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From Mississippi to Gaza — Dorothy Zellner reflects on 50 years of struggle

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Dorothy Zellner

Dorothy Zellner

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer, the legendary effort by the civil rights movement to open up the vote in Mississippi to black people. That struggle is the subject of Freedom Summer, a documentary that will air on PBS’s American Experience, tonight. One subject of the film is Dorothy Zellner, a former staff member for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, who is today active in the Palestinian solidarity movement as a member of the board of the Friends of Jenin Freedom Theatre, a founding member of Jews Say No, and a volunteer for Jewish Voice for Peace.

A few weeks ago during a commemoration of our visits to Gaza five years ago, Zellner told me “We are winning.” I asked her for an interview. She agreed, and the Q-and-A below reflects two conversations, with some edits. 

Question: You’ve said on a couple of occasions, We’re winning, we’re turning the corner. What is happening, why do you say that?

Dorothy Zellner: Well this is not an original thought. When I express this idea in meetings with other activists, people nod and agree. I’m very well known as a pessimist. That’s why when I said it people actually paid some attention.

OK but why do you believe that?

There are a few reasons. First of all, BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] is turning out to be very very strong, and obviously successful, more successful than we even thought. A couple of years ago Donna Nevel and I wrote a piece in Jewish Currents, responding to an Australian Zionist. He was very dismissive. He said BDS has changed nothing, it hasn’t altered the Israeli economy, no one cares. Now a year and a half later it is so obvious that BDS is growing by leaps and bounds especially on the economic level, the divestment level.  Yesterday you know the Gates Foundation announced that it was divesting from G4S. That’s only the latest development.

It’s not only in dollars and cents, but in the consciousness. The consciousness about BDS is totally different from two years ago. It’s now considered to be a serious way for people to register their feelings about the occupation. No one is dismissing it.

Number two, what’s going on in the campuses is truly amazing to me. I think I realized that we were going to win when the first Open Hillel was created on campus [at Swarthmore last December]. Because this is a sea change: the Israeli government policy is built on relying on the Jews in the Diaspora to be either completely convinced of the efficacy of the Jewish state or else bludgeoned into supporting the Jewish state as it exists now. The Open Hillel means they can’t count on the Diaspora any more.

This seems like a small thing– oh, it’s just three campuses. But I can tell you that having done this work for years now, trying to change the conversation inside the Jewish community, that what these students did this was earthshaking because it means that they want to think. They don’t want anyone else to think for them anymore, and they know about the abuse they will get, and they are willing to take the abuse, it’s not going to come as a shock to them. They were immediately excoriated by the head of the Hillel, but it doesn’t seem to have fazed them. They are not saying they are necessarily becoming anti-Zionist, but that they want to be able to think in a Jewish environment. And I know by now, from being at this for 12 years– by the way a small amount of time, others have been involved much longer—that this is very telling. And if these students want to think and they want to be open to what is really happening there, we have the facts. They will see the facts, they will believe them, they will understand them.

You know, I have yet to meet one single human being who has been to Israel and Palestine, who has not had their entire life changed, and they can call you all kinds of names, anti-Semite and self-hating Jews. But we have actually seen the Israeli policies and in some cases we have been the victims of them. We have seen Palestinians herded like cattle through these institutionalized checkpoints, that are like mini prisons.

I am totally confident that people understanding the facts will change their behavior.

A third factor I think is extremely important: there has been interest on the part of black intellectuals. I know that several trips to the West Bank (you can’t go to Gaza) have taken place with leading black intellectuals who have decided to make common cause with this issue. People like Vincent Harding [a prominent black leader who died recently]. They have seen what is going on there, and they speak with a kind of moral authority that is  unimpeachable. It’s like Archbishop Tutu– when he goes to the West Bank and he looks around at what’s happening and says, This is worse than apartheid, well he speaks with the kind of moral leadership that no one can dispute.

I know in the Zionist circles, they speak of Tutu as an anti-Semite. But it’s getting harder and harder to get away with that. They can call a nebbish like me an anti-Semite. But even trying to call Vincent Harding an anti-Semite– this is not going anywhere, people are not going to accept it.

The fourth factor is the collapse of the negotiations, and the US uttering a word of criticism of the Israelis for their role.

Things are happening that we couldn’t possibly have predicted. And we are now in a phase where the momentum is on our side. And it all makes me feel that we have turned the corner.

When you say we are winning, define those words.

By we, I mean the movement to end the occupation, although sometimes I mean the Jewish community. Winning means that we will get the occupation ended, but what form or shape that’s going to take I don’t know.

So will things go more easily now?

No. The caveat is that turning the corner doesn’t meant this is going to be easy. The next few years are going to be harder for us, because we are winning. The attacks on us are going to be worse. This is like a cornered animal: its fangs are out now. You can see this happening already. I am told that big institutions in Israel are now bringing African Americans over there by the busload. I’m assuming that’s because of the important African-American intellectuals, they want to counter it.

Or did you hear about the New York city council having a secret panel discussion about strengthening economic ties with Israel ? I take that to mean BDS is hurting the Israeli powers that be, and they are looking for new and other ways to overcome the economic loss.

Does this mean you thought we weren’t going to win a few years back?

No. But I was thinking of it in terms of decades. And when you have a win that’s so far in the future, you don’t dwell on that because it will just make you depressed. Now something qualitatively different has happened. And if I as a lowly person on the ground can feel it, the right wing can feel it too. I don’t know what forms of backlash it will take. I expect public abuse in the Jewish community. Though it’s already at a hysterical high. I have rarely seen people who are supposedly normal go from 0 to 60 in a second and become hysterical maniacs. That’s what happens with this issue and it’s going to increase.

