Monday, September 22, 2008

UC Berkeley Hillel--If They Are Not For Israel, Then Who Will Be?

"If I am not for myself, who is for me?" Rabbi Hillel asked many centuries ago. Looking at the institution at UC Berkeley that bears his name, he would be wondering even more. There has been ongoing anti-Israel activity at Cal for many years; that's not news. But it is newsworthy if a group opposed to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state gets to spread its propaganda within the walls of the Hillel house itself.

On September 17, a group calling itself "Kesher Enoshi" held a meeting in the Hillel auditorium at Cal. Kesher is the name of the national Reform Judaism campus arm; it is not yet known if the group at Cal is officially a chapter of this organization, since this writer has not yet received a response from the Union for Reformed Judaism. The meeting was held ostensibly as a discussion forum about pro-Israel posters in Berkeley that had been placed in a number of bus shelters by BlueStarPR. One of the students in attendance reported back:

"Two leaders of SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] attended: Yaman Salahi and Allison Deger. The event was actually advertised on the SJP website. The event started innocently with a discussion about what the Bluestar pr signs were supposed to do, etc. In stage 2 of the meeting a video of an Arab soccer player was shown who complained about racism he experienced on the soccer field. Essentially they were debunking the pr. In the third stage they talked about a group that is addressing Israel's "fucking over" of the Bedouin population in the Negev. Basically the meeting went from innocuous to serious criticism of Israel."

SJP is Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that clearly states on its website ( "we condemn the racism and discrimination underlying the policies and laws of the state of Israel". Hillel's own website describes Hillel as a place for Israel advocacy-- how does allowing an anti-Zionist group that calls Israel an "apartheid regime" to use Hillel facilities fit this mission? The International Hillel website notes that "Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as Jewish and Democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations." Does a group that states "we condemn the racism and discrimination underlying the policies and laws of the state of Israel" deserve to have their events hosted and promoted by Hillel? It would seem more appropriate to Hillel's mission to teach students how to respond to such propaganda, rather than by hosting it. Yet even after last week's event, Kesher Enoshi (and presumably its friends from SJP) are being allowed to hold another event at Hillel itself, likely to feature more Israel-bashing.

All of this has been brought to the attention of UC Hillel staff. The response given was that Kesher is Zionist (though not, to their knowledge, affiliated with the URJ group), that a non-Zionist group would not be allowed into Hillel, and that Salahi and Deger were not leading the discussion- they were simply there. By the report of Hillel staff at the meeting, the presentation was not an attack on the BlueStar posters, but rather a segue into a discussion of issues in Israel. The previously quoted student saw it differently:
"This [the response of Hillel staff] is absurd. Kesher Enoshi doesn’t claim to be a Zionist group. They are about “social change within Israel.” They are supposed to be a domestic Israeli discussion group.... The event was obviously, clearly, without any doubt an attack on the posters. The first point was to question the intentions of BlueStar PR, etc. in the first place to have pro-Israel PR. The second point was to say that even if the placement of posters is justified, the posters were lies..... The next step was attacking Israel in general as a state that has exploited and abandoned the Bedoin population... In my opinion the leaders of SJP should not even be allowed in Hillel (they attended the Kesher Enoshi event). As a private organization, Hillel has the right to kick them out. SJP is a hate group that spreads vicious antisemitic attacks on Israel. Their leaders have no place in Hillel. It’s no surprise the SJP leaders attended by the way. Since the event was largely attacking Israel and pro-Israel pr, it fits in very well with their message."

This student is right. It does raise questions about the choices made at UC Hillel. Why host and promote this event, but have an invisible response when Jimmy Carter came to Cal to peddle his demonization of Israel in May 2007? Why did students who wanted to stand up in support of Israel had to form a separate group outside of Hillel? The first point of Hillel's "Vision for Israel on Campus" states: "One of the central objectives of Israel education is to generate and cultivate among students a passion about Israel and to cultivate within them a sense of personal attachment with the country and its people." To which I can only add "And if not now, when?".

