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A Strange Kind Of Freedom.........
by Saima Alvi
25 August 2002 10:37 UTC
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A Strange Kind Of Freedom
-------------------------
by Robert Fisk
The Independent 
July 13, 2002 


Inside the First Congregational Church of Berkeley,
the Californian audience had been struck silent.
Dennis Bernstein, the Jewish host of KPFA Radio's
Flashpoint current affairs programme, was reading some
recent e-mails that he had received from Israel's
supporters in America. Each one left the people in the
church  Muslims, Jews, Christians  in a state of
shock. "You mother-fucking-asshole-self-hating Jewish
piece of shit. Hitler killed the wrong Jews. He should
have killed your parents, so a piece of Jewish shit
like you would not have been born. God willing, Arab
terrorists will cut you to pieces Daniel Pearl-style,
AMEN!!!" 

Bernstein's sin was to have covered the story of
Israel's invasion of Jenin in April and to have
interviewed journalists who investigated the killings
that took place there  including Phil Reeves and
Justin Huggler of The Independent  for his Flashpoint
programme. Bernstein's grandfather was a revered
Orthodox Rabbi of international prominence but neither
his family history nor his origins spared him. "Read
this and weep, you mother-fucker self-hating Jew
boy!!!" another e-mail told Bernstein. "God willing a
Palestinian will murder you, rape your wife and slash
your kids' throats." Yet another: "I hope that you,
Barbara Lubin and all other Jewish Marxist Communist
traitors anti-American cop haters will die a violent
and cruel death just like the victims of suicide
bombers in Israel." Lubin is also Jewish, the
executive director of the Middle East Children's
Alliance, a one-time committed Zionist but now one of
Israel's fiercest critics. Her e-mails are even worse.


Indeed, you have to come to America to realise just
how brave this small but vocal Jewish community is.
Bernstein is the first to acknowledge that a
combination of Israeli lobbyists and conservative
Christian fundamentalists have in effect censored all
free discussion of Israel and the Middle East out of
the public domain in the US. "Everyone else is
terrified," Bernstein says. "The only ones who begin
to open their mouths are the Jews in this country. You
know, as a kid, I sent money to plant trees in Israel.
But now we are horrified by a government representing
a country that we grew up loving and cherishing.
Israel's defenders have a special vengeance for Jews
who don't fall in line behind Sharon's scorched-earth
policy because they give the lie to the charge that
Israel's critics are simply anti-Semite." 

Adam Shapiro is among those who have paid a price for
their beliefs. He is a Jew engaged to an American-born
Palestinian, a volunteer with the International
Solidarity Movement who was trapped in Yasser Arafat's
headquarters in the spring while administering medical
aid. After telling CNN that the Sharon government was
acting like "terrorists" while receiving $3bn a year
in US military aid, Shapiro and his family were
savaged in the New York Post. The paper slandered
Shapiro as the "Jewish Taliban" and demeaned his
family as "traitors". Israeli supporters publicised
his family's address and his parents were forced to
flee their Brooklyn home and seek police protection.
Shapiro's father, a New York public high-school
teacher and a part-time Yeshiva (Jewish day school)
teacher, was fired from his job. His brother receives
regular death threats. 

Israel's supporters have no qualms about their
alliance with the Christian right. Indeed, the
fundamentalists can campaign on their own in Israel's
favour, as I discovered for myself at Stanford
recently when I was about to give a lecture on the
media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, part of a
series of talks arranged largely by Jewish Americans.
A right-wing Christian "Free Republic" outfit posted
my name on its website, and described me as a "PLO
butt-kisser" and asked its supporters to "freep" my
lecture. A few demonstrators turned up outside the
First United Methodist Church in Sacramento where I
was to speak, waving American and Israeli flags. "Jew
haters!" they screamed at the organisers, a dark irony
since these were non-Jews shrieking their abuse at
Jews. 

They were also handing out crudely printed flyers.
"Nothing to worry about, Bob," one of my Jewish hosts
remarked. "They can't even spell your name right."
True. But also false. "Stop the Lies!" the leaflet
read. "There was no massacre in Jenin. Fiske [sic] is
paid big bucks to spin [lie] for the Arabs..." But the
real lie was in that last sentence. I never take any
payment for lectures  so that no one can ever claim
that I'm paid to give the views of others. But the
truth didn't matter to these people. Nor did the
content of my talk  which began, by chance, with the
words "There was no massacre"  in which I described
Arafat as a "corrupt, vain little despot" and suicide
bombings as "a fearful, evil weapon". None of this was
relevant. The aim was to shut me up. 