Have you experienced that abuse in other political activism?

I’ve been in two big struggles in my life. The civil rights movement, and this. The women’s movement, the antiwar movement, of course I was involved. But these have been my big engagements. When I was in the south in the 60s, the white people didn’t really curse you out, they just tried to kill you. And this abuse is nothing compared to that.

On the other hand, I have not seen this level of hysteria before. I haven’t. Ever since I got involved 12 years ago, it has been increasing. And it hasn’t leveled off. Even some of the attack dogs are being attacked. Did you see them going after Dershowitz? It’s very unusual for him, to get some of his medicine back. He was bitten and he was kind of shocked.

Who will the backlash target?

I’m guessing there may be more social pressure put on people who are vulnerable. You’re not vulnerable, I’m not. But there are people who are wending their way through the Jewish institutional community who are vulnerable to pressure.

I want to tell you about exceptions to this. Howard Horowitz—he’s organizing in synagogues in Westchester, he’s bringing amazing Palestinian people to speak. That’s something we haven’t achieved here in the city. Or Kathleen Peratis, she was on the board of J Street, she wrote an article reconsidering BDS. This goes to my theory that we’re turning the corner. These things were not happening a couple of years ago. I think they are going to happen at the same time as the counterattack. And it’s good to know about the backlash, because if you’re prepared for it, you can get through it.

Remember, it’s not because of our failure that we’re being attacked, but because of our success. And we can work through this period. We are going to keep going because we understand what the ultimate goal will be.

You know that I have often said, Let’s write off the Jewish community, they’re reactionary. Have you had that response, emotionally—let’s wash our hands of the Jewish community?

I can’t say I haven’t had my moments of being discouraged. But no, I haven’t written them off. If I had written them off, why would I be standing out there on 96th St. with Jews Say No?

So why did you hang in there?

I think this goes back to my history. I was a past staff member of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] for five years, 1962 to 1967, and I was in Mississippi for the Freedom Summer of 1964.

And you’re in a film that’s going to be aired on American Experience, June 24?

Yes. “Freedom Summer,” by Stanley Nelson. We were in SNCC, we were in a black-led organization, a black-led movement. But this is my point: What SNCC needed– what they wanted– was for the whites to go and work in the white community. And the reason for this was, one, of course they would get allies. Even though people were very realistic about this; these allies weren’t apples hanging off the tree, ready to be plucked. It was hard work in the south. But the second reason was to neutralize the white community, if we failed to get allies. And there were many hardy souls who attempted to do this with little or no success. The reason for this was the extreme danger in the white community and the extreme hostility. White people who opposed segregation publicly were shut down or arrested or threatened and so forth.

And since then, in the back of my mind, I have always felt that this was something we needed to do that we didn’t do…. White students in the Southern Student Organizing Committee worked alongside SNCC, trying to establish a beachhead in the white community and build these kinds of coalitions. Because a lot of us felt that were it not for racism, there would have been natural coalitions between black and white working class people. But most of these efforts in U.S. history have failed– from populism on. That doesn’t mean they will always fail, but racism has been used very effectively. That’s a shibboleth of American political science.

But politically speaking, we couldn’t do what a lot of black people thought was a mandate: to go work where people really needed to be talked to.

Well along comes 2002, and for various reasons I got involved with this movement, and I realized, This is my moment. This is what SNCC told me to do 50 years ago. And now I have the chance.

Wow. That’s a great story.

But to answer your question: I’ve never given up on the Jewish community. Even though I don’t like being abused. Some people, actually the really great people—Donna Nevel, she’s not fazed. But I don’t like it.

What do you say when you’re trying to explain the situation to people? Is there an anecdote, a particular incident, or an observation you relate?

The incident that to me typifies my emotional reaction occurred on my first trip in the winter of 2002-2003 several months after the horrible Israeli invasion in the second intifada. I was in the Deheisheh refugee camp in front of the Ibda’a House and I was talking to people and right across the way I could see the wall, the barbed wire on the wall, and the guard tower on top of the wall, and all these images flooded back to me from World War II, and I thought of my father, how relieved I was that he was dead and didn’t have to see this because flying over the guard tower was the flag with the Jewish star on it, and I completely broke down. I just sobbed, and during that trip I cried every day. My traveling companions were so annoyed with me, I was over the top. But I don’t have to explain to you the significance of those images.

You were on the left. How come you didn’t know about the occupation?

First of all the wall was just being built when I was there. Second of all I had spent many years in denial, avoiding this issue, but there I was and I was seeing it for myself. That was one of those life moments.

How many times have you been there?

Ten times since 2002.

Oh my god.

What can I say? One year I went three times. The last time was a year and a half ago, in March 2013. So I do feel like I speak with some experience. I have been all over Israel as well as the West Bank, and Gaza twice.

Tell me about the abuse.

Standing there on 96th St with Jews Say No is a really interesting experience. We stand there with signs, and this is a neighborhood that is heavily Jewish, and we give out leaflets, but we usually try not to engage with opponents, because there’s no point in the screaming matches. What happens– and here I’m trying not to cater to my native pessimism– is that for every person who has a thumbs up going by there are two thumbs down. The thumbs up are interesting. This is what they say. ‘How great that you’re out here, how brave you are.’ This gets on my nerves. I say, ‘We’re not so brave, we’re standing here on the street, come and join us.’ ‘Oh no, I can’t, but it’s really great that you’re doing this.’ And other people say,  ‘You’re absolutely right. You’re right.’ These are people who wouldn’t have said that five years ago. We get a surprising amount of support.

