Joel Beinin: Silence is not peace
- Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace
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
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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