Dennis Bernstein sums it up quite simply: "Any US
journalist, columnist, editor, college professor,
student-activist, public official or clergy member who
dares to speak critically of Israel or accurately
report the brutalities of its illegal occupation will
be vilified as an anti-Semite." In fact, no sooner had
Bernstein made these remarks than pro-Israeli groups
initiated an extraordinary campaign against some of
the most pro-Israeli newspapers in America, all
claiming that The New York Times, the Los Angeles
Times and the San Francisco Chronicle were biased in
their coverage of the Middle-East conflict. Just how
The New York Times  which boasts William Safire and
Charles Krauthammer, those giants of pro-Israeli bias,
among its writers  could be anti-Israeli is difficult
to see, although it is just possible that, amid its
reports on Israel's destruction in the West Bank and
Gaza, some mildly critical comments found their way
into print. The New York Times, for example, did
report that Israeli soldiers used civilians as human
shields  though only in the very last paragraph of a
dispatch from Jenin. 

None the less, the campaign of boycotts and e-mails
got under way. More than 1,000 readers suspended their
subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, while a
blizzard of e-mails told pro-Israeli readers to cancel
their subscription to The New York Times for a day. On
the East Coast, at least one local radio station has
lost $1m from a Jewish philanthropist while other
stations attempting to cover the Middle East with some
degree of fairness are said to have lost even more.
When the San Francisco Chronicle published a four-page
guide to the conflict, its editors had to meet a
14-member delegation of local Jewish groups to discuss
their grievances. 

According to Michael Futterman, who chairs the Middle
East strategy committee of 80 Bay Area synagogues,
Jewish anger hit "boiling point" when the Chronicle
failed to cover a pro-Israeli rally in San Francisco.
Needless to say, the Chronicle's "Readers'
Representative", Dick Rogers, published a grovelling,
self-flagellating apology. "The paper didn't have a
word on the pro-Israel rally," he wrote. "This wasn't
fair and balanced coverage." Another objection came
from a Jewish reader who objected to the word "terror"
being placed within inverted commas in a Chronicle
headline that read "Sharon says 'terror' justifies
assault". The reader's point? The Chronicle's
reporting "harmonises well with Palestinian
propaganda, which tries to divert attention from the
terrorist campaign against Israel (which enjoys almost
unanimous support among Palestinians, all the way from
Yasser Arafat to the 10-year-old who dreams of blowing
himself up one day) and instead describes Israel's
military moves as groundless, evil bullying tactics." 

And so it goes on. On a radio show with me in
Berkeley, the Chronicle's foreign editor, Andrew Ross,
tried to laugh off the influence of the pro-Israeli
lobby  "the famous lobby", he called it with that
deference that is half way between acknowledgement and
fear  but the Israeli Consul General Yossi Amrani had
no hesitation in campaigning against the Chronicle,
describing a paper largely docile in its reporting of
the Middle East as "a professionally and politically
biased, pro-Palestinian newspaper". 

The Chronicle's four-page pull-out on the Middle East
was, in fact, a soft sell. Its headline  "The Current
Strife Between The Israelis And The Palestinians Is A
Battle For Control Of Land"  missed the obvious
point: that one of the two groups that were "battling
for control of the land"  the Palestinians  had been
occupied by Israel for 35 years. 

The most astonishing  and least covered  story is in
fact the alliance of Israeli lobbyists and Christian
Zionist fundamentalists, a coalition that began in
1978 with the publication of a Likud plan to encourage
fundamentalist churches to give their support to
Israel. By 1980, there was an "International Christian
Embassy" in Jerusalem; and in 1985, a Christian
Zionist lobby emerged at a "National Prayer Breakfast
for Israel" whose principal speaker was Benjamin
Netanyahu, who was to become Israeli prime minister.
"A sense of history, poetry and morality imbued the
Christian Zionists who, more than a century ago, began
to write, plan and organise for Israel's restoration,"
Netanyahu told his audience. The so-called National
Unity Coalition for Israel became a lobbying arm of
Christian Zionism with contacts in Congress and
neo-conservative think-tanks in Washington. 

In May this year, the Israeli embassy in Washington,
no less, arranged a prayer breakfast for Christian
Zionists. Present were Alonzo Short, a member of the
board of "Promise Keepers", and Michael Little who is
president of the "Christian Broadcasting Network".
Event hosts were listed as including those dour old
Christian conservatives Jerry Falwell and Pat
Robertson, who once financed a rogue television
station in southern Lebanon which threatened Muslim
villagers and broadcast tirades by Major Saad Haddad,
Israel's stooge militia leader in Lebanon. In
Tennessee, Jewish officials invited hundreds of
Christians to join Jewish crowds at a pro-Israel
solidarity rally in Memphis. 

On the face of it, this coalition seems natural. The
Jewish Anti-Defamation League felt able to run an ad
that included an article by a former Christian
coalition executive director Ralph Reed, headlined "We
People of Faith Stand Firmly With Israel". Christians,
Reed claimed, supported Israel because of "their
humanitarian impulse to help and protect Jews, a
shared strategic interest in democracy in the Middle
East and a spiritual connection to Israel". 

