Jennifer Loewenstein: Zionism Is ‘A Particularly Pernicious Form Of Nationalism’

Dr. Milena Rampoldi, MintPress News, June 2, 2016

Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Canada, wave Israeli flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP)Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Canada, wave Israeli flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP)

I interviewed Jennifer Loewenstein, a journalist with years of experience in the Middle East.

Jennifer Loewenstein

Jennifer Loewenstein

About her work, she wrote me:

This year I’ve been working on Iraq and Syria more than anything else. I’ve never stopped following the crises in Gaