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Two Interviews with Max Blumenthal from Yafa-Tel Aviv and Ramallah

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

In the aftermath of the month-long Gaza slaughter, author and journalist Max Blumenthal is in Israel and Palestine.  Two videos have been posted on Youtube within the past few days which are important documents for at least a few reasons.

Longtime Firedoglake readers are probably aware that I have been following Blumenthal’s progress since he showed up at our door in September, 2008, looking for a Wasilla, Alaska base from which to investigate aspects of Sarah Palin’s Fundamentalist Christianist beliefs.

His two books, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, and Goliath:  Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel, were both covered here in our book salons.  Media reception of the two books could not have been more different than what occurred.

The first, a scathing look at racism, weird religious practices, intimidation and organizational modes among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians within the framework of the GOP Right over the years, was warmly welcomed by the media.  The book, partially through media praise and coverage, became a New York Times bestseller.  It has turned out to be prophetic, and is widely regarded to be so.

His recent book, a scathing look at racism, weird religious practices, intimidation and organizational modes among Israeli and American Zionists within the context of Israeli history since the Nakba, was coldly, brutally treated by most of our American media.  Or ignored.  Soon after publication, with the events of this winter, spring and summer,  it has turned out to be profoundly prophetic.  But this resonance is largely being avoided, at least by our mainstream media outlets.

During the year-long bogus peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the late Spring cynical Israeli rampage through the West Bank, and Operation Protective Edge, Max has written a series of articles on these events, while touching upon many other subjects about which he has gained familiarity or authority.  During the past week, in the wake of the heavy-handed police presence in Ferguson, Missouri, numerous articles have cited Max’s seminal 2011 article, From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security.

The following two interviews contain some common material.  Rather than post just one,  I feel it important to post both, as each touches unique material the other does not.  It is important to note that among the most strident criticisms of Blumenthal’s Goliath were those claiming the book exaggerated or over-emphasized the degree of racism in Israel, that it underrated the extent of influence liberals have in Israeli society, or that it simplified something that is very complicated and cannot be understood without some sort of Zio-centric “context.”  In both interviews Max ties in the content of Goliath and its prophetic aspects with powerful, sordid and tragic events that have occurred since its publication last year.

I.  The German webcasters, Jung & Naiv, interview Max Blumenthal on a hill overlooking the port of Yafa and the settler city of Tel Aviv:

II.  Cenk Uygur interviews Max Blumenthal, who was in Ramallah,  on The Young Turks:

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.
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VIDEO: Max Blumenthal Addresses the New America Foundation

8:47 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Max Blumenthal portraits

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On Tuesday, author, journalist and videographer Max Blumenthal addressed the New America Foundation, to a packed house, in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  The foundation, which had been subjected to enormous pressure from Zionist organizations to cancel the event, is still being attacked for having gone through with their commitment to present the young author, as he described the background and content of his recent book, Goliath:  Life sand Loathing in Greater Israel.

Meanwhile, liberal-ish writer Eric Alterman is continuing his attacks on Blumenthal, most recently by complaining about an article published in Salon, written by Natasha Lennard:

I have always respected Salon’s standards, both ethical and journalistic, in the past and hence I must admit to surprise that these appear to have been so casually discarded in the interview with Max Blumenthal published under the (ridiculous) headline, “Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak out.” I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked any further into this controversy than was necessitated by my initially agreeing—at the behest of my editors at The Nation—to devote my regular column to Blumenthal’s book which was published by Nation Books and was to be excerpted in the magazine. Following the column, I explained myself in a blog post, added a few details for which I had no room, and would have been happy to end the matter there. Since then, I have been forced to address falsehood after falsehood put forth by Blumenthal and his defenders and now, because this is Salon and not some other publication known for its dishonesty and/or anti-Zionist fanaticism, I am forced to do so once again. So let’s get it over with….

As I wrote, two or three “last time I’ll write about this” agos from Alterman – we’ll see.

Here is Max Blumenthal, addressing the foundation, and then taking questions for about half an hour:

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Israel’s Prawer Plan: A New Trail of Tears

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Israeli government and Netanyahu administration are going ahead with plans to ethnically cleanse between 30,000 and 70,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens from the area of their ancient homeland into new abodes. It is the so-called Prawer Plan (or Prawer-Begin Plan):

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently stated that carrying out such a relocation without Bedouin consent is a violation of international law.

OCHA also said that the proposed relocation site will put at risk the Bedouin peoples’ health and way of life. “The proposed site does not meet minimum standards in terms of distance from the municipal dumping grounds, which is likely to pose a health hazard to the communities, and provides limited access to grazing lands. Previously relocated families report negative consequences, including health concerns, loss of livelihood, deteriorated living conditions, loss of tribal cohesion and erosion of traditional lifestyles.”

