Monday, March 29, 2010

Day of rage against Israeli Couscous, redux

Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian reporter for the Jerusalem Post gave at talk at UC Berkeley a few months ago. He mentioned a discussion with a friend- they were trying to name a hero of the Palestinian people, but could not identify a single one that had not been associated with violence. The poet, Mahmoud Darwish was eventually agreed upon, but the question remained, why was this so difficult? Why is violence so inherent the Palestinian cause?

I ask myself this again, as another day of rage upon Israeli couscous is upon us. The anti-Israel forces are planning attacks on March 30 on Israeli products and the stores that stock them. This is, they claim, in commemoration of "Land Day". Hmmm. What better way to celebrate a holiday than by a grocery store pogrom? Why bother with picnics, family gatherings, fireworks, or even a sale at Macy's when you can interfere with someone's shopping experience ?

A recent grocery store pogrom led by the "peace" group "South bay mobilization" ended in a trash can set on fire in a fit of "Pay attention to ME! Pay attention to ME!" worthy of an angry 2 year old. What will tomorrow bring? I guess I'll have to find out second hand. Its Pesach, the holiday of our deliverance of Egypt and I'll be spending it with family and friends, not trashing someone else's property in the day of "justice".

Don't expect me to wish you luck with the Berkeley Bowl, Kate. The last time you pulled your nonsense, the store was so angry, they created end of aisle displays of all their Israeli products. I suspect it will be no different this time. And where but the Berkeley Bowl can I find crunchy candy sweet persimmons, straight from the Sharon Valley in Israel? They are great eaten out of hand, but try them sliced thin in a spinach salad, with a light vingarette. Just heavenly.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

UC Berkeley ASUC to Reconsider Israel Divestment Bill

The saga of the Israel divestment bill at UC Berkeley's student government is not over. While the bill passed the ASUC (Associated Students at University of California) senate despite well-crafted statements from pro-Israel students , ASUC President Will Smelko wisely vetoed the bill. He appropriately cited "the shortcomings of the bill (such as a) ... selective, one-sided focus on a specific country that lacks important historical context and understanding".

Now the ASUC Senate will consider whether to overturn the veto or not. Despite the fact that they are elected by, and only responsible to, their fellow students, the ASUC senators are paying attention to community response. Since the anti-Israel groups (including, of course, Jewish Voice for Peace/BDS ) have called for an e-mail campaign from members of the general public to urge them to override the veto, it is incumbent upon us to counter that.

StandWithUs has been working with the pro-Israel student leadership; they are telling us that the other side is sending pro-divestment letters to the student senators at a rate of 75 to 100 e-mails per EACH HOUR. The senators are not even reading the e-mails, just putting them into categories.


Please send an email now. And again later. And again tomorrow. It's rather absurd that they are even running this like an online public opinion poll, but that is what they are doing. One can assume that the anti-Israel groups are even setting up automated programs to send hundreds of e-mails.

1. ESSENTIAL: Put in the subject of their letters: VOTE AGAINST ANTI-ISRAEL DIVESTMENT
2. Write your own BRIEF letter to the following senate members at, copy the UC Berkeley Chancellor, and copy UC President Mark Yudof at
3. Copy the letter to
You can see further information at . Remember that this bill would NOT result in the University divesting from Israel, and the student government does not have assets to divest, but it does have symbolic importance.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Essays from the UC Berkeley Hearing regarding Divestment

