Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Pages 48-50

New York City and Tri-State News

Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb Describes Her Journey From Young Zionist to BDS Supporter

By Jane Adas

rabbi lynn gottlieb

AT AN APRIL 29 discussion sponsored by Brooklyn for Peace, Lynn Gottlieb described her path from being a young Zionist to a rabbi who now supports Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, where she first spent a summer in 1966, when she was 17. Upon arrival, on the drive to the kibbutz where she would stay, Gottlieb recalled, she saw lights twinkling in the distance and was told, "Arabs live there." Gottlieb was stunned, she said—nobody had told her Arabs live in Israel. She wanted to meet one and asked an Israeli friend if she knew any Arabs. "Sure. Atallah Mansour. He lives in Nazareth."

Mansour was a well-known Palestinian correspondent for Haaretz. Gottlieb explained that it would be like asking a white American if she knew any blacks, and to be told, "Sure, Michael Jordan."

Dressed in her kibbutz hat and shorts, Gottlieb found Mansour's home and knocked at the door. His wife hospitably invited her in and offered tea. When Mansour entered, he asked Gottlieb why she had come. She replied, "I want to know what it's like to be an Israeli Arab."

"Are you sure?" Mansour responded. "Because once I tell you, you will no longer be a tourist." He then described the Nakba and the erasure of Palestinians from the Israeli imagination.

From that day on, Gottlieb said, she has felt the need to do something about that injustice. She began with dialogue, and then moved to supporting a two-state solution. She felt a brief euphoria during the Oslo era until she realized that the "peace process" was a means of diverting attention while something ugly, a rise in brutality, was happening. Israel's Cast Lead assault on Gaza made that obvious, but "if it took Gaza to wake people up," Gottlieb complained, "they haven't been paying attention." Many people who had been indifferent became morally outraged at images of Palestinian children burned by white phosphorus. Now, Gottlieb insisted, that outrage must be channeled into something that will make a difference.

Gottlieb is convinced that boycott and divestment offer the most forceful, nonviolent tool for effecting change. It requires strategy, she cautioned, and research to identify effective targets: "Whatever you boycott," she urged, "focus and do it as a group." When a J Street supporter in the audience expressed opposition to BDS because "it leads to a siege mentality in Israel and only a confident Israel can make changes for peace," Gottlieb replied, "It is in fact Palestinians who are under a very real siege and dying behind walls, whose homes are demolished and who are excluded from Jewish-only roads."

Another audience member complained that his group experienced blowback after trying to pressure a local co-op into dropping products produced in Israeli settlements. Gottlieb's response: "Any principled stand will lead to pushback from those happy with the status quo." BDS, she stressed, is not a one-off demonstration, but a campaign that takes time and constant, persistent effort.

Lincoln Center Panel Discusses"A Musical Peace"

karen armstrong

In conjunction with renowned Catalan musician Jordi Savall's three-day musical festival celebrating the music and cultures of Jerusalem at Lincoln Center, a May 2 panel discussion about "A Musical Peace" was held that included Savall and British author Karen Armstrong. Savall pointed to the 1492 expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain as an important part of the tragic situation today. "All the bridges were broken; we are trying to repair them with music." The idea, he explained, is not that Asian musicians play Bach or that Western musicians take on "exotic" instruments, but that each join together while preserving their own styles. "With music," he added, "we cannot lie as we can with words."

Armstrong, whose books include A History of God and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, observed that the convivencia, or coexistence, in Andalusian Spain was normal in most of the Muslim world. Looking further back in time to the 11th-century Crusades, Armstrong noted that at that time Muslim culture was far superior to Western Europe's; the Crusades were pivotal as "the first cooperative act of the 'new Europe' after centuries of Third World culture." When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, Armstrong continued, they slaughtered 30,000 Muslims and Jews and set in motion persistent prejudices: that Islam is a violent religion spread by the sword and that Jews use blood for Passover bread. Again today, she lamented, "we seem intent on creating a clash of civilizations." Armstrong agreed with Savall that music leads us past where words fail us and suggested that all religion should aspire to the condition of music.

