7?

UPDATE:  Friday 3:20 pm Alaska Time:

Scarlett Johansson has issued a statement which has been printed at Huffington Post.  It is brief and quite vague.  She does not appear to be ready to back away from SodaStream:

While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I’d like to clear the air.

I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day. As part of my efforts as an Ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.

I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.

I’ll provide any further updates in the comments.

The Weirdness of Zionist Reaction to Stephen Hawking Supporting Global BDS

11:53 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Einstein i Hawking

Last Friday, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking wrote to the organizers of an upcoming conference in Jerusalem, telling them he was backing out of a commitment to participate, in solidarity with Palestinian academics who had asked him to reconsider attending.  Here is part of his letter:

I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.

The story of his cancellation broke Wednesday morning in the Guardian:

Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

Although the Guardian article appeared to be authoritative when it was published, it was soon questioned, based on a statement emanating from the communication office of his employer, Cambridge University:

Tim Holt, media director at the University of Cambridge spokesman, said Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns.

“For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend,” said Holt. “He is 71-years-old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”

A University of Cambridge statement released earlier Wednesday cited “personal reasons” for his decision. Hawking, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, cannot move his body and uses a wheelchair. He communicates through a computerized voice system.

The story of Hawking’s cancellation, carried by the Guardian had little traction Wednesday morning, but the story of the Guardian having blown the real reason for Hawking’s backing out got it up into major news aggregators, such as memeorandum.  Throughout Wednesday morning, there was confusion.  Hawking was attacked severely on facebook and elsewhere, savaged for being ungrateful to Israelis for creating technology that helps him continue to communicate, and for not  being that good of a scientist:

if one decides to Boycott Israel, then one must be consistent, if Mr. Hawking decides to boycott us he should also refrain from using his means of communications as he is using products that were invented and produced in Israel. it is very interesting though that we continue to hear him isn’t it.

and (I like this one):

Who cares? He hasn’t been coherent since he wrote that the universe was capable of creating itself. His kind of “reason” fits neither science nor sociology…but it’s perfectly suited to politics.

and:

Given that much of his work is based on Israeli scientists’ work. I guess it was fine to use Jacob Bekenstein’s research to further his own fame (after previously deriding his ideas), but heavens forbid he visit the man’s homeland! Why, that would just be WRONG!

and:

An Israeli company made a medicine that cures ALS, so go ahead Mr. Genius Idiot, Boycott Israel.

When the contrary statement from Cambridge claiming health reasons as being the real motivator came out Wednesday morning, some pro-Zionist blogs strutted Cambridge communicator Holt’s obfuscation out as proof of the Guardian‘s anti-Israel agenda:

The Guardian, which broke the story late last night, claimed that Hawking was due to boycott Israel after receiving an erroneous statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), apparently with Hawking’s approval.

The statement said that the move was “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

However, a Cambridge university spokesperson has confirmed to The Commentator that there was a “misunderstanding” this past weekend, and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons.

In comments to the feuding articles, inevitable comparisons between Hawking and Albert Einstein were made.  Soon after the formation of Israel, the great physicist was invited to go to Israel to become President.  He declined:

When [Israeli] President Chaim Weizmann died in 1952, Einstein was asked to be Israel’s second president, but he declined, stating that he had “neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings.” He wrote: “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it.”

Carefully chosen words. Four years ago, I compiled the most authoritative web version I know of Einstein’s April 17th, 1938 Commodore Hotel speech.  All others leave out the last two sentences, which I here emphasize:

I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish State. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State, with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish State. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period.

A return to a nation in the political sense of the word, would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community which we owe to the genius of our prophets.

Einstein uttered this profound declaration before the horrors of World War II, which left over 60 million dead, 10% of them Jewish.  After the war, and during the very early years of Israeli existence, he could be conflicted regarding his support for the new Levantine crusader state, created largely by colonists from north central Europe.

Hawking is a non-Jewish atheist, apparently appalled by his encounters with what Einstein feared, “the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.”  Einstein believed deeply in the existence of something beyond what he or we might readily explain through scientific method – “God,” if you will.