It goes without saying, Israel needs to abandon this malicious plan to quite literally throw the Bedouin into the garbage.

These people being ethnically cleansed aren’t Palestinians residing in the West Bank or Gaza. They are Israeli citizens. Why are they being forcibly relocated?

The Israeli government on Sunday authorized construction plans for two new settlements in the southern Negev region, one of which is slated to be established on territory currently inhabited by a number of unrecognized Bedouin communities.

The planned establishment of Hiran and Kassif was announced during a special cabinet meeting that took place at the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute in Sde Boker to mark the fortieth anniversary of the death of Israel’s first prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision and declared that the step would further the vision propounded by David Ben-Gurion.

The plan will ‘expedite the development of the entire Negev,’ the prime minster said, adding that Ben-Gurion ‘very much wanted to achieve’ such a goal.

Over the past weekend, demonstrations in Israel, the West Bank, Europe, the USA and elsewhere were held, in solidarity with the Bedouin, who are being rewarded for generations of willing subservience to the Israeli state with something that can easily be compared with our own country’s southeast USA Trail of Tears, brutally enforced between 1831 and 1837:

In 1831 the Choctaw were the first to be removed, and they became the model for all other removals. After the Choctaw, the Seminole were removed in 1832, the Creek in 1834, then the Chickasaw in 1837, and finally the Cherokee in 1838. After removal, some Native Americans remained in their ancient homelands – the Choctaw are found in Mississippi, the Seminole in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, and the Cherokee in North Carolina. A limited number of non-native Americans (including African-Americans – usually as slaves) also accompanied the Native American nations on the trek westward. By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands thereby opening 25 million acres for predominantly white settlement.

Israeli reactions to Bedouin protests and solidarity actions across that country have been somewhat harsh. Reactions by members of the openly racist Israeli government have been poorly reported in US media so far, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, but Haaretz reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the protests Saturday evening with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. According to the Prime Minister’s Bureau, Netanyahu lauded the police force’s efforts and its ‘steadfast work in the face of the protesters.’

Netanyahu said, ‘We will not put up with such unruliness”‘and that lawbreakers would be held to account. ‘There has not been and will not be any tolerance of lawbreakers. The attempt of a loud and violent minority to prevent a better future for a large and wide population is severe. We will continue advancing the bill for a better future for all residents of the Negev,’ he said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also responded to the protests. In a post on his Facebook page, Lieberman criticized the protesters.

We are fighting for the national land of the Jewish people, and there are those who are trying to steal [this land] and take it over by force,’ he said, adding that he initially opposed the Prawer-Begin bill but eventually decided to support it because he was told that the Bedouin leaders had consented to the plan.

‘Just like we had feared, the Bedouin are only interested in the “carrot” – the benefits and the alternative land – while making every effort, even through violence, to oppose the “stick,”‘ he continued. ‘They must leave the land on which they reside illegally.’

Lieberman also called on the government to rethink the entire plan and nix the benefits that were promised to the Bedouin. [emphases added]

It is hard to make a comparison to this reaction to that of American politicians in the face of Native American resistance to having to leave their ancestral farms for the plains of Oklahoma.  It is as if, had Andrew Jackson been Lieberman, he had stated “Screw the land deal.  We’re going to sell you all on the slave blocks in New Orleans!”  Or something like that.

In the Negev, where the removals will soon commence, police were fairly brutal:
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Attacks on Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath” Escalate, Veer into Wingnut Land – Updated

7:44 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Goliath Crosses Netanyahu's Red Line

The initial attack on Max Blumenthal’s new book, released October 1st, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (currently No. 2 on Amazon’s history of Israel best seller list), was led by Eric Alterman, writing for the November 4th edition of The Nation.  Alterman condemned the book, using the now widely reported terms for it as “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” and “Hamas Book-of-the-Month” selection.  Within days of Alterman posting his first critical essay at The Nation, he posted another.  Then, in response to detailed critiques of Alterman’s analyses of the book by Blumenthal and others, Alterman jumped in a third time.

Alterman initially refused to appear in any forum with Blumenthal, to discuss or debate the book’s content and subject matter, but has now indicated he might show up “for $10,000 plus expenses, paid in advance.”

Goliath has received a number of positive reviews.  Perhaps the most comprehensive was that by Chris Hedges, posted at Truthdig:

 There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality [the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism].

This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s ’Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel’ one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.

