Standing with my Muslim neighbors in the wake of Jerusalem and Gaza

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, The Cap Times, May 17, 2018


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, 2018, left, and on the same day, Palestinians in Gaza City carry the body of Mousab Abu Leila, who was killed during a protest at the border of Israel and Gaza. Netanyahu praised the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem as a “great day for peace,” as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza amidst ongoing clashes. (AP Photo)

As I watched the glitz and glamour of the celebration marking President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, I was filled with shame. The backdrop of Israeli and American flags emblazoned with “Thank You President Trump” smacked of self-righteousness and complacency. One political leader after another emphasized his or her unwavering support for Israel without regard for Palestinian rights or sovereignty. Two evangelical pastors invited to bless the celebration had long public records of vilifying Muslims and Jews, among many others. As a rabbi I felt deeply shaken; this spectacle was a violation of everything I believe in.

As I watched, scenes of the Israeli military firing live ammunition on protesters in Gaza flashed across my screen. On this one day, May 14, the military killed 58 Palestinians and injured thousands. The excessive and lethal force against protesters who posed no imminent threat to Israeli soldiers or civilians was chilling. Palestinian leaders explained why they were protesting in the Great March of Return: Israel’s military siege was strangling their economy, making every aspect of their lives intolerable. They wanted the world to know that 70 years ago their people became refugees as Jews, many of them refugees themselves, established the state of Israel.

While most American Jewish organizations rejoiced at the Embassy move and defended the killings in Gaza, I sensed that many American Jews were not so sure. After all, we overwhelmingly distrust President Trump and oppose every move of his presidency, from the Muslim ban to anti-immigrant legislation to support for the NRA to stripping the poor of what’s left of a meager safety net. That he panders to antisemitic white supremacist groups and aligns himself with the Christian right’s anti-woman platform only fuels our disgust.

We recognize that Jerusalem is a city of many faiths, filled with religious sites that are sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. By moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the United States and Israel have destroyed Palestinian aspirations that it could be the shared capital of both peoples, and Trump has sent a clear message: He is opposed to brokering a just and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

To fully appreciate why Palestinians are protesting in Gaza, we must try to comprehend the humanitarian disaster on this tiny strip of land that is home to 2 million Palestinians. Gaza is an open-air prison. Israel controls its borders, allowing very few people or goods in or out. As the unemployment rate soars over 40 percent, despair runs deep. Three wars have pounded the Strip to dust, destroying its basic infrastructure. Now, most people enjoy just a few hours of electricity a day. Hospitals are gravely short on medications and supplies. Most Palestinians do not have access to clean drinking water. In just two years, according to the United Nations, their one source of water will be depleted.

Our leaders refuse to listen. Instead, they celebrate the Embassy’s move to Jerusalem and defend Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza. But we must recognize this for the hubris it is. As the Hebrew Bible teaches, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

As the holy month of Ramadan begins for my Muslim neighbors and friends, please know that many Jews stand with you. We refuse to be silent in the wake of the Embassy move and Gaza killings. We hold the Israeli government responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. We embrace a vision of a shared Jerusalem as we honor your religious traditions.

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman is rabbi with Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison.

Gaza: Do Palestinian Lives Matter?

A Palestinian child holds a sign on Land Day.

Samir El-Omari and Barbara Olson, Madison365, May 11, 2018

For the past six weeks, Gaza has been in the news as residents have been protesting near the barbed wire fence and free-fire “no-go” zone that traps them under Israel’s siege and blockade of the impoverished territory.

The protests began on March 30, commemorated by Palestinians as “Land Day” annually since 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel (including three women) protesting government confiscation of their lands for Jewish-only settlements in the Arab-majority Galilee area were shot dead by the Israeli army and police, who were not punished.

In Gaza and elsewhere this “Great March of Return” demonstration by all factions and sectors of Palestinian society asserts their international legal right to return to the villages and towns Israel expelled them from in 1948 – lands that for Gazans lie just a few miles away on the other side of the barbed wire, and to which they have been forbidden to return solely because they are not Jewish. The demonstrations are set to culminate on May 15, Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when Palestinians protest their ongoing dispossession by Israel and the western powers.

In the early hours of March 30, before any demonstrations had started, Israeli soldiers fired a tank shell at two farmers “acting suspiciously” in their fields, blowing one to pieces and injuring the other. Later that day, snipers Israel had placed behind earthworks along the fence with openly-declared shoot-to-kill orders began firing on the unarmed protesters. At least 18 were killed and more than 1400 injured that first day. As of this writing, the death toll stands at over 50, including five children and two journalists. Over 6,000 have been injured, with hundreds suffering devastating injuries caused by exploding bullets that rip through flesh and bone according to Doctors without Borders. No Israelis have been injured.

