Saturday, March 27, 2010

There's no "me" (or JVP) in "democracy"

Unsurprisingly, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is in the thick of the latest BDS controversy going on at UC Berkeley. I say unsurprisingly because, as has been pointed out before, the entire purpose of Jewish Voice for Peace is not peace but propaganda, their primary mission being to provide a Jewish face to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “movement.”

I’ll be providing running commentary on the Berkeley story here, but here at Muzzlewatch-Watch, I’d like to comment on how the JVP-BDS campaign is being portrayed at the JVP-mouthpiece “shut up our enemies” arm, otherwise known as Muzzlewatch.

In a piece bemoaning the fact that all commentary on the subject of Israel and its detractors does not conform to the JVP-Muzzlewatch world view, Muzzlewatcher-in-Chief Cecilie Surasky takes umbrage (as in Delores) with the fact that critics of the recent Berkeley divestment motion are not toeing the JVP party line that this vote is simply a commentary on “The Occupation” (queue scary organ music).

In other communication, JVP rails against the fact that BDS votes like the one at Berkeley are being described as part of a campaign “to delegitimize Israel,” rather than simply being taken as legitimate criticism of specific Israel policies.

Here Surasky and Company are being rather cute about highlighting just the parts of the Berkeley resolution that suit their purpose. If you read the resolution in its entirety, you’ll note that the vast majority of its 1700-word length is dedicated to a recitation of every accusation that can be dredged up about the loathsomeness and criminality of the Jewish state. Naturally, the text hides behind organizations like the UN when delivering its charges (never once noting that an organization that spends half its time and resources condemning just one country – at the expense of every other person on the planet – might be a wee bit biased). In other words, the Berkeley divestment resolution is a crystal clear example of an attempt to de-legitimize the Jewish state, which is no doubt why JVP-Muzzlewatch chose to hide most of its text (and actual purpose) in its public communication on the issue.

I also find it amusing that JVP is hailing the vote of the Berkeley Student Senate (which voted 16-4 in favor of the divestment proposal) as the height of democracy, while condemning the Student President for vetoing the resolution as an example of democracy being stifled. I say amusing because it was just last week that an elected board of the Davis Food Co-op (politically comparable to the Berkeley Senate) unanimously rejected a boycott of Israeli products, yet in this case the boycotters condemned this elected body’s action as – you guessed it – an example of trampling on democracy.

In other words, for JVP, Muzzlewatch and their friends and allies (such as the Students for Justice in Palestine organization behind the Berkeley vote), democracy has a new definition: them getting their way. To the Muzzlewatchers and their friends, anything short of people doing what they say is an example of censorship and democracy denied.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Consider the Muzzler...

Looks like there’s a bit of catching up to do on the old Muzzlewatch monitoring front.

To start off, I noticed that our old MW pals have finally had something to say about the assault on free speech that took place at UC Irvine last month, the one which featured an orchestrated attempt to shout the Israeli ambassador off the stage to prevent his words from being heard from a large audience of UC students, most of whom (presumably) were there to hear him speak.

Now the Muzzlewatchers have stayed mum about this topic until now (keeping with their general refusal to acknowledge occasions when disruptive tactics – up to an including violence – have been used to prevent Israelis or their supporters from being heard at public gatherings). That said, as Adam has pointed out, Jewish Voice for Peace’s second “front” site (the first being Muzzlewatch) did mention the Oren incident, but only to demand understanding for those who tried to shut down free speech at Irvine.

Well a couple of days back, Muzzlewatch itself finally managed to chime in on the incident in a piece which focused exclusively on the punishments being contemplated for the perpetrators of the incident.

Now I don’t claim to be fully aware of how seriously school authorities are about making the incident an expellable or even prosecutable offense. Nor will I speculate (as does Muzzlewatch) on the involvement of parties outside the university in either planning the disruption of the Oren event or in attempts to influence how the perpetrators of that disruption are to be treated.

But I will note how interesting I find it that after 3-4 years online, the only statement I believe Muzzlewatch has ever made on the subject of people trying to stifle the free speech of Israeli or pro-Israel speakers (something that’s become routine in recent years, especially at West Coast universities) has been to ignore this clear-cut example of “muzzling” and instead ask us to consider only the (so far, theoretical) fate of the muzzlers.