But the abuse is really ugly. Most of the time it’s not reasoned. ‘I’m horrified you’re here, you ugly bitch.’ Or it’s that two-word sentence that substitutes for a political conversation: fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you. Or, ‘you’re an anti-Semite. So it has now boiled down to personal epithets or “You’re an anti-semite.” Pure hysteria, people who are screaming and turning red.

Do you keep your cool or do you get into fights?

Well actually personally speaking, I don’t think I am very effective. I am there all the time. But do I like being there? As I told you, I don’t think I like being there. I tend to get very snappy and lose my temper. I don’t know how effective I am. That’s why I’ve learned it’s better for me not to respond at all. I will stand there and be stoic as people scream and froth at the mouth.

Well you know that about yourself, that’s good.

I’m 76, after all! I am a more effective speaker in a regular format, because I am relating everything to what I experienced in the civil rights movement. To me when people ask about the future, to me, it’s a no brainer. I can tell them that ethnic superiority doesn’t work.

I don’t know how long I could stand out there.

I have not given up, and I actually want to do more things we haven’t been able to do. There are 24 hour Jewish cable networks. Well, I want to get on there. I want to challenge them: if you’re so convinced you’re right, why don’t you have us on, and we’ll talk. Jews Say No has worked to have panel discussions in various places. We have had people from the liberal Jewish community engage us. Because that’s our self appointed mandate: we want to work in the Jewish community.

And it’s changing?

Yes, I think so. I say it’s worth it to get the abuse, because somewhere in Pennsylvania some kid on campus is saying, ‘I want to read this book. What is Zionism? What is going on in Israel? I don’t want to say I love Israel, I want to know what’s going on.’ And as far as the established Jewish organizations are concerned, this is the beginning of the end of the hand on our throats preventing us from talking or thinking.

You’ve seen the change personally?

Years ago, I was on a panel in a synagogue, and the attacks were so severe that I thought they were going to have to call the police. Today, there would be incredible hysteria and screaming, but you’d also have more people listening.

Why did you think they should bring the police?

A woman in the audience came up after it was over and she said in the synagogue—look, I am 100 percent atheist, but I respect a religious building—well this woman said to my debate partner, a young Israeli, “You’re a piece of shit.” Inside a synagogue!  I’m not proud of myself, but I lost it. I instantly became a 12 year old. And she started screaming, and the security people were hovering there. I thought she was going to attack my Israeli partner.

Do you say in the synagogue, I’m an anti-Zionist?

I didn’t define myself then and I often don’t now as an anti-Zionist or a non-Zionist. I define myself as a person who has spent her life working with civil rights and human rights, and I was being told by the government of Israel that they spoke for meand I had actually seen with my own eyes the oppression of the Palestinians. And relying on Jewish tradition, I felt that I could not stand idly by. From that day to this, I have acted in that way.

I must tell you, I was seven years old when World War II ended. My father followed the war with a map, and pushpins in it. And you won’t know this name, but hearing Gabriel Heatter, a broadcaster, talking about where was the US army and more important, where was the Red Army.

What was the lesson?

The lesson was horrible things happen when people stand around watching and no one does anything. That is what impelled me into the civil rights movement. And later I realized it came out of a very important part of a Jewish social justice tradition, which I had obviously imbibed in my leftwing family,  even though they were not religious. I didn’t understand this for years, but for me, it all comes down to that saying about Hillel, who was asked to summarize Jewish teaching when standing on one leg?. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you. All the rest is commentary.”  That’s it to me. Thou shall not stand idly by.

I spent years in the South. I was shot at once, I was arrested. And now it was much closer to home. Israel claims it is speaking and acting for me. I say, Oh no no no, this is not tolerable.

What do you mean, you didn’t know for years this was your tradition?

I didn’t understand for many years, that this was part of my motivation. I grew up in a nonobservant home. Then later on as I did some reading about this– it is to me an inescapable fact that this is part of Jewish culture. It’s in the Jewish religion too. But in the Jewish culture, there was– whether it’s there today I really can’t say– but up until I was in high school and as an adult, that tradition was there. There is really no way of accounting for the overrepresented numbers of Jews in some of these fights. I understand it not to mean that we’re better, but because it is our tradition: we were slaves in Egypt, we were victims, we learned the hard way what happens when you stand around doing nothing. At least half of the lawyers who went south during the civil rights movement were Jewish. At least half of the Americans who went to Spain to fight were Jewish. That comes out of a deeply held social justice movement.

What do you say to those who would say, Ok, that was one Jewish tradition, but it’s been replaced by another, Zionism and American neoliberalism?

I would explain what has happened as nationalism. And that nationalism is killing us. When you have a national state that is really an ethnic state, it’s not really surprising that you have a Jewish community that is so retrogressive on the question. But I can turn that around: Look at the large number of Jews in the anti occupation movement. These are people who have been told since babyhood, that Israel is everything. I’ve seen synagogues where five-year old children just learning to write make signs saying “I love Israel” and these signs are all over on the walls.

To me, speaking as an atheist Jew, they have hijacked our Jewishness, and they have made it into a place, a country—so our Jewishness became a place. And the miracle of this is that so many people who were brought up like that, began to see with their own eyes. Who would have thought that Jewish Voice for Peace would have 140,000 people on their list. That’s a fifth factor in terms of turning the corner. I remember in the 1980s after Lebanon there was a group called the New Jewish Agenda. I wasn’t really involved with that. But I know they could be critical of Israel.

