MuzzleWatch: Pushing back on the threat to free expression

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In this week where the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is remembered, it seems that memory and taking lessons from history are sometimes, at odds.  The efforts to stifle free expression, a foundational threat to any free society, are waxing. The good news is that there is a growing ability to push back against such expected and well-funded efforts.

Although a relatively small-bore example, after the noxious op-ed penned by those responsible for her being fired at the Fieldston school, JB Brager published a letter responding in the NY Times  , although not an Op-Ed, it was a relatively long letter and quickly got to gist of the matter:

“I am a practicing Jew and the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, in addition to being a scholar of the Holocaust and settler colonialism. On Jan. 9, I was removed from my position at the Fieldston School amid allegations, driven by conservative media outlets, that my criticism of Zionism and my trans identity made me unfit to teach.

Teachers should not have to appear “neutral” when teaching about grave injustices and violence. Young people must learn to contend with challenging discourse in the classroom, and devastating events in our world, including in Israel/Palestine and the United States.

I do not believe that it is the right of any denomination or faction of the Jewish community to declare itself the mainstream. There is not only one way to be Jewish, and Zionism is increasingly recognized as de facto racist politics. I am a proud Jewish anti-Zionist teacher, and I belong in the classroom.”

This will not be the end of the “good” response as Palestine Legal, along with co-counsel Jethro Eisenstein, are working with JB Brager.  Stay tuned for updates.

In another small (procedural) victory, Professor Rima Najjar, a retired professor at Al -Quds University has filed a suit against the Quora website for unlawfully banning her from posting and moderating a forum involving Palestinians and Zionism.  The lawsuit claims that Quora ignored its own policies on objectivity and targeted Professor Najjar based on her nationality and opinions.  It’s clear that she has been overly surveilled and hassled for problematizing Zionism and, effectively, providing a counternarrative to typical conversations found in mainstream settings.  Before permanently banning her, Quora temporally banned her for, among other things, using the term Palestinian and suspected (erroneously) of fabricating her family history. Although Quora rescinded these bans due to errors, Quora finally permanently banned her for using terms such as “Palestine” and “Zionist” claiming it as “hate speech. The purpose of the suit is relatively mild, as Professor Najjar explains “to make it easier for Palestinians ….to speak freely on social media.”  The suit was filed at the end of 2019, we’ll update this story as it develops.

We can ask if such close scrutiny is placed on language and arguments supporting a pro-Israeli position.

Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’

Unfortunately, this is also the week, in lock step with Netanyahu being indicted and the Trump impeachment being tried in the US senate, that the expected unilateral “peace plan” was trotted out, surprising no one – save for the sheer chutzpah of the terms. As expected, there will be no right of return, no control of water, no air rights, no contiguous land, nor control of borders (at least the five nos).  The Jordan Valley will be annexed and the PA will still be responsible for policing the occupation for the Israelis.

Concomitantly, US press coverage, particularly the paper of record, the New York Times, also surprising no one, has been, as we have reported in Mondoweiss typically biased/mendacious/obtuse.  Virtually no mention of the illegal occupation, currently running at about 700,000 settlers, nor the possibility that Israel may de-nationalize Palestinian citizens of Israel to explicit apartheid Bantustans.  In another, “up close and personal” piece the Times excels at, avoiding implicating the settle colonial project or the US support for this project. The Times interviewed many Palestinians, treating the US supported Israeli occupation as something distantly menacing but on equal footing with Mahmoud Abbas’s incompetence or Hamas/PA infighting. Thus, we get seemingly straightforward reportage, “So far, though the Israeli military sent reinforcements into the West Bank and along the Gaza border on Wednesday, Palestinians were not taking to the streets in large numbers.”  In a less upside down world, we would be asking why the IDF can send any forces into the West Bank given that it’s supposedly not, at least by international law, anyway, Israeli territory. The New York Times, not only accepts this upside down world, it helps create it.

