Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Land of the Free? Even the bishop gets banned

FOR the second time in less than a month a Catholic academic institution in the United States has been seen to bow to pressure from the Zionist Lobby by acting to silence someone who had upset the Israeli state and American Zionist organisations.

On September 5 it was reported that Professor Norman Finkelstein, a well-known Jewish critic of the Zionists had agreed to resign his post at De Paul University, in Chicago, after the University had denied him tenure. Professor Mehrene Larudee was also refused tenure, she believes because she had supported Finkelstein. Finkelstein's colleagues had spoken highly of him, and students staged a sit-in his support. The university denied it was getting rid of him because of the campaign led by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and the Zionist Lobby, but few believe this.

Now comes news that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was banned by the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, for allegedly making statements that somebody considered "antisemitic"; even though the archbishop had gained an honorary degree from Brandeis, a university with strong Jewish and indeed Zionist foundations, and given the commencement address there.

Bishop Tutu had agreed to an invitation to speak at St.Thomas, from members of the university's Justice and Peace Studies Program, but administrators decided to block him after apparently conferring with one spokesperson for Minnesota’s Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis who taught in a University program.

“We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy,” says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas’s vice president for university and government relations. “We’re not saying he’s anti-Semitic. But he’s compared the state of Israel to Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are hurtful to some members of the Jewish community.”

The Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) has condemned Tutu. But then the ZOA also opposed inviting Nelson Mandela to the United States when he was first freed from jail, and criticised other American Jewish leaders for wanting to meet him. The ZOA itself has criticised Israeli governments - but from the Right, whenever it feared they might make concessions to the Palestinians!

Possibly Catholic institutions like St.Thomas are afraid of protests from Zionists who will rake up the Church's past history of antisemitism. In the campaign against Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, Zionist petitioners accused De Paul University of being "antisemitic" simply for hiring him!

Reporting the Tutu ban on the "Muzzlewatch" site run by Jewish Voice for Peace, Cecilie Surasky says a backlash has begun. She quotes Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor within the Justice and Peace Studies program:
“As a Jew who experienced real anti-Semitism as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this,” he says. “I deeply resent the Israeli lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”

The camapign against Bishop Tutu may be aimed at his support to Sabeel, a Jerusalem based Christian liberation theology organization started by Palestinian Anglican pastor Rev. Naim Ateek. Sabeel is “an international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land who seek a just peace based on two states-Palestine and Israel-as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions. Bishop Tutu is due to speak at the Boston Sabeel conference later this month, “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel:Issues of Justice and Equality.” Jewish peace campaigners who have met Sabeel and heard Desmond Tutu speak say they have no doubt about their commitment to tolerance and peace.

Don't stop the music!

Tolerance doesn't appear prominent on the menu right now in America. If
banning a bishop sounds bad enough, over in San Diego, California they have taken offence at an oud player. Lebanese musician Marcel Khalife, a UNESCO Artist for Peace, is used to being persecuted. A concert of his was stopped in Bahrain earlier this year, and more recently his music was banned from stage screen and radio in Tunisia. But Marcel and his would-be listeners had not expected to find "the Land of the Free" so intolerant.

During the Lebanon war Marcel Khalife took similar action to what Bosnian cellist Vedran Smailovic did in Sarajevo, risking his life and limb performing in bombed out concert halls. Mind you, Vedran got more coverage, but was banned in Canada. Marcel Khalifé has been allowd into the United States for a series of concerts, including some in Canada, but an appearance at San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Theatre at the Salvation Army Corps Community Center, which had been planned for moths, was cancelled. Concert organizers­ were told that a concert by Khalife would be "divisive" and "unbalanced" because it does not present an Israeli artist alongside Khalifé.

Just as well they did not "balance" the Lebanese artiste's gig by inviting Israeli artiste Gilad Atzmon to perform. Fortunately another San Diego venue has now been found.

Khalifé has often spoken out for peace and reconciliation, and last August, he wrote to fellow UNESCO Artists for Peace in response to Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, “Nothing justifies our art other than to speak for those who cannot speak. This is the cause for which we dedicated our efforts, and the cause that endorsed our voices. We only wished to take it as far as we can, and vowed to release our work as songs of love for, and unity with, the victims of persecution everywhere.”

The Salvation Army's motto is "Blood and Fire", and the Zionist Right followers of Jabotinsky had the slogan "In blood and fire shall Zion be redeemed", but I had not thought the two would collaborate to stop a musician's peace message.

No side has a monopoly of silliness of course, and I thought the Women in Black in California who picketed the visiting Israeli orchestra, having requested that players sign something against Israeli policies and war, were wrong and absurd. If only half the orchestra had signed up would they have allowed the musicians who signed to play but without their right-wing colleagues? I recently signed and circulated a petition supporting a mural in San Francisco which some Zionists did not like, because it was about people uniting to break down a Wall. But I balked at one asking support for a woman sacked for refusing to take Israeli films in a San Diego festival. Not without knowing more. I mean, if the films were crap, or reactionary propaganda, fair enough, but if they were rejected purely because of where they were from - well, I'm sorry the person was sacked but ...

We should leave "cultural boycott" to the enemy. It's their metier. Trouble is, though, when we don't like someone or something we protest outside, whereas with them, any public protest is just decorative, while they put on effective pressure inside to get people banned and witch-hunted. This effective boycott from above has recently hit a British publisher.

Publish it not in Michigan...

Roger Van Zwanenberg of Pluto Press found his firm was in trouble after Stand With Us, an offshoot of Campus Watch, launched an attack against the University of Michigan Press - Pluto's US distributor. Stand With Us is the same well-funded Zionist student outfit that collected signatures for De Paul university to take away Norman Finkelstein's tenure. When I say signatures, it was an online petition and they were not too careful checking if names were genuine. Myself and a dozen or so other people were shocked to find our names had been added, against our wishes, in what seemed like a deliberate provocation, and we had to keep protesting till they were removed. We don't know how many other supposed signatories were included without their knowledge. Still the vitriolic comments made by some were real enough.

The University of Michigan Press, one of the largest university presses in the States, had been distributing Pluto Press for the past two years. But the Michigan chapter of Stand With Us objected to UMP’ s involvement in selling Joel Kovel's book Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel / Palestine.

From what I've heard, I would not rate Kovel's book myself (my pal Dave Rosenberg has reviewed it for the forthcoming edition of Jewish Socialist magazine). But of course Stand With Us does not stick at book criticism. As a result of their attack Michigan has withdrawn the book from sale, and the director has written directly to Joel Kovel to express his intense dislike of this ‘reckless, vicious and unmodulated attack on Zionism and all Zionists.’

The Executive Board of the University of Michigan have also become involved, issuing a public statement – without the courtesy of informing anyone at Pluto Press, says Roger Van Zwanenberg - saying they had ‘deep reservations about Overcoming Zionism’ . and calling into question Pluto’s 'commitment to acceptable scholarly standards'. They went on to say ‘the Executive Board also arrived at the unanimous view that Pluto Press’s decision to publish Overcoming Zionism brings into question the viability of UM Press’s distribution agreement with Pluto Press'.

Van Zwanenberg is apparently sticking by his guns, and defending author Kovel, but admits to being worried about the effect on his small company if it is
thus deprived of access to the American market. Whatever we think of this particular author or book, or even whether or not we like Pluto, or Roger Van Zwanenberg, we can only see some more ugly bullying and attempts to silence dissent - coming from the very folk who uphold a "free society" and have been warning us about boycotts and the threat to "academic freedom".

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