Trending Topics:

MuzzleWatch: The forces of censorship are unrelenting

Opinion
on 20 Comments

MuzzleWatch

The new year is starting off fast, the forces of censorship are waxing.  This makes sense as there is a well-financed, coherent, state, NGO and private political campaign that is, as predicted, unrelenting.  At this writing, 28 US states now have some version of anti-BDS and/or explicitly pro-Israel laws on their books and these are not idle, toothless resolutions. Often these laws prohibit the state from entering into contracts with any entity or person that supports BDS.  These laws have the explicit goal of suppressing any kind of free speech and courts throughout the U.S. agree.   At the federal level, Trump’s executive order on anti-Semitism empowers attempts, as we’ll be discussing below, to, the maximum extent possible, suppress any US efforts to present a Palestinian perspective.

Here is a selected listing of some of the most egregious muzzling activities in this week alone:

From Palestine Legal:  Weeks after Trump signed an executive order defining antisemitic language in interesting new ways, the Department of Education’s office of civil rights has opened two investigations at UCLA targeting groups involved in Palestinian advocacy and academic discussions of the Middle East deemed “unfriendly” to Israel and Jewish students. The eighth annual Students for Justice in Palestine national conference in 2018 spurred a lawsuit being filed against UCLA by the Zachor Legal Institute, an explicitly anti-Palestinian group that frequently pushes for criminal investigation of human rights activists.  The breathtakingly disingenuous claim was that discussing Palestinian rights was an attack on Jewish students. This complaint has now been accepted, a year later, by the Department of Justice.

The second complaint was for a lecture by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi on Islamophobia and its interplay with concepts such as settler colonialism and imperial feminism. A right-wing group with strong Israeli governmental ties claimed that a student at the lecture was shocked that a lecture on Islamophobia would address Zionism and its impact on Palestinians.  Apparently, the really awful thing was that Professor Abdulhadi brought the student to tears after refusing to affirm support for Israel. A UCLA investigation concluded that there had been no wrongdoing yet here we are, now the Justice Department is weighing in.  The attack on free speech cannot be overstated – if the new executive order is followed – it would require UCLA to intervene when professors do not support Israel. To be clear, this would act as a kind of loyalty oath, and sadly, the UC system has an unfortunate history with such oaths stemming from the McCarthy era although a 1943 Supreme Court ruling explicitly said there can be no such law because “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics.”

Thus, we are back in an attempt to re-McCarthy-ize the US body politic with blundering but constant attempts to criminalize speech for the express purpose of stopping criticism of Israeli policies.

Beyond trying to squelch free speech, already bad enough, people are losing their jobs because they are speaking out and/or lecturing on issues considered to be critical of Israel and Zionism.

This has been recently reported by our own Philip Weiss, the headline says it all: “NY private school fires Jewish teacher for anti-Zionist statements.” A history teacher at the Fieldston prep school in NY City, J.B. Brager, was fired after they tweeted: “I refuse to ‘reaffirm the value’ of ethno-nationalist settler colonialism”  in response to school uproar over a lecture by Kayum Ahmed, a lecturer at Columbia University Law School and the director of the Open Society Foundations. He is a deeply thoughtful and respected intellectual and human rights advocate throughout the world.  In his lecture he said something almost all people working in violence prevention take as axiomatic, that the Holocaust and Israel are examples of “victims becoming perpetrators.” (this is my substantive area in spatial and social epidemiology). After a school assembly was called Brager tweeted again: “for a school assembly on anti-Semitism, SURE GO AHEAD and invite two white men who run Reform congregations, both of whom are Zionists, one [Davidson] that wrote that the ‘most insidious strain [of American anti-Semitism] is that of anti-Zionist intersectionality [on the far-left].’”

One of these rabbis has likened groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace to Osama bin Laden, the equivalent of Godwin’s law for our times. These vicious and truly incoherent mutterings of these sober men of learning,  Ammiel Hirsch and Joshua Davidson, are considered well within the bounds of appropriate speech, another surprise to no one.  Indeed, the New York Times saw fit to allow, without any counterpoint, a fact free, first amendment denying Op-Ed by these rabbis in the January 16, 2020 edition.  In a petition/letter signed by 150 people, to the Fieldston administrators, Jessica Bagby and Nigel Furlonge, the reasonable claim was made that more interested in keeping conservative Jewish donor feathers unruffled than in addressing actual antisemitism or protecting Jewish community members.  The term “weaponization of anti-Semitism” was raised in this letter. Indeed, as Tony Greenstein said of efforts to smear Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic, “The one thing that the Campaign Against Antisemitism doesn’t do is to campaign against anti-Semitism.”