Hawking’s reaching out to pleas from Palestinian academics and scientists is motivated more by his well-known penchant for not wanting to put up with bullshit.

I wish Prof. Hawking had decided to attend.  As he wrote to the guy who cannot claim to be Einstein’s successor to a failing dream, “Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

It already has.  Einstein, was a true Jewish prophet along the lines of  Ezekiel, Elisha and Elijah, among others.  Had he accepted the offer to become Israel’s president, a largely symbolic office, it may have changed the course of human events on the Levant.  He predicted the ongoing disaster’s inevitability.  Hawking, like Einstein, questions the charade.

Who will be next?

Sunday Art: Preparing to Write About Judith Butler’s Profound Brooklyn University Address

12:26 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Netanyahu-Brezhnev

Last Thursday, philosopher Dr. Judith Butler delivered a profound address at Brooklyn University.  She was one of two speakers at what might have been a small gathering of students and Brooklyn activists, wanting to hear some intelligent ideas about the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  The movement, begun by Palestinians in 2005, models itself somewhat after similar movements seeking to put pressure on the apartheid South African regime, from the late 1980s, through the fall of that regime in the mid-1990s.

The other speaker was Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of Global BDS.  Barghouti has a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia, and a Masters in philosophy from Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Butler, in her address, which was about 40 minutes long, noted in the opening remarks:

At the time [Butler was invited] I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center. So, as you can see, I am surprised and ill prepared for what has happened.

What happened was an explosion of invective against Butler, Barghouti, Brooklyn College, its President, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, for supporting their being able to even talk on campus about BDS under the sponsorship of one of its departments, and without someone on the podium with them who could offer an opposing view.

Judith Butler drew some hearty laughs with this:

Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor [Alan Dershowitz], but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

Haaretz commentator Chemi Shalev wrote Friday:

Far more Americans know of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement today than did a week ago. Many millions of people have been exposed for the first time to the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested and sanctioned for its occupation of the territories. Many more Americans, one can safely assume, have formed a positive image of the BDS movement than those who have now turned against it.

Tafasta merube lo tafasta, the Talmud teaches us: grasp all, lose all. The heavy-handed, hyperbole heavy, all-guns-blazing campaign against what would have been, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, “a few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy.

Rather than focusing attention on what BDS critics describe as the movement’s deceitful veneer over its opposition to the very existence of Israel, the disproportionate onslaught succeeded in casting the BDS speakers who came to the Brooklyn campus as freedom-loving victims being hounded and oppressed by the forces of darkness.

Judith Butler herself spent a fair portion of her 1997 book, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, describing aspects of this.  Essentially:

Butler argues that hate speech exists retrospectively, only after being declared such by state authorities. In this way, the state reserves for itself the power to define hate speech and, conversely, the limits of acceptable discourse.

I first came across Judith Butler’s writing in 2004, when researching false uses of the terms “anti-semitic” and “anti-semitism.”  I had been accused in articles, blog posts, and even in an address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature as one.  Butler’s writing eased my anguish at the time.

I’ve wanted to write an enduring essay about Butler’s Brooklyn College address since reading it.  I’ve re-read it twice now, trying to distill it for popular blog consumption.  That may be a task beyond my ability.

The concept of censorship making an idea being censored more known and attractive predates Butler’s analysis.  The history of people finding ways around such censorship goes back to ancient times too.  When societies begin to break down through hubris, hypocrisy, corruption, pollution and so on, some members of the nomenklatura realize better than others what is happening, what is at stake.

Butler’s writings and talks (on Youtube, for instance) show examples of her sense of irony, and some humor.  Her overall style, though, is quite dry.  Nobody has ever accused her of pandering for attention, within or beyond academia.

Thinking about her irony and perhaps intentional avoidance of populist metaphor and framing today, I found myself listening more closely to the wildly ironic Dmitri Shosatakovich’s 12th Symphony, a work I’m considering conducting in 2014.  He wrote it at the beginning of the end of the paradigm of a communist utopia in the USSR.  He had ceased to believe in the myth long before, but had been rehabilitated, and was commanded to write a triumphal work, dedicated to the memory of Vladimir  Lenin.

