Four months ago, I was added to a Facebook group called “Our Land” much of which, when I finally looked at the content, immediately struck me as anti-Semitic in nature, so I complained to the person who had added me.
That person was Greta Berlin. The “Our Land” page currently has 13 administrators, including Greta, and is a combination of posts from legitimate sources such as Ma’an News Agency and Al Jazeera on current events in Palestine, along with anti-Semitic rants and comments. The video of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins that Greta tweeted out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Twitter account on September 30 originated in this group.
Some people have come to Greta’s defense, accepting her assertion that this was a technical mistake, that she did not support the content of the video, and that those who have criticized her response to the “mistake” are on a witch hunt. I’d like to acknowledge that the Free Gaza Movement was not synonymous with Greta Berlin; some of my good friends and people I deeply respect were leaders of that movement and their work and commitment should in no way be minimized by this.
Setting aside Greta’s woefully inadequate explanations for the tweet (of which there were several), the fact remains: Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it. Since the controversy broke, the “Our Land” group has attempted to cover some of its tracks. The fact that Greta remains an active administrator of a Facebook group that accommodates this kind of bigotry raises serious issues about her commitment to building an anti-racist movement committed to justice and equality. Moreover, her unprincipled, vicious and Islamophobic attacks on the Palestinians who have called her to task for her behavior should alarm all of us who are committed to Palestine solidarity work.
While I am personally disappointed in Greta the stakes here are much higher than one person’s lack of judgement. This moment is a challenge to the Palestine solidarity movement and for us to define the movement we want to be, and the rhetoric and ideas we are willing to embrace. I hope by writing this, I can explain what led me to address these concerns, and what I hope we can all learn from the experience.
A History of Anti-Semitism
On July 11, 2012 I started poking around “Our Land”. I found this article, with a personalized introduction posted by Greta, about Zionist-Nazi collaboration:
At the time, the group had just begun, and it included a wide range of voices. While the issue of Zionist leaders having some level of coordination with the Nazi government is well-established, someone immediately took issue with the introduction, which did not come from the article itself but was added by Greta. Particularly, the idea that “The H” was “to a large degree created” by Zionists.
Here is part of the discussion that followed:
Greta’s assertion that the introduction was not hers but was a comment her “Jewish friend” wrote could not be verified, as the comments on this article had been turned off by countercurrents.org due to “racism”. This excuse, however, once again reeks of the same rationale she used about the tweet: these aren’t her words, yet she still chooses to disseminate them, without qualification.
After I began to engage in the discussion, challenging the anti-Semitic claim that Jews orchestrated the Holocaust, I was immediately attacked by a prolific poster to the group: Joachim Martillo. He posted to the group often; his area of interest seemed to be the inherent viciousness and evilness of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. When I challenged both his outrageous bigotry, and his penchant for posting pseudo-scientific rants on Facebook, this is what he said to me:
“Bekah Wolf is expressing the same sort of bigotry that Jews commonly express when they claim non-Jews can’t write about Jewish history or the Holocaust because they are not sufficiently in touch with the Jewish experience.[…]
For the record, I tend to comment here in the morning to get my mind working — sort of like calisthenics.
At one time I was trying to focus on becoming a scholar of modern Eastern European and Jewish historical political economics.
But it is really hard to obtain a university position if one does not write what rich Jewish donors want to read.
Then I moved into packet switching technology (cash flows in an economy are mathematically indistinguishable to packet flows in an Internet) and invented one of the key building blocks of the Internet.”
I then, in a private direct message to Greta, complained about him, and the group in general, for its content, questioning why she had added me to it in the first place. She had this to say:
I just posted this to the idiots ganging up on you in Our Land. I have not been online or I would have stopped it much sooner. …….Sorry Bekah, the page is not mine. I belong to it just like you do. And, for everyone else in here, Bekah has more cred in her little finger than many of you do in your entire body. She lives in Beit Ommar, a Palestinian village in the Hebron District where PSP is based and puts her feet where her mouth goes. She’s too modest to tell you these things, but she is an amazing women who works nonstop for the Palestinians…….
I was laughing at Joachim though. He has his good moments but his head is sometimes up his ass…ertions. And they have no idea who you are, so I just had to smack them a bit
What was shocking to me was the fact that she in no way addressed the issue I was bringing up: that Martillo was habitually making virulently and anti-Jewish postings in the group. And she just plain lied, she wasn’t just a member of the group, she was an administrator who had been added as one in June:
Take a look at that list of administrators, by the way. Eight of the 12 besides Greta are the same people who signed a letter on her behalf as members of another “secret” Facebook group in which she claims she intended to post the Eustace Mullins video.
