Ms Weir Goes to Washington
Harry Clark, Counterpunch, Sep 9 2016
The scurrilous attack in summer 2015 on Alison Weir and If Pindostanis Knew by Jewish Voice for Peace and Pindostani Campaign to End the Occupation, has threatened Weir and her audiences with violence. On Mar 30, Weir spoke at the Walnut Creek, CA, public library about her book Against Our Better Judgment, about Zionist influence on foreign policy. A few weeks before, Weir had been warned by Walnut Creek police of hateful online incitement to disrupt the talk. The threat referred to the JVP-USC material against Weir. The Walnut Creek Parks and Recreation Dept received phone calls from people planning to protest the talk. The talk, sponsored by the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center and Rossmoor Voices for Justice in Palestine, was well-attended, including by members of Stand With Us, who protested with signs and handed out fliers, also referring to the JVP/USC material. At the talk, five protestors seated themselves in the front row, and more stood at the back of the hall holding signs. During the talk, SWU protestors shouted repeatedly at Weir, prompting some audience members to call for them to stop. Only by speaking loudly, directly into the microphone, could Weir make herself heard. Helen Lowenstein of SWU, a significant donor to pro-Israel organizations, according to Weir, was escorted from the hall by Walnut Creek police. She “swiped at” an audience member who was recording her, and was arrested and taken away in handcuffs. The Bay Area Jewish press decried an outbreak of anti-Semitism in their version of events (1). As of this writing, the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office has not prosecuted Lowenstein. One supporter later wrote to Weir:
Alison, your equanimity was extremely impressive—I think that really strengthened the message, because it made clear that facts and reason are on our side and the Zionists are nasty bullies.
Weir said that she didn’t actually feel calm, but was glad it seemed that way. Weir, a journalist in the Bay Area, became interested in the Palestine question upon the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, uprising against Israeli occupation, in fall 2000. She became an activist and founded If Americans Knew (2), dedicated to informing the public, following her return to the Bay Area from a two-month trip to Palestine in early 2001. JVP was at that time also based in the Bay Area, and Weir felt some of them were from the outset whispering accusations of anti-Semitism, for her endorsement of the Palestinian right of return and a single democratic state. For a decade and more, Weir and IAK published studies of the media, reports on Israeli human rights violations, historical articles, and videos, about many aspects of the Palestine issue, in Palestine and Pindostan. Weir traveled and spoke extensively, gaining a wide following. At the same the time attacks on Weir by left Jewish groups and individuals continued (3). In 2014, Weir published independently a book, Against Our Better Judgment. How Pindostan was used to Create Israel (4), 93 pages of dry prose and 135 of footnotes and bibliography, which has sold an extraordinary 27,000 copies, according to Weir (5). None of her facts are new, but many are obscure, and their sum acutely depicts Zionist influence in Pindostan from before WW1 to Israel’s establishment.
(omitted history passage 1)
These and myriad other facts doubtless aroused JVP, whose chief objection to Weir is her emphasis on the Israel Lobby, mainly Jewish institutions, as the chief reason for unconditional Pindosi support for Israel. JVP claims, after Noam Chomsky and others, that the USrael relationship is due to Israel’s value as a Pindo “strategic asset,” and that the Lobby is powerful only when it supports Pindo interests. The first article in JVP’s 2004 book Reframing Anti-Semitism. Alternative Jewish Perspectives bemoaned “the Jewish conspiracy theories of some on the left,” those for whom “a Jewish conspiracy is much simpler” than the “complexity” that belies any decisive Jewish influence (8). The Pindostani Campaign to End the Occupation shares that aversion to the Israel Lobby critique. In 2011, Medea Benjamin and Code Pink called for a national demonstration against the annual meeting of AIPAC, at which the top of the federal government and half of Congress make obeisance (9). Pindo Campaign and JVP have never attempted to organize such a demonstration, and they carefully “endorsed” it, while doing nothing to encourage turnout. Phyllis Bennis, a perennial figure at the Pindo Campaign and a minor writer on “strategic asset,” has long opposed efforts to disseminate the Israel Lobby critique (10). She refused to debate the Israel Lobby with Jeffrey Blankfort on the grounds that it “wouldn’t be useful,” echoing verbatim the demurrals of Chomsky, Beinin and JVP’s Mitchell Plitnick (11). Somehow despite her “strategic asset” advocacy, Bennis wound up presiding over the rogram of talks about the Israel Lobby at the Code Pink AIPAC protest.
Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the celebrated The Israel Lobby and Pindo Foreign Policy, were unavoidably featured in the plenary sessions, while Stephen Sniegoski, author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel was proposed, but rejected. Alison Weir and other writer-activists, including Jeff Blankfort, photographer (12) and journalist (13), Janet McMahon of WRMEA (14) and Grant Smith of IRMEP (15) were relegated to a workshop in the basement, which was very well attended. Code Pink repeated the event in 2012, and the Israel Lobby critics were allowed only to hold an event in the hall afterward, with the hall stripped of all Code Pink identifying material, and the audience invited to further events scheduled elsewhere at the same time. One hundred twenty-five remained in the hall to hear the Lobby critics. In 2013, the critics were banned from the program altogether. Bennis was a “board-nominated” candidate for the JVP board of directors election in Aug 2016. A “board-nominated” candidate is the JVP leadership’s way of instructing the membership how to vote, and Bennis was duly elected. The nomination may have been in view of services rendered over the years. Speculation in Washington last summer focused on Bennis as the éminence grise of the attack on Weir, though details were naturally scarce. All of the candidates for the JVP board save one were board-nominated or incumbent, as in earlier elections; the first-ever “self-nominated” candidate lost. The election required a quorum of 20% of the JVP membership, or 1250, which was achieved only in the final hours of a 10-day period of online voting. This gives the impression of an organization run by and for an autocratic leadership, licensed by a small minority willing to select among the list of approved candidates, a democratic facade common on the authoritarian left. It is also perhaps common in the organized Jewish world that the leadership is accountable mainly to itself and its donors, while presuming to define the collective destiny. JVP claims great importance, saying:
(We are) a national organization closely connected to a growing grassroots base. We have 200,000 supporters on our email list, 10,000 individual donors, over 60 chapters across Pindostan, a staff of 25.
After twenty years of existence, JVP is really about 1300 people nationwide, less than 5% of the number who purchased Alison Weir’s book in two years. Their donor base is less than 40% of the readership Weir garnered in two years. If Pindostanis Knew has 16,000 on their email list, and 175,000 Facebook followers, all as a by-product of research, publication and speaking, with no attention to organization building. The programs, literature and outreach of JVP suggest that building the organization is their main task. Like the rest of the Israel Lobby, JVP has little to do with the views of the Pindo sheeple, but imposes itself by being relentless, highly organized, and lavishly funded. Its 2013 tax return, the latest available, filed May 2015 (16), shows revenue of $1.4m and expenses of $1.144m. The amount of $280,382 was retained, adding to net assets now totaling over $700k. Most of the expenses were for salaries ($651,073, 9 staff). Total expenses were divided among $773,288 for “program service,” $168,127 “management and general,” and $202,664 for “fundraising.” Program services were described thus:
Trainings for students, rabbis and chapter leaders … vigorously protested against the war in Gaza in summer 2014 … production of six-minute video explaining the situation in Israel/Palestine.