He was hesitant, but fulfilled the commission.  It was thought to be a workmanlike, dutiful symphony, but it has never been regarded as one of his masterpieces.

From my first hearing in the mid-1960s, I detected that he was mocking the idolization of Lenin.  He couldn’t be more obvious than he was, or it would not be performed.  He mocked his own film music to the dozens of patriotic Soviet movies he scored.  He parroted the false drive forward of the increasingly failed system that entrapped him and other artists.

Watching the increasingly Sovietesque moves to somehow save Israeli apartheid from being truthfully perceived remind me aspects of the downfall of the USSR – not so much as in the Mother country, but in its satellites.

Here is Yevgeni Mravinsky, conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s iconic slap in the face of false monumentalism, from a 1984 broadcast:

Free Brooklyn College: Sign the Petition to Support Academic Freedom at CUNY

6:47 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Brooklyn College campus [hdr image]

If you live in Brooklyn, you have probably heard of the threat from members of the New York City Council against Brooklyn College.  If you live elsewhere, chances are that, unless you are involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights, or the struggle against them, you’ve missed his one.

In a nutshell, in late January a controversy arose over the political science department at Brooklyn College sponsoring an upcoming appearance there by two advocates of Global BDS.  That movement, now in its ninth year, advocates putting pressures upon the increasingly apartheid Israeli state, similar to the sanctions imposed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, against the increasingly apartheid South African state.  Here is a description of the controversy, from a friendly point of view:

At Brooklyn College, a student chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine organized a forthcoming panel with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti to discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The political science department agreed to co-sponsor it. When certain individuals hostile to BDS heard about this event they raised an outcry. The outcry started with Alan Dershowitz, who demanded that the political science department either withdraw its sponsorship or ‘balance’ it with a voice – namely his – that is critical of the panelists. Very quickly this became a city and state-wide issue, and various politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, began to make the same demands. Now, quite disturbingly, the New York City Council is threatening to withhold future funding for CUNY unless the political science department either cancels the event or withdraws its sponsorship.

Advocates for the college’s position have emerged, including constitutional attorney, Glenn Greenwald, Palestinian rights advocate Andrew Sullivan, and – surprisingly – MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes (as described by Phil Weiss):

A “who’s who” list of New York politicians is trying to shut down the conversation. Hayes mentions Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. “I understand why there’s an outcry” from those who find BDS odious — he says, covering his bases. But Hayes is clear about the academic-freedom principle and about the highly “selective” concern for balance in this instance and not others. What if the University of Alabama tried to disinvite a gay speaker? Hayes says that some of those politicians “browbeating” the college have been on his show. Good liberals. Yes: Progressive Except Palestine, PEP.

Greenwald has written several columns now on the threats against the college. Most recently, he centered on comments by NYC council member, Lew Fidler, whose threats against Brooklyn College funding seem to have been the most explicit yet.  Greenwald:

How can anyone not be seriously alarmed by this? These threats are infinitely more destructive than any single academic event could ever possibly be…Plainly, this entire controversy has only one ‘principle’ and one purpose: to threaten, intimidate and bully professors, school administrators and academic institutions out of any involvement in criticisms of Israel.

Fidler’s chilling letter to BC President Karen Gould can be read here (scribd).

One speaker at the upcoming event, prominent feminist philosopher, Judith Butler, has defended herself many times against specious “anti-semitism” charges (Butler is Jewish), most notably, in her profound essay on anti-semitism, in the London Review of Books, eleven years ago:

In holding out for a distinction to be made between Israel and Jews, I am calling for a space for dissent for Jews, and non-Jews, who have criticisms of Israel to articulate; but I am also opposing anti-semitic reductions of Jewishness to Israeli interests. The ‘Jew’ is no more defined by Israel than by anti-semitism. The ‘Jew’ exceeds both determinations, and is to be found, substantively, as a historically and culturally changing identity that takes no single form and has no single telos. Once the distinction is made, discussion of both Zionism and anti-semitism can begin, since it will be as important to understand the legacy of Zionism and to debate its future as to oppose anti-semitism wherever we find it.