This needs to be emphasized, actual antisemitism is increasing in the U.S., in no small part because of the bull horn given to the misanthropist-in-Chief who coddles the most atavistic racist behavior in the US.  Yet, the myopic U.S. mainstream Zionist supporting communities see fit to go after those who criticize Israeli state behavior. This criticism is non-denominational and scurrilous in it’s claims, effectively even trying to smear the Sanders campaign because he has the temerity to say that Palestinians deserve to have a voice and a vote.  These attacks will only increase, no matter that Trump voiced, not so subtly in December, all manner of antisemitic bloviations.  There was one antisemitic trope after another, avarice, not being authentically American, or “enough” American, etc.  Yet, this was just another Monday for Trump while Sanders having a campaign staffer that may or may not have uttered something possibly antisemitic, is a mic drop moment.

And yes, it’s a truism that antisemitic statements and beliefs can be held by those critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians as well as those ostensibly supporting Israeli policies also holding antisemitic beliefs.  Painting all criticism of Israel as antisemitic vitiates and obscures actual antisemitic language and racist crimes. We are left with a very strange situation where actual antisemitic attacks and behavior are being used as an excuse to go after legitimate discussion and criticism of Zionism and Israeli state behavior. Foundational values for a functioning society are now being threatened, free speech and protection against racist attacks and so far, we’re, for the most part, taking all the wrong lessons from this.  More soon!

Rob Lipton

Rob Lipton is a long time member of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote for JVP's Muzzlewatch, was an ISM participant, and was the LA director of FAIR during the first Gulf War. He is Poet Laureate of Richmond, CA and a spatial epidemiologist.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

20 Responses

  1. JWalters on January 17, 2020, 7:09 pm

    Thanks for this excellent documentation of the Zionist effort to destroy freedom of speech in America. The politicians and editors participating in this treacherous effort need to be outed. Such coordinated influence is not inexpensive. “Follow the money.”

    • [email protected] on January 18, 2020, 11:33 am

      Another thing they never report in the mainstream media is that many Chasidic Jews do not support Israel.

      • echinococcus on January 20, 2020, 2:55 pm

        Looks like it’s not that simple with the so-called Chassidic people. Yes, there are some that are clearly and unshakeably anti-Zionists, like those old-timer Palestinian Jews that were beaten, then chased away by the Zionist bandits, or the admirable Neturei Karta. But then, while I’m far from being a specialist, it appears from what one hears here and there that the majority of these fundies only want to eat their pie and have it, too: they have no problem residing as intruding invaders in Palestine, while calling themselves anti-Zionists and getting a free ride on the politically-motivated Zionist “religious welfare”. Fully profiting from the occupation while keeping their skin dry.

      • JWalters on January 22, 2020, 7:43 pm

        Here is a group of anti-Zionist Jews in NYC staunchly defending Ilhan Omar against Zionist accusations of anti-Semitism.
        “Orthodox Jews Protest Zionist Denouncers of Ilhan Omar”
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVJFxdx40SU

  2. echinococcus on January 20, 2020, 8:21 am

    When “the forces of censorship are unrelenting”, we have to be at least equally unrelenting in denouncing them — not emulating them.

    One wonders at your pretending not to hear the protest against the despicable witch-hunt organized by JVP against unshakeable anti-Zionists like Ms Alison Weir, Greta Berlin and others. After a campaign of lies, character assassination and censorship, your organization never came clean or offered an apology, at least as far as I know.

    Instead, you try to avoid answering and busy yourselves with other censors, clearly indicating that you have in fact no respect for free speech — your own censorship is considered natural and remains undiscussed.

    Yes, we must be unrelenting in denouncing censorship, first and foremost that of impostors like you guys. As long as JVP does not come clean, a JVP name writing against censorship is a comedy.

