Sunday, June 28, 2009

Atzmon in Berkeley Redux

The ripples generated by the Berkeley visit of the anti-Semitic activist Gilad Atzmon continue to cause some mal de mer among those who never imagined that inviting someone who calls burning down a synagogue "a rational act" would create problems.  There will be a conclave in several weeks at which various activists, both pro- and anti-Israel, as well as members of the BFUU, will get together to review the controversy.  I'm actually not expecting anything to come of it, except perhaps getting the BFUU contingent to recognize that the various and sundry published statements that constitute Atzmon's trail of slime really are old-style "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" anti-Semitism.  I'm not holding my breath.

Now of course, Atzmon himself could not resist posting about his experience in Berkeley (while calling the Jewish religion a "cult" and himself a "proud self-hater"-- if Atzmon can readily admit that he hates Jews, why can't others take him at his word?) .  Of course, with typical grandiosity he posits that (as a result of previous criticism by a number of prominent Jewish anti-Zionists who found his hard-core anti-Semitism too extreme for even THEM to tolerate) "my views were rather accepted in wide circles".  I guess if you only travel among syncophants, you must find that everyone agrees with you!  

Here's the core of Atzmon's rant:

"I do want Zionist tribal activists to expose their symptoms.  I want them to shout and to point their finger at every person whom they suspect to be an anti-Semite. By doing so, all they achieve in practice is admitting who they are. They are pointing their finger at themselves saying, “we are Zionists, we are a racist rightwingers, we are loud, proud and as you can see we are openly promoting our tribal interests.” "

Well, at least Atzmon can generate a half truth:  we WERE proud to admit who we are-- we are Zionists, we believe that the Jewish people, like any other people who share a unique history and a tie to a specific land, are entitled to self-determination in that land.  To grant that right to all other peoples and deny it only to the Jewish people is the true racism here.  Most of us actually are moderate leftists (the kind who vote Democratic, support issues like LGBT rights, etc.).  Many of us support Palestinian rights of self-determination-- just not as the Palestinians and their extremist supporters define it, making the elimination of Jewish self-determination an indispensible part of their demand.  Funny how Atzmon doesn't see it as a problem for Palestinians to advocate for what they see as their "tribal interests".  Double standards, anyone?  

 "I told my audience in Berkeley that the bunch of noisy people whom they met in the entrance were crucial for the understanding of Zionism and its violence. The people out there were exactly the same people as the Israelis, they were motivated by the same supremacist ideas. They were using exactly the same intimidating tactics. They just lacked the means to put us all behind barbed wire, to starve us or to spread white phosphorus over our heads. The picketers in Berkeley were waving the Israeli flag and carried placards, they were foreign to the calm evening scene as much as their settler brothers are foreign to the hills of Judea and Samaria. They basically brought Israeli ugliness to an innocent Californian street.  Funnily enough from a light PA system they brought along they played some horrible Israeli folk music, they probably didn’t realise that I could recognise my saxophone and clarinet on most of these badly played and horribly arranged songs. "

Intimidating tactics-- standing with flags and signs and playing music.  To paraphrase one participant in the rally, if that is intimidation then Dr. King's efforts to desegregate America were also intimidation.  And Atzmon is completely and knowingly disingenuous when he refers to the Israelis living in the West Bank-- to Atzmon and to his supporters, there is no difference between Tel Aviv and Hebron, because they don't accept a Jewish state anywhere.  And frankly, I couldn't care less whether Atzmon can play Israeli folk music on his instruments or not.  Given what he stands for, the Horst Wessel song is probably more appropriate for him.   

"A young Palestinian man who stood near to me asked the picketers, “why do you insist upon living on my land?”  A blue flag waver turned to him, he had a massive star of David hanging on his chest. Here is what he said, “because, Israel is our promised land, we were waiting for 2000 years…. And don’t forget the holocaust”. As stupid as it may sound, this is basically what the Zionist argument is all about: the promise, the bible, the yearning and then of course the holocaust.  Add to this Zionist lethal dish a lot of American weapons and Western backing and you have a ‘Jewish only state’ pushing for a global war. Israel got away with all of it for too many years. But after Gaza, the tide is changing. People out there see it all. The resentment towards Israel is growing by the day. This is something that I see in my concerts and talks around the world. I could see it again in Berkeley, in spite of all the pressure those Zionist operators mounted on the church for weeks, the event went ahead according to plan. The night was a great success."  

Well, Atzmon is being disingenous again. Having once been Israeli, he knows all to well that the answer is that Israel was not founded because of the Holocaust; as a matter of fact, the Holocaust delayed the process of Jews returning to their land--by purchase, and by legal immigration-- that was well underway before the start of the Second World War. And if Israel is a Jewish only state, how does it have Arab members of the Supreme Court, the Knesset, and the Foreign Service?  Of course, the claim that Israel is pushing for "global war" is absurdity on its face--the Jewish people certainly fared really well in the last global war, didn't we?