The other main speaker in the upcoming BC event is Palestinian, Omar Barghouti, echoed Butler in a 2011 interview with The Guardian on Global BDS, which he helped found:

Here is what the petition in support of Brooklyn College’s position states:

We the undersigned write in support of the decision by Brooklyn College’s political science department to co-sponsor a panel discussion with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. We urge CUNY President Karen Gould to resist attempts by those who have attempted to intimidate CUNY into canceling, changing, or withdrawing its sponsorship for the panel. We are especially concerned that the New York City Council has threatened to withhold further money for CUNY if it does not either cancel the event or withdraw its sponsorship. This is a grave threat to academic freedom and sets a terrible precedent for the future.

You can sign it here.

The goal was 500 signatures. It currently as 1,612.

(If you click “SIGN’” button, you can leave the page without hitting the “pay” buttons on the succeeding page.  I didn’t pay, and my name now shows up.)

I signed – as a college professor in favor of free speech.

Will you sign?

War Enters a New Era – Cast Lead II and Cyber War

12:21 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Anonymous hacks advocate_israel.com

Mid-week, the Israeli Defense Forces began what is appearing to be another serious campaign  against Hamas infrastructure in detail, and Gaza civilian infrastructure in general.  Hamas and other militants in Gaza have responded to Israeli responses to Palestinian responses to Israeli actions or responses.  So far at least 15 Palestinians and three Israelis are dead from this rapidly escalating set of confrontations.

The United Nations Security Council met Wednesday evening, resolving nothing.  Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil will be visiting Gaza, possibly today.

Since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israel has gained no allies.  But opponents of Israeli policies in Israel, in the occupied territories of the West Bank, in Gaza, and internationally, have increased markedly, mostly after the senselessly brutal attacks upon Turkish and American civilians on the MV Mavi Marmara, which left nine dead, some brutally executed at short range after surrendering.

The IDF began the operation on twitter, putting out a lot of tweets, some of which were either answered by Hamas-connected twitter accounts, or fake Israeli ones, designed to appear as if from Hamas.  Currently, a trending hashtag is a tasteless niche, #HamasBumperStickers:

#HamasBumperStickers

Since yesterday, anonymous and other global hacking communities have been taking down Israeli government and NGO web sites.  The image at the top of this article is a screenshot I took of a Mexican anonymous collective’s takedown of Advocate Israel.

The Washington Post just published an article titled Is Hamas Winning the Twitter War?

Read the rest of this entry →

Glenn Beck Meets With Former Head of Terror Group – In the Knesset

9:32 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Glenn Beck (Updated)

Monday was a crazier day than most in Israel.

Early Monday morning, over 100 European peace activists were still jailed by the Israelis, for having attempted getting to Bethlehem to visit Palestinian families who had invited them, from the Tel Aviv Airport over the weekend. The Israelis were refusing them access to attorneys.

Then, late in the morning, the Knesset outlawed speaking positively about the Global BDS Initiative, begun in 2005, and rapidly gaining momentum, particularly in Europe.

Then, Glenn Beck addressed the Knesset, where KM Danny Danon, chair of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, declared “If we didn’t have someone like Glenn Beck we would have had to invent someone like him.”

When Beck spoke to the Israeli legislative body, the audience was described by Ami Kaufman, who was there:

Outside the Negev hall, the atmosphere was like before a rock concert, complete with the pushing and shoving. Most attendees were religious, all the way from knitted kippas to haredim. After we sat down, it was only a few minutes wait till the star came in. Almost immediately the whole room stood up, including the Members of Knesset, and gave the man a standing ovation.

This was only the beginning of the biggest love-fest I’ve ever seen. At times, I was squirming in my chair. Considering how Beck has been accused of anti-semitism, the amount of love was particularly odd.