But, of course, a fundamental problem  fundamental in
every sense of the word  lies behind this strange
partnership. As Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom,
the most courageous Israeli peace group, pointed out
in a typically ferocious essay last month, there is a
darker side to the alliance. "According to its
[Christian Zionist] theological beliefs, the Jews must
congregate in Palestine and establish a Jewish state
on all its territory"  an idea that would obviously
appeal to Ariel Sharon  "so as to make the Second
Coming of Jesus Christ possible." But here comes the
bad bit. As Avnery says, "the evangelists don't like
to dwell openly on what comes next: before the coming
[of the Messiah], the Jews must convert to
Christianity. Those who don't will perish in a
gigantic holocaust in the battle of Armageddon. This
is basically an anti-Semitic teaching, but who cares,
so long as they support Israel?" 

The power of the Israeli lobby in the United States is
debated far more freely in the Israeli press than in
American newspapers or on US tele- vision. There is,
of course, a fine and dangerous line between justified
investigation  and condemnation  of the lobby's
power, and the racist Arab claim that a small cabal of
Zionists run the world. Those in America who share the
latter view include a deeply unpleasant organisation
just along the coast from San Francisco at Newport
Beach known as the "Institute for Historical
Research". These are the Holocaust deniers whose
annual conference last month included a lecture on
"death sentences imposed by German authorities against
German soldiers... for killing or even mistreating
Jews". Too much of this and you'd have to join the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee  AIPAC  to
restore your sanity. But the Israeli lobby is
powerful. In fact, its influence over the US Congress
and Senate calls into question the degree to which the
American legislature has been corrupted by lobby
groups. It is to an Israeli voice  Avnery again 
that Americans have to turn to hear just how mighty
the lobby has become. "Its electoral and financial
power casts a long shadow over both houses of the
Congress," Avnery writes. "Hundreds of Senators and
Congressmen were elected with the help of Jewish
contributions. Resistance to the directives of the
Jewish lobby is political suicide. If the AIPAC were
to table a resolution abolishing the Ten Commandments,
80 Senators and 300 Congressmen would sign it at once.
This lobby frightens the media, too, and assures their
adherence to Israel." 

Avnery could have looked no further than the
Democratic primary in Alabama last month for proof of
his assertion. Earl Hilliard, the five-term incumbent,
had committed the one mortal sin of any American
politician: he had expressed sympathy for the cause of
the Palestinians. He had also visited Libya several
years ago. Hilliard's opponent, Artur Davis, turned
into an outspoken supporter of Israel and raised large
amounts of money from the Jewish community, both in
Alabama and nationwide. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz
noted that among the names of the first list of
contributors to Davis's campaign funds were "10 Cohens
from New York and New Jersey, but before one gets to
the Cohens, there were Abrams, Ackerman, Adler, Amir,
Asher, Baruch, Basok, Berger, Berman, Bergman,
Bernstein and Blumenthal. All from the East Coast,
Chicago and Los Angeles. It's highly unlikely any of
them have ever visited Alabama..." The Jewish
newspaper Forward  essential reading for any serious
understanding of the American Jewish community 
quoted a Jewish political activist following the race:
"Hilliard has been a problem in his votes and with
guys like that, when there's any conceivable primary
challenge, you take your shot." Hilliard, of course,
lost to Davis, whose campaign funds reached $781,000. 

The AIPAC concentrates on Congress while the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organisations (CPMAJO), made up of the heads of 51
Jewish organisations, concentrates on the executive
branch of the US government. Every congressman knows
the names of those critics of Israel who have been
undone by the lobby. Take Senator J William Fulbright,
whose 1963 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee detailed how five million tax-deductable
dollars from philanthropic Americans had been sent to
Israel and then recycled back to the US for
distribution to organisations seeking to influence
public opinion in favour of Israel; this cost him the
chance of being Secretary of State. He was defeated in
the 1974 Democratic primary after pro-Israeli money
poured into the campaign funds of his rival, Governor
Dale Bumpers, following a statement by the AIPAC that
Fulbright was "consistently unkind to Israel and our
supporters in this country". Paul Findley, who spent
22 years as a Republican congressman from Illinois,
found his political career destroyed after he had
campaigned against the Israeli lobby  although,
ironically, his book on the subject, They Dare to
Speak Out was nine weeks on The Washington Post
bestseller list, suggesting that quite a number of
Americans want to know why their congressmen are so
pro-Israeli. 