Yes, perhaps his night was a great success. Another 2 dozen people came to hear his hate speech.  And an equal number protested him outside.  He most likely encouraged ongoing jihad against Israel.  We sang songs of peace.  

I'm going to Israel tomorrow.  I'm going to see a country that is far from perfect, that has tension between its religious and secular elements, between those who ancestry is European and those whose families left (or to be accurate, mostly fled) from homes in the Arab world, and between its Jewish citizens and its Arab citizens.  But, for all its faults, it has done an incredible job of absorbing refugees from countries where they were never granted basic rights (such as the right not to be slaughtered on any pretext), of building a state that is both Jewish and democratic, and of maintaining civil rights for its Arab minority even while its elected representatives in the Knesset refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state.  And all of this while under ongoing attack from its neighbors for decades.  Yet those who want to destroy Israel claim that they would replace it with a democratic state in which an Arab majority would supposedly respect the rights of a Jewish minority.  (Of course, the Islamic world is replete with examples of how minorities are treated-- Christians in Gaza, Bahai in Iran, Copts in Egypt.  And we are to believe that somehow the hatred implanted into Palestinians from the vile incitement against Jews-- not only from Hamas but also from the Palestinian Authority-- would magically be eliminated?)

Atzmon can fester in his hatred.  I'm going to celebrate the fact that there is indeed a Jewish country in the Jewish homeland--and that it's not at all the way that Atzmon describes and defames it.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

iPride and The Hypocrisy of Richard Silverstein

As the weather heats up, it seems that the fevered minds of the anti-Israel crowd are getting similarly overheated. One of its more amusing members is Richard Silverstein , well known for his frequent use of ad hominem attacks against those who dare to disagree with him and whose site promotes Jimmy Carter's "Peace Not Apartheid" book as well as Walt and Mearshimer's "Israel Lobby".

This time Silverstein, in his arrogantly-named "Tikun Olam" blog, takes on the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs in a rant breathtaking in both its hyperbole and its ignorance. First he compares iPride, SWU's promotion of a pro-Israel message to the LGBT community, to Chabad's attempts to bring secular Jews back to religious observance, as if there is something fundamentally wrong with either one of those. Is Silverstein so afraid of exposing people to traditional Jewish observance, or to the social milieu in Israel that isn't shown on mainstream news media? As far as the latter, he is definitely afraid that this will take LGBT opinion leaders and turn them into "gay pro-Israel Manchurian candidates". Silverstein then goes on to admonish one of iPride's leaders for claiming that "you can't really be gay in the Palestinian territories". Well, if LGBT Palestinians are "free to be", then why are they constantly fleeing to Israel? A cursory Google search of "gay Palestinians" turns up pages of LGBT-oriented websites documenting the oppression of gays whether in the West Bank or Gaza compared to the situation in Israel. I'm sorry Richard, did I miss coverage of the Gaza Pride Parade on al-Jazeera? Can you document ONE SINGLE LGBT rights organization within the West Bank and Gaza? Or even ONE SINGLE openly gay individual there? Oh right, I'm sure you'd blame that situation on "occupation" too.

Finally, Richard gets down to the core of his argument: "how can Jewish gays be truly free at the expense of 20% of the inhabitants who are even less free than they? Not to mention the 700,000 expelled in 1948? Can gays celebrate their alleged freedom to be themselves when millions of other Israelis and Palestinians are disenfranchised?" So, by his twisted logic, if there isn't full socioeconomic equality for Israeli Arabs (who of course have full and equal civil and political rights unequalled in the Arab world), then absolutely nothing good can be said about Israeli society. Did you check out the US anytime recently, Richard? Because we still don't have full equality for many minority groups, does that mean that we should write off any other measures of social progress? By the way, as soon as you return your home in the Seattle area to the descendants of the Suquamish and Duwamish people who lived there prior to the arrival of Americans, then you can start lecturing to others about their history. Until then, you remain just a hypocrite.

Of course, here in the Bay Area there are a few extremist LGBT groups that are anti-Israel. As one of my fellow activists points out, the "Queers for Palestine" group makes as much sense as a group called "Turkeys for Thanksgiving".

(I wonder if Silverstein knows that among the banner ads that appear on his blog is one for the HAS Advantage credit card-- the free VISA card that not only benefits Israeli charities, including advocacy groups such as HonestReporting, but also lets you build travel credits to Israel faster than most other cards! That is how I got 2 reward trips for my travel next week on El Al.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Staring Evil in the Face--Gilad Atzmon at the BFUU

A number of readers are of course quite curious as to what finally happened when professional anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon came to Berkeley to perform a concert at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.