Amnesty International has demanded Israel “stop the use of lethal and other excessive force,” calling for a world-wide arms embargo on Israel. Human Rights Watch called the killings “unlawful” and “calculated,” saying Israeli officials green-lighted the killing of unarmed demonstrators and deploring “the longstanding culture of impunity within the Israeli army.” (Israel responded by ordering the expulsion of HRW’s Jerusalem office director Omar Shakir.)

U.S. taxpayers annually give Israel $3.8 billion in military aid. The made-in-the-USA tear gas they use is the same used in “riot control” in poor American cities like Ferguson, MO. Amnesty International believes many exploding bullet injuries “bear the hallmarks of US-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles shooting 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.”

The “Leahy Law” is supposed to prohibit these weapons from being used to commit human rights abuses. In reality most of the American political class from the President on down ignores the law and chooses impunity over accountability for Israel every time.

A few, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, have spoken out. Rep. Mark Pocan has called on Israel to “exercise utmost restraint in the use of deadly force and to fully comply with international law.” It is especially urgent that Senator Tammy Baldwin and others in Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation follow Pocan’s lead as we get closer to May 15, the day after Trump officially moves the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a deliberate provocation to all Palestinians that risks greater and wider bloodshed.

Veteran Israeli peace activist Amoz Gvirtz wrote that this “popular unarmed civil struggle” by Palestinians “demanding an end to the siege and justice for themselves, without endangering our lives or our security” must be supported.

Tell your representatives that Palestinian lives do matter. Ask them to speak out, to investigate Israel’s actions in Gaza, and to enforce the Leahy Law against impunity for human rights violators. Then take action yourself in support of the growing nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to hold Israel accountable for these abuses.

Samir El-Omari and Barbara Olson are members of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Dr. Hatem Bazian Under Attack

URGENT: HELP GET DR. HATEM BAZIAN’S PETITION TO 5K SIGNATURES!

We need your urgent help defending Palestinian American professor and AMP Chairman Dr. Hatem Bazian against a vicious campaign by pro-Israel groups who are once again calling on university administrators to fire him from his position at the University of California, Berkeley.

Please read the petition below and click the “Take Action” button to sign and show your support for academic freedom and free speech when it comes to voicing support for Palestinian human rights.

Note that this petition is open to ALL supporters of justice and human rights. You do NOT have to be a student to sign it!

THEN . . . please forward the petition and share on social media to assert that Palestinians will NOT be silenced and suppressed!

We are counting on your support. Thank you!

We, the students of the University of California, Berkeley, stand in solidarity with Dr. Hatem Bazian and the UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender.

We stand in defense of Dr. Hatem Bazian for his long and consistent track record of championing justice, freedom and respect for all peoples, particularly the Palestinian people. This is not the first time Dr. Bazian has been subjected to bullying, demonization, and death threats for his work shedding light on racial justice, Islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian racism by Pro-Israel Zealots, nor will it be the last time.

We, students of UC Berkeley, reject the mischaracterization, bullying and blatant racism of Tikvah: the Zionist Voice at UC Berkeley and off campus Zionist organizations in their continued attempts to suppress open discussion and honest academic analysis of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as their demonization of academics and human rights activists calling for freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. Tikvah resorts and relies on post 9/11 xenophobic, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic rhetoric to demonize those who disagree with far-right Israeli policies and the maintenance of endless occupation.

As students at UC Berkeley, we have faced repeated attempts to suppress academic freedom and our freedom of speech. Time and time again, the argument of anti-Semitism has been misused as an attempt to silence Palestinian voices and legitimate criticism of Israeli state policies. UC Berkeley has become an incredibly hostile environment for Palestinians, students, faculty and staff, where they face verbal and racial abuse for their mere existence as Palestinians on this campus. Palestinian students have been labeled as terrorists and placed on racist blacklists like Canary Mission for speaking about their lived experiences. Throughout all of this, the UC Berkeley administration has stayed silent and compliclit while members of their community have been targeted by off-campus organizations and institutions and the university failed to even acknowledge the harm and violence mediated against Palestinian students and Dr. Hatem Bazian.

We, the students of UC Berkeley, demand the administration:

1. Investigate “Tikvah: the Zionist Voice” for disrupting the presentation by the Member of Israeli Knesset Haneen Zoabi.

