I read every article in the Jewish Journal covering the UMass program “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Right” which would “address recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar and other progressives who have spoken out against Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian land and push back against the claim that criticizing Israeli government policies is ‘anti-Semitic.’ ”
What did the readers of the Journal “learn” about the program: that this was a “political” pro-BDS panel composed of non-academically credentialed confirmed celebrity anti-Semites, including Roger Waters, who spewed hate speech and were able to convince 2000 intellectually unsophisticated attendees to stand and cheer after panelists degraded and demonized Israel and supported its destruction; that many of them were naïve students who had not experienced prolonged debate about social issues at home over dinner and were seduced into greeting any statement that included the phrases ‘apartheid’, freedom’, or ‘racism’ with thunderous applause and raised fists” and that the panelists supported Palestinians who perform genital mutilation, oppress women and kill gays.
The writers wanted readers to believe that any action against Israel is anti-Semitic. “Were they aware that “Israeli state” and “Jewish state” are interchangeable terms? … Could they not process the fact that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic?”
The writers did not mention: Israel’s 50-year illegal occupation; the numerous illegal settlements; the killing and injuring of Palestinians; the claims of torture; the theft of Palestinian lands; the control of part of the West Bank; the house demolitions; the wall inside the Green Line; the destruction of olive trees; the unequal distribution of water; the disruptive, humiliating checkpoints and barriers; and the holding of Palestinians in administrative detention without charges or trial.
Ironic, isn’t it, that in a Jewish journal, no writer quoted any of the core values of Judaism:“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”; “Learn to do well – seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow;” and “Justice, Justice shall you pursue”.
Readers should also have been told that Roger Waters, the primary target of the writers, is one of the most prominent supporters of human and civil rights for Palestinians and a proponent of social justice globally. For those who believe the smear campaign alleging that he is anti-Semitic, please read “Roger Waters Sets the Record Straight: I Hate Apartheid, Not Israel” an interview by Gideon Levy which appeared in Haaretz.
The speakers all emphasized their free speech rights and strongly and courageously said they would continue to support human rights, self-determination, freedom, and justice for Palestinians, and would not be silenced and intimidated by the smears and other highly -funded efforts, including a law suit aimed at shutting down the program which, fortunately, was dismissed.
For those who were not among the 2000 who attended this powerful and inspirational program (or among the ten outside protesting), the video can be viewed on notbackingdownumass.org.
Nothing in the program was critical of Jewish people. No one said anything that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Dave Zirin, a Nation magazine journalist, said, “As a Jew, I’ll be damned if I’ll be called anti-Semitic …there is nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing the actions of the Israeli state, and it is absurd that I even have to say that. Two, there is nothing anti-Semitic about this panel or the people on this panel, and it is damn slander to say otherwise. And, in fact, the people up here have been on the front lines of fighting anti-Semitism, especially the most dire threat to me and my fellow Jews: the resurgent white nationalism of the Trump era.”
All of the speakers were highly critical of the Israeli state, including references to the military occupation of the West Bank and the inhumane conditions in Gaza which is predicted to be uninhabitable by 2020.
Again, the thrust of the program was to support justice for Palestinians. It was NOT, as alleged, a Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) program. However, all of the speakers spoke favorably about BDS. Linda Sarsour referred to it as a non-violent approach to support of Palestinians and a response to the question; “Why don’t the Palestinians do something non-violent.
As Dave Zirin called out a vocal protestor, the writers are on the “wrong side of history”. Most have adopted the well-known approach: When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the laws are against you, argue the facts. When the law and facts are against you, scream anti-Semite and BDS.
I urge those in the Jewish community with our history of learning and seeking the truth (and speaking truth to power) to end smear attacks, demonization and intimidation and create opportunities to engage in thoughtful honest discussions about the current status and situation of the Palestinians.
With accusations of the crime of apartheid being leveled against Israel and the apparent end of the two-state solution, the human rights, safety and security of not only Palestinians, but also Israelis hang in the balance.
Ronald W. Fox writes from Marblehead.
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