Well then the first gulf war started and SCUDS were fired at Tel Aviv, that’s when the New Jewish Agenda organization collapsed. That’s my version; that’s how I remember it.

But what it tells me is there are 140,000 people on the JVP list who are not going to be taken by surprise. They have gone there and seen this. They are willing to fight it. They will take the bumps and bruises that go along with that.

But I could say from your story that if there was violent Palestinian resistance to occupation, the JVP list would collapse.

No. I think a lot of people are on board now who understand the situation much better than they did then. They would not go under. They would not go under. Thousands of us have been there. You walk away saying what if I lived here and I would have to go thru that? Is it such a big reach to say, I would want to kill someone? Of course not. We oppose that but it’s not a reach. We are much more sophisticated now.

What if I said to you that your attitude about Jewish cultural tradition of social justice, one I agree with — that we’re romantics about Jewish life?

In one of the books I was interviewed in, that question came up. I said, maybe I was a romantic, but what’s wrong with that?

What was the book?

Going South:  Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Debra Schultz.  When I grew up, the great heroes of my teenage life were the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and I used to– as a young teenager, I imagined what would happen if the Nazis were marching up Second Avenue? Would I go on the roof and be a sniper? Well that’s romantic. But I thought, What’s wrong with that?

But if you’re challenging me on this social justice tradition, and saying that’s just romanticism, you’re exaggerating it, I say no, I’m not exaggerating it. It was real. I don’t feel that’s romantic.

Isn’t it a form of Jewish exceptionalism?

No. I’m not saying we’re so special. Other people are too. If the Irish told me about their tradition, I’d be interested. I’m saying this was part of us. And this country that claims to be speaking for all of us in the world– they have abandoned that part of the tradition. I know you have felt funny about this; I don’t know how to convince you. But that tradition in Jewish life is there, and it is being violated. And this is why people are so hysterical. Because they know on some level, this is a big No No! You’re not supposed to oppress people, you’re not supposed to remove them from where they live. That happened to us.

But again, what if I say that Jewish life has been captured by Zionism?

That’s not the Jewishness I know. The Jewish establishment of course was captured decades ago. But there is this struggle on the ground. If you said, JVP has 2000 people, then maybe it would be hopeless, and you could say the community is totally corrupted. But there are 140,000. We’re winning, and I’m a pessimist!

I want to tell you something. I went to a social justice conference at the University of Illinois this spring. I told the story about SNCC, sitting up there with other SNCC people. We (white people) couldn’t do it, I said. We couldn’t organize in the white community. But now 40 years later it’s all coming together for me, I’m a Jewish activist organizing against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Much to my surprise the whole audience burst into applause. It was a very nice moment. I can’t tell you how much support I got from old SNCC people.

That’s a beautiful story. When you said that you don’t identify as anti-Zionist or non Zionist, does that mean you try to honor the meaning that Zionism had in the Jewish community once?

I am an anti-Zionist. But I don’t define myself that way because I think it makes people unable to think. And if I was trying to have a real conversation with some of these passersby, sooner or later I would say that. But only when I was sure that they could hear what I say. But I am a critic of Zionism. The more I read about it the more critical I am of it.

Should Israel exist—does it have a right to exist as Jewish state?

My answer is I do not think that states that privilege one group over another are viable states. And this comes from my intensive schooling as a civil rights activist. I could not– 50 years ago, I could not work to make sure that black people in Mississippi had the right to vote and then turn around and be supportive of a state where every citizen does not have equal rights before the law.

Can you imagine a situation in which you are cheering a 2 state solution?

These are not positions taken by any organization I’m in but personally I don’t think the two state solution is possible any longer. But I want to follow what the people who live there want to do. That’s why I think it’s pointless to end up in these conversations, because many solutions have been floated and we can’t sort them all out. But our job is to get the US government to promote a decent policy and, believe me, that’s going to take everything we’ve got.

Is that a lesson from the civil rights movement?   

Well one big thing I learned is, you can’t predict what will happen. The week before the sit-ins started on February 1, 1960, if you had asked people whether in a week, a huge movement was about to start, people would have looked at you like you were nuts. These things had been brewing a long time, but nobody predicted it, and even when it happened, no one predicted it would spread like wildfire. Within weeks there were 100s and 100s of students in every southern state sitting in and demonstrating, and thousands and thousands of local people participating. All over the south.

White people too?

In the south there were very few white people. But in the north, yes. This is what boosted SDS. And when I speak about the civil rights movement, I say, you can’t replicate these things, but if it happened once it can happen again. In the US we have had big big mass movements, and what’s going to happen in the future one cannot predict. We have to keep plugging along, and realize that it’s the struggle that counts. You have to be willing to struggle.

In the anti-occupation movement I think we have turned a corner, despite the kidnappings and what’s happening in Iraq. The opposition will get much worse but we are going to win. And we have to have the kind of understanding that there will be no instant gratification but whatever you do now will have an effect on the future. That’s the lesson of the civil rights movement. All the earlier struggles, the Montgomery bus movement, the Brown v Board of Education decision led up to it. And what we see in the history books is a pallid imitation of what it was really like.

Palestinians are demonized as terrorists. Mandela was deemed a terrorist for a while. Was there similar demonization of black people in the south?

You can see in the movie on Tuesday, Freedom Summer, when three of our guys were kidnapped and killed in Mississippi, they interviewed white people in the community, who said it’s a fraud, it’s a fake, they’ve done this for sympathy, I don’t believe it.  It was total demonization. Total. And in those days, and right up to the present, white people are never called terrorists. Never. So black people were totally demonized.