Friday, September 19, 2008


Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair, said that the "concentration camp" of Gaza received less media attention than Darfur.

Has Gaza in fact received less attention? Not just less media attention, but less attention overall?

An internet search for 'Darfur,' shows 16,300,000 results.
[Deaths in Darfur: nearly half a million over the past five years.]

An internet search for 'Gaza,' shows 39,400,000 results.
[Conflict deaths in Gaza: 7007 since 2001.]

Note: The idea for comparing death tolls was taken from an Arutz Sheva article. It dramatically highlights the disparity. There is relevance, and then there is 'relevance'. I got the idea for internet searches from the same article.

Further searches showed a similar pattern:

5,330,000 results for 'Darfur UN'.
9,840,000 results for 'Gaza UN'.

603,000 results for 'AFP Darfur'.
1,380,000 results for 'AFP Gaza'.

1,940,000 results for 'BBC Darfur'.
3,040,000 results for 'BBC Gaza'.

1,350,000 results for 'Reuters Darfur'.
2,790,000 results for 'Reuters Gaza'.

387,000 results for 'Al Jazeera Darfur'.
1,020,000 results for 'Al Jazeera Gaza'.

32,300 results for 'Ha'aretz Darfur'.
361,000 results for 'Ha'aretz Gaza'.

3,690 results for 'Algemeen Dagblad Darfur'.
5,260 results for 'Algemeen Dagblad Gaza'.

19,100 results for 'Volkskrant Darfur'
31,800 for 'Volkskrant Gaza'.

1,050,000 results for 'Guardian Darfur'.
2,040,000 results for 'Guardian Gaza'.

1,610,000 results for 'New York Times Darfur'.
2,800,000 results for 'New York Times Gaza'.

There are two logical conclusions.

The first one is that Lauren Booth is an ignorant and biased woman who neither knows nor cares about the truth. The second one is that each Gazan is worth far, far more than at least fifty Sudanese in the eyes of the world.

One might also think that the killing of Gazans is frowned upon, and the deaths of Sudanese positively welcomed.
But it is probably only people like Lauren Booth who incline that way.

My own personal conclusions are that the world cares too little about Darfur, and that Lauren Booth and her type are evil and vicious.
I would be keen to hear from anyone who knows ms. Booth whether that latter conclusion matches their perception.



This article is crossposted here:

I compared the figures for the fatalities in Darfur and Gaza in several places: B'Tselem, The United Nations, various Palestinian and activist websites, etcetera.
The figure for Gaza is based on B'Tselem. I did not include Palestinians killed by other Palestinians, such as the victims of political assassinations by the factions, targeted killings by gangsters such as the Dogmush clan, murdered kidnap victims, or poisonings.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Alison Weir--Beyond the Average Israel Hater

Last week, I promised an entry about Alison Weir, who was hosted at the same local church where Anna Baltzer spoke earlier this summer. In what was not a sign of things to come, the event was opened by a member of church's Social Justice Committee with a prayer for Israelis and Palestinians to "strive for reconciliation and peacemaking" and a plea for "meaningful dialogue". I think he was sincere; I also think he completely failed to appreciate the irony, given the speaker that he was introducing and the content of her presentation.

Alison Weir is a self-proclaimed "unbiased journalist" (she used to edit a local community newspaper in Sausalito) who on the basis of two trips to the West Bank and Gaza and a review of newspaper headlines and network TV broadcasts, has come to the unbiased journalistic conclusion that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a pure battle between good and evil, that there is only one side, and she is going to be an unbiased crusader for the principles of justice, fairness and equality--in other words, the Palestinian side.

