Helena Cobban (Photo: Kevin Matthews/UCLA)
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is playing a leading role in the escalating debate over the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and this week's pro-BDS conference at the University of Pennyslvania. Over at the organization's "Access ADL" blog, the ADL has begun to publish what they call are highlights from "five of the most anti-Israel individuals scheduled to speak at the conference." But they completely miss the mark in their attack on Helena Cobban, and instead attribute a quote to Cobban that she says she never said and for which there is no evidence of.
Cobban, an expert on the Middle East who is speaking at the BDS conference, was attacked in an ADL blog post yesterday:
Today we profile Helena Cobban, an anti-Israel writer, publisher and the former executive director of the Council for the National Interest, an organization that regularly sends delegations of its supporters to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives in the Middle East.
Cobban consistently tries to portray Israel as the only guilty party in the conflict and has alleged that Israel’s military engages in “voluntary ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinians. In January 2009, shortly after the Gaza War ended, Cobban spoke at an event at Georgetown University where she harshly criticized Israel and Israelis, saying she can’t believe “how stupid Israelis are” and claimed that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.”
But the ADL provides no source or link for the claim that Cobban said that Israelis are "incapable of empathy and compassion for other people." That's because there isn't one.
When the Stand With Us press release was first published, I emailed Cobban for comment:
Throughout my 17-year career as a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, pro-Israeli discourse-suppression groups made repeated attempts to smear my name with fabricated quotes and inaccurate claims. They always failed. I see that this organization 'Stand With Us' is now continuing that tradition. But they are as incapable of authenticating their current claim as any of their predecessors. My record of standing for the equal rights of all human persons, be they Palestinian or Israeli, and my opposition to all forms of violence, including the very harmful systemic violence embodied in the system of military rule that Israel's government has maintained over the occupied territories for nearly 45 years now, speaks for itself.
The use of a fabricated quote to discredit Cobban, and by extension the BDS conference she is speaking at, is part of a larger smear effort to derail the UPENN conference. As Ali Abunimah notes here, one professor called Omar Barghouti's book on BDS the movement's "version of Mein Kampf," and compared BDS to the Nazi boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. The professor, Ruben Gur, also compared Jewish supporters of BDS to "Capos in the extermination camps" in an article he wrote for the campus paper.