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April 7, 2016

Alison Weir’s New Billboard Campaign Promotes USS Liberty Conspiracies

Ali­son Weir, the direc­tor of the anti-Israel organizations If Amer­i­cans Knew and the Coun­cil for the National Inter­est, is behind a series of billboards that read “Help the USS Liberty Survivors Attacked by Israel.”

Billboard in Pennsylvania

Billboard in Pennsylvania

The billboards, which have appeared so far in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, are “paid for by,” a website that promotes the anti-Israel conspiracy theory that Israel intentionally targeted a U.S. war­ship dur­ing the height of the 1967 Six-Day War. This website as well as the GoFundMe page raising money for the billboards are linked to anti-Israel activist Alison Weir.

The tragic assault by Israeli forces during the Six Day War in 1967 on an American vessel, the USS Liberty, has been a source of controversy and conspiracy theories since it occurred. Several government investigations have concluded that the attack, in which 34 American servicemen were killed and many more injured, was carried out in error. Furthermore, every piece of information declassified to date has supported this conclusion.

Nevertheless, the Honor Liberty Vets website claims Israel had a “motive” for attacking the American ship, stating “One hypothesis is that Israel intended to sink the ship (with no survivors) and blame Egypt because this might have brought the United States into the 1967 war.” The site also paints Israeli interests as trumping America’s: “No nation or people should be above the law; nor should American interests be subordinated to the interests of any foreign nation. Those Israelis responsible for ordering the attack and the resulting murder of American sailors must be held accountable for their actions.”

For Weir, and others who subscribe to the belief that Israel intentionally targeted the ship with the goal of killing American servicemen, the incident and the alleged U.S. government cover-up that followed powerfully demonstrate the supposed treachery and power of the Jewish State and its American supporters. The story, told from this perspective, has become a propaganda tool to undermine the legitimacy of Israel.

These theories about the USS Liberty fit into Weir’s worldview, in which the Jewish State is a violent aggressor that corrupts the American political system and prevents criticism of its conduct from being voiced by the mainstream media. As a result, she contends, Americans are kept in the dark about how their taxes fund Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians.

In Weir’s discussions of Israel’s influence, she often employs anti-Semitic imagery and portrays Israel as a ruthless force that controls American policy through brutal intimidation and deception. Weir views herself and her organizations as part of a growing movement to promote U.S. interests by educating Americans about the vast conspiracy to keep the truth about Israeli practices hidden from them.

Weir’s Council for the National Interest, an anti-U.S. aid to Israel group based in DC, previously employed billboards to disseminate its messaging with a 2013 cam­paign called “Stop the Blank Check to Israel.” At least ten such ads, which read, “$8 Mil­lion a day to Israel just doesn’t make sense! STOP The Blank,” were erected in Atlanta.

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March 22, 2016

Intended or Not, SJP’s Actions Have Consequences for LGBTQ People

By Seth M. Marnin, Vice President for Civil Rights

Recent homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents at Brown University came on the heels of the announcement that Janet Mock, transgender author and founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women, had cancelled her scheduled speaking engagement there. Mock’s talk, Redefining Realness, was sponsored by Moral Voices, the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, and Brown/RISD Hillel.

Reacting to the fact that Hillel was one of the co-sponsors of program, the Brown University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a petition urging Ms. Mock to reject Hillel’s invitation to speak, saying that she should accept “Brown students’ sponsorship instead of Hillel’s.”  Although they were only able to gain 159 supporters (of the nearly 9,000 students who attend Brown), SJP’s divisive efforts led to Ms. Mock cancelling her talk.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

While some may be quick to criticize Ms. Mock’s decision, condemnation should instead be leveled against SJP and their efforts to splinter a community and use Ms. Mock as a pawn. In their effort to link Hillel’s Moral Voices’ campaign – a largely domestic initiative highlighting violence against LGBT+ individuals and communities – to violence in the Middle East, SJP forced a transgender woman of color to choose between silencing herself or allowing herself to be exploited for their unrelated crusade.  She should never have been put in that position.

The homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared on Brown’s campus just days later occurred in an environment that SJP helped create. Their claim to be surprised is unpersuasive.   Moreover, the graffiti is only one visible sign of the consequences of SJP’s actions. While SJP’s efforts to alienate Jewish students are well documented, there are other implications too.

There are far too few visible transgender role models and leaders. Efforts that have the effect of quashing those scarce voices have far-reaching repercussions.  For example, studies have shown that the suicide attempt rate among transgender men and women exceeds 41%, greatly surpassing the 4.6% of the overall U.S. population who report a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. The elevated rates of suicide attempts are connected with survivors’ experiences of family rejection and discrimination and violence at school and work. The absence of transgender voices in mainstream discourse also plays a role. There few role models for young transgender people, and families, co-workers, and friends of transgender people have limited opportunities to hear from transgender leaders.  Such an experience would better equip them to be allies in the future. Unfortunately, SJP’s actions foreclosed that possibility for the Brown University campus.

The importance of providing platform for transgender voices is underscored by the fact that, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ most recent report, violence against transgender women and particularly transgender women of color remains at an alarmingly high rate. At present, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that explicitly cover gender identity. Critical efforts to address violence against LGBTQ people, including advocacy for inclusive hate crime laws like the 50 States Against Hate campaign, are undermined by organizations that engage in activism that results in silencing transgender voices. That too is what SJP did.

SJP encouraged a speaker – wholly unrelated to Israel – to reject an invitation from a broad coalition of student organizations solely because one of those organizations is Jewish. Intended or not, SJP harmed the LGBTQ community at Brown and beyond.  It’s well beyond time to reject these divisive tactics.