Kaufman goes on:

Just recently, pundit Dana Milbank of the Washington Post listed a few of Beck’s feats in this field:

“…hosting a guest on his show who describes as “accurate” the anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; likening Reform rabbis to “radicalized Islam”; calling Holocaust survivor George Soros a “puppet master,” a bloodsucker and a Nazi collaborator; touting the work of a Nazi sympathizer who referred to Eisenhower as “Ike the Kike”; and claiming the Jews killed Jesus.

But I guess it takes one to know one, which is why I wasn’t surprised to see Baruch Marzel (the notorious Kahanist and in my humble opinion one of the most dangerous people this country has seen) taking a seat to hear Beck’s sermon.

Kaufman managed to get cell phone pictures of Marzel with Beck and the latter’s personal aide.

Here’s some of Beck’s strange talk to the Knesset (MK Danon introduces him):

Just who is Baruch Marzel? Though Beck doesn’t appear to have spent much time with him, the hall was filled with Kahanists, and Kahanist members of the Knesset, such as Michael Ben-Ari, were prominent among those both questioning Beck, and applauding him heartily, in spite of Danon’s admonition for decorum in the legislative hall.

Kahanists are followers of Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League in the United States, and of the ideology that has become known as Kahanism, since Kahane’s death.  Kahamism advocates an end to the notion of Israeli democracy, and full expulsion of non-Jews from Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.  Kahane and his closest followers were extremists on the issue of militant Zionist expansionism, proposing:

[A] Jewish state “according to the description given in the Bible.” He said, “the southern boundary goes up to El Arish, which takes in all of northern Sinai, including Yamit. To the east, the frontier runs along the western part of the East Bank of the Jordan river, hence part of what is now Jordan. Eretz Yisrael also includes part of Lebanon and certain parts of Syria, and part of Iraq, all the way to the Tigris River.

Although Kahane’s Kahane Chai, or Kach, political organization was banned in Israel in 1994 as racist, Kahanists have been responsible for a large amount of the most egregious settler violence in the West Bank.  Most notably, Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 and injured 150 Muslim worshippers in the West Bank;  Yoel Lerner, who attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock Mosque; and Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

While he was alive, perhaps Kahane’s closest follower was Baruch Marzel, who was Kahane’s secretary and assistant before the former’s assassination, and took over Kach after the death of the party’s leader.  Marzel has been involved in a number of controversies:

Marzel has also advocated violence towards homosexuals in Israel, calling for a religious war against them during a radio interview. In 2006, in the days leading up to a planned gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Marzel reportedly stated that “The stabbing incident during last year’s parade will seem minor in comparison with what is anticipated this year. We have to declare a holy war”. Marzel also was involved in the controversial March 2009 flag parade through Umm al-Fahm. He led protests against the eighth Jerusalem Gay Pride parade of 2010, opining that “[homosexuality] is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways. When someone has AIDS they tell them not to infect others, so why are these people allowed to march here in Jerusalem and infect us with their disease?”

In 2006, Marzel sent an open letter to Linor Abergil, asking her not to marry non-Jewish Lithuanian NBA player Šarūnas Jasikevičius; a similar open letter was addressed in March 2010 to Israeli model Bar Refaeli not to marry her non-Jewish boyfriend, American actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Representing the Lehava organization which works to prevent intermarriage, Marzel tried to remind Refaeli that she is the descendant of grandmothers who would not dream of seeing her marry a non-Jew and perpetrate assimilation.

Regarding Beck’s conversation with Marzel Monday, of chief concern should be that the political extremist organization Marzel once led, and whose causes he continues to openly espouse, Kach is Number 20 on the United States Government’s current list of terrorist organizations, placed right between Jemaah Islamiya organization (JI) and Kata’ib Hizballah (KH).

Short of Beck openly distancing himself from Marzel – which might be difficult, as Marzel is currently on the staff of MK Ben-Ari, serving as parliamentary aide – will we see the MSM going after Beck for “palling around with terrorists”?

All this happening Monday is a great example of how nutty things are getting in Israel:  The Knesset declaring some free speech illegal, detaining peace activists without access to attorneys, and lionizing Glenn Beck as he embraces a known terrorist publicly.  And Beck is merely there to warm the audience up for his upcoming August 24 “Restoring Courage” Rally in Jerusalem.