Do you have an elevator speech, 15-30 seconds, on the conflict?

I always identify myself as a Jewish person and I say I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. I try to get through the hysteria, that this is nothing that someone told me, I’ve actually seen it. It often doesn’t work. As I said, in a longer scenario, I’m much better. Few of us is able to say anything coherent in these onslaughts people put us through. You’re standing there and someone is screaming in your face.

Make it concrete for me.

We had a sign up saying, End the occupation, and someone came up and said, “I don’t respect you, I don’t respect you.’ I said, ‘Let’s have a conversation, stop screaming and we’ll talk.’ She said, ‘You should be out there talking about our boys.’ All you have to say is “our boys,” and that’s the end of any argument. My response was “bye bye.” That infuriated her.

But I believe people go home and no matter what we say or what they say, they have a picture in their minds of some Jews who don’t agree with Israel. Somewhere along the line, someone will remember, we were out there, and we refused to go along.  Maybe we will have planted a seed and someone will realize we are right.  That gives me intense satisfaction. I look in the mirror and say you did a mitzvah today.

You were good Jews in this horrible moment in history?

We acted like mensches. We were human beings, and we refused to be stampeded by so-called group loyalty or blindness to Israel. We acted the way people should have acted toward us.

But is this about congratulating ourselves or about changing the conflict?

It is politically effective. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was. But I feel that we’re acting the way Jews are supposed to act.

How does your family feel about your work?

I’m from a non-Zionist family. I haven’t had to go through what a lot of people have had to go through. Nobody in my family is out there with me, but there’s some sympathy for what I’m doing, there’s no hostility.

So it’s not like you don’t talk to someone in your family over this issue?

I talk to everyone in my family. We have different points of view about it. I was lucky when I went to the civil rights movement, my family didn’t hold me back. My father supported me emotionally. There were many people whose parents were completely frantic and opposed to what we did, and tried to interfere physically with their own children’s work—and a lot of times for understandable reasons, the parents were afraid their kids were going to be killed. I’m fortunate, I didn’t have that problem. And now I hear all kinds of terrible stories, about people not talking to each other at seders; I don’t have that problem.

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35 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott on June 24, 2014, 10:02 am

    What an interesting, wonderful interview!

  2. Kay24
    Kay24 on June 24, 2014, 10:15 am

    Great interview, and what a remarkable and courageous lady. Philip asked really good questions, and it is heartening to hear the answers. For those who feel hopeless about this situation, we should remember Dorothy Zellner and her wisdom and experience. It is very encouraging to hear someone like her give a very position perspective to this horrible situation. If only there were more like Dorothy Zellner.
    Thank you Phillip.

  3. Justpassingby
    Justpassingby on June 24, 2014, 11:12 am

    Bookmarked!

    I want to add that I really appreciate the interviews, it give some depths to Mondoweiss.

    • bintbiba
      bintbiba on June 24, 2014, 2:15 pm

      Wonderful… uplifting. Thank you for such a meaningful. thoughtful, elegant interview. Dorothy Zellner is exceptional. And so are you, Phillip Weiss. And so are you!

  4. David Doppler
    David Doppler on June 24, 2014, 11:34 am

    Wonderful, inspiring piece. A pessimist who has become optimistic.

    I had a sort of dream recently that President Obama made a joke about Netanyahu being unbelievable, lacking in credibility, finding humor that others would take him seriously, as if those who did take him seriously were hopelessly naive. If you believe that, there’s this bridge I’d like to sell you kind of humor. What would happen in Israel if that happened? After all the heads exploded, that is, from too much cognitive dissonance. I guess it too comes from a sense of optimism that the Likud grasp on power is a teetering house of cards, ready to collapse at some point from the slightest touch.

    Those right-wingers castigating Dershowitz as an Anti-Semite have their parallel in Israel, who Netanyahu had to defer to keep his government together, to avoid “the risk of peace.” But right-thinking people everywhere, from Presbyterians, to the Gates Foundation, to academics, to former freedom riders like Dorothy Zellner, to the Mondoweissers, all make up a school of opinion in which Israeli oppression of Palestinians, settlement building on stolen lands, is just plain wrong, and must be denounced and resisted, however you come to your sense of moral obligation, whether it is Jewish tradition, Christian tradition, a liberal intellectual tradition, or conservative commitment to preserve and defend the American values of individual human rights, including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to equal say of all citizens in a representative government. It is moral obligation, lest your very soul be destroyed if you continue to ignore the wrong, to avoid the issue and thereby enable it.

  5. Citizen
    Citizen on June 24, 2014, 11:45 am

    Thank you, Dorothy Zellner. I was a young adult during the growth of the Civil Rights movement, for me starting with Washington Square in the summer of 63; what you say is true. Thanks, Phil–loved your questions.

  6. jenin
    jenin on June 24, 2014, 12:14 pm

    What an inspiring interview, and what an inspiring woman. I tend to be quite pessimistic myself, so it gives me some hope to hear someone with a similarly pessimistic outlook say that she believes there’s hope for the Palestinians in that not-too-distant future. Also to hear the point of view of someone actually involved in the civil rights movement, and to hear her comparisons between the two situations and movements. Gives me more hope than I’ve had in a while.

  7. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer on June 24, 2014, 12:49 pm

    I had great respect for the SDS back in the day. I have greater respect for Dorothy Zellner. Fascinating interview. She has worked so hard for others all her life.

  8. amigo
    amigo on June 24, 2014, 12:56 pm

    I am going to the “Breaking The Silence” exhibition in Dublin this weekend.It is worth the trip , 200 miles round trip) just to shake the hand/s of these brave people , albeit former IDF personnel. I want them to know their efforts are not in vain.Their contribution is important as they are spreading the facts about Apartheid Israel and coming from former soldiers , it has far more credibility.

