At Berkeley screening of ‘5 Broken Cameras,’ StandWithUs brings Israeli army propagandists

Israel/Palestine
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To kick off Israeli Apartheid Week at UC Berkeley, Students for Justice in Palestine organized a free screening of “5 Broken Cameras,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about Palestinian resistance in the West Bank village of Bil’in. The event last Thursday night was a tremendous success, with more than 100 people packing the large lecture hall to witness Emad Burnat’s intimate portrait of Bil’in’s heroic struggle against occupation and Israel’s ongoing confiscation of the village’s land.
 
Afterwards students who had visited Bil’in spoke about their experiences, and drew connections between the film and  divestment on campus. The documentary repeatedly shows Israel’s use of Caterpillar bulldozers to build and expand settlements in contravention of international law and Palestinians’ basic human rights, among other illegal activities. Caterpillar also provided the bulldozer used to run over and kill American activist Rachel Corrie in 2003. As of the last publicly available information, UC Berkeley currently invests $5 million in Caterpillar, and has numerous holdings in other companies profiting from the occupation. In drawing attention to our school’s involvement in the occupation we hope to galvanize student support against it.
 
After this short presentation we opened the discussion for a Q&A period, as people started to trickle out. More than two thirds of the audience had left by the time members of Tikvah Students for Israel entered the auditorium.
 
Tikvah is a right-wing Zionist group on campus whose organizing highlights include “Israel Peace and Diversity Week” to counter Israel Apartheid Week, and “Ethics of the IDF: The Code of the World’s Most Ethical Military”. This particular night Tikvah students were accompanied by Israeli soldiers with whom they had just concluded the Berkeley segment of a nation-wide tour, “Israeli Soldiers Stories: Real Soldiers. Real Lives. Real People.” 
 
The tour is partly funded by the MZ Foundation, a local grant-making organization dedicated to combating campus anti-Semitism by training students to “become effective advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.” MZ Foundation is a sponsor of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a network providing campus Hillel chapters with training to “deal with Israel’s detractors on campus” among other services.
 
StandWithUs, a group best known for pepper-spraying members of Jewish Voice for Peace, and for its coordination with the Israeli government in a lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-Op for voting to boycott Israeli products, organized the tour.
 
Their “Israeli Soldiers’ Stories” project claims its mission is to “educate, inform, and delve into conversation about the Israeli-Arab conflict” and boasts, “Each soldier has a personal story that exposes the dilemmas of the conflict, including facing an enemy that hides behind its civilians.” In fact, the goal of these talks is to absolve the Israeli military of any wrong-doing and claim violence is either the product “a few bad apples” or provoked by violent Palestinians against whom helpless soldiers must defend themselves, rather than an ongoing policy of ethnic cleansing.
 
According to the tour’s event page, most soldiers are members of the StandWithUs Israeli Fellowship, “An elite public diplomacy program in its seventh year, that selects and trains 150 student leaders from six major Israeli universities.” Although StandWithUS says the tour is not coordinated with the Israeli Defense Force or the Israeli government, the application for the Israeli Fellowship from which most speakers come states that the program works in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (link in Hebrew).
 
A promotional video for the fellowship details how it trains participants in hasbara techniques to improve Israel’s image around the world. One segment highlights fellows’ participation in a speaking tour about Operation Cast Lead, wherein soldiers “spoke out” to defend the IDF as the most moral army in the world despite reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other internationally recognized groups which all found that Israel committed war crimes and even crimes against humanity.
 
One of the soldiers who entered the room took part in this tour, and can be seen at 1:25 in the video. With some research I found that his name is Shai Bernstein, and he was indeed a StandWithUs Israel fellow who not only served in Gaza, but also participated in Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon, during which the IDF was also accused of war crimes.
 
Soldier Hen Mazzig was also present, the shaliach (Israeli representative/emissary) for StandWithUs Pacific Northwest chapter, the same chapter that helped file the lawsuit against Olympia Food Co-Op. Some of you may recognize Hen’s name from the myriad of articles and talks he has given regarding an incident in Seattle this January. Jewish Voice for Peace put on a talk by Iyad Burnat, brother of 5 Broken Camera’s director Emad (you can see the entire presentation here). Hen was in the audience, and at the end of the talk stood up and claimed that five years ago Iyad had pushed him to the ground during a demonstration in Bil’in, that at the same time a “friend of his” (another soldier) had his jaw broken by a stone, and that another soldier later lost vision in one eye. He then produced a large poster of masked Palestinians throwing rocks. At this time a young man began shouting obscenities at Hen. Nevertheless Hen’s description of events, which he has subsequently given in countless articles and speaking engagements, is much more dramatic than a video of what actually happened. 
 