The Gaza war began on Jul 8, after the end of the tax year, which ran from Jul 1 2013 to Jun 30 2014. JVP has apparently claimed expenses not incurred in the tax year. The claimed “close connection to a grassroots base” may be judged by the disbursements for “chapter expenses” on the tax return, $23,783, an average of $400 for each of the claimed 60 chapters, confirming the impression of an autocratic leadership clique backed by a small minority of members. JVP has since announced $2m raised, presumably to be added in part to $700k assets, as Palestinians beg online to fund their educations and other luxuries. The tax return does not disclose funding sources, which are categorized as “fund-raising events” and “other contributions, gifts, grants, and similar amounts.” The JVP membership was not consulted by the leadership over the campaign against Weir, and criticism erupted when the attack became public in the spring of 2015. The online JVP member forum, which in early July replaced an email list, was full of discussion, much it opposed. In mid-July Stanford professor Joel Beinin, historian of the modern Middle East and founding member of JVP, contributed his own attack on Weir. At the end of August, after two months of mutiny, the forum was taken offline for a month, with stern warnings about “civility,” a familiar censor’s ploy, and at least one person was ejected. When the forum opened again in October, there was no further discussion of Alison Weir. This writer had access to the forum as a dues-paying JVP member. The forum guidelines state that material should not be used without permission, but also state that material should be considered public. JVP’s attack on Alison Weir is a public matter. Beinin recounted his personal “disassociation” from Weir over her “objective anti-Semitism”:
In light of the ongoing debate about JVPs decision to disassociate from Alison Weir, I’d like to offer the following. My own experience with AW goes back about a decade, when I was on a panel with her sponsored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. She spoke about her then recent study of the NYT reporting on Israel/Palestine. (here). The study itself is based on good research and documents what many of us have long known about the NYT’s coverage of the conflict and the frequent conflation of its news perspective and editorial views. The problem begins when she explains why this is the case. The text of the study only hints at her explanation: that the NYT’s reporting is “inconsistent with normal journalistic standards.” Did the NYT report accurately on the Vietnam War, the revolutionary movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Iranian revolution, the 2003 Iraq War (before or after)? Did the WaPo or the WSJ? We know that they did not. Under questioning at this event, AW did not acknowledge that the corporate media as well as NPR generally report international issues in line with Pindo foreign policy. Rather she said that the disproportionately Jewish ownership of the NYT and other media explained its approach to I/P. This much is true. This is an objectively anti-Semitic view because it attributes unique capacity to Jewish power and money to distort reporting (and ultimately government policy) on this issue. It does not consider that both media reporting and Pindo policy on I/P are consistent with the imperialist character of Pindo policy everywhere in the world. I tried to speak with AW after the event, but she was not moved in the slightest by anything I offered. I have personally declined to appear on the same platform as AW since then.
The phrase “consistent with” is meaningless, designed to hide the radical differences between “US policy everywhere in the world” and policy in the Middle East. It is a truism that the Middle East is the most subjugated subsystem in the international relations system.
(omitted history passage #2)
Pindosi policy in the Middle East is not consistent with Pindo policy elsewhere, it is on a different plane entirely, in its destructiveness, at home and abroad, and also in its Pindo advocates. In the matter of media coverage, which exercised Joel Beinin, Mearsheimer and Walt found that the Israel “lobby’s perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media in part because a substantial number of commentators who write about Israel are themselves pro-Israel” (33). Media critic Eric Alterman found that for “reasons of religion, politics, history and genuine conviction the punditocracy debate of the Middle East in America is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel” (34). Their tabulations are dominated by Jewish writers, editors and publishers. It appears to be a qualification for New York Times Israel correspondents and op-ed columnists to have a son in the Israeli military, (35) or are married into the Israeli establishment (36). No Latin American dictator, no South African apartheid regime, ever enjoyed such partisanship. Beinin continued:
As she has become more prominent Alison Weir (along with the CNI and WRMEA) has become a major spokesperson for the view that the USrael alliance uniquely (unlike Pindo alliances with the Toads and Pakistan, for example) harms Pindo national interests (which she does not define). While this is objectionable in its own right, it might not be a sufficient reason for JVP not to associate with her. Her uncomfortably frequent association with types like white supremacist Clay Douglas, right-wing racists like the Pindosi Free Press, and the anti-gay, anti-Jewish pastor Mark Dankof make her a liability for the movement.