Armstrong continued, they slaughtered 30,000 Muslims and Jews and set in motion persistent prejudices: that Islam is a violent religion spread by the sword and that Jews use blood for Passover bread. Again today, she lamented, "we seem intent on creating a clash of civilizations." Armstrong agreed with Savall that music leads us past where words fail us and suggested that all religion should aspire to the condition of music.

A man from the audience asked, "Will an anti-Semitic Arab terrorist listen to music before going out to kill Jews?" "That is a demagogic question," Savall responded. "When everyone is given opportunities for decent and dignified lives, there will not be a problem."

Emergency Responses to Flotilla Assault

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Within less than 24 hours of Israeli commandos' violent predawn seizure of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, Memorial Day, a coalition of New York City activist groups organized a protest in Times Square. Police at first said there could be no demonstration without a permit, but as more and more people arrived, they stood back and allowed the protest to continue. One policeman estimated the crowd to be well over 1,000, adding, "Not bad on such short notice." The following day, June 1, a protest rally opposite the Israeli Consulate drew another large crowd. Remarkably—and for the first time at such events—this reporter did not see or hear of a single instance of harassment from passersby. More demonstrations are planned.

An Emergency Forum to "Condemn the Israeli Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla" took place June 1 at Revolution Books in downtown Manhattan. Spokesperson Andy Zee described the forum as a tribute not only to the flotilla participants, but also to Emily Henochowitz, a 21-year-old art student at Cooper Union in New York City. The morning after Israel's raid on the flotilla, Henochowitz was at the Kalandia checkpoint south of Ramallah observing a spontaneous demonstration when an Israeli border guard fired a teargas canister directly at her face. Doctors could not save the young artist's left eye.

Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the International Solidarity movement, opened the forum with a moment of silence for the dead and wounded on the flotilla and for the four Gazans killed by Israeli forces on that very day. As of that moment, Israel had not released the number or names of those killed on the flotilla, nor revealed the location of their bodies—"as if," Shapiro said, "Israel were trying to make them disappear."

Shapiro's wife, chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement Huwaida Arraf, was aboard the American-flagged Challenger 1. She had telephoned Shapiro around midnight local time to report that Israeli boats had approached the flotilla, and then backed off. Four hours later she phoned again. She witnessed the attack on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara; Israeli naval ships were chasing Challenger 1 and those aboard expected to be rammed. A few hours later, Shapiro found that his e-mail and Facebook accounts were hacked, and a message sent out that Adam is "in London on vacation and needs money." He considered it heartening that so many people from as far away as Indonesia and Yemen, although suspicious, offered to send him money.

By dawn, information began coming out from Europe and Turkey to a shocked world. Shapiro marveled at how fast the condemnations of Israel's actions came—and not, he noted, from "the usual suspects," but from Sweden, Belgium, Spain, and others. Busy with media interviews since then, Shapiro said he has repeatedly been asked whether he considers the flotilla a success. He responds by asking how, with the massacre of an unknown number of unknown people, it could be called a success—then asserts that Israel has dealt itself a defeat. Every U.S. channel he has spoken with, Shapiro revealed, has asked if they can have a reporter on the next ships. He added that contacts in Washington told him it was untrue that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took the initiative in cancelling his White House visit scheduled for the following day; it was because President Barack Obama did not want to be seen just then with "Bibi."

Shapiro asserted that Israel's spin to control its version of events has become so absurd—commandos armed with paintball guns and the mantra that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza—it is obvious that even the mainstream media, with the possible exception of Fox, is not buying it. As for Israel's suggestion that the flotilla offload its humanitarian cargo in Ashdod for Israel to transfer to Gaza, Shapiro said almost nothing the flotilla was bringing was on Israel's elusive list of goods allowed into Gaza. He concluded by saying, "We will sail again to Gaza," before rushing off for more interviews.