2. Make public the action[s] taken against Tikvah.

3. Ensure that no group who violates the inherent right to free speech and academic freedom would be tolerated at the campus.

4. Support the creation of a Palestine Studies Program that is developed in partnership with communities and led by Palestinian academics.

5. Jewish and Palestinian voices that are critical of Israel should be welcomed, celebrated on campus and represent the social justice norm

We, the students of UC Berkeley, invite our fellow students, academia and all people of conscience to stand in solidarity with truth and truth-tellers and against hate, bigotry, and bullying.

American Muslims for Palestine
6404 Seven Corners Place, Ste. N
Falls Church, VA 22044
703.534.3032 / 703.534.1904
info@ampalestine.org


American Muslims for Palestine, November 28, 2017

(WASHINGTON DC 11/28/2017) UC Berkeley Professor and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) Chairman, Dr. Hatem Bazian, is under attack for inadvertently retweeting an offensive meme earlier this year. He has recently been targeted by zealous pro-Israel groups calling for his immediate dismissal from the university. This vicious campaign comes despite the fact that Dr. Bazian acknowledged the mistake—having not realized the full content of the image as it appeared on his phone—and immediately deleted the post once it was brought to his attention.

Dr. Bazian has since issued an apology on his social media accounts for unintentionally sharing the distasteful image, believing it contrary to the values and principles he upholds, and to his longstanding efforts to combat racism in all its forms—including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia:

A retweet was brought to my attention today and I went over my account from the past and do sincerely apologize for re-sending it, the image is offensive and does not represent my views or the anti-racist work that I do including fighting anti-Semitism in partnership with progressive Jewish groups that express solidarity with Palestine’s rights to self-determination and have a strong track record on countering Islamophobia. At the time, I saw the image of the North Korean Kim Jong Un and tweeted it without giving it much thought as I was teaching a course in Spain and France. I did not realize or read the full text in detail until it started re-appearing on my twitter feed again from a number of pro-Israel groups that target Palestinians. As a matter of policy, I don’t respond, as I focus on my work and ignore the attacks. As a Palestinian, my issue is with Zionism, a settler colonial movement and Israel’s policies directed at Palestinians under occupation and those that live as second or maybe fourth class citizens in the state and not with Judaism or Jews, as diverse communities. The image in the tweet and the framing relative to Judaism and conversion was wrong and offensive and not something that reflects my position, be it in the past or the present. I take responsibility for my words and statements and stand by my own work relative to Palestine, BDS and opposition to Zionism and settler colonialism and those who take issue on the content of my scholarship and work are welcome to disagree and offer a defense of their point of view in the open market of ideas. In the future, I will make sure to include that retweets don’t represent an agreement or support for the ideas that are shared and only my own postings reflect my positions on issues. Dr. Hatem Bazian, Berkeley, Nov. 21st, 2017

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WA Court Dismisses Seven-Year Lawsuit Over Boycott of Israeli Goods


 
Center for Constitutional Rights, March 9, 2018

Olympia, WA – Today, a Washington State court ended a seven-year litigation battle against former volunteer board members of the Olympia Food Co-op over their decision to boycott Israeli goods. The lawsuit was first filed in 2011 by five co-op members seeking to block the co-op’s boycott and to collect monetary damages against the board members. Two of the five members pulled out of the case, and none of the defendants originally named in the case remains a board member of the co-op. The court granted the motion for summary judgment from the former board members, who were represented by Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel, finding the plaintiffs had no standing to bring a case because they failed to show the co-op was injured.

“We are pleased that the court has dismissed this meritless lawsuit. It is a relief and a vindication for our clients, and a victory for everyone who supports the right to boycott,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood, who argued today.

Earlier this week, CCR filed with the court a recently produced document (Exhibit B) in which plaintiffs celebrated the lawsuit’s success in discouraging other co-ops from boycotting Israeli goods.

“We’re delighted that the judge has decided to dismiss this retaliatory lawsuit and protect our clients’ First Amendment freedoms,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

In 2017, the co-op board of directors passed a resolution affirming that the litigation—which was purportedly brought on behalf of the co-op—was not approved by the co-op, is not in the co-op’s interest, and should be dismissed.

Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that CCR and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. CCR and Palestine Legal report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Between 2014 and 2016, Palestine Legal responded to 650 such incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights.

“We are thrilled to be found in favor of for a second time on this frivolous lawsuit. We are proud of our attorney team, and proud of our community for supporting us, and we are grateful for the outpouring of solidarity we’ve received from around the world,” said defendant Grace Cox. “Taking a stand for economic and social justice is at the heart of the co-op’s mission. Given Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights, we would have failed in this mission had we not approved a boycott.”