CNI and WRMEA focus on Israel because they were founded by Pindo government officials whose careers were damaged or destroyed by the Israel Lobby. CNI and WRMEA understand the role of Israel, together with its Pindo lobby, as a dynamic, radicalizing, destabilizing force, central to the catastrophe wrought by Pindostan in the Middle East. A conference on the Israel Lobby organized by CNI, WRMEA, and IRMEP in 2014 featured an impressive array of former government officials who catalogued Israel’s damage to Pindostan and found that Israel is if anything an enemy, not an ally or a “strategic asset” (37). Beinin, Chomsky, et al ignore this vociferous criticism from national security veterans, who in their view can only be deluded about “Pindo interests.” Nor is it clear that CNI and WRMEA support the current Pindo relationships with the Toads and Pakistan. The nominal cause of JVP’s “disassociation” and Pindo Campaign to End the Occupation’s expulsion of If Pindostanis Knew was interviews she gave to right-wing journalists (among hundreds given to other outlets), such as Clay Douglas, an obscure figure with a tiny audience who is trumpeted as another Hitler by the SPLC. All parties to the attack on Weir denounced Douglas as a “white supremacist” and anti-Semite.
Whether one views Douglas as an anti-Semite, or someone with a crude, ugly misapprehension of the real problem of Jewish power, perhaps depends on whether one views the Israel Lobby thesis as “objective anti-Semitism” or basically valid. JVP and End the Occupation collapse the complex, contradictory per- sonality of Douglas into a “hate” figure in order to smear Weir, after SPLC and the Jewish obsession with right-wing populism, rather than elite Zionism, as the font of evil. Beinin uses vague, menacing, show-trial language like “associating with” and “consorting with” to make granting interviews seem sinister and ominous. Rather than being spurned, it is probably better that far right audiences hear about distinctions between the Jewish public and organized Jewish leadership, as Weir drew, and hear that Muslim opposition to the US is the product of US policies, not Islamophobic motives. Douglas, and other right-wing outlets that interviewed Weir, such as American Free Press and Mark Dankof, have also interviewed Jewish critics of Zionism like Ilan Pappe, Jennifer Loewenstein and even Rebecca Vilkomerson of JVP, as well as many non-Jewish critics, who were not attacked for anti-Semitism by JVP and Pindo Campaign. Beinin concludes:
The most fundamental question that any movement must ask is “Who are our friends and who are our enemies?” Alison Weir has chosen to consort uncritically with people who are not friends of any progressive, anti-racist movement for social justice. If she had done it once or twice or if she acknowledged it as an error, it might not be a major issue. Doing it repeatedly and affirming that there is no problem about this as long as she does not explicitly endorse the views of her interlocutors is naive at best. Whatever her intentions, this behavior gives our enemies more credibility when they assert that support for Palestinian rights, criticism of Israeli policies, BDS, and anti-Zionism are necessarily anti-Semitic. JVP should oppose AW’s “soft” anti-Semitism just as we would oppose the more naked form of those she consorts with. This is both a matter of broad progressive principle and of particular importance for us as a Jewish organization. We cannot be maximally effective in supporting Palestinian rights if there is any basis for our enemies to claim that only Jews who consort with anti-Semites (or people who are “soft” on anti-Semitism) support Palestinian rights. Joel Beinin.
The “most fundamental question that any movement must ask” is what it stands for. Among other things, Jewish control of the Palestine movement, behavior as old as “the occupation” itself. A generation ago, New Jewish Agenda sought to remove from progressive politics the goal of reducing Pindo aid to Israel (44). Today JVP seeks to suppress the Israel Lobby critique, and uses the charge of anti-Semitism for its ends, just like mainstream Jewish groups. Weir was accused of violating the “anti-racism principles” of the Pindo Campaign to End the Occupation (45) by unnamed member organizations. The “anti-racism” principles (38) claim:
We oppose Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, all forms of racism, and any other expressions of bigotry directed at any person or group… our central tenet is opposition to racism in all its forms.
