'Israel right or wrong' crowd advocates censorship in Seattle
- 'Israel right or wrong' crowd advocates censorship in Seattle
By rallying pressure to prevent the placement
or ads critical to Israel's treatment of Palestinians, writes guest
writer Ed Mast, the "Israel right or wrong" supporters advocated
censorship in Seattle.
By Edward Mast
Special to The Times
COURTNEY BLETHEN RIFFKIN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
I WAS part of a group that raised money for a series of Metro
Transit bus ads that read, "ISRAELI WAR CRIMES: Your Tax Dollars At
Work." We abided by King County guidelines and our ads were approved by
King County Metro Transit.
With a signed contract, ads were printed and ready for Dec. 27, which
marked two years to the day Israel dropped a bomb on a schoolyard in
Gaza just as children were leaving class. Many were killed. For the next
three weeks, Israel killed 1,400 people in Gaza, mostly noncombatants.
More than 300 of the killed were children. Investigations by the United
Nations and Amnesty International concluded that Israel committed war
We didn't announce the ad campaign, but news leaked out and some
local groups that defend Israel from all criticism took action to
convince King County that any discussion of Israeli war crimes is
inappropriate for public speech.
"War crime" is a legal term referring to a grave violation of the
Geneva Conventions. Such violations by Israel have been well-documented
throughout its lengthy occupation of Palestinian lands, and have
included thousands of Israeli rockets fired into Gaza before 2008 and
continuing attacks today. But U.S. military, political and diplomatic
support, including $3 billion per year in military funding, gives Israel
virtual impunity, and this one-sided U.S. support makes us complicit in
Violations by Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination
have also been documented, though violations by Israel are far more
numerous and far less reported in this country. The bus ads were an
attempt to correct that imbalance.
When the U.N. Fact-Finding Committee Report, known as the Goldstone
Report, concluded that Israel's assault on Gaza was "a deliberately
disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a
civilian population," Israel tried to bury the report, not by bringing
counter-evidence but by defaming committee chair Richard Goldstone as
anti-Jewish, even though Goldstone is Jewish himself and is a
self-declared Zionist with family in Israel.
Similarly, when we tried to raise awareness of Israeli war crimes
this month in Seattle, groups trying to block the ad imitated Israel's
approach. Rather than attempting to disprove that Israel commits war
crimes, they demanded special treatment for Israel, using the
reprehensible and increasingly discredited argument that any criticism
of Israel is the same as criticizing Jewish people in Seattle.
Israel uses the Jewish people of the world as a shield for its own
ongoing human-rights violations. An increasing number of Jews —
including those who worked with us on our bus-ad campaign — are outraged
that Israel uses them as its excuse for continuing crimes. They insist
that Israel is a nation-state that should not be immune from criticism.
But others still defend Israel, right or wrong, as a frightened parent
might defend a spoiled child who is also a bully.
Those groups wanting to silence the ad mounted a phone and e-mail
campaign to disrupt King County Metro, along with an implied threat of
violence both toward Metro buses and toward others. In the short term,
they were successful in preventing the ads from going up.
In doing so, they not only demonstrated fear of open debate, but made
public the problem: Any hard truths about Israel must face silencing
not only by those who defend Israeli impunity, but also by those elected
officials who can be intimidated by them.
Many of those who take an "Israel right or wrong" stance consider
themselves social-justice activists in other fields. On the subject of
Israel, however, they become advocates of apartheid, ethnic dictatorship
and outright racism.
In this case, they have advocated censorship in Seattle. It is a
chilling spectacle to watch some of our neighbors demonstrating so
clearly that support for oppression anywhere is a danger to freedom
everywhere.Edward Mast is a volunteer with Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, which sponsored the recently canceled bus ads.
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