Even as Alterman led the attacks, he was quickly outdone in the dismissive, yet somewhat shallow tone he introduced.   Wall Street Journal Assistant Book Editor, Sohrab Ahmari, announced on Twitter:

@Eric_Alterman rips to shreds @maxblumenthal‘s “Goliath,” of which two review copies currently sit in my trashcan.

What may have turned out to be the most disturbing element introduced by Alterman, was his bringing Max Blumenthal’s father, Sidney Blumenthal, into the argument.  What seemed to some as an innocuous comment in Alterman’s first article, has turned into a sordid campaign by even more sordid people, to attack both the elder Blumenthal, and Hillary and Bill Clinton, and their foundation.  The hits have devolved from Buzzfeed.com to Breitbart.com to white supremacist Robert Stacy McCain’s blog, as the threats have escalated.

On November 6th, Buzzfeed.com carried an article by Rosie Gray, centering on Max’s father:

In a follow-up blog post after the initial review, Alterman wrote that he had become the target of emails sent around by Blumenthal to friends and associates as a result of his review of the book.

‘I attribute to these friendly relations the fact that until now, Sid Blumenthal had not seen fit to make me the object of any of the unflattering e-mails he so often sends around to journalists and others — myself included — about individuals of whom he disapproves,’ Alterman wrote. ‘Privately, I worried that by telling the truth about his son’s book, I would soon hear of nasty e-mails about me sent by Sid to our mutual friends and professional acquaintances. Call it “bizarre,” if you will, but sadly, that’s just what happened.’

BuzzFeed obtained one of the Blumenthal emails from a source; it features a copied-and-pasted article from the anti-Zionist blog Mondoweiss, sent with the subject line ‘Fact-checking Eric Alterman on Goliath.‘ The article in question, by writer Phan Nguyen, calls on The Nation to retract Alterman’s review, describes Alterman as an “unreliable narrator,” and states that he has “undermined his self-proclaimed status as a conscientious critic of the Israeli occupation.”

Gray pursued the links between Sidney Blumenthal and the Clintons:

Several phone calls and emails to the Clinton Foundation seeking clarification on Blumenthal’s role in the organization went unanswered. A BuzzFeed reporter who went to the Clinton Foundation’s offices in New York on Tuesday seeking the organization’s most recent IRS 990 form was turned away.

“We don’t know what you’re referring to,” said Clinton Foundation spokesperson Nick Merill when asked about the emails and whether Hillary Clinton is aware of Blumenthal’s defense of Goliath. He copied Clinton spokespeople Philippe Reines and Matt McKenna on his response to BuzzFeed, as well as Sidney Blumenthal.

The pressure on Billary and the foundation was stepped up on November 8th, with that estimable source, Breitbart.com, giving space, in an article by Joel B. Pollack, to Alan Dershowitz:

On Friday, Dershowitz told Breitbart News that Sid Blumenthal’s vociferous advocacy for his son’s book could damage Hillary Clinton’s widely anticipated run for her party’s nomination for president in 2016.

The article goes on to quote Dershowitz:

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Max Blumenthal Begins Book Tour With Democracy Now! Appearance

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

 

Blumenthal begins book tour.

Author and journalist Max Blumenthal’s second book came out on October 1. Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel recounts Blumenthal’s four-year quest to fully cover, document and chronicle Israel’s inexorable tilt to a country so far to the right, so authoritarian, so overtly racist, so defiant of international standards, that it risks becoming more than a bit like North Korea in the ways it turns inward, denying the reality of the world’s perception of what the small nation actually is.

Blumenthal’s first book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, came out in late summer of 2009. In it, Blumenthal described in detail how fundamentalist Christian organizations and figures changed the Republican Party into something authoritarian, anti-democratic, overtly racist, anti-science and in denial of how its actions are perceived by the American public at large. It became a New York Times best seller and continues to resonate, as many of the ideas and figures Blumenthal exposed in it have become more powerful in GOP behind-the-scenes decisions.

During Republican Gomorrah‘s book tour, Blumenthal made a number of appearances on mainstream venues. The American media does not handle discussing the dangers of religious fundamentalism very well – unless the fundamentalists being discussed happen to be Muslim. When on Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, in September, 2009, Scarborough refused to give Blumenthal’s basic premise — that the far right’s obeisance to fundamentalism is deep and structural — any credence.  Even Terry Gross, when interviewing Max on Fresh Air, around the same time, had trouble coming to grips with the importance of Blumenthal’s revelations (although it is a damn good interview!) More than any of the many other interviews Max participated in back in late 2009, Gross and Blumenthal got into the ties between GOP Christian Zionists and Zionism itself.

That same week, Max was welcomed to a Book Salon session here at Firedoglake, hosted by Watertiger. At that time, I posted an appreciation of the young author, titled “Watching Max Blumenthal Grow to be a Major American Writer.”