Members of the BFUU had expressed a great deal of consternation in the days leading up to the event itself. They alternated between trying to distance themselves from the event on the one hand, while on the other hand denying that Atzmon was a hateful creature who should not be invited by any group of civilized citizens. Certainly they did not welcome the publicity and they did not welcome the several dozen activists who held a public vigil outside the church that evening.

A BFUU member handed me a "statement for public inquiry". It makes for interesting reading.

"The BFUU-SJC [note: Social Justice Committee of the BFUU] agreed to be a cosponsor but was unaware at the time of Mr Atzmon's controversial reputation in some quarters." This I can easily believe. I can only hope that in the future BFUU will do some basic research before agreeing to bring in other hatemongers that groups such as ISM and Bay Area Women in Black might wish to promote. I can suggest a few easy ways to do that-- Google, Yahoo Search, and Ixquick are all very user-friendly!

"At this point in time we are prepared to publicly state that we have read some quotes by Mr Atzmon that have earned him severe condemnation and that we find these quotes to be extreme." Extreme. OK, that's a start, although you can almost see the clenched teeth through which even this minimally negative statement is forced. Not entirely certain if that's a disclaimer or not; after all, "extreme" isn't always a negative connotation. There's an entire group of entertainment events called "Extreme Sports" and even a local pizza chain called Extreme Pizza. Maybe the members of the SJC took Atzmon there after his appearance.

Then they get to the gist of it: "At the same time we have also begun studying some of Mr Atzmon's writings and have listened to analysts expert in the field who say that even though he has made very controversial statements he does not deserve to be shut out of public debate." This is the argument which hate speakers and Holocaust deniers from David Duke to David Irving to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad fall back on. Does the BFUU also feel that David Duke should be a part of public debate on race relations in this country?

So in the end, the BFUU SJC refused, in its meeting the day prior to the event, to even take the tepid step of quietly withdrawing its sponsorship of this event, and the BFUU decided to defend Atzmon despite his "controversial statements".

The protest itself was interesting in the reaction that it engendered from those at the BFUU event (apparently about an equal number to the demonstrators themselves). Many of those in attendance took numerous photographs of the demonstrators in a silly attempt at intimidation. One notorious local hater appeared with his Hamas flag, while another who has written approvingly of the man who recently murdered 4 Oakland police officers and has also publicly written anti-Semitic hate screeds even worse than Atzmon's came out to share in the bonhomie. It's not surprising that Atzmon would draw these types of troglodytes.

The aftermath of this event is yet to be written. The BFUU, of course, has hurt feelings that anyone would consider inviting a hate speaker to be in opposition to their own "covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person." There is an attempt being made by some genuinely well-meaning individuals to initiate a dialogue between those who made this event possible and those of us who protested against it. I'm somewhat skeptical of the chances for that effort to succeed; after all, those who openly support the genocidal aims of Hamas don't see anything wrong with bringing that agenda directly into our community. As I said to one BFUU member holding a sign that claimed that BFUU stood for the dignity of every person: Which part of "burning down a synagogue... would be a rational act" supports that lofty position?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fight the BDS Movement--Shop at Trader Joe's on June 20!

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement is an tactic from the anti-apartheid effort now adopted by the anti-Israel groups in the US and Europe. Of course, it completely ignores the actual fact, which is that Arabs in the State of Israel have citizenship and full and equal political and civil rights.

Periodically, this effort targets stores selling Israeli products, in an effort to persuade them to stop stocking them. This time, they have focused their efforts on Trader Joe's. The good news is that Trader Joe's isn't buying the garbage being peddled by the anti-Israel groups, but will continue to buy (and sell) the Israeli products that they have provided for years. (Disclaimer: I just love shopping at Trader Joe's. It's the only store I know of around here where I can--and do-- buy Osem couscous, Eden feta, or the Dorot frozen cubes of garlic, basil and cilantro.)

This letter was received by the Central Pacific office of the Anti-Defamation League from Jon Basalone,Senior VP, Marketing, Trader Joe's:
“We have received a few letters like this via our customer relations email as well. Our response is that we sell products, and do not use our products as political tools or to make any statements about any political causes. We have no intention of removing any products based on pressure from any group, no matter what they support or don’t support. As always, we believe our customers are smart, and they are capable of making decisions about what they purchase. Let me know if you have any more questions or need more information.”

So the good news is that nobody has to contact Trader Joe's to urge them to keep Israeli products in the stores. However, the anti-Israel groups behind the BDS effort have called for concerted action on June 20 (World Refugee Day) to "de-shelve" Israeli products from Trader Joe's. Somehow, the Arab regimes that have kept their Arab brethren locked in refugee camps for 60 years avoid any responsibility for this--I don't see Lebanese, Egyptian or Jordanian products being targeted.