The case was initially dismissed, in 2011, under a Washington State statute that protected against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). The Washington Supreme Court later struck down the SLAPP law in 2015, sending the case back to the lower courts. After engaging in discovery, plaintiffs essentially abandoned the litigation until reviving it recently.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al. with CCR cooperating counsel Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, along with Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson and Brooke E. Howlett of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

For more information, visit CCR’s case page. For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

 

March 5, 2018
Stop AIPAC: National Call-In Day

US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

CALL CONGRESS ON MONDAY, MARCH 5 – (202) 224-3121 – to say that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is unjust and unconstitutional!

AIPAC is descending on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 6 to push their anti-Palestinian rights agenda – part of which is criminalizing our right to boycott.

We need to preempt their lobbying and tell our Members of Congress that we OPPOSE the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, a piece of legislation that would criminalize individuals exercising their First Amendment right to boycott Israel.

Learn more about it!


Call (202) 224-3121 to let Congress know:

    “I oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (HR 1697/S 720) because we have the right to boycott until freedom is achieved for Palestinians in occupied territory, justice is guaranteed for Palestinian refugees who have a right to return, and equality is earned for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Supreme Court, and most recently, a Federal District Court, have upheld our right to boycott. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is both unjust and unconstitutional.”

Read our previous action alerts on this bill:
• “AIPAC is flailing” (October 17, 2017)
• “Punish Israel Boycotters? You, ACLU, and US Campaign Say No!” (June 20, 2017)
• “Are Your Members of Congress Trying to Criminalize BDS?” (May 18, 2017)
• “AIPAC Is Lobbying for this Today…” (March 28, 2017)

Wisconsin should reject boycott bill;
it is not anti-Semitic

MJS-Leah-VukmirState Sen. Leah Vukmir (Megan Papachristou Photography)

Sandy Pasch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 6, 2018

Legislation working its way through the state Legislature would prohibit Wisconsin businesses who sign on to the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement from receiving some state contracts.

And, unfortunately, Assembly Bill 553 and Senate Bill 450 are attracting bipartisan support because of a false conflation of BDS with anti-Semitism and discrimination.

But these bills are a mistake for Wisconsin at every level.

The bills would institute a level of bureaucracy in monitoring business negotiations in the state, constituting a dangerous erosion of democratic social control. If a company responded to a citizens’ BDS campaign to divest its interests, for example, that company would no longer be eligible for certain state contracts. And the several church synods that have elected to divest their pension funds would become ineligible to contract with the state to provide social services. These bills make the moral decisions of citizens and parishioners a barrier to free enterprise.

Historically, boycotts have been an important, nonviolent tool of dissent. A global boycott of South Africa, often compared in moral scope to the BDS movement, was decisive in ending the apartheid regime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled decisively in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware in 1982 that boycotts constitute protected speech, assembly, petition and association. Just last month, in the first federal test of anti-boycott laws at the state level, a federal judge ruled that Kansas’ anti-boycott law was an unconstitutional denial of free speech.

Why is the State of Wisconsin trying to pass a bill that has already been judged unconstitutional and whose true purpose is to shield Israel from criticism about legitimate human rights issues?

Introduced by state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), the bills are a product of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Their bills are strikingly similar to many anti-BDS bills introduced or passed in more than half the states in the U.S. at the behest of ALEC. It makes sense, then, that politicians such as Vukmir and Kooyenga, deeply allied with ALEC and the billionaire Koch brothers, support this undemocratic legislation.

It is confusing that some progressive Democrats also support this bill. They do this because of a mistaken equivalence between BDS and anti-Semitism, equating nonviolent boycotts with disloyalty.

Support for BDS is not anti-Semitic. The Milwaukee and Madison chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace represent the growing population of American Jews who respond to the call from Palestinian civil society for a nonviolent boycott in support of the prospect of peace in the region.

These bills seek to undermine the power of people to work together nonviolently, in the interest of a just cause. No individual or company should be punished for exercising their conscience and supporting a nonviolent movement for peace and equality. As Jews and allies who say “not in our name,” we ask our fellow Wisconsinites, and state legislators, to reject AB 553/SB 450.

Sandy Pasch is a former state legislator. This commentary was co-authored with Daniel Maguire, a theology professor at Marquette University; Rachel Ida Buff, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Jodi Melamed, an associate English professor at Marquette; and Tsela Barr, administrative assistant and graphic designer at Edgewood College in Madison.