Max’s work first came to the attention of many through his Youtube postings, where some called him “the Youtube Michael Moore.”  The most famous — and notorious — was made in late Spring of 2009. It was banned from Youtube several times, but keeps on cropping up:

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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?

Saturday Art: Alice Walker Reads Rachel Corrie

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Rachel Corrie - February 2003

Next Saturday, March 16th, will mark the tenth anniversary of the death in Gaza, of Rachel Corrie.  Rachel, then a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, had gone to Gaza at the beginning of 2003, to fulfill aspects of her senior thesis.  While there, she became active in efforts by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to protect Palestinians from outrages of the Israeli occupation forces.

She was killed by an Israeli Army D-9 armored bulldozer, with two people aboard in the cockpit, one there to drive, the other, to observe.  During the same time period, Israeli forces in Gaza shot and mortally wounded Tom Hurndall, a British photographer, also working with the ISM (April 11th), and mutilated Brian Avery (April 5th), another American ISM activist, in Jenin in the West Bank.  This time period coincided with the American invasion of Iraq – March 19th to May 1st.

A notable aspect of Rachel Corrie’s legacy is the sheer volume of art her life and sacrifice evoked.  Between March 19th 2003 and April 24th 2004, I collected over 160 poems written in the young woman’s honor, and posted on the web, in the English language.  I used two of them in my 2003-2004 cantata, The Skies Are Weeping.  California composer, Paul Crabtree composed another cantata about Corrie, American Persephone.

Corrie’s journals and emails from Gaza became the basis of the most widely viewed and highly regarded work of art about Corrie, My Name is Rachel Corrie.  Written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, the play premiered in London on April 5, 2005, in a highly evocative solo performance by actress Megan Dodds.  Premiered in a very small theatre, it was revived in the 2005 fall London theatre season in a larger venue, and proceeded to win many awards.

The first attempt to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie in the USA, at the New York Theatre Workshop resulted in a cancellation, when the NYTW caved to threats from militant Zionist expansionists. (Incidentally – the article about the cancellation in The Nation, by writer Philip Weiss, and the pushback that writer got in the publishing world for having written so sympathetically about Corrie, and critically about the NYTW, was one of the epiphanies Weiss underwent that led him into new directions, now expressed most fully at his web site, Mondoweiss).

The play has gone on to be performed on every continent save Antarctica, in many languages.

The play was derived from Corrie’s written material with cooperation of the slain activist’s family.  Some of Corrie’s writings had been posted on the web soon after her death.  Some soon became the basis of poems or lyrics.  For instance, the concluding lyric in The Skies are Weeping is my editing (with the Corrie family’s approval) of one of her last emails home: Read the rest of this entry →

Rift Between Liberal Christian and Zionist Jewish Groups Rapidly Deepens

3:07 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

An Israeli flag

Photo: Ron Almog / Flickr

The response to the October 5th letter to Congress from fifteen mainline, somewhat liberal, and very large Christian denominations or groups, by various Zionist Jewish organizations, is rapidly escalating into something serious.  In an article at the Jewish Telegraph Agency, posted an hour ago, Ethan Felson,vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, appears to be threatening to have Congress investigate the Churches, or the signatories of the letter:

Felson said JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts. He said he has not yet decided if he will attend the roundtable.

“We feel strongly that if you want the parties to reconcile, we should model reconciliation,” Felson said. “But that’s difficult to do when we’re up against this brand of antipathy.”

Suggesting that American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Felson said the signers of the letter are “opening up a Pandora’s box.” [emphases added]

In an op-ed, posted an hour ago in the Jerusalem Post, commentator Isi Leibler invokes some pretty serious imagery:

The signatories include leaders of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and National Council of Churches. Although many of the rank-and-file members of these churches are supporters of Israel and unaware of these activities, their radical anti-Israel leaders were obviously not inhibited from taking such action despite being aware of the role of their churches in demonizing, persecuting and murdering Jews over the past 2,000 years.

One is tempted to suggest that some of the current Lutheran leaders have inherited the anti-Semitic poison of their 16th-century founder, Martin Luther, who after failing to convert the Jews called on his followers to murder these “poisonous envenomed worms” and set fire to their synagogues and schools. [emphasis added]

They have simply redirected his anti-Semitic obsessions toward the Jewish state in lieu of individual Jews.

Leibler is referring to this 1543 pamphlet by Luther:  Von den Juden und ihren Lügen

In the JTA article, there is no reference to this morning’s action by the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace (disclaimer – my wife is a member of JVP), in support of the stance of the Christian leaders who wrote to Congress:

Read the rest of this entry →