The perils criticizing Israel: not as bad as it once was
October 13, 2006
Tony Judt, the NYU professor and liberal writer for the New York Review of Books, has just discovered some of the consequences of publicly criticizing Israeli government policies, as he has been doing. Here's a message he released on Oct. 4: "I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGOs, academics, etc, from the U.S. and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan.
"I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was cancelled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone-calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli anti-Semites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved, and Network 20/20 was forced to cancel. Whatever your views on the Middle East, I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America."
Judt's disclosure elicited a few stories, including one in the Washington Post by Michael Powell, who wrote, "The pattern, Judt says, is unmistakable and chilling. 'This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel -- is this a problem,' he said. 'These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen.'
"The leaders of the Jewish organizations denied asking the consulate to block Judt's speech and accused the professor of retailing 'wild conspiracy theories' about their roles. But they applauded the consulate for rescinding Judt's invitation.
"'I think they made the right decision,' said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. 'He's taken the position that Israel shouldn't exist. That puts him on our radar.'"
It's good that Judt is making a fuss about the ghastly Foxman, but I do have to smile wryly at his sudden discovery that criticizing Israel can be an edgy business. Actually, it was far, far riskier 20 or even 10 years ago. It's much easier now, as I know from personal experience promoting a book I co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair, "The Politics of Anti-Semitism," also from a note Noam Chomsky recently sent me remarking that his sense is that "the potential left is growing fast."
Chomsky recounted having given a few talks in the Cambridge/Boston area and that "it's quite different from before." He was just back from an evening on the Cuban Five and U.S. terror against Cuba. "A big crowd, very enthusiastic." Chomsky also said he had given several talks in the last few weeks on the Middle East. Now, these were of the sort of that used to require police protection in Cambridge only a few years ago. Now? Chomsky said he'd got an occasional sad question asking whether he was being too hard on Israel because it really has security problems.
Not so long ago, when Chomsky went to a town to talk, the ADL would trail him and file minute by minute reports on his movements and statements. Someone once sent him anonymously one such dossier. On the front page of the Xerox was written, "for Alan Dershowitz." Chomsky told me long ago that he and Dershowitz were scheduled to have a debate in a week or so, and evidently this was being sent to Dershowitz, for him to cull.
The ADL had spies everywhere, who were sending back to the ADL feverish reports, mostly hysterical fabrications, about what they claimed to have heard in meetings. That was a joke. Not a joke was what happened at UCLA and Cambridge, where there were undercover cops at Chomsky's meetings because they'd picked up serious threats. And that was nothing compared what Edward Said had to live with. Or Norman Finkelstein.
What Judt faces isn't more than a tiny fraction of what Norman faces regularly -- e.g., being condemned by the Progressive (sic) as a Holocaust denier or by its editor as a "Holocaust minimizer" on the grounds that he accurately quoted Raul Hilberg. Norman has been attacked in similar terms or worse by others who are pretentiously protesting Judt's treatment.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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