Hen gave the exact same speech at our event, and blamed Palestinians completely for any of the violence presented in the film. He and Shai also tried to divert attention from the film by continually bringing up off-topic issues, such as Israel’s treatment of LGBT people, rockets from Gaza, and Palestinian abuse of Christians.
 
I will not take the time to address these issues, as they have been thoroughly dealt with elsewhere. They were meant as diversions so that the discussion became about the soldiers and people reacting to them instead of the film. 
 
To be honest I struggled over even writing about this experience because it felt like another diversion. But what I wanted to focus on here was not the content of Hen and Shai’s arguments –they weren’t anything we haven’t heard before. Instead, I wanted to arm any other groups preparing to screen 5 Broken Cameras in the future with the information they need to stay in control of the conversation. When people come to an event posing as well-intentioned soldiers who just happened to be in the neighborhood when they are in fact trained and paid representatives of a propaganda tour, it is imperative to let the audience know exactly who they are, and where their motivations lie.
 

More importantly, I wanted to expose the vast organizational networks, coordination, and funding that go into Zionists’ attempts to stand in the way of the truth. They are pouring huge sums of money and energy into shutting us down and distracting from our message. What does that say about us? I think it says we’re powerful. I think it says they’re scared.

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18 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    February 27, 2013, 11:11 am

    ” More importantly, I wanted to expose the vast organizational networks, coordination, and funding that go into Zionists’ attempts to stand in the way of the truth. They are pouring huge sums of money and energy into shutting us down and distracting from our message. What does that say about us? I think it says we’re powerful. I think it says they’re scared.”

    Thanks so much for this report
    .

  2. Citizen
    February 27, 2013, 11:56 am

    Thanks.
    I just tweeted about this.

  3. Linda J
    February 27, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Thanks for this. Having been present for Chen’s “intervention” at the Seattle screening, I’m glad you are getting their strategy out in the open.

    Btw, the link marked “video” of the Seattle event, doesn’t seem to go to a video link.

    Thanks again.

  4. hophmi
    February 27, 2013, 12:35 pm

    Are you asserting that Palestinians do not throw stones at Israeli soldiers?

    • justicewillprevail
      February 27, 2013, 5:51 pm

      No, what are you asserting? Perhaps you should watch the film before making OT irrelevant remarks.

    • Cliff
      February 27, 2013, 6:02 pm

      Palestinians throw stones.

      Israelis blow up Palestinians and their families and steal their land and water and then call all Palestinians terrorists and whitewash Palestinian deaths as the result of Palestinian human shields.

      And now you look past this obvious example of harassment by an IDF soldier turned partisan hack in a corporate astro-turf Zionist propaganda campaign because 1 soldier got pushed to the ground (LOL) and another got hit in the eye with a rock.

      How many IDF-related deaths are related to rock-throwing Palestinians?

      Should rock-throwing Palestinians be considering ticking-time-bombs by you, mini-Dershowitz Hoppy?

    • thetumta
      February 27, 2013, 7:06 pm

      All children throw stones, it’s just that they’re usually not shot to death for it. Perhaps you’ll be happier when their older and well armed and shoot back. I’ll bet you can’t even imagine it?
      Hej!

    • Basilio
      February 27, 2013, 8:35 pm

      No, people are not asserting that Palestinians under occupation don’t throw stones, they do. Remember, an occupier can never truly be a defender when the occupier is controlling another people. He’s automatically the aggressor. That soldier should be ashamed of himself for having been an occupier. What was done in Lebanon and Gaza was monstrous, and he was part of that. And many homes are destroyed and people are seeing their lands forcibly seized and annexed. It’s an ethnic cleansing that Israel engages in regardless if someone threw stones or not.

    • eljay
      February 27, 2013, 9:23 pm

      >> Are you asserting that Palestinians do not throw stones at Israeli soldiers?

      Palestinians throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

      Israeli soldiers beat, maim, arrest, torture and kill Palestinians. They destroy Palestinian homes, lands and livelihoods. They enforce the supremacist “Jewish State’s” occupation and colonization of Palestine.