  3. Boomer on January 20, 2020, 4:42 pm

    Thanks for this report. It’s disturbing, but predictable . . . and predicted. I understand why you say it’s a “very strange situation,” but this sort of thing has been going on for years. Trump has just adopted and elevated it, presumably for cynical political reasons, though I suppose there could be family reasons too.

    I just heard “The Daily” from NYT discussing this. I did miss a few minutes of the opening. In what I heard there was a brief reference to BDS, but concern about Palestinians was strangely absent. Though maybe that’s also not so strange, as it’s been going on for a long time as well.

    It was all about Jewish Americans and their concerns, with just a hint that some of them are concerned about Palestinians. There was no voice at all for Palestinian American or Muslim American or non-Jewish American, and little if any mention of their perspective and concerns. (Given the conflation of race and religion involved in Trump’s policy, no shorter formulation seemed entirely apt.)

    • Peter in SF on January 21, 2020, 1:51 am

      I just heard that broadcast, too, and you’re exactly right about it. Near the end, one of the Jews being interviewed expresses concern that the Trump decision treats Jews as a particularly special group who need more protection than any other group — even though that actually seems to be an assumption of the Daily staff who put together this episode.

      According to the broadcast, colleges have long been required to take action against blatantly racist activity on campus, or else lose their funding; as an example, they said that a college that receives federal funds isn’t allowed to host a KKK event. And this is the rationale for the decision to classify Jews as a race. What they did not address at all was how the same rule might be applied to anti-Palestinian events. Is Palestine Legal on this?

  4. Peter in SF on January 21, 2020, 1:18 am

    Here is a selected listing of some of the most egregious muzzling activities in this week alone:

    Also that same week, Abby Martin was blocked from speaking at Georgia Southern University (at an International Critical Media Literacy Conference) because she refused to sign an anti-BDS pledge:
    https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Abby-Martin-Banned-From-Speaking-at-US-University–20200117-0007.html

    first amendment denying Op-Ed by these rabbis

    Where do you see the denial of the first amendment in their Op-Ed? Because they express approval of a private school firing a teacher because of opinions expressed on Twitter? The first amendment to the U.S. constitution doesn’t prohibit a private school from firing a teacher on those grounds, although many ignorant Americans think it does.

    • echinococcus on January 21, 2020, 8:52 am

      Which of these schools does not receive a single penny in US Gov subsidies or credits? The “ignorant Americans”, as you call them, can well use that to create mucho 1st A. problems to the schools.

      • Peter in SF on January 21, 2020, 8:26 pm

        The only school mentioned in the Op Ed is Fieldston. Are you suggesting that the first amendment to the U.S. constitution does prohibit Fieldston from firing a teacher for opinions expressed on Twitter if it receives any U.S. government subsidies or credits? Has that interpretation been tested?

      • Mooser on January 21, 2020, 10:13 pm

        @ “Peter in SF: I’m glad you are not burdening yourself with any nonsense about ‘tribal loyalty’.

      • oldgeezer on January 21, 2020, 10:46 pm

        @Peter in SF

        IANAL but I would think not. That said though such a move should make them inelegible for any direct or indirect government funding.

      • echinococcus on January 22, 2020, 7:17 am

        Man, do these people always pretend to understand the diametrical contrary!

        You got it completely bassackwards: I say that the 1st A. prohibits the Government from subsidizing in any way any organization that penalizes anyone for expressing an opinion in any way.

        It’s all written in the 1st Amendment itself. Not interested in shysters’ games, “testing” obvious rules by the opinion of bandits who live by violating them: the only valid test when things are so blindingly clear is the pitchfork anyway.

      • Peter in SF on January 23, 2020, 1:31 am

        I say that the 1st A. prohibits the Government from subsidizing in any way any organization that penalizes anyone for expressing an opinion in any way.

        The people who wrote the first amendment certainly didn’t intend it that way. And for applications nowadays, you’re saying that a family that receives Medicaid, say, is not allowed to punish its children for expressing an opinion in any way? Thankfully, courts have not interpreted the first amendment in that way.

      • echinococcus on January 23, 2020, 11:53 am

        “Courts”… read again. Lame. Courts are the enemies of constitutional liberties.