Chris Hedges, whose most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, agreed with Shapiro that the official Israeli line is flagrantly dishonest and never matches reality on the ground. Hedges, who first went to the Middle East as a foreign correspondent in 1988 to cover the Jordanian withdrawal from the West Bank, recalled that Israel considered Jordan's departure a great coup. It then set out to marginalize and discredit Jerusalem's notable families, especially Faisal Husseini, thereby virtually ceding power to Yasser Arafat. Then, more than a decade later, during the al-Aqsa intifada, Israel broke the Palestinian Authority and, it is widely believed, poisoned Arafat, opening the way for Hamas. The pattern Hedges discerns is that Israel destroys all forms of Palestinian resistance and ends up every time with a more radical opposition. If it succeeds in destroying Hamas, he predicted, Israel will end up with al-Qaeda.

Israel has changed since 1988, Hedges observed. He accused today's Israel of being less interested in maintaining a democratic façade, of making no pretense at working for a two-state solution, and of having a flagrant disregard for the niceties of public relations. The scope of settlement building can no longer be reversed, he stated, leading to a deformed Jewish state that gives Jewish citizens full rights while subjecting Palestinians to ever more humiliating repression.

In 1988, Hedges said, the year the Knesset outlawed Meir Kahane's Kach party, it would have been unthinkable for an Israeli politician to advocate ethnic cleansing and demand loyalty oaths. Today, however, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman embraces both ideas. Hedges described Lieberman as emblematic of contemporary Israel: a former nightclub bouncer and member of the banned Kach party, convicted for assaulting a 12-year-old boy in 2001, currently under investigation for receiving bribes and money laundering, and resident of an illegal West Bank settlement. Hedges predicted that Israel, now in the process of committing collective suicide, would become increasingly isolated.

Author Alan Goodman posited that recent revelations about Israel having had closer military ties with apartheid South Africa than had been suspected are not a lone blemish on Israel, but rather part of Israel's history of immoral bargains with superpowers. Citing examples in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uganda and Iran, Goodman said whenever something was too obscene and blatantly immoral for the U.S. to do itself, it could count on Israel to carry things out. This, he concluded, is the real meaning of "special strategic partnership" and "shared values."

Joel Kovel, author of Overcoming Zionism (available from the AET Book Club), described Israel as the Macbeth of nations: the logic of power means that it must keep upping the violence and "suck up" to a superpower to give it impunity, which feeds its grandiosity, leading to more criminality, which requires more impunity. The sickness in our own society, according to Kovel, is that we enable Israel to be a viper. Israel's Cast Lead assault on Gaza and now on the Freedom Flotilla are steps on the path to free Israel of its impunity. Kovel expressed tremendous admiration for Hedges, but disagreed that "Israel has changed"—rather, Kovel said, it has emerged. And to say as Hedges did that Israel is becoming a deformed state, Kovel continued, suggests that it was once not deformed, whereas Kovel believes the possibility of a "soft, fuzzy Zionism" has never existed.

Attorney Abdeen Jabara held up a newspaper article about the BP fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico with the headline, "Gas Company Pumps Money into Politicians' Coffers." Can you imagine, Jabara asked, what would be the reaction if "Pro-Israel Groups" replaced "Gas Company"? Yet, he explained, there is a direct, symbiotic relationship between contributions from oil and gas companies, Wall Street firms, and pro-Israel organizations with policies made in Washington. Nobody writes about this, Jabara stressed, except the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs; it is the only publication that tracks pro-Israel PAC money to politicians. This is a factor in the impunity Kovel discussed, Jabara concluded, and because Israel feels under the penumbra of American protection, we Americans have a particular responsibility.


Jane Adas is a free-lance writer based in the New York City metropolitan area.

 

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