Weir has at least several different types of presentations that she gives, apparently depending on the expected naivete of the audience. When she spoke at Sonoma State University several years ago, and also at UC Berkeley the night before recent her local appearance, she railed much more openly about the "Zionist conspiracy" (which apparently included people moving furniture in the room directly upstairs), and also challenged those who would question her statements as "Zionist troublemakers". She has made statements such as
“People who say there are two sides to this ‘conflict’ are full of bs … Here there is the brutalizer and the brutalized. It’s not complicated.”
“When a rare, crazed, would-be freedom-fighter escapes this prison and tries to strike his oppressor, we need to read about the prison he exploded out of. Rather than an ‘inexplicable, fanatical terrorist,’ we would see what we had helped create with our aid to Israel-a terrorized victim who has tragically but inexplicably turned to violence himself.”
"In the 1948 War, the Zionist army consisted of over 90,000 European trained soldiers and possessed modern weaponry, including up-to-date fighter and bomber airplanes. The Arab forces, very much a third-world army, consisted of approximately 30,000 ill-equipped, poorly trained men. The US army, British intelligence, and the CIA all agreed: it would be no contest."

At Berkeley, she also claimed that there had been an independent sovereign Arab country of Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel. That comes as no surprise given her interpretation of the Six-Day War as "Israel attacked its neighbors" without any mention of Egypt's closing of the Straits of Tiran and the bellicose genocidal pronouncements of Arab leaders.

At the church, she was more subdued; I don't recall hearing the phrase "Zionist conspiracy" even once! She does have a montage of slides, photos and videos with the variety of truths, half-truths, and extra bonus features such as a video interview with a former government official who stated that "The White House is dominated by Israelis" and her charge that the media is controlled by pro-Israel individuals and groups. To anyone who doesn't know the history of the region and the conflict, this one-sided presentation can be very effective. Jews have no right to self-determination in Palestine in Weir's world, but she would deign to have them stay there as part of a one-state solution (at least until they get dispossessed by the Arabs).

But there may be more to the story than this. Weir, unlike most anti-Israel activists who tend towards the far left, has an interesting association with the extreme anti-Semitic right. David Duke is a fan of hers, having reposted in its entirety on David an article Weir wrote for Counterpunch--interestingly, not about Israel itself, but about Israeli influence on the Russian government. Apparently Weir has made no effort to get this copyrighted work off of Duke's site-- when asked about this several years ago by this writer, she stated that she had no control over the use of her work. As an unbiased professional journalist, one would expect that she is familiar with the principle of fair use so maybe she really doesn't mind. She was a guest in 2006 on the public access cable TV show of one Hesham Tillawi, an anti-Israel activist from Louisiana whose foul spoor is easily tracked over the Internet even by those like myself who aren't unbiased professional journalists. Duke himself has appeared on Tillawi's “Current Issues” three times to peddle his brand of Jew-hatred and also proudly posts a fawning letter from Tillawi written in 2005 (a year before Weir was a guest on his show). Duke warned that there is a “worldwide Jewish extremist media and government [effort]” to corrupt children with violence and promote drug use; to “destroy…the home and the family”; to wipe away “individual cultures and freedoms” and institute “a new age of darkness.” Another guest on Tillawi’s show has alleged that Jews are somehow aligned with demonic forces. “Call it anti-Christ, call it Satan, call it whatever,” Russian-born Jewish covert to Christianity Israel Shamir said on “Current Issues.” “This kind of force tries to defeat Christ, and it is heavily armed with tools of Jews.” Among the Holocaust deniers Tillawi has hosted on his own personal "Wayne's World" is Bradley Smith, who has crusaded since the 1980s to bring Holocaust denial to college campuses. He also interviewed Fredrick Toben, a Holocaust denier from Australia. In his interview Toben propounded his theory that Jewish and Zionist forces invented the threat of Islamic terror to “squash dissent” and serve as a “decoy” distracting world attention from a different goal: demolishing the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and replacing it with a rebuilt Temple of Solomon. Mark Weber, who directs the California-based Holocaust-denying Institue for Historical Review, has been a guest on Tillawi’s show more than once. When not trying to chip away at the Holocaust’s historical evidence, Weber attacks Holocaust commemoration efforts. “Holocaust remembrance is not a noble effort motivated by sincere concern for humanity,” Weber told Tillawi’s viewers. “This campaign is an expression of Jewish-Zionist power and it’s designed to further Jewish-Zionist interests.” Tillawi also said: “And of course economically, correct. They have a stranglehold on Congress and the administration…the American people are in the same shape that the Palestinians are in, because the media is controlled, the government is controlled, the economy is controlled, and actually they are in worse shape than the Palestinians...There is a good book written by Henry Ford called The International Jew, and my own personal take on the protocols: I don’t care if it’s authentic or not, I don’t care if it’s real or if somebody just dreamed them up. The thing is they are being used as blueprints. If you read the protocols and look at what’s going on right now, and [inaudible] government, who controls them, the money, who etc. the media, who controls it, all these things are in the protocols. So I don’t care if it’s authentic or not, they are using it as a blueprint.”
(credit to the Anti-Defamation League for the background information on Tillawi).

