Free Gaza Movement Twitter controversy leads Jewish Voice for Peace to distance itself from group

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FGM A Free Gaza movement boat as it approaches a port in Gaza (Photo: Free Gaza Movement/Flickr)

Greta Berlin, a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), has sparked a raging controversy by publishing Twitter posts linked to anti-Semitic material. The episode has been damaging to the Free Gaza Movement, which came to prominence after it repeatedly sent ships to break the blockade of Gaza.

Yesterday, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) distanced itself strongly from Berlin and the Free Gaza Movement. In its statement, JVP, which had sponsored an October 11 book event featuring Berlin in Los Angeles, said Sunday that “we are disassociating ourselves from sponsorship of Berlin’s current book tour in the U.S. or future endorsements of Free Gaza Movement actions.”

Naomi Klein, who served on the Free Gaza advisory board, tweeted on October 5, “I have resigned from the Advisory Board of the Free Gaza Movement. Still support mission but leadership has changed since I signed up.”

The debacle started when the Free Gaza Twitter account sent a message to thousands of followers that read: “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Berlin controls the account. The same Twitter message linked to a video showing Eustace Mullins, a known anti-Semite. The video shows Mullins saying things like Hitler “allied with the Zionist Party and the mission of the Nazis was to force the anti-Zionist Jews to accept Zionism…So the concentration camps were run by the Zionist Jews in order to punish and get rid of the anti-Zionist Jews, which they did.”

Though FGM deleted the message after it generated attention, Avi Mayer, the head of social media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, saved a copy of the message and created a Storify piece on the controversy. The story blew up from there, with media outlets like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jerusalem Post covering the controversy. 

A series of apologies from Free Gaza followed, with Berlin claiming that she meant to send the video to a private Facebook group of people who “were discussing propaganda and racism.” The apology, from the Free Gaza Movement, continued: “This link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites. For some reason, Facebook connected our Free Gaza account to [Berlin’s] personal Facebook account, and the link was posted.”

While JVP’s statement said they “appreciate Greta Berlin’s statements in response to the furor,” the group also said that “we unfortunately don’t think her responses adequately address our concern about circulating anti-semitic materials…We have been endorsers of the Free Gaza Movement and are proud to have been associated with their non-violent efforts as part of the Palestinian solidarity movement. We do not believe that the Free Gaza Movement is anti-semitic and understand that Greta Berlin’s tweets were her own and not representative of Free Gaza.”

+972 blogger Larry Derfner defended Berlin in a post, and also published an article detailing an interview he conducted with Berlin. In an email to Mondoweiss, Berlin claimed that the anti-Semitic video in question “was never posted in the group. because I didn’t change the settings to send it to that group and ended up posting it on my wall instead.” She pointed to a statement of 37 people published on 972 which “verif[ied] that we have a small group and those are the things we talk about.”

The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah has cast doubt on Berlin’s apologies. The context that Berlin refers to “does not exist,” Abunimah writes. He based his claim on his access to a Facebook group that Berlin was the administrator of and where the video was posted.

Another 972 contributor, Tom Pessah, has also strongly criticized Berlin, pointing to a “pattern” of disturbing behavior from Berlin, including endorsing Gilad Atzmon, who has been denounced in numerous quarters, including the Palestine solidarity movement, for anti-Semitism. In her endorsement, Berlin said that Atzmon’s Jewish journey “makes me awfully glad I was raised a Methodist.” 

The Free Gaza Twitter account, which Berlin controls, also sent out a separate post linking to an anti-Semitic film. Adam Holland, a pro-Israel blogger, discovered a September 21 tweet from the Free Gaza account that read: “1943- Im Wald von Katyn,” with a downloadable link. Im Wald von Katyn is a film that was made by the Nazis. It was a propaganda tract that sought to blame Jews for carrying out a 1940 massacre of Polish nationals.

In an interview with Derfner, Berlin says that she doesn’t “recall seeing the movie or sending the tweet.” But a screenshot posted by Holland shows that Berlin shared it on Facebook.

The Free Gaza Twitter account has also tweeted out links to websites that claimed that “Mossad was behind ‘Sam Bacile'”, the name associated with the anti-Islam movie that lately caused such outrage in the Middle East.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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