An unpleasant conversation with a staffer to Brooklyn congresswoman Yvette Clarke about her BDS letter

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

Two more items from the heroic battle for free speech that is taking place in Brooklyn and New York as we speak! First, a friend in Brooklyn who wishes to remain anonymous tells me about calling Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s Brooklyn office today. Clarke is a progressive Democrat.

Just got off the phone a little while ago with “Matt” at Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s office (he hung up at the end of the conversation when I asked for his last name). 

I told him that I was disappointed in her signing onto the “progressive” politicians’ letter about the Brooklyn College event and said she had plenty of things to work on in Washington that were actually within the scope of the job she got elected to. He was definitely familiar with the BDS letter issue–he immediately started ticking off the names of other people who had signed the letter [Jerrold Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, Nidia Velasquez, Brad Lander, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, John Liu et al]. When I noted that their support didn’t really explain/justify Clarke’s decision to sign on, he started groping (unsuccessfully) for the phrase “whoever pays the piper calls the tune.”

I asked him if that meant Clarke would be speaking out against future events that represented positions she disagreed with and he said “yes, on a case-by-case basis.” I then told him I found it very hard to believe that this was Clarke’s actual position–that academic institutions should only hold events that agree with her point of view. And then he went back to citing all the other people who signed the letter.

I repeated that “everyone is doing it” isn’t exactly a sound intellectual argument and he replied, “Well, maybe I’m just not that smart.” I said that if that was the best Clarke’s office could do to spell out her position, it sounded like we needed to send someone else to DC. He said, I think, “so be it.” And then after confirming that his name was Matt, he hung up when I asked for his last name.

Just for context: I’ve spoken several times with Clarke’s office over the years and have previously always had good conversations with staffers who were eager to draw me out and find out the basis of my opinion–even on subjects where it was clear the Clarke and I disagree. This was a very different conversation–it had an edge from the very beginning.

I almost wish I had said something like “You do realize that if you tell these people to go to hell, there are plenty of people in the district who will have her back.”

My friend says public opinion in Brooklyn, including the Jewish community, is not so bad as the politicians suppose. Though I would just note that political contributions are perhaps an issue in Clarke’s considerations.

Now here is another great post by Corey Robin, whose Political Science department has co-sponsored the forum on boycott this Thursday at Brooklyn College, about Hannah Arendt: 

In 1942, Brooklyn College hired a young instructor to teach a summer course on Modern European history. Though academically trained, the instructor was primarily known as the author of a series of incendiary articles in the Jewish press on Jewish politics and Zionism.

An active though ambivalent Zionist, the instructor did not shy from scorching criticism of the movement for Jewish settlement in Palestine. She had already come to some unsettling conclusions in private. In an unpublished essay, she compared the Zionists to the Nazis, arguing that both movements assumed that the Jews were “totally foreign” to other peoples based on their “inalterable substance.” She wrote in a letter that she found “this territorial experiment” of the Jews in Palestine “increasingly problematic.” By the spring of 1942, she was more public in her criticisms. In March, she wrote that the Irgun—the Jewish paramilitary group whose most prominent commander was Menachem Begin—was a “fascist organization” that “employed terrorist methods in their fight against Arabs in Palestine.”

In the coming years, despite her continuing involvement in Zionist politics, she would grow even more critical of the movement. The very idea of the State of Israel, she would write in 1943, was “based on the idea that tomorrow’s majority [the Jews] will concede minority rights to today’s majority [the Palestinians], which indeed would be something brand-new in the history of nation-states.” In 1944, she accused a circle of Jewish fighters of believing “not only that ends justify means but also that only an end that can be achieved by terror is worth their effort.” By the end of that year, she had come to the conclusion that the extreme position within Zionism, which she consistently associated with fascism, was now the mainstream position of David Ben Gurion, and that that fascist tendency had been latent within Theodor Herzl’s original vision all along. By 1948, the year the State of Israel was founded, she would write: “The general mood of the country, moreover, has been such that terrorism and the growth of totalitarian methods are silently tolerated and secretly applauded.”

The name of that instructor was Hannah Arendt.

If Brooklyn College could tolerate the instructor who wrote those words in 1942—and would go onto write those words of 1944 and 1948—surely it, and the City of New York, can tolerate the co-sponsorship by the political science department of a panel on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2013.

I’d note that the City Council members who are trying to shut this down take exception to the fact that a member of the panel has compared Israelis to Nazis. As if that would stop Hannah Arendt. As if political argument in our country can be cleansed of such analogies.

About Philip Weiss

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11 Responses

  1. American
    February 4, 2013, 2:48 pm

    The Lobby had killed off or silenced the Hannah Arendt’s, at least in the political arena…but looks like some are making a come back.

  2. W.Jones
    February 4, 2013, 3:47 pm

    ((I almost wish I had said something like “You do realize that if you tell these people to go to hell, there are plenty of people in the district who will have her back.”))

    Your friend could still do that, if it’s helpful.

  3. Castellio
    February 4, 2013, 3:51 pm

    A timely and encouraging post. The historical insights of Arendt need to be broadly shared.

    • Citizen
      February 6, 2013, 6:29 am

      @ Castellio

      Amen. Arendt is rarely brought into relevant discussions, especially those involving use of Nazi analogies when referring to Israeli administrative procedures, laws and/or their implementation, and policies and/or conduct patterns. Banal evil, eh?