      • Peter in SF on January 24, 2020, 1:34 am

        echinococcus, don’t say “Lame.” That is insulting.
        How is it “blindingly obvious” to you that “1st A. prohibits the Government from subsidizing in any way any organization that penalizes anyone for expressing an opinion in any way”? Do you infer that from the words “Congress shall make now law,,, abridging the freedom of apeech”? Is this how the framers of it intended it to be interpreted, or did they not realize the implications but they hold nonetheless? Why won’t you tell me that, and teach me rather than insult me? A constitution is all about how a government works, and it is always up to the courts to decide what it means. The people can revolt with “pitchforks”, but that is not about the constitution; they could be enforcing what they think of as constitutional liberties, or they could be enforcing other liberties that they value but are not written in the constitution.

    • echinococcus on January 24, 2020, 10:18 am

      Peter,

      Let’s not be absurd. How can I “teach you” when your everything seems to be based on a belief in lawyerly nonsense? Courts are there to obfuscate and distort was gained by revolutions — in the interest of the ruling class; “Framers’ intentions” don’t say anything to me besides presenting and hanging pictures.

      Just read the plain English. No need for vultures to read it to you.
      If Congress can make no law to restrict freedom of expression, obviously same Congress, read government, cannot subsidize anyone who restricts that freedom. So it’s alll written in there.

      Otherwise it happens the way it’s happening now, that the Gov will pretend to follow the basic law while screwing it back and forth with lame excuses and leaving obvious things to “test” by its own “courts”…

      It’s all lawyers’ bullshit that does not fit in with a general, basic sense of fairness. We cannot have a common language.

      • Peter in SF on January 27, 2020, 2:44 am

        echinococcus:

        How can I “teach you” when your everything seems to be based on a belief in lawyerly nonsense?

        It’s not my “everything” that is based on a belief in lawyerly nonsense; it’s only the U.S. constitution that I’m talking about. A constitution is the basic law of a country, and courts decide what it means for the purpose of the functioning of the government. And that activity is indeed what you call lawyerly nonsense.

        Courts are there to obfuscate and distort was gained by revolutions — in the interest of the ruling class; “Framers’ intentions” don’t say anything to me besides presenting and hanging pictures.

        The intention of the framers in writing the constitution and its first amendment was to present and hang pictures? And not, as I would have thought, to write down a framework for how the government should operate? What are these revolutions you’re referring to that made gains, and what gains were those? The framers belonged to the ruling class, didn’t they?

        Just read the plain English. No need for vultures to read it to you.
        If Congress can make no law to restrict freedom of expression, obviously same Congress, read government, cannot subsidize anyone who restricts that freedom. So it’s alll written in there.

        Your conclusion is not obvious at all. President Washington had staff whose salaries were paid by the government; if he wanted to fire one of them because he objected to the content or manner of their expression of opinion, how many of his contemporaries would have thought that the first amendment properly understood forbade him from doing so? Why would such a prohibition even be a good idea?

        Otherwise it happens the way it’s happening now, that the Gov will pretend to follow the basic law while screwing it back and forth with lame excuses and leaving obvious things to “test” by its own “courts”…

        Well, that is what I’m talking about. The courts (or should I say “courts”) declare that the first amendment permits some things and forbids other things. Courts can rule on whether private schools that receive some government subsidies can fire teachers on the basis of their expression of opinion. Those court decisions inform us what is allowed and what isn’t. Whether they’re interpreting the first amendment correctly or not is a separate question. I don’t understand why you care only about what courts should permit/forbid, and are not even interested to know what they actually do permit/forbid in this particular area.

        It’s all lawyers’ bullshit that does not fit in with a general, basic sense of fairness. We cannot have a common language.

        Well now you’ve lost me. The constitution, including its first amendment, is a legal document. I thought you were talking about that. But now you bring up “a general, basic sense of fairness”. OK, so you don’t think the U.S. constitution embodies a general, basic sense of fairness. But you could have fooled me with your talk of “constitutional liberties.”

      • echinococcus on January 27, 2020, 5:53 pm

        “OK, so you don’t think the U.S. constitution embodies a general, basic sense of fairness”

        Oh, I do. Of course, it does embody just that.
        And it is in plain English, and reading it cannot be left to the enemies of the people. Especially lawyers and judges.

        See what I mean when I say that we have no common language?

Leave a Reply