Matt, from UC Berkeley's Tikvah: Students for Israel read this thoughtful essay at the ASUC hearing regarding Divestment on March 17. Reprinted here with permission and gratitude:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the ASUC. As much as I appreciate what you do for the student body, there are some bills that come up before you occasionally that are simply so ludicrous, hypocritical, and misguided that I must put my foot down. I come before you tonight to inform you that it is absolutely correct to say that Israel does not have the world’s most pristine human rights record. The Israeli government has made many poor decisions across its history, and even recently. When I make such statements, I critique Israel, but I do not cross the line into anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Here’s where the picture gets more complicated. Some supporters of this bill claim that it is not anti-Israel, and that it is simply interested in human rights. Let me show you where you are wrong on this. I agree that we as students should not have investments in countries with abysmal human rights records. This goes against our core values, and it is our moral duty to stand up and decry human rights violations when they occur. If you agree with these statements, then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If you are going to divest funding from Israel in the name of human rights, you must divest funding from every single other country in the region, and then some. Let’s start with Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion does not exist. There are separate roads for different religions, and prohibition of public practise of other religions. I as a bisexual can be officially executed for who I am, and who I love, as can any other member of the LGBT community, in any country across the region. Foreigners with AIDS are deported. There are no laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Women cannot drive cars, cannot go out into public without a male relative guardian, and are essentially subjected to what may be accurately labelled “gender apartheid”. Human slavery, though outlawed on paper decades ago, still exists, particularly in a form where children as young as four are trafficked from South Asia to serve as camel race jockeys. Berkeley even has gone so far as to have a partnership with a university in Saudi Arabia.

Let’s move on to China. In the course of the brutal repression and occupation of Tibet, at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions (according to Tibetan estimates), have been killed, and tens if not hundreds of thousands have “disappeared”. China has been the largest investor in Sudan’s oil business, is Sudan’s biggest economic partner, and has in fact supplied the very fighter jets and military trucks used by the janjaweed to perpetrate the genocide in Darfur. The threat of a Chinese veto, among other things, has even stalled the UN Security Council from taking stronger action about Darfur.

In Iran, gays, lesbians, and Bahá’ís are murdered, men may even be killed for non-penetrative sexual acts, the government publishes the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, there is a stranglehold on political freedom and freedom of speech, and the government sponsors terrorist organisations committed to the annihilation of Israel such as Hamas and Hizballah, the latter of which has wreaked internal havoc on the country of Lebanon. Turkey denies the genocide it perpetrated 95 years ago against the Armenians, as it simultaneously broadcasts cartoons portraying Jews as bloodthirsty baby-killers, and welcomes a UC study abroad program.

Israel is the only country in a region stretching from Morocco to Iran marked by the most recent Freedom in the World report as FREE. Not partly free, not “not free”, free. You repeatedly tout the number of dead in Gaza as evidence of war crimes. By this logic, in World War II, Germany should be seen as the victim of war crimes perpetrated by Britain and the USA, who specifically targeted civilian areas. Israel not only intended to avoid civilian casualties, but took special measures, quoted by some as the most stringent measures in human wartime history, to ensure that they would not happen. Are you sad that more Israelis didn’t die? So before you even consider removing funding from Israel, consider the vast swath of countries whose human rights abuses far outweigh those of Israel. The fact that this country is being brought up before any of these others singles out Israel, and the fact that to date no resolutions have been passed condemning any of these other countries nor removing investments in them, is indicative of the fact that Israel is held to a higher standard.

I don’t care if it’s one company being divested from, or a hundred, the rationale behind it is intensely hypocritical and flawed. The only time I should see this bill even coming up, and we can have a true debate about this issue, should be when we have condemned every single other country in the region for their mountain of human rights violations. Until that happens, I stand by my viewpoint that this bill is flagrantly anti-Israel, and absolutely takes a ‘side’ in the political web of the Arab-Israeli conflict by sidestepping the larger picture of a region filled with crimes against human dignity that you choose to ignore on this Senate floor. I do not yield my time to questions.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Violent Tactics of the Anti-Israel Movement