I left the group in July, but when I heard about the tweet she posted, and her claim that it was just a mistaken posting intended for a Facebook group, I was reminded of Our Land. On September 30, I requested to rejoin the group. Greta approved me within 15 minutes of my request, clearly still an active administrator. At the same time, I notified a couple of Palestine solidarity activists, including editors at The Electronic Intifada, about the existence of the group and my belief that it was probably involved. Sure enough, there, on Sept. 28, was the video posted by another of the administrators. This is the posting Ali Abunimah referred in his October 6 post on The Electronic Intifada, (“Greta Berlin’s statement is not correct“).
As I looked through the posts of the group, my suspicions that anti-Zionism was consistently confused with overt anti-Semitism was confirmed. For example, another video posted on the same day as the one Greta tweeted was entitled: “The Holocaust Hoax.”
When one contributor posted an article with the introduction “we must never generalise about Jews and Zionist Jews” Joachim Martillo came back with this explanation of why we, in fact, should:
This is the same man who Greta told me “had his good moments”. She also welcomed him back after he was banned from the forum for the week.
What needs to be understood and emphasized is that this kind of virulently racist material was common in the group, and, as far as I could see, never challenged by the administrators, including Greta.
A Guilty Mind?
After it became clear that The Electronic Intifada had gained access to the group, there was a belated attempt at a cover-up. On October 9th, several prominent members of Greta’s support network, along with the most racist contributor, deleted their Facebook pages, eliminating their previous posts to the group. When administrator Sam Siddiqui deleted her Facebook profile, she took with it a post in which another member of the group wrote that she did not support Greta because she too had confronted Greta about her anti-Semitic rhetoric on Facebook (in one example I saw, Greta blamed bad coverage of Israel/Palestine in the Economist on the fact that it is “50% owned by the Rothchilds.” Besides playing into tropes of Jews running the media, this is also factually inaccurate).
In addition, Joachim Martillo also deleted his Facebook profile, taking with it all traces of his previous posts.
What is perhaps even more disturbing is that while Greta refused to condemn these posts (let alone exercise her authority as an administrator to remove them and ban the contributors), she is totally unapologetic. When someone posted one of the articles in an Israeli newspaper about the tweet, she said about her detractors, “I find them hysterical. What they don’t seem to realize is that, like Gilad Atzmon, people are now buying the book. What morons.”
Greta Berlin continues to defend and openly participate in a Facebook group that posts videos exactly like the one she tweeted two weeks ago and reportedly finds “disgusting.” She is unapologetic about it now, and has been in every interaction I’ve had with her about it. I do not think that Greta is a Nazi-sympathizer, but I have seen her engage, accept, and encourage anti-Semitic rhetoric, and this is incredibly damaging to the Palestine solidarity movement. What she, and this group, represents is dangerous to our movement in solidarity with Palestinians: a complete disregard for the basic principles of anti-racism and anti-bigotry most of us hold dear.
Several people, particularly Palestinians in Palestine, have criticized the amount of attention Greta and her tweet have gotten. Some have criticized her for making this about her and drawing attention away from the people who are actually suffering. Others have criticized those in the movement who have tried to hold Greta accountable. What people seem to be missing, however, are two key reasons why we cannot tolerate this rhetoric in our movement.
First, as a movement based on universal principles of human rights, freedom, and dignity, we should not allow any bigotry, racism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism in our midst. This was a point eloquently made in recent days in a statement signed by more than 100 Palestinian activists, academics and cultural workers.
Secondly, there are some utilitarian reasons why we should avoid this kind of rhetoric. Every time a Palestine solidarity activist takes on the issue of Holocaust and its connections to Zionism, every time they conflate Judaism with Zionism, they are making an inherently Zionist argument. The horrific historical reality of the Holocaust does not, and never can, trivialize or justify the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people. But Greta and others, by insisting on making such topics a primary concern are tacitly conceding a key Zionist claim that the legitimacy of Zionism and its past and present deeds in Palestine stems from the Holocaust.
As an anti-Zionist Jew who has been active in Palestine for 10 years, Greta Berlin’s statements and the content of “Our Land” not only offend me, but they have damaged my ability to combat Zionist rhetoric by claiming that I cannot be both religiously Jewish and anti-Zionist. Zionists routinely argue that to be Jewish is to be Zionist and the kind of rhetoric displayed on “Our Land” concedes this important point and supports this fundamental Zionist claim. In addition, this episode regarding Berlin’s tweet has damaged our movement as a whole and has shown deep short-sightedness by opening us up to attack and dismissal by Zionists who are desperately trying to paint us as a movement as anti-Semitic. Palestinians have not asked the solidarity movement to concern itself with notions of Jewish identity, authenticity, and the Holocaust, but to offer active and effective solidarity in restoring their rights in their country.
I am hopeful, however, because of the principled stances prominent members of our movement took against this offensive and misguided rhetoric. In my experience, a majority of Palestine solidarity activists are genuinely anti-Zionist and desire to combat a modern-day political movement, not an ancient religion or group of people. To paraphrase what a fantastic Palestinian activist once said, there were Jews in Palestine long before Zionism, and there will be Jews there long after Zionism as well.