You would think that an organization posing as champions of speech would at least be willing to acknowledge the achingly obvious fact that those with whom JVP/Muzzlewatch politically agrees might take part in attempts to stifle discussion of the Middle East (even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that virtually all attempts to shut down debate via tactics of intimidation and violence come from those they support).

But, once again, this question would assume that Muzzlewatch actually exists to promote free and fair debate which – as we’ve been proving here again and again – they most clearly do not.

Rather, Muzzlewatch is simply a tactic: a pre-emptive strike against any and all who might question the activities, motives, alliances or behavior of Jewish Voice for Peace and its allies.

While, to most of us, “muzzling” consists of actual attempts to limit free speech of others (much like what happened in Irvine), Muzzlewatch (as always) takes an opposite approach: defining as “muzzling” any attempt by their political adversaries to use their free speech rights to say things JVP would prefer never get spoken or heard.

Monday, March 8, 2010

BDS: The Hobgoblin of Tiny Minds

I had considered setting up a Google Alert to tell me if the San Francisco Jewish Federation took action after last year’s Jewish Film Festival fiasco to ensure that groups like Jewish Voice for Peace could no longer exploit the community’s resources for their own narrow-minded ends. But then, I figured, why bother? If the Federation did pass such a measure, an audible shriek would reach my East Coast ears from Northern California far faster than Google could deliver the news.

Sure enough, the Federation did decide that if JVP and similar organizations wanted to defame the Jewish state, they would have to do so with their own money. And a split second later, Muzzlewatch was on the air describing this decision as a McCarthyite call for ideological purity on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Aside from the pot calling the kettle black vis-à-vis narrowing conversation to just one point of view, Muzzlewatch spokesperson Cecilie Surasky seems to have forgotten that just a few weeks ago she was announcing their independence from the elites, declaring herself a general in some sort of Army of Davids that would win the war without the need to suck up to groups like the SF Federation.

But, of course, if they cannot infiltrate or attach themselves to more mainstream organizations, Jewish Voice for Peace remains exposed as the minority of the minority of the Jewish community, increasingly committed to just two tasks: advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and declaring any non-Jewish individual or organization accused of anti-Semitism “Not Guilty” (with a Jewish accent). And so, the Muzzlewatch Army continues it's Battle Whine of accusations against those who have the audacity to stop writing them checks.

Which gets me to Muzzlewatch’s second response to the Federation decision: their challenge to have Omar Barghouti debate Rabbi Doug Kahn, head of the SF, on the subject of BDS.

As background, it’s an old tactic to challenge your political enemies to a debate on your own narrowly restricted terms. For example, today I call on Cecilie Surasky to debate me on the following topic: “Muzzlewatch: Censoring Hypocrites, or Simply Self-Righteously Delusional.”

The purpose of such a “debate” is to put your political foes a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation of either fighting on someone else’s territory, or being declared too cowardly to address the issue. Now usually this tactic is not used in such a laughably obvious way, but here again we’re dealing with Muzzlewatch, a closed circle that has walled itself off from feedback that might make them realize how ridiculous they sound.

Take Barghouti’s challenge that the SF Federation, having established filters to avoid funding the defamation of the Jewish state, has demonstrated itself to be in favor of “boycotting” Israel’s defamers, and thus – in order to prove their consistency – must also support the notion of boycotts and divestment targeting Israel. But by that same token, shouldn’t JVP/Muzzlewatch/Barghouti then be in favor of US sanctions against Iran and Sudan (not to mention previous sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) to avoid accusations of hypocrisy?

Taking it one step further, aren’t Israel’s actions against Hamas-controlled Gaza simply an application of the BDS formula Barghouti and his friends would like to inflict on Israel and thus consistency demands that the entire BDS movement support Israel’s Gaza-related choices as well?

Now the whole Barghouti issue is complicated by the fact that this champion of sanctions, who travels the world demanding (among other things) that colleges and universities sever all ties to Israeli academia is currently a heavily subsidized graduate student at an Israeli university. So if we are all to follow his demands for consistency, shouldn’t JVP be boycotting Barghouti or (to be completely consistent) shouldn’t Barghouti boycott himself?