Just two months ago, the US House of Representatives
voted 352 to 21 to express its unqualified support for
Israel. The Senate voted 94 to two for the same
motion. Even as they voted, Ariel Sharon's army was
continuing its destructive invasion of the West Bank.
"I do not recall any member of Congress asking me if I
was in favour of patting Israel on the back..." James
Abu Rizk, an Arab-American of Lebanese origin, told
the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee
afterwards. "No one else, no average American, has
been asked either. But that is the state of American
politics today... The votes and bows have nothing to
do with the legislators' love for Israel. They have
everything to do with the money that is fed into their
campaigns by members of the Israeli lobby. My estimate
is that $6bn flows from the American Treasury to
Israel each year." Within days, 42 US governors turned
up in Sacramento to sign declarations supporting
Israel. California governor Gray Davis and New York
governor George Pataki  California has the largest
Jewish population of any state except New York 
arranged the meeting. 

Sometimes the support of Israel's loyalists in
Congress turns into farce. Tom Delay  reacting to CNN
founder Ted Turner's criticism of Israel  went so far
out of his way to justify Israeli occupation of the
West Bank that he blurted out on MSNBC television that
the Palestinians "should become citizens" of Israel,
an idea unlikely to commend itself to his friend Ariel
Sharon. Texas Republican Richard Armey went the other
way. "I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West
Bank. I happen to believe the Palestinians should
leave... to have those people who have been aggressors
against Israel retired to some other area." Do the
people of Texas know that their representative is
supporting "ethnic cleansing" in the Middle East? Or
are they silent because they prefer not to speak out? 

Censorship takes many forms. When Ishai Sagi and Ram
Rahat-Goodman, two Israeli reserve soldiers who
refused to serve in the West Bank or Gaza, were
scheduled to debate their decision at Sacramento's
Congregation B'nai Israel in May, their appearance was
cancelled. Steve Meinrath, who is chairman of the
Israel Affairs Committee at B'nai Israel, remarked
bleakly that "intimidation on the part of certain
sectors of the community has deprived the entire
community of hearing a point of view that is being
widely debated in Israel. Some people feel it's too
dangerous..." 

Does President Bush? His long-awaited Middle-East
speech was Israeli policy from start to finish. A
group of Jewish leaders, including Elie Wiesel and
Alan Dershowitz  who said recently that the idea of
executing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers
was a legitimate if flawed attempt at finding a
balance between preventing terrorism and preserving
democracy  and the AIPAC and CPMAJO heads all sent
clear word to the President that no pressure should be
put on Israel. Wiesel  whose courage permeates his
books on the Holocaust but who lamentably failed to
condemn the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut
in 1982 at the hands of Israel's Lebanese allies, said
he felt "sadness", but his sadness was "with Israel,
not against Israel" because "after all the Israeli
soldiers did not kill"  took out a full page in The
New York Times. In this, he urged Bush to "please
remember that Ariel Sharon, a military man who knows
the ugly face of war better than anyone, is ready to
make 'painful sacrifices' to end the conflict." Sharon
was held "personally responsible" for the massacre by
Israel's own commission of inquiry  but there was no
mention of that from Wiesel, who told reporters in May
that he would like to revoke Arafat's Nobel prize. 

President Bush was not going to oppose these
pressures. His father may well have lost his
re-election because he dared to tell Israel that it
must make peace with the Arabs. Bush is not going to
make the same mistake  nor does brother Jeb want to
lose his forthcoming governorship election. Thus
Sharon's delight at the Bush speech, and it was left
to a lonely and brave voice  Mitchell Plitnick of the
Jewish Voice for Peace  to state that "few speeches
could be considered to be as destructive as that of
the American President... Few things are as blinding
as unbridled arrogance." 

Or as vicious as the messages that still pour in to
Dennis Bernstein and Barbara Lubin, whose Middle East
Children's Alliance, co-ordinating with Israeli peace
groups, is trying to raise money to rebuild the Jenin
refugee camp. "I got a call the other day at 5am,"
Bernstein told me. "This guy says to me: 'You got a
lot of nerve going and eating at that Jewish deli.'
What comes after that?" Before I left San Francisco,
Lubin showed me her latest e-mails. "Dear Cunt," one
of them begins, "When we want your opinion you fucking
Nazi cunt, we will have one of your Palestinian
buddies fuck it [sic] of you. I hope that in your next
trip to the occupied territories you are blown to bits
by one of your Palestinian buddies [sic] bombs."
Another, equally obscene, adds that "you should be
ashamed of yourself, a so-called Jewish woman
advocating the destruction of Israel". 

Less crude language, of course, greeted President
Bush's speech. Pat Robertson thought the Bush address
"brilliant". Senator Charles Schumer, a totally loyal
pro-Israeli Democrat from New York, said that
"clearly, on the politics, this is going to please
supporters of Israel as well as the Christian
coalition types". He could say that again. For who
could be more Christian than President George W Bush? 

http://zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=4&ItemID=2106


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