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Joel Beinin: Silence is not peace

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    Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace Joel Beinin Sunday, February 4, 2007 San Franciso Chronicle Last Sunday in San Francisco, the Anti-Defamation
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2007
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      Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace
      Joel Beinin
      Sunday, February 4, 2007
      San Franciso Chronicle


      Last Sunday in San Francisco, the Anti-Defamation League sponsored
      "Finding Our Voice," a conference designed to help Jews recognize and
      confront the "new anti-Semitism." For me, it was ironic. Ten days
      before, my own voice was silenced by fellow Jews.

      I was to give a talk about our Middle East policy to high school
      students at the Harker School in San Jose. With one day to go, my
      contact there called to say my appearance had been canceled. He was
      apologetic and upset. He expected the talk would be intellectually
      stimulating and intriguing for students. But, he said, "a certain
      community of parents" complained to the headmaster. He added, without
      divulging details, that the Jewish Community Relations Council of
      Silicon Valley had played a role.

      I was raised a Zionist. I went to Israel after high school for six
      months to live on a kibbutz. I met my wife there. We returned four
      years later thinking we'd spend our lives on a kibbutz, working the
      land and living the Zionist dream. Why did the council feel the need
      to silence me?

      In fact, this was not our first run-in. I have long advocated equal
      rights for the Palestinians, as I do for all people. I criticize
      Israeli policies. I seem to have crossed the council's line of
      acceptable discourse. Because I am a Jew, it is not so easy to smear
      me as guilty of this "new anti-Semitism." Instead, hosts like the
      Harker School, and others, are intimidated, and open dialogue on
      Israel is censored.

      In 2005, Marin's Rodef Sholom synagogue caved to the council and
      revoked my invitation, unless my talk could be accompanied by a
      rebuttal. Roy Mash, a board member, resigned in protest. He asked in
      his resignation letter whether "given Judaism's long and deep
      tradition of concern for justice and ethics, a Jewish venue is (not)
      precisely the setting most appropriate for a speaker like Dr. Beinin?"

      I was indeed raised to believe that being Jewish meant being actively
      committed to social justice. I moved to Israel expecting to pursue
      that ideal. Yet much of what I saw there called this into question.

      I tended livestock on Kibbutz Lahav, which was established on the
      ruins of three Palestinian villages. The Palestinian inhabitants had
      been expelled and, because they are not Jewish, were unable to return.
      One day, we needed extra workers to help clean manure from the turkey
      cages. The head of the turkey branch said we should not ask for
      kibbutz members to do the work because, "This isn't work for Jews.
      This is work for Arabushim." "Arabushim" is an extremely derogatory
      racial term.

      I had participated in the civil rights movement in America, picketing
      Woolworth's stores that wouldn't serve African Americans. Yet in
      Israel I discovered the same, stark racism. How could this bring peace
      between Palestinians and Israelis? While still living in Israel, I
      began to speak out for equal rights for Palestinians, as I had done
      for blacks in America.

      Organizations claiming to represent American Jews engage in a
      systematic campaign of defamation, censorship and hate-mongering to
      silence criticism of Israeli policies. They hollow the ethical core
      out of the Jewish tradition, acting instead as if the highest purpose
      of being Jewish is to defend Israel, right or wrong.

      No one is spared. New York University Professor Tony Judt also moved
      to Israel with notions of justice. Judt learned, as I did, that most
      Israelis were "remarkably unconscious of the people who had been
      kicked out of the country and were suffering in refugee camps to make
      this fantasy possible." In October, the Polish Consulate in New York
      canceled a talk by Judt after pressure from the Anti-Defamation League
      and the American Jewish Committee.

      Even former U.S. presidents are not immune. Jimmy Carter has been the
      target of a smear campaign since the release of his latest book,
      "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Carter's most vociferous critics
      have not challenged him on the issues. Rather, they discredit him with
      personal attacks, even insinuating that the man who has achieved more
      than any other American president in Arab/Israeli peacemaking is
      anti-Semitic. Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing
      viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot
      win based on facts. An honest discussion can only lead to one
      conclusion: The status quo in which Israel declares it alone has
      rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker Palestinians,
      stripping them permanently of their land, resources and rights, cannot
      lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the freedom to
      discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy
      options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American
      interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to
      Palestinians and Israelis.


      Joel Beinin co-edited "The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and
      Israel, 1993-2005." Contact us at insight @ sfchronicle.com.

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