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March 8, 2016

Think Twice Before Jumping on the BDS Bandwagon

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

Israeli_Apartheid_Week-Northwestern University

Political movements often depend on spoken or unspoken hatreds to perpetuate themselves.

Often, however, they can use ambiguity to mask these motives and appeal to a broader audience.

However, sometimes, when haters show their true colors, onlookers and fellow travelers can see through ambiguities to the unsavory aims of the causes which they’ve lent their support.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel is undoubtedly spreading on U.S. campuses, in mainstream Protestant circles and in universities and unions in Europe. One element explaining the growth of BDS is frustration with the stalemate that has taken hold between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is understandable that in the face of diplomatic deadlock, movements that promise easy solutions and simplistic narratives gain steam. Indeed, the belief that Israel, as the occupier and stronger party, needs to act, combined with the appeal of an ostensibly non-violent movement like BDS – one that worked so well to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa – makes for a compelling case for action.

Yet, any serious observer would admit that the apartheid analogy is flawed to its core.  The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not an issue purely demarcated along racial lines.  It is a national conflict between two peoples, a conflict for which each side bears responsibilities.

The reality is complicated by the fact that Israel has on several occasions presented the Palestinians opportunities to end the occupation and build an independent Palestinian state. One can argue with the terms proposed by both sides, but the stark truth of several rounds of failed negotiations reveals mutual culpability in the current status quo.  And the ongoing incitement of the Palestinian leadership contributes as much if not more to the diminishing public will and widening diplomatic impasse as the actions of the Israeli government.

So, the keys to the two-state solution are kept by both Israel and the Palestinians.

But many who are swept up in its currents do not look closely at the desired end-state of the BDS movement. Many envision a scenario in which Israel, compelled by pressure, would be more forthcoming to the Palestinians and ideally a two-state solution could result. One might not agree with this logic, but we should note that, at least among many young Jews, it is animated by a desire for justice. I believe it has impelled groups such as J Street and a number of other emerging grassroots initiatives in the Jewish community. Even if we disagree, even we should acknowledge the earnestness of their motives.

uc davis protesters

Indeed, the BDS movement has been able to capitalize on attracting to its ranks many who legitimately seek a lasting peace between the Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s crucial to note – this end state is not what BDS seeks.

Nothing illustrates this better than the stance of the originator and main intellectual driver of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, and his reaction to the views expressed by two professors in support of boycott.

These professors, Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl published an article in the Washington Post endorsing boycott as a way to pressure Israel in its policies toward the Palestinians. Self-described “life-long Zionists” seeking a two-state outcome, their endorsement of the boycott represents well a variation of the “pressure school” which seeks through pressure to change Israel’s behavior and approach to negotiations.

Regardless of the validity of their ideas—and I have deep doubts over the ability to achieve their desired outcome through one-sided penalties against Israel—what is telling is Barghouti’s response.

In his article, “You can’t save Israel from itself by appropriating BDS,” Barghouti slams the professors. He calls out this “Zionist” endorsement of BDS an appropriation, since it is calculated, in the final analysis, at achieving a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet, BDS orthodoxy, Barghouti openly acknowledges, does not seek this goal. Barghouti argues that it is not the occupation that is the challenge but Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State.

Barghouti is transparent in his views and in his aims, and this should be instructive to any potential supporter of BDS. He speaks of Israel as “criminally built.” He refers to Israel itself – not the territories occupied in 1967 after the Six Day War – as an “apartheid” and “colonial-settler” regime.

And he spells out in no uncertain terms that his ideology – the ideology of BDS – is opposed to the formula achieved at Oslo and long since adopted by the international community—the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel. Barghouti, tellingly, writes:

“Ending the 1967 occupation, even if it included East Jerusalem, at best addresses most of the rights of only 38% of the Palestinian people – those living in the OPT (occupied Palestinian Territory).  What of the UN-stipulated rights of the remaining 62% of the Palestinian people (12% are citizens of current Israel and 50% are in exile who are entitled to their right of return) and what of the right of return of more than 40% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and denied their right to go home?”

It is fair to expect Israel to live up to a policy that can accommodate the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state—and to expect equally that the Palestinians will act in accordance with a two-state vision.

But Barghouti spells out here that what he imagines as ‘justice’ is not merely the achievement of self-determination for the Palestinian people through the creation of an independent state. No, he longs for the right of any Palestinian living under the Palestinian Authority to “return” to areas that now comprise Israel.

In other words, BDS seeks to eradicate the Jewish state by bringing about an end to the self-determination for the Jewish people through the return of all five million Palestinian refugees.

University_of_Michigan-BDS Protest

Of course, the refugee issue has since their inception been a core component of bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. And, any conceivable agreement between the parties requires that the plight of Palestinians refugees and their descendants must be addressed. Numerous international efforts have acknowledged that their needs will be predominantly accommodated within a future state of Palestine.

Among those who support BDS, there are undoubtedly some who seek Israel’s demise. But for the multitude of those who jump on the BDS bandwagon because they see it as a non-violent way to fast-track an end to the occupation, they need to know they are being taken for a very dangerous ride. They support the politics of Israel’s destruction, a movement of anti-normalization which Israel which is anathema to negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution.

That’s something that the vast majority of BDS supporters would reject if only they clearly understood it.

So, even as we recognize the misguided aims of BDS and step up our efforts to defeat its ideology, it is a deeper understanding – not simplistic slogans – that are needed to navigate the aspects of this complex challenge.

That is why ADL has joined with the Reut Institute in a new effort aimed at examining the entire array of factors driving the growth of BDS campaigns, an initiative that will help parse those who are genuinely committed to peace – even if their views are different from our own as to how to get there – from those who mean to inflict grave harm.

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