It's hard to imagine that Weir was unaware of all this when she chose to add her name to Tillawi's guest list of extremist haters. After all, she's an unbiased professional journalist who would want to do some background research before appearing on someone's TV show. Perhaps she did her research and recognized that her lines such as “What Israel says, our media repeat. What Israel demands, our government gives. ”(Counterpunch, March 15, 2005) echo the tropes of classic anti-Semitism.

Weir closed her talk by saying that the "intentional arousal of hatred, bigotry and fear is very dangerous". Once again, the extraordinary irony of that statement went unnoticed by too many in the room.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Those Evil Evil Zionists and their Evil Evil Death Rays

One of the time honored canards of the anti-Israel forces is that Israel is a European colonialist state. The haters of Israel regard it as an highly inconvenient technicality that the majority of Israeli have their origin in the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

When faced a group that was ethnically cleansed, with a population of nearly 900,000 in 1948 tumbling to 6,500 today- a group that haven't received a dime from the United Nations, what do the haters do? They scramble frantically- trying to rewrite history of the Mizrachi Jews and reframe the facts.

The anti Israel forces have been parading Reuven Abarjel about in a frantic effort to reframe these issues. Abergel and his family came from Morocco to Israel in the 1950's. In a recent talk in San Francisco, Abarjel claimed the white colonialist Zionists practiced eugenics on the recent immigrants, subjecting them to bizarre medical experiments. Yes, its just another version of the "Damned Zionists-they are no better than the Nazis" song and dance we've heard so often.

Reuven Abarjel was one of the "Ringworm children", treated by israel for tinea capitis; ringworm, a very common and very contagious fungal infection at the time. What Reuven has chosen to ignore is that his treatment was not "eugenics", but was the state of the art treatment , not just in Israel, but in Europe and America as well.

Calif Med. 1949 March; 70(3): 189–193.
M. E. Mottram and Harold A. Hill

A recent epidemic of tinea capitis in children
has revived a considerable interest in
the methods of treatment of this disease.
The most efficacious form of therapy for
M. audouini infections is roentgen epilation.
Cure was effected by this method in all of
a group of 125 cases.

Yes, this was 1949 in San Francisco!

In spite of this, and dozens of other references in period medical literature Abarjel claims his treatment for this skin condition was really just part of a racist conspiracy from the white Zio-nazi colonial entity. Oh, those evil, evil Zionists with their evil, evil death rays!

There has been a disproportionate number of malignancies reported in the hundreds of thousands treated for ringworm. Many nations have begun registries. In 1995, Israel began compensating those suffering from radiation related illness- and it remains one of the few nations of the world that does.