    It is people like these who will “Break the Zionist entity”.

    A noble cause indeed.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on June 24, 2014, 2:00 pm

      @ amigo

      Americans should support US Iraq War Veterans against more war in the Middle East: http://www.ivaw.org

      Remember Vietnam War Veterans against that war?

      Consider too, that our veterans are not getting properly serviced by the VA.

      Anybody recall how the vets of WW1 had to march on Washington DC just to get any help from the government?

      There’s a pattern here.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka on June 24, 2014, 2:56 pm

        “Anybody recall how the vets of WW1 had to march on Washington DC just to get any help from the government?”

        And any young folks who learn how the bonus marchers were treated should have reason to pause when the call to join up to fight for our “freedom” comes along once again…

      • Keith
        Keith on June 24, 2014, 5:30 pm

        WOODY TANAKA- “And any young folks who learn how the bonus marchers were treated….”

        Thanks for calling attention to this sad reality. How many know that the military assault on the bonus marchers was under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, the officer in charge of the assault Major George Patton?

      • lysias
        lysias on June 24, 2014, 6:57 pm

        Ike was on the scene too, as MacArthur’s chief military aide (although he privately urged MacArthur not to attack the bonus marchers).

  9. Karin
    Karin on June 24, 2014, 2:10 pm

    Thank you for those encouraging words, and great interview. Dorothy, your name was familiar to me because my very old SCEF(Southern Conference Educational Fund) cookbook has some recipes that you and your husband contributed.

  10. just
    just on June 24, 2014, 2:58 pm

    What a truly superior and bracing interview. I am so glad to read and feel Ms. Zellner’s optimism. Many thanks to Dorothy and Philip for this, and for your journey for justice.

    I heard a program on NPR about tonight’s show last week…….I watched The Freedom Riders on PBS last week as well. I look forward to watching Freedom Summer tonight.

    I wonder whether the measure of justice that was finally realized as a result of the efforts of the Freedom Riders and their supporters, happened because the violence and injustice toward African Americans was happening on American soil. The reason that I ask is because:

    “You know, I have yet to meet one single human being who has been to Israel and Palestine, who has not had their entire life changed, and they can call you all kinds of names, anti-Semite and self-hating Jews. But we have actually seen the Israeli policies and in some cases we have been the victims of them. We have seen Palestinians herded like cattle through these institutionalized checkpoints, that are like mini prisons.”

    The experience of the horrific Holocaust is known by most Americans… The conditions that the Palestinians are forced to live with and the Nakba are not known/felt. I wonder how we can help to make it more “real” to the average American– Jewish or not.

  11. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr on June 24, 2014, 7:17 pm

    Very nice interview. I too am a confirmed pessimist, and yet I share Ms. Zellner’s optimism about the trend in public opinion.

    On the other hand, with respect to us “winning,” I think we need to remember that the Zionist grip on the US government and media is not primarily a function of public opinion. That would be true in a genuine democracy, but the US surely ain’t one. In real life, it’s the wealth and organizational muscle of a fairly small Jewish elite – rich, racist and reactionary – combined with the influence of intellectuals who have sold themselves to that elite, that forces the pols, the media, the universities, the religious institutions (including the Jewish community “leadership”), etc., to toe the Zionist line. Like the mafia, this elite doesn’t owe its power to public support, but to its ruthless use of force (usually political and economic, but sometimes physical) against anyone who crosses them, so changes in public opinion, welcome as they are, don’t by themselves do much to weaken that elite’s power.

    Look at Western Europe – there public opinion is, on the whole, much more clear-eyed about Israel/Palestine, but Zionist elites, even though smaller and less powerful than in the US, are nevertheless able to prevent their governments, despite occasional rhetorical gestures, from actually challenging the the Israelis in any effective way.

    So beyond doing what we can to educate the American public, Jewish and non-Jewish, about what really goes on over there, if we’re serious about “winning” we have to call out and eventually break the power of the Zionist mafia. This site works on both fronts, but IMO we need much more work on that second front. Unfortunately, even among the increasing numbers of people willing to criticize Israel, even to acknowledge its crimes, all too few have the guts to venture anywhere near an analysis of the power of the Zionist elite – even many progressives consider raising those issues to be “anti-Semitic.”

    (Just doing my part to uphold the banner of pessimism, in the spirit of Gramsic’s slogan: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”)

    • Citizen
      Citizen on June 24, 2014, 8:14 pm

      Here’s a very recent good hit to inform Americans by Norman Pollack: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/01/the-albatross-of-israel/#

      Spread it to all you know and via social platforms.

    • Nevada Ned
      Nevada Ned on June 25, 2014, 9:38 am

      Henry Norr,

      I respect you and your work. But I’m going to pick a fight with you here. You think that Zionist elites force the US ruling class to support Israel, even at the expense of the US national interest.
      My position is that the US ruling class thinks that the US and Israel have a common interest, at least in the long run and for the most part. Both the US and Israel want to keep the Arab world divided, backward and weak. Both the US and Israeli ruling classes are opposed to Arab nationalism, although for different reasons.
      Is the Israel Lobby a factor? Of course. But even if the Lobby didn’t exist, the US would have reason to support Israel, because of the common interests in opposing Arab nationalism.
      You may say, “why is the US giving $3B/year to Israel, if not for the power of the Israeli Lobby”.
      My answer: “who else has gotten tons of US aid”? Answer: “South” Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. The US wanted to roll back communism, in East Asia (and elsewhere).