The “anti-racism principles” were drawn up in 2013, likely as part of a long-term plot against Weir. The “principles” mention only anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which was protested (47). Islamophobia has no followers in Palestine ranks, and “anti-racism principles” are unnecessary to oppose it. The “principles” ignore the history and literature of Zionism as a form of racism (48) and of Jewish anti-gentilism in the “diaspora.” This suggests that the purpose of the “anti-racism principles” is to support accusations of anti-Semitism, a common gambit of “anti-racist” politics world-wide. The insistence of Pindo Campaign and JVP that they “oppose all forms of racism” while they use “anti-racism principles” that omit Zionism to mount a show trial over anti-Semitism was so egregious that last summer, when the campaign against Alison Weir was at its height, the JVP leadership promised a “Zionism study group” to which members could “apply,” which would formulate a position on Zionism. Unsurprisingly, the idea died, until one member raised the question again this spring, and was eagerly seconded by eight other members. Facing another mutiny, Professor Beinin again donned his commissar hat to explain why taking a position on Zionism was inadvisable. Unlike his charges, Beinin understands that examining Zionism would expose the racialism and racism on which JVP is based. Like the discussion of the attack on Alison Weir, the Zionism study group discussion died. As the attack on Alison Weir shows (among many things), JVP’s “Jewish politics” is power and privilege. “Jewish identity” can only be a personal, individual matter. Outside a religious congregation, collectively, it is a form of Zionism. As Peter Beinart observed (49):
Privately, Pindo Jews revel in Jewish power. But publicly, we often avoid discussing it for fear of feeding anti-Semitic myths.
Or confirming them, as in the references to the Protocols noted above, the attack on Alison Weir, and the thuggish disruption of her talk in Walnut Creek. Such revelling has for 50 years suppressed the critical tasks of the left:
- A critique of Zionism and the Jewish people idea as Jewish race doctrine, opposing Jew and gentile everywhere;
- A candid analysis of the Israel Lobby, from its debut in WW2 to its maturity in the 1940s to its present cumulative radicalization;
- Recovering the classical liberal traditions, products of the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation, which rejected Zionism categorically. These include classical Reform Judaism, which rejected Jewish peoplehood and affirmed the position of Jews as a religious minority.
(omitted historical passage #3)
Alison Weir entered politics to address her fellow citizens, and was attacked by the left Jewish establishment of völkisch sophistication, a variation on Jefferson Smith’s reception in the Frank Capra movie, Mr Smith Goes to Washington. The liberal foundations of the modern world remain the only way of addressing the issues raised by Zionism and the state of Israel, as Weir understands, if the Jewish left does not.
(1) http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/77314/student-protesters-scary-lesson-at-anti-israel-talk (note Weir’s comment on the article)
(6) Weir, Against Our Better Judgment, 12
(7) Naomi Cohen, The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948, 73-4, for a debate between Kallen and a Jewish critic.
(8) Jewish Voice for Peace, Reframing Anti-Semitism. An Alternative Jewish Perspective, 5.
(18) Stephen Sniegoski, The Transparent Cabal. The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, 42; see Chap. 3 and references therein
(19) James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 405-6
(20) Eric Alterman, Sound and Fury. The Making of the Punditocracy, 229
(21) Sound and Fury, 235
(22) David Rogers, “Pro-Israel Lobbyists Quietly Backed Resolution Allowing Bush to Commit Pindo Troops to Combat,” WSJ, Jan 28 1991
(24) John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and Pindo Foreign Policy, 286-91; see also Sasan Fayezmanesh, Pindostan and Iran. Sanctions, wars and the policy of dual containment
(25) The Transparent Cabal, 83
(26) The Transparent Cabal, 90
(27) Steve Coll, Ghost Wars. The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, 87
(28) Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, 98
(29) Max Rodenbeck, “Their Master’s Voice,” New York Review of Books, Mar 9 2006 http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2006/03/09/their-masters-voice/
(31) http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/08/02/when- did-the-american-empire-start-to-decline/
(33) The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, 169
(45) , http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=3403
(49) Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, 5