The sponsors of Abarjel's talk, the "non-zionist" Jews of the San Francisco Bay area are planning a panel discussion on water, next. Will they title it " The Pacific Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and global warming- part of the worldwide plot for Zionist domination" ? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Speech in Berkeley--Except for Zionists

Berkeley California is where the "Free Speech Movement" originated in the 1960's. Unfortunately, it appears that such ideals are no longer applicable when it comes to pro-Israel speech. The latest evidence for that statement is the defacing of a poster from BlueStar PR in a bus shelter. BlueStarPR, for those who missed our previous post about them, is an innovative firm located in San Francisco that creates novel pro-Israel advertisements--some are political, some are cultural, some are environmental.

In the world of "political correctness", however, pro-Israel sentiments are apparently not acceptable so one of the posters was vandalized by someone with an obvious political agenda. Interestingly, the poster in question showed an Israeli Arab soccer player and discussed coexistence between Jews and Arabs. It wasn't anti-Arab, or defending the occupation of the West Bank, or really in any way political-- except that it supported Israel's existence.

So, as BlueStar points out on its site, "Israel haters apparently think that defacing a poster featuring an Arab athlete advocating coexistence earns them points among liberal college students." Now, there is a possibility that the same people who perpetrated this vandalism would also support the Jewish state if only it would withdraw from the West Bank, right? Then they would have no problem with Israel, right? (Sure, and the sun might rise in the west tomorrow, too).

Natan Sharansky has suggested the town square test for a free society: "If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a "fear society" has finally won their freedom. " But isn't it also true if a peaceful idea cannot be posted without defacement?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jewish Anti-Semitism

This past week, a German court officially recognized that being Jewish, or of Jewish origin, does not provide immunity against charges of anti-Semitism. The case involved Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, whose late father Heinz Galinski was the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany after the Holocaust, and journalist Henryk Broder. Broder had publicly charged that Hecht-Galinski's statements, such as a "Jewish-Israel lobby with its active network is extended over the world and thanks to America its power has become so great...", were anti-Semitic. Initially an injunction was obtained by Hect-Galinski against Broder; the court in Cologne waived the injunction as long as Broder could provide reasons for that charge. The Jerusalem Post article about the court decision can be found here.

Of course, as readers of this blog and other astute observers know, this phenomenon is by no means limited to Germany, or even Europe. We have commented here on groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Bay Area Women in Black that try to deflect criticism of some of their positions with the "how can we be anti-Semitic, we're Jewish?" response. But it shouldn't make a difference whether the same defamatory comments from from them, or from someone who associates with the neo-Nazi fringe like Alison Weir (teaser alert--this will be subject of an upcoming post in about a week). Natan Sharansky has pointed out that if statements are made that demonize Israel (the world's only Jewish state), if they delegitimize the existence of Israel and only Israel, if they invoke double standards of acceptable behavior against Israel and only Israel, that's anti-Semitic. The EU Working Definition of Anti-Semitism includes those points as well as the phrase "drawing comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis" in determining whether statements are anti-Semitic.

The German court got it right. It doesn't matter who said it, wrote it, or blogged it. It doesn't matter whether someone's father was a well-respected leader whose memory is being exploited by someone without any other credentials. It doesn't matter if a group has "Jewish" in its name. The same statements are anti-Semitic whether they come from sources like that or from David Duke. And we'll continue to call it that way.

Lauren Booth Shopping in Gaza

Although Jewish Voice for Peace has claimed that Israel is slowly starving 1.5 million Gazans and that Palestinians in Gaza are being "deliberately malnourished", Lauren Booth of the "free Gaza" flotilla doesn't seem to have any trouble finding food at this well stocked Gazan store.

Photo from Getty Images by AFP/Getty Images

And if anybody wants to claim that the "Free Gaza" movement wasn't in bed with the terrorists of Hamas, this picture should set the record straight (the one in the middle raising his cup is Haniyeh; the rest are wearing medals he personally awarded to them).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Forgotten Refugees

At the Arab Cultural fair in Golden Gate Park, the flags of the Arab world hung proud and straight, except for the Palestinian flag. Ex- English majors can find whatever symbolism they want in that.