      I am mindful of the occasional conflicts between the US and Israel. (Jonathan Pollard…1956 Suez crisis…Lavi fighter cancelled..AIPAC spying case). The latest US/Israeli conflict is that Netanyahu urges the US not to work with Iran to stabilize Iraq (against ISIS). The US is trying to keep ISIS from defeating Iraq. The US is urging Maliki to step down as Prime Minister in order to unite enough Iraqis to prevent a victory for ISIS.

      Henry, if it were just my opinion, it wouldn’t matter. But it is also the opinion of Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, and Joseph Massad. (Massad would never deny the power of the Israeli lobby, since they tried to get him fired at Columbia.) These distinguished scholars take the position that the US empire exists, and is an important factor no matter what the Israeli lobby does. The US has invaded many countries, especially in Latin America, and got into the empire game in a big way with the Spanish-American War of 1898. Many US invasions of Latin American countries happened before 1948, so the Israel Lobby was not a factor.

      Henry, don’t be an “empire denier”!!

      • lysias
        lysias on June 25, 2014, 10:24 am

        Don’t the same reasons that led the Defense Department and the State Department to oppose the creation of Israel in 1947-48 still apply? If they do apply, how can it be the case that U.S. and Israeli interests are in general the same? And if they are not the same, what makes the ruling class(es) in the U.S. act as if they are, if it isn’t considerations having to do with domestic politics?

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr on June 25, 2014, 1:59 pm

        your grasping at straws. do you really think the DOS circa 1948 has the same objectives circa 2014? the world has changed quickly and more then once since that time. Check out news blip on Israel being invited to the exclusive Paris Club of ‘debt relief’ nations yesterday. It may be a bastion of capitalistic egress but it may provide a clue to your question

      • AbigailOK
        AbigailOK on June 25, 2014, 2:02 pm

        Why is it that I never read anything like e.g. the existence of the war industries of both countries (including spying on each other but also exchanging military secrets) and the oil, and gas industry (American that is). They’ve found gas in Syrian waters, Lebanon and….Israel. They’re drilling on the occupied Golan Heights (another violation of international law) now.
        High tech industry of Israel supposedly making software for a.o. US spy agencies although I’m sure the latter don’t rely on Israel for that.

        It is rather easy for some apparently to see Israel as the largest power broker in the whole world. That is not only a quite distorted oversimplification, it is wrong IMHO. However much Netanyahu and some in the army and security forces might think it’s true.
        Both countries’ geo-political interests show parallels and Israel comes in very handy in policies of the US since at least WWII (if not before) or rather officially 1948.
        To claim that Israel is at the helm and not US empire is even a bit laughable. The moment the US would stop giving out those $3 bn a year, the occupation would stop immediately a.o. Israel is not funding the US but the other way around and is a vassal state with a big mouth because it knows Big Sugar Daddy not only covers them but is in bed with them on many issues as some have been mentioned before.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on June 25, 2014, 10:40 am

        @ Nevada Ned
        Here is a list of the countries who currently get more US foreign aid than the city of Detroit: http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/here-is-foreign-every-country-that-gets-more-federal-aid-than-detroit

        I point out that Israel by far gets the most. In many of the others, we are engaged in proxy wars there, e.g., the African states on the list, and others, we’ve occupied for a decade, etc. None of them get aid unconditionally as Israel does. Also, if you follow this blog regularly, you must be aware of all the special features of aid to Israel, e.g., annual payment up front at beginning of year, with interest, and with a portion directly subsidizing Israeli weapons industry, plus supplemental aid like Obama just gave Israel for missile defense, and indirect aid, e.g., underwriting Israeli debt. Aid to Israel is the only foreign aid we give that has no strings attached. And so on. Aid to Israel is the only military aid we give that is not at arm’s length, with a quid pro quo attached; further, for any military weapons we sell to Arab countries, we must
        give Israel superior weapons.

        Also, we don’t know from the horses’ mouths of sitting US politicians what they really think of US policy to rubber-stamp Israel because they won’t tell us–they value their political careers. Recall when current SOD was vetted? Why he couldn’t name a single congress person who was afraid of the Israel Lobby.

        BTW, re when US-Israel relations are not compatible, you forgot the USS Liberty incident.

      • Henry Norr
        Henry Norr on June 25, 2014, 2:36 pm

        Wow, Ned, that’s the first time I’ve been called “an empire denier”! Of course, there’s a US empire, run by a ruling class composed of various elements, of which the Zionist elite is only one, and of course it routinely uses its power to pursue its imperial interests all over the world, including in the Middle East.

        But tell me what components of the US elite, aside from the Zionist elite (a.k.a. the Lobby), have any stake in Israeli control of the tiny little areas, with virtually no critical natural resources, that make up the Palestinian territories? Does Lockheed-Martin care about East Jerusalem? Does Exxon Mobile have plans to steal the cosmetic mud from the Dead Sea? Does Intel need the south Hebron hills to produce its processors? Would Google suffer if Jews didn’t control Ariel or Gush Etzion? Does the American military require bases in the Jordan Valley to defend the empire? What possible objection could any of these forces have to either a democratic secular state in all of historic Palestine or a two-state solution in line with the much-touted “international consensus”?

        In fact, the empire would have a much easier time pursuing its other interests in the Middle East and elsewhere if the issue were resolved one way or another with a modicum of justice for the Palestinians. (That was the argument of the State Department et al. in the 1940s – it was true thane and it’s true now.)