  4. justicewillprevail
    February 4, 2013, 6:42 pm

    What is very disconcerting about all of these politicians is how quick they are to jump in with their sponsor’s demands. Apparently the opinion of their voters is of no consequence to them, they have no real grasp of the subject they are pontificating on, and have little interest in defending some basic principles of the country they represent. It seems they are unable to process the eloquent and comprehensive arguments which have been laid before them, preferring to shelter behind boilerplate slogans provided for them by the usual lobby groups. If they are so easily bought and sold, you might wonder why they were ever considered suitable for public office. Some might say that is exactly why they are considered to be so. One thing is clear – their loyalties are not to the American public, but the special interests which fund and sustain them, even if those interests are antithetical to their supposed values.

    • Citizen
      February 6, 2013, 6:21 am

      ” One thing is clear – their loyalties are not to the American public, but the special interests which fund and sustain them, even if those interests are antithetical to their supposed values.”

      This is true of how congress operates generally. Nothing will change unless private money is taken out of campaign finance. This will not happen because “pork” for special interests is the real power every congress critter holds.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    February 4, 2013, 7:28 pm

    ● RE: “In March [of 1942], she [Hannah Arendt] wrote that the Irgun—the Jewish paramilitary group whose most prominent commander was Menachem Beginwas a “fascist organization” that “employed terrorist methods in their fight against Arabs in Palestine.” ~ Corey Robin

    ● FROM WIKIPEDIA [Betar]:

    (EXCERPT) The Betar Movement (בית”ר, also spelled Beitar) is a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky. Betar has been traditionally linked to the original Herut and then Likud political parties of Israel, and was closely affiliated with the pre-Israel Revisionist Zionist splinter group Irgun Zevai Leumi. It was one of many right-wing movements and youth groups arising at that time out of a worldwide emergence of fascism.[1] Some of the most prominent politicians of Israel were Betarim in their youth, most notably Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, the latter of whom idolized Jabotinsky.[2]. . .
    . . . The group initially praised Mussolini for his anti-communism and fascist principles, leading it to adopt the black uniform shirt of Italian fascism for a short period. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, however, was seen as “cowardly” by Betar and led them to break with him shortly after.[8]. . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

    ● ALSO SEE: “The Hidden History of Zionism”, Chapter 6, by Ralph Schoenman

    [EXCERPT] . . . Mussolini set up squadrons of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar, in black shirts in emulation of his own Fascist bands.
    When Menachem Begin became chief of Betar, he preferred the brown shirts of the Hitler gangs, a uniform Begin and Betar members wore to all meetings and rallies – at which they greeted each other and opened and closed meetings with the fascist salute. . .

    SOURCE – link to marxists.de

    ● P.S. RE: “Mussolini set up squadrons of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar, in black shirts in emulation of his own Fascist bands.” ~ from the Wikipedia excerpt above
    • SEE THIS VIDEO – Mussolini in Color : The Blackshirts [VIDEO, 02:24] – link to youtube.com

    ● AND RE: “When Menachem Begin became chief of Betar, he preferred the brown shirts of the Hitler gangs” ~ Schoenman (from above)
    • SEE THIS VIDEO: Rise of the Nazis, DiscoveryTV [VIDEO, 04:15] – link to youtube.com
    • AND SEE THIS VIDEO: The Night of the Long Knives [VIDEO, 04:45] – link to youtube.com

  6. DICKERSON3870
    February 4, 2013, 11:06 pm

    PETITION: “Support Academic Freedom at CUNY”

    We the undersigned write in support of the decision by Brooklyn College’s political science department to co-sponsor a panel discussion with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. We urge CUNY President Karen Gould to resist attempts by those who have attempted to intimidate CUNY into canceling, changing, or withdrawing its sponsorship for the panel. We are especially concerned that the New York City Council has threatened to withhold further money for CUNY if it does not either cancel the event or withdraw its sponsorship. This is a grave threat to academic freedom and sets a terrible precedent for the future.

    TO SIGN THE PETITION - link to ipetitions.com

    • DICKERSON3870
      February 5, 2013, 4:07 pm

      P.S. I have signed many ipetitions. There is no charge for signing one of their petitions. However, after you “sign” the petition, they do make a pitch for a voluntary contribution (as do many sites), but it is strictly voluntary. Usually I decline to make a contribution, but every once in a while I do make a small contribution.

  7. unverified__8k6mgl8b
    February 5, 2013, 6:12 am

    you’re forgetting there was no AIPAC then

  8. hughsansom
    February 5, 2013, 1:19 pm

    The experience of Cynthia McKinney tells us that this has a great deal to do with political contributions.

    Also among the signatories to the ‘progressive’ letter are:
    – Hakeem Jeffries (whose primary opponent, Charles Barron, compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazi treatment of Jews);
    – Daniel Squadron, otherwise one of the most liberal members of the New York State Senate;
    – Rep. Nydia Velasquez, typically pretty liberal (even by my standards).

    It’s hard to imagine that none of the signers are aware of the gross hypocrisy of trying to shut down free speech at Brooklyn College. Jerrold Nadler, liberal otherwise, is a vicious anti-Arab racist. Likewise Marty Markowitz. But the others? Depressing.

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