Thanks to our friends at Oakland Women in Black for sharing their experiences.

Debate on the middle east often focuses on the plight of the Palestinians refugees, perpetual victims of the Arab leadership which has turned them into pawns in the battle to destroy Israel. Until very recently, little has been heard about the Jews who fled Arab countries after Israel's founding in 1948, leaving behind assets valued today at more than $300 billion. These refugees hold property deeds on a total area of about 100,000 sq. km. -- five times the size of the State of Israel.
A May 16, 1948 New York Times article "Jews in Grave Danger in Moslem Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes" by Mallory Browne stated "There are indications that a stage is being set for a tragedy of incalculable proportions". Yet the story of these refugees has been largely ignored.

Fortunately, that is changing. In March, 2008 Regina Bublil Waldman of Jimena, dressed in her traditional Libyan garb gave a talk to the UN Human Rights Council. A month later, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an unprecedented resolution recognizing Jewish refugees from Arab countries . According to H. Res. 185, U.S. officials involved in Middle East peace negotiations which reference the Palestinian refugee question are to "also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries." In July, 2008 - the first hearing in a European Parliament was organized by Paulo Casaca, with the European Friends of Israel and B'nai B'rith in association with Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, the international coalition of organizations that seek justice for the Jews displaced from Arab lands.

With recent attention on the Jews from Arab lands, the organizers of the 14th Annual Arab Cultural Fair still seemed angry when a dozen activists showed up in Golden Gate park in San Francisco bearing signs describing the ethnic cleansings of Jews from Arab lands . The group, Oakland Women In Black decided that the time had come to bring public awareness to the forgotten refugees of 1948, the Jews expelled from Arab lands.

Oakland Women in Black describe themselves as Jews and allies who stand against injustices tolerated by others, rejecting the notion that some people are worthy victims. They have broken off from the other Bay area Women in Black groups in their belief that all people, not just a select few, have the right to security, home, education, justice and freedom.

There had always been a Jewish presence in the Arab world. Since the expulsions of the indigenous Jews, this important thread is missing from the rich cultural tapestry of the Arab world. The Oakland Women in Black prepared informative signs showing the numbers of Jews in respective Arab countries before the expulsions and at present.

Tunisia 1948 Jewish population: 105,000 2008: 1,500
Algeria 1948 Jewish population: 140,000 2008: 100
Egypt 1948 Jewish population: 75,000 2008: 100

The group maintained a solemn vigil, dressed in black and bearing silent witness to the destroyed Jewish communities of Arab land. And, true to form, festival organizers called the police. This tactic shouldn't surprise anyone. The Arab Cultural Fair is, after all, headed by Jess Ghannam , a member of the executive committee of the extremist group Al Awda the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition who never misses an opportunity to bash Israel. To their credit, the San Francisco Police department immediately recognized Ghannam's charade, and declined to be used as an instrumentality of oppression.

Reactions from Fair participants was mixed- many welcomed the information and acknowledged the shared heritage. A conversation that began with the accusation "You stole our falafel" met the response "I also ‘stole’ enchiladas and lasagna, and I'm glad I did. Isn't it great we can enjoy and share and learn from each other?" It became a discussion of the Bay areas favorite topic beside politics- food. Recipes were compared and exchanged. Yet others took the vigil as an opportunity to argue. A Palestinian with his blonde wife and child maintained that Israel discriminated against him because he was “brown”. The fact that he was as white as snowfall didn’t faze him a bit. Being mistaken for a Jew a moment later- now that was offensive! Ahmed, an insurance salesman representing Prudential, left his table on numerous occasions to shriek at the vigil regarding the 7 or was it 9 million Palestinian refugees, the number escalating with each tirade. Ahmeds' ad hominem attacks on the silent group were a shrill reminder of the intolerance that remains an major obstacle to peace in the region.