Monday, January 18, 2010

Muzzlewatch vs. the Elites?

According to Muzzlewatch’s self-declared Generalisimo, Cecilie Surasky, Israel’s latest dastardly attempt to thwart its critics by building relationships with leaders outside of the Jewish community is doomed to failure. For, as Surasky points out, the Muzzlewatch army no longer needs these elites to win their battles, for they are now an army of unstoppable, Internet-connected grassroots Davids which, as she describes:

“We’ve all bypassed the elites in the state/media/law/culture etc.. who have failed miserably to bring a just peace. The era of centralized power, and the associated power of the gatekeeper, is quickly ending. Today it is quick-moving, under-funded, decentralized, non-hierarchical, grassroots activism that is winning and unstoppable.”

To which I would reply:

(1) As one of the three Internet-connected, non-hierarchical, grassroots activists who contribute to a site with “Muzzlewatch” in its name (the other being the creator of this Muzzlewatch-Watch site, and the third being Surasky herself), I believe that it is only Cecilie who draws a paycheck for her political activity.

(2) As Surasky points out, an important priority for Muzzlewatch’s parent organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “movement” targeting Israel. Yet as I’ve pointed out in the past, the only successes BDS ever achieved was in the Mainline Protestant Churches between 2004-2006 when JVP’s friends and allies exerted enormous effort cultivating the very elites Surasky now declares they are going to bypass.

In fact, it was only by going behind the backs of rank and file members of a church, city, union or other organization and appealing directly to these elites that JVP’s pet divestment projects ever achieved any (albeit temporary) success. Once grassroots church members discovered what was being done in their name (and without their consent), they rejected these JVP-supported divestment projects in democratic votes by margins of 95-100%.

In other words, the folks behind Muzzlewatch spent years chasing after the very elites they now claim to disdain and if an opening presented itself to get a college president, union leader or other elite leader to embrace the BDS project, JVP/Muzzlewatch would leap at the opportunity like a dog on meat.

So what seems to be driving the new-found populism of Muzzlewatch is not the existence of “elites” per se but the fact that these civic leaders are listening to the Jewish community and – more importantly – to their own members, rather than simply trusting Jewish Voice for Peace, Muzzlewatch and their like-minded friends in the BDS movement for all of their information. Given the penchant for JVP et al to manipulate civic organizations and dump information needed to make informed decisions about the Middle East conflict down the memory hole, this strikes me as a wise policy indeed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

MuzzleWatching and Knee Jerking Into a New Decade

It's January. A new year. A new decade. There's fresh, white snow outside my window.

And what is MuzzleWatch up to in 2010? Oh right, the same old knee-jerk defenses of the most virulent anti-Israel propagandists, and attacks against mainstream Jewish organizations.

Not new either is the dishonesty of said defenses and attacks. Currently at the top of their site is a January 13 article lamenting that an organization that doesn't share Jewish Voice for Peace's political views is "unfortunately ... still in business." (Yes, the free market of ideas is "unfortunate" in the mind of those self-proclaimed defenders of free speech.)

One of MW's criticisms of this organization is that they recently described professor/activist Rashid Khalidi as having been an "official spokesperson for the PLO," despite Khalidi's recent denials. (Never mind that the article MW criticizes doesn't actually use the word "official.")

In fact, question of whether Khalidi had been a PLO spokesman was deeply investigated during Obama's run for the White House. Now, this blog doesn't concern itself with the president's relationship with Khalidi. And frankly, I still have no regrets about having voted for ... well, I'll also leave party politics out of this blog.

The point is that MuzzleWatch's assertion that calling Khalidi a former PLO spokesperson is a "smear" because he had denied this affiliation makes clear that MW's "analysis" is not nuanced or thoughtful, but rather resembles a jerk of the knee. (Khalidi is anti-Israel? Then he must be right!)

Khalidi, it seems, was indeed a spokesperson for the PLO. The evidence is convincing, and as it emerged convinced at least one reporter to dramatically change his mind after initially insisting on Khalidi's innocence of PLO affiliation.

MuzzleWatch is also disturbed by Jane Fonda. A recent posting — okay, I admit the posting is from late-2009 and not 2010 — asserts (emphasis mine):
What is it about Atlanta and Israel?

First, in response to a firestorm of criticism and vilification, Atlanta resident and iconic film star Jane Fonda issued a mea culpa about the wording of a petition she signed protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. She said she signed it, “without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue”. To her credit, Fonda did not remove her signature. But it was still an extraordinary move that reflected the intense pressure she was under. (This level-headed group of Atlanta Jewish leaders rose to her defense.)

Fonda upsets MW's because the actress expressed regret for behaving in a knee-jerk manner rather than with nuance and thoughtfulness.

"I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough," Fonda explained in her apology.

She added:

[I]t can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. ...

The Israeli-Palestinian story cannot be reduced to a simplistic aggressor-victim relationship. In order to fully understand this, one must be willing to come together with an open heart and really hear the narratives of both sides.

Sounds reasonable enough. Who would disagree that completely closing your ears to one side's narrative can be counterproductive? Oh right -- MuzzleWatch and its parent organization Jewish Voice for Peace disagrees.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joining the Muzzlewatch-Watch

[Voice of Troy McCleur]

Hello there Muzzlewatch-Watchers! You may remember me from such blog entries as this one, or this one, or from the comment section of Muzzlewatch itself (before they decided the kitchen was getting too hot and they shut the comments down forever).

The challenges raised by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)’s Muzzlewatch project has led to, among other things, this Web site whose creator has been kind enough to let me start posting here occasionally.

As noted in the first story linked above, I originally got interested in Muzzlewatch as a way to explore how a demonstrably false thesis (that criticism of Israel – howled from the rooftops of every campus in the country - is somehow repressed) could gain traction with today’s allegedly sophisticated news audiences.

As I’ve watched postings at Muzzlewatch itself become more and more hysterical once they shut out all voices other than their own, it dawned on me that with Muzzlewatch we were watching a truly post-modern political phenomenon. For the key purpose of Muzzlewatch is to make sure that any discussion critical of Jewish Voice for Peace and its allies is immediately stifled by pushing it beyond the pale.

And how do they attempt to pull off this act of censorship? By turning the tables on their critics, accusing them of trying to stifle debate, despite the fact that every example of “stifling” Muzzlewatchers manager to dredge up look a lot like other people exercising their free speech rights to say something at odds with the world view of Jewish Voice for Peace, the arms, legs and hands behind Muzzlewatch.

This is where it gets interesting, for (whether consciously or unconsciously) those behind the Muzzlewatch site understand that it is their critics who actually maintain the respect for free speech that JVP/Muzzlewatch only feign. So by accusing those who comment negatively on JVP’s political positions of censorship, Muzzlewatch is trying to trigger our reflexive respect for open debate, hoping to confuse censor and censored, and making us doubt the legitimacy of using our own freedom of speech.

Of course, turning the tables on JVP/Muzzlewatch would only be effective if they actually believed in free speech, rather than simply pretending to possess a desire for open debate while actually working day and night to try to ensure that they are the only ones allowed to express their opinions freely.

But while they can shut down their own comment section once the reality behind their squalid little project gets too exposed, they have not yet managed to gain control over the Internet. Which means that this site (and others) will continue to watch (and expose) their attempts to censor others through cynical accusations of censorship.

And if anyone over at JVP wants to let us know where we’ve gotten it wrong, well comments are open over on this site…