If this is all starting to sound like a trip through the looking glass, remember that Jewish Voice for Peace (in its various guises) is actually quite consistent: If you agree with their political opinions, then everything is allowed (boycott, blacklist, censorship, shouting people off the stage, etc.). But if you don’t agree with the JVP point of view or (God forbid) have the temerity to criticize the organization then you’re guilty of hypocrisy and censorship.

To anyone at Muzzlewatch who disagrees with my analysis, the invitation to debate me on this topic, here or anywhere else, remains open.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Blog War Brings a Lesson on the Difference Between Criticism and Censorship

I won't weigh in here on Blogwars: Wieseltier v. Sullivan — I haven't followed it especially closely, and besides, enough has been said on the topic already.

But one particular line in one's response to other's reply to a response to — well, whatever it was, one particular line is of some relevance to this blog's theme:

Sullivan makes the erroneous, and self-glamorizing, assumption that criticism is a call for censorship. His heroes Mearsheimer and Walt have made a career out of this mistake....

Anyway, they, and Sullivan, have the right to say any damn thing they want about AIPAC, and Israel, and Jews. And I have the right to respond as strictly and as definitively as I can. I do not wish to silence them, I wish to refute them.

I'd suggest that the MuzzleWatch crew would benefit from reading that passage over and over again. But I just can't get myself to do it; I'm too afraid that they'll respond by calling me a Muzzler.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Camel Joke-y

Another Muzzlewatch semi-regular, Sydney Levy, seems to have his panties in a bunch over a recent Israeli government program to recruit the million Israelis who travel abroad each year as ambassadors for communicating an Israeli perspective on their country. This program, whose Hebrew-language Web site can be seen here, is part of an ongoing effort to try to portray the Jewish state in terms other than those approved by Muzzlewatch and its sponsors, Jewish Voice for Peace.

Now I have heard a number of reasonable critiques about not just the Masbirim program, but the entire effort to “brand” Israel based on the country’s contributions to the world (advances in computing, bio-tech and green technology, for example), as well as attempts to “normalize” the Israeli situation in the eyes of the world by highlighting the country’s cultural and social aspects. But most of these complaints focus on whether Israel should be talking about what a nice place it is vs. aiming its fire directly at the hypocrisy and bigotry that pass for discussion on the Middle East, best exemplified by the odious Israel Apartheid Week and by Muzzlewatch/JVP itself.

But the problem for Levy is not that Masbirim might be ill suited for the times (or even potentially lame). Rather, he seems most bent out of shape by the thought that anyone should be trying to tell a story about the Middle East that does not meet his demands, demands that Israelis and their supporters start any discussion by pronouncing themselves guilty.

As ever, the self-righteous seem impervious to things that the rest of us would recognize as irony. In one video segment, the Masbirim Web site portrays a fake British reporter yammering on about camels as the primary means of transportation in Israel, used by (among others) the Israeli cavalry. Once again, I’m not entirely sold on either the program or this joke (although the cavalry gag did make me smirk). But having spent time reading and watching (and even writing for) the British media in the past, the image of the dip-shit English scribbler way out of his depth in the Middle East, getting all the facts wrong while rhapsodizing melodically about the exotic landscape seems a fair target for ridicule.

Getting back to the main issue at hand, however, Muzzlewatch’s problem seems not to be with the details of the effort, but with the fact that Israelis are being asked to step up to tell their real, human stories in the first place. As this site has chronicled, Jewish Voice for Peace does accept Jewish voices that hue strictly to their party line, continually highlighting the Jewish last names of their members as “proof” that Jews support their cause.

But once the voice of vast majority of the Jewish and Israeli people try to get another word in edgewise, then – as far as JVP is concerned – they must be dismissed, ridiculed or shouted off the stage, with this censorship dismissed as an example of legitimate rage (coupled with accusations of “muzzling” against anyone who dares point out this reality).

For a site that pretends to be yearning for a free exchange of ideas, I’ve yet to discover any source more committed to stifling and limiting debate that Muzzlewatch. No doubt now that the site is only open to true believers they can continue to spend their time congratulating themselves on their virtues and courage, oblivious to the fact that most of us wised up to them years ago.