Whether consciously or not, however, (I’m going for little wins here) this piece got to a foundational truth concerning Palestinian “sumud” (steadfastness, particularly in staying on the land) again, quoting someone, this time Nour Odeh, a Palestinian writer who said that:

“We are not going anywhere …. Their mere presence, … poses a long-term challenge to Israel’s right wing, not to mention Zionism itself.”

An important point that the Times reporters don’t want to be responsible for writing – vitiating the impact by citing this point as an opinion.

Even worse, when the true terror and violence of the Israeli occupation is cited, in small paragraphs at the end of the article, it’s not stated as fact but, again, in the voice of an interviewee –

Ms. Hawari added that the hundreds of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers at demonstrations along the Gaza fence set a “really gruesome precedent” for how Israel might respond to a mass mobilization.

If thousands of us went down to the streets in the West Bank, do you think that would be met lightly?” she asked.

You would think that this “gruesome precedent” would be the lead and not buried near the end of the article.  This routinization of violence and the occupation is a seeming specialty of mainstream media, particularly the Times.

In Haaretz, (the paper of record in Israel), the headlines tell a different tale “Democratic senators slam Trump,” “Top minister contradicts Netanyahu on annexation,” “ Trump’s unreal deal: No peace, no plan, no Palestinians, no point,”   “Trump’s plan calls for ‘sensitivity’ in Jerusalem. Then takes a hammer to it.” Even a top level Palestinian negotiator and former PLO advisor is given prominent op-ed space – “Trump’s ‘peace plan’ endorses the Netanyahu doctrine that, for Israel, might is always right. Palestinians must refuse to engage with these fictional negotiations, with this U.S. administration – and with a bullying Israel” – Diana Buttu

Israel lobby in Iowa

In other media news, as the Iowa caucuses are almost upon us it’s important to note that attacks on Bernie Sanders are, also, as expected, heating up and surprise, surprise, some of this Israel related.  NPR is reporting that a pro-Israel democratic group (the Democratic Majority for Israel) is placing attack ads against Sanders – concerned that Sanders had the temerity to say he was interested in a policy that addresses Israeli security, (so far so good) AND a “pro-Palestinian” perspective…..darn! so close. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with this group nor the Democratic Party establishment. It turns out that this ostensibly liberal/progressive group, while claiming itself as independent from AIPAC, had, as of it’s forming last January, 11 of it’s 15 board members involved with AIPAC in some capacity, working, volunteering, as a donor or speaker at AIPAC events.  This is AIPAC, unsubtly, attempting to create, using vast funds at its disposal, an “Astroturf” campaign within the Democratic party.  A kind of fake progressive beachhead to fight what it sees as threats such as Sanders, Omar, Tlaib and AOC.

We’ll be seeing far more of this throughout the year with attacks, ironies and absurdities multiplying  – Sanders, a Jewish American will be attacked (and/or his supporters and allies) as being antisemitic as well as being antisemitically slurred as documented by FAIR (more on this in future columns).

See here for the MuzzleWatch archive. Have tips or feedback? Let us know —

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Et tu, Quora? Is there ANY part of the media landscape that has not been infiltrated by the disinformation tentacles of the “Zionist project”?

Well, well, you are out with No.3. How come you keep ignoring the repeated challenges to your good name? You have been called all sorts of names — to the extent allowed by usual forum rules. And the reason for it was clearly marked. One wonders if you guys have any human respect left. ———————————————– Repeating the last post: Why, I see that you’re already out with episode 2. That’s good. But you neglected to… Read more »

Quora finally permanently banned her for using terms such as “Palestine” and “Zionist” claiming it as “hate speech”. I suppose a (book review of a ) history of early Israel could not appear on this Quora THANG because it would necessarily use both these forbidden (hate speech) words! The lesson here undoubtedly is that altho a squeeky wheel sometimes gets the grease, a well-funded squeeky wheel almost always seems to get the grease. And, Oh… Read more »