The individuals and groups that are anti-Zionist, that is to say dedicated to the elimination of national self-determination for the Jewish people, comprise a wide philosophical spectrum. There are those who hold as their ideal a world without nation-states, but feel that the first step towards that must be the end of the only Jewish state. For others, it's not quite as universal: other distinct peoples can have their own countries in their own homelands, but the Jews either have their own status as a people denied, or are told by academics like Tony Judt that their national aspirations just came too late (never mind all of the other countries that were created after World War II). Others who promote the "Palestinian cause" agree with those who rejected a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state in 1947, and in 2000, and in 2008-- insisting that the Palestinians can only exercise their own national aspirations if Jewish national rights are eliminated. There are those who have genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinian people but have been seduced by the lies into believing that the conflict is one of unblemished good against pure evil. Finally, there are those with a much more sinister motivation-- ranging from the far left at International ANSWER's hate rallies , to the far right neo-Nazis of Stormfront, to the radical Islamists in Tehran, Gaza, and throughout the Islamic world, their motivation is much more straightforward: they just hate Jews.

In the relatively insular and intense environment of college and university campuses in North America, these various forces have combined to create an atmosphere that is too often intolerant of those who support and defend the cause of Zionism. The hostility can come from faculty, such as Joseph Massad at Columbia or William Robinson at UC Santa Barbara , or from Muslim student groups at institutions such as UC Irvine . Now we're witnessing an escalation of their deliberate, organized tactics--beyond hate speech into intimidation, verbal disruption, and physical violence.

Recent episodes on American campuses where Israeli government representatives had their talks disrupted by protestors did receive media attention. However, there may be a more dangerous phenomenon developing than the use of verbal force against representatives of, or supporters of, Israel-- the threat or use of physical violence merely to prevent a pro-Israel viewpoint from being heard. A fire was set in a building at Boston University 15 minutes before Nonie Darwish was scheduled to speak there in December. York University in Toronto was the scene of an assault on Jewish students in February during a pro-Israel presentation. (This was not the first time that violence has taken place against Jewish students on Canadian university campuses. Last year the Hillel lounge at York was barricaded by attackers yelling anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slogans. In 2002 Concordia University in Montreal was the scene of a riot which prevented Prime Minister Netanyahu from speaking on campus.). Earlier this month, Husam Zakharia, a member of UC Berkeley's Students for Justice in Palestine was arrested for assaulting a leader of Tikvah, the University's pro-Israel student group; Zakharia had also been arrested in 2008 for assault against another Tikvah student on campus.

Now a few incidents of assault certainly don't comprise a trend-- but the response of the administration at York will help make it one. Rather than place restrictions on the hate speech of the anti-Israel groups that perpetrate the violence, York has instead developed its own version of "blame the victim" by putting onerous restrictions on pro-Israel programming--when the Christians United for Israel group wanted to present a panel of pro-Israel speakers, the university required security to be paid for by the group, along with prescreening of speakers and agreement not to advertise the program on campus! In the meantime, the groups presenting anti-Israel hate speech were free to do so without restriction. As David Frum pointed out in Canada's National Post, "The logic is impressively brazen: Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint."

The threat of violence against pro-Israel students and speakers has already paid off at York. Yet even before this, we have seen incidents in which Israel advocacy groups have voluntarily censored themselves in the face of objections by Muslim student groups. Last November, Princeton University's Tigers for Israel withdrew its sponsorship of an appearance by Darwish after Muslim groups objected; last month, the Israel Society at Cambridge withdrew an invitation to noted Israeli historian Benny Morris, citing fears of "being portrayed as a mouthpiece of Islamophobia" (Morris does not write about Islam, he writes about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict--draw your own conclusions).

If universities are willing to protect free speech even when it clearly crosses the line into hate speech either by faculty or by Muslim student groups, then they must also vigorously protect free speech against the threat of violence. Despite the bizarre claims of the Muslim students at UC Irvine that they were just exercising their own freedom of expression in forcibly disrupting Ambassador Oren's talk, that freedom does not include the right to use or threaten force (verbal or physical). Universities which claim to foster open discussion and debate must therefore act both swiftly and vigorously when faced with individuals or groups that attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation by force. Rather than punishing the victims, the ones who need to be restrained are those who carry out an orchestrated campaign of verbal disruption, who threaten when faced with an alternative viewpoint, and who carry out assaults against those who disagree with them. Those are the true perpetrators of "muzzling".