        When you get to the wider Middle East and beyond, things get more complex – other components of the US imperial coalition have other interests, and hence the Zionists don’t always get everything what they want. I think of Zionist power over US policy in terms of concentric circles: within, say, 50 miles of Tel Aviv, the Zionists have in effect complete control. When you get out 100 or 200 miles, so you’re dealing with Lebanon and Syria and Jordan and Egypt, the Zionists still have enormous influence, but other interests are also at play. Further out, when the issues involve Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, other corporate elites have much more to say. (On these issues, I think some others who focus on the power of the Lobby sometimes get a little simplistic, but anyone who thinks the Israelis and the Lobby aren’t a major factor are even more deluded.)

        But the issue Ms. Zellner was talking about in this interview, when she says “we’re winning,” is the plight of the Palestinians, not those wider questions. As I said in my previous message, I agree with her that there have been some quite remarkable changes in public opinion, but
        a) even in that respect, we still have a very long way to go, and the Zionists still have plentyof arrows in their quiver (control of the media and the pols, Holocaust guilt, the accompanying ability to manipulate cultural imagery e.g., to foment Islamophobia, and so on); and
        b) my original point: changes in public opinion don’t necessarily lead to changes in US policy, given the enormous power of the Zionist elite to keep policy makers in line regardless of divisions among the public.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on June 25, 2014, 2:47 pm

        @ Henry Norr

        Smart response. Can’t wait for Ned’s response, recalling what Petraeus said about how our rubber-stamping Israel harms US agenda and jeopardizes our troops in ME. He testified in Congress, but, if memory serves, while doing so, he left those official comments clamped in his brief case at his feet. Next thing we knew, he was booted for sexual escapades.

      • Karin
        Karin on June 25, 2014, 9:22 pm

        Great analysis, Mr. Norr.

    • Parity
      Parity on June 26, 2014, 11:55 am

      With respect to the Zionist elite, a very interesting book by Alison Weir has come out that examines how the Zionists amassed support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The book is “Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel.” It is available from Amazon. It is short and well documented. Among the techniques used to support Zionism was to see that fellow Zionists were highly placed. Justice Louis Brandeis, the leading Zionist in the U.S., got a wealthy Jew to endow a chair at Harvard that enabled Felix Frankfurter to secure a position there. From that position, Frankfurter moved on to the Supreme Court. When, as a Supreme Court Justice, Brandeis could not be overtly Zionist, he used influential Harvard professor Frankfurter to carry out Zionist missions for him.

  12. Pixel
    Pixel on June 24, 2014, 9:54 pm

    .

    I find this interview and all the comments deeply moving.

  13. atime forpeace
    atime forpeace on June 24, 2014, 10:21 pm

    What a great interview!
    I wonder if Norman Finkelstein has changed his views on the BDS movement.

    One thing Finkelstein does say that i believe may be a very perceptive take on what will ultimately move the rest of the “most important community” on this issue, will be when they start to perceive that supporting Israel over the U. S in the open may cause their loyalty to the U.S to come into question.

    He says that this was a common attitude back in the late fifties and early sixties.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr on June 25, 2014, 2:31 pm

      why would you care what Norman Finklestein thinks? Is it because he seemed like he was firmly in the anti-Zionist camp and then, whoops, he read the bds manifesto and understood that it was a defacto erasure of Israel as a Zionist nation and national homeland for Jews alongside a Palestinian homeland? The minds bds would have to change-if all-out war is what is to be avoided- are much more entrenched then NF.

      If you really want to know what would put this so-called “fear” into Zionists and Israelis alike it would be if Barghouti came out publicy and declared that he was changing his bds mission statement to allow for a Zionist Jewish State on land based on ’67 without the absolute ror. Now THAT would be something…….thats never going to happen. oh well.

      and please, no ‘why should they’s?’ or the answer could be ‘why should anybody do anything?

  14. MRW
    MRW on June 24, 2014, 11:35 pm

    Why didn’t/doesn’t Dorothy Zellner acknowledge Ella Baker?

    • Citizen
      Citizen on June 25, 2014, 2:58 pm

      Ella Baker: http://www.ellabakerschool.net/resources/about-ella-baker/ella-bakers-life

      I caught the TV special on the Freedom Summer. Lots of vintage film evoked the atmosphere of the times. I kept thinking, if only the US media would begin filming the everyday lot of Palestinians as it did Mississippi in 1964. Ms Baker wouldn’t have achieved so much for the cause without TV coverage bringing the issues into every American home. We can’t even get the network and cable tv news and infotainment shows to bring on pundits who will gladly discuss the Palestinian situation and the fact we pay for it….Imagine, even, a PBS documentary on Rachel Corrie? Look what happened when 60 Minutes did a show on Palestinian Christians.

  15. John Salisbury
    John Salisbury on June 25, 2014, 8:52 am

    Fantastic interview. A real inspiration.In the great tradition of liberal Jewish activists is Dorothy…bravo. You too Phil.

  16. RobertB
    RobertB on June 25, 2014, 10:36 am

    This is truly a great interview!

    It is great to see & hear that there are Jewish people who are on the side of truth, justice, human rights, international law, fairness, humanity, compassion & deep moral conscience….who are not standing by the sidelines and just watching…they are speaking out…with a deep moral courage!

    And they are NOT on the side of Apartheid zionism, Apartheid Israel, Israel’s IDF killers, Israel’s generals, Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, Israel’s suffocating siege of Gaza, Israel’s murders of so many children, so many innocent people…

  17. John Salisbury
    John Salisbury on June 26, 2014, 2:22 am

    The perfect anti-dote to Haim Saban !

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