Now, I only know of 3 ways to "de-shelve" a product-- you get the store to pull it off the shelf, you buy it, or you steal/vandalize it. Given that the first has already proven a failure, and I don't think they plan to BUY a whole bunch of couscous, that leaves stealing and vandalizing.

So, go to your local Trader Joe's and do three things on June 20 (or, if you are shomer Shabbat, on June 19):

1. Buy a whole bunch of Israeli products (if they are off the shelf, maybe someone else read this and bought the entire stock-- so go to the store manager and tell him/her they need to buy more!)

2. Tell the store manager to keep stocking these products because you really like them!

3. Also tell the store manager that anti-Israel groups have declared June 20 as a "National Day to De-Shelve Israeli Products" so they can be aware of potential efforts to shoplift, deface or otherwise vandalize these products.

And please pass the couscous.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gilad Atzmon, the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, and Hate Speech

In our previous post, we noted that the anti-Israel Bay Area Women in Black are co-sponsoring a fundraising concert by the openly anti-Semitic Gilad Atzmon. Now we knew that there was no chance that BAWIB, or their partners in this event, the International Solidarity Movement, didn't know about Atzmon's record. But perhaps the church that is co-sponsoring the event, the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, would respond to being informed about Atzmon's record and do the right thing by cancelling the concert. After all, churches of the liberal Protestant variety are not going to want someone whose vicious trail of anti-Semitic slime is easily visible to even a casual Internet search, right? Wrong.

The BFUU may not have been aware of Atzmon's own statements, or his support of the fascist Israel Shamir or the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, when they agreed to host and co-sponsor this event. (The church will claim that because it was just their Social Justice Committee that this doesn't imply sponsorship by the church itself. That's a difference without a distinction.) But as of last week, they were made aware of it. But somehow, the straightforward statements by Atzmon still leaves at least one prominent member of the church "unconvinced by this evidence".

I'm not sure what is unconvincing about the following statements that iterate classic anti-Semitic tropes:

"Throughout the centuries, Jewish bankers bought for themselves some real reputations of backers and financers of wars [2] and even one communist revolution [3]. Though rich Jews had been happily financing wars using their assets, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, found a far more sophisticated way to finance the wars perpetrated by his ideological brothers Libby and Wolfowitz."

Source: http://palestinethinktank dot com/2008/09/30/gilad-atzmon-credit-crunch-or-rather-zio-punch/ (note: to avoid linking to some of these sites, I have replaced "."with "dot")

Another Jews-run-the-government line, this one from his own website www dot :

" The 'Elders of Zion' syndrome: Zionists complain that Jews continue to be associated with a conspiracy to rule the world via political lobbies, media and money. Is the suggestion of conspiracy really an empty accusation?
The following list is presented with pride in several Jewish American websites.
Jews in Bush's Administration (a list of some 30 names follows…)
Let me assure you, in Clinton's administration the situation was even worse. Even though the Jews only make up 1.9 per cent of the country's population, an astounding 56 per cent of Clinton's appointees were Jews. A coincidence? I don't think so."

The same article trots out the old "Christ-killer" charge:

"I would suggest that perhaps we should face it once and for all: the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus who, by the way, was himself a Palestinian Jew. …..Why is it that the Jews who repeatedly demand that the Christian world should apologise for its involvement in previous persecutions, have never thought that it is about time that they apologised for killing Jesus?"

The careful reader will note that the words "Israel" or "Zionism" do not appear in the above quotes. Yes, they appear elsewhere in those screeds. But the record is clear. He is spreading anti-Semitic hate.

There's so much more. There's a treasure trove of Atzmonia collected over at Harry's Place --just type in "Atzmon" in the search box

In 2005, the Guardian reported one of his statements that is clearly incitement.

"Gilad Atzmon, a pro-Palestine advocate, gave a talk to students this month, arguing: 'I'm not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act.'"

There's nothing ambiguous, nothing that can be misinterpreted about THAT.

Concerned readers can contact the BFUU. However, calls or contacts should be constructed politely; after all, the people in the office who answer calls may have had nothing to do with this! And e-mails shouldn't resort to calling BFUU members anti-Semites, or use hate speech similar to that which Atzmon uses. Your goal is to help them realize how far off the mark they are in this matter. Just ask them what they would do if someone was using similar hate speech against African-Americans, or LGBT individuals, or Moslems-- would they permit such an event to go ahead? Then why is it OK if it's just against Jews?

Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Unversalists
1606 Bonita Avenue
Berkeley CA 94709