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jewish Voice for Peace (and BDS) Can't Explain Why They Should Be Funded by the Jewish Community Federation

It took a few weeks, but the folks over at the Jewish Voice for BDS-- though they still insist on being called "Jewish Voice for Peace" -- finally came up with a response to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation's Policy on Israel-Related Programming, which they posted at their "Muzzlewatch" site. To what should be nobody's surprise, that response is misleading, disingenuous, and resorts to name-calling to try to distract from the fact that they have no solid ground on which to base their argument.

They really run off the rails right at the very beginning, claiming that the "litmus test for Jewish identity" in the Bay Area is now "do you UNCONDITIONALLY love Israel"? The Federation policy doesn't deal with questions such as "who is a Jew?" or whether someone can join a synagogue. It is a policy regarding what programs the Jewish Community Federation (a private charitable nonprofit with its own board of directors) will fund. The Federation is under no obligation to fund a group just because they happen to put the word "Jewish" in their name-- whether that's the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Voice for Peace, or a "Messianic Jewish" congregation.

Organizations stand for a set of principles. The Federation's mission statement declares:
"The Federation gives continuity to Jewish values: [including]The supporting of Israel, the democratic homeland for the Jewish people". Why, then, should it support, even indirectly, organizations or programs whose mission or content runs counter to that? Doing so would actually violate the fiduciary responsibility that its board has to its donors. Since the founding principles of BDS include the fictitious "right" of return for descendants of refugees from the Arab war against the Jews in 1947-8, the BDS movement has clearly stated that its goal is not merely the end of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, nor the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace next to a Jewish state of Israel; its goal is a Palestinian state in place of Israel.

The Muzzlewatch post then goes on to incorrectly charge that the "McCarthyite policy guidelines" would "seek to sever public ties that Jewish organizations, including progressive synagogues and arts and educational organizations, have with groups" that support BDS. Actually, the policy specifically refrains from that-- it only addresses funding of organizations that through their mission, activities or partnerships, support BDS. It explicitly points out that "Artistic presentations that may include critical perspectives of Jewish life or Israel and that, on balance, are consistent with JCF's core values" are considered to be in accord with the new policy. As far as any other activities, the policy only affects Israel-related programming. So if you are running an art exhibition or film festival that presents programming on Israel in partnership with those groups that support BDS, then you still have the freedom to present them; however, you should be seeking your financial support elsewhere than the Jewish Community Federation. Exactly as it should be, and no logical reason that Jewish Voice for BDS can provide to suggest otherwise.

Jewish Voice for BDS also charges that this will "impact the ability of Jewish organizations to partner with Christian, Quaker or Muslim groups, many of which support BDS." It certainly won't, for example, impact the ability to partner in activities such as feeding the hungry, or providing shelter to the homeless, which have nothing to do with Israel-related programming. Just another example of throwing as much mud against the wall as possible just to see what might stick. (It's another, and much more complicated, discussion as to whether Jewish community organizations should draw a line against working together with representatives of other religious groups that are actively supporting the elimination of Israel, if the project in question has nothing to do with Israel.)

This policy statement is a turning point-- not in its restatement of the existing values of the Federation, but in standing up against the creeping subversion of our community institutions by those who do not share and support those values. Jewish Voice for BDS is right about one thing, though--these guidelines are indeed aimed at them. After all, though they are a small fringe group, they have been vocally spitting in the face of this Jewish community's institutions for years. And the community, as embodied in its Federation, has finally said "Enough. We will not fund this agenda." No excommunication, no auto-da-fe, no fatwa, just a statement that those who wish to attack one of our central values shouldn't expect us to pay for it.

(And yes, I DO unconditionally love Israel, just like I unconditionally love my children. That won't stop me from criticizing their mistakes, or providing appropriate consequences for serious misbehavior. But it means that I won't beat them up physically, I won't starve them, and I won't stand by when someone else physically assaults them-- or threatens, quite publicly, to kill them.)