      But, yeah, Palestinians throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

    • sardelapasti
      February 28, 2013, 2:07 am

      Jeez Hopfmi, now you are really inviting it.
      Throwing anything at Zionist soldiers is legal.
      The right to resist by any means judged necessary to occupation, especially soldiers, is enshrined in the latest version of the Rights of Man. Right now serious violence is judged counter-productive by the occupied. Even if it were not, the Zionists have started a war of aggression in 11/1947 and that is going on, so if those stones exploded the Zionist soldiers only have the right to like it.

  5. Cliff
    February 27, 2013, 2:09 pm

    Good post.

    Zionist arguments are shallow and stale. They’ve been dismantled so often that I think solidarity activists should be equally ‘trained’ to counter them as Zionists have been to spew them forth.

    Zionism relies on propagandistic and purely rhetorical devices.

    Not honest debate.

    And when it does get ‘honest’ its either pure hate and Jewish supremacy or phony Liberal Zionism.

    It’s for these reasons why Zionism needs Holocaust worship, antisemitism, Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Israel/Jewish Lobby.

    Arab Americans need to emulate the organized Jewish community.

  6. kma
    February 27, 2013, 5:47 pm

    how is it not pure intimidation for IDF soldiers to show up at an event featuring their victims?

    can’t the new legislation designed to protect zionism on campus be used to protect people who are ACTUALLY being intimidated?
    what if one of the guests or speakers had lost family members and friends at the hands of the IDF, and maybe even the same individual from StandWithUS? that is intentional intimidation.

    • hophmi
      February 27, 2013, 6:02 pm

      “how is it not pure intimidation for IDF soldiers to show up at an event featuring their victims?”

      Since there is not one incident of a Zionist, let alone an IDF soldier, abusing Palestinians on campus in any way during these lectures, I’d say your issue is a false one. You could argue Americans showing up is intimidation. You could argue anything is intimidation.

      “can’t the new legislation designed to protect zionism on campus be used to protect people who are ACTUALLY being intimidated?”

      There is no legislation that I know of protecting Zionism on campus.

      “what if one of the guests or speakers had lost family members and friends at the hands of the IDF, and maybe even the same individual from StandWithUS? that is intentional intimidation.”

      What if an Israeli who speaks has lost family members because of a suicide bomber and someone in a keffiyeh shows up? Do you think the person should be thrown out because the speaker might intimidate them?

      The answer is no because that’s not how we do things in a country with a First Amendment. If you don’t like it, you can, in the words of Bloomberg, check out North Korea.

      • kma
        March 1, 2013, 5:17 pm

        you’re very confused. nobody threw anyone out of the room.
        the question is, if zionists think they can sue the UC’s under Title VI for “inimidation” by groups like SJP for demonstrating against the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, then they are huge hypocrites. you should read about those cases, they are nuts.

        the IDF are employed to implement a violent ethnic cleansing. they are not exactly a community service group! parading them to an event like that is clearly meant to intimidate people working for the rights of Palestinians.

        Americans may be typically ill-informed and apathetic, but we’re not typically sociopaths! BDS is an apple pie concept. US aid to Israel is not.

    • justicewillprevail
      February 27, 2013, 7:16 pm

      Agreed, it seems these people betray the same arrogant assumption as their compatriots that they have some ‘right’ to gatecrash gatherings of people they don’t like – I mean, those people might be undermining them by telling the truth about the occupation. Something must be done, so a bit of bullying hasbara harassment (hasbarassment?) is ordered.

  7. thetumta
    February 27, 2013, 7:15 pm

    “what if one of the guests or speakers had lost family members and friends at the hands of the IDF, and maybe even the same individual from StandWithUS?”

    Perhaps if that guest was well armed, the intimidation would have evaporated? At any rate, given these individuals resumes, I suppose they are prepared to do more than debate. That’s why their unafraid to show up at your party and behave the way they did. I wonder if they were, in fact, armed or someone was in the shadows? Could it be that easy to be that brazen here or are they somehow wrong?

    Hej!

  8. Pamela Olson
    February 28, 2013, 12:35 am

    Thanks for this terrific report, Maggie. I look forward to meeting you next month in Berkeley!

  9. TimMathison
    March 4, 2013, 8:15 pm

    “They are pouring huge sums of money and energy into shutting us down and distracting from our message.” Is it true that these StandWithUs Israeli soldiers get paid more than $100,000 each to come to travel around the U.S.? Doesn’t that say something about their commitment to the truth? For $100,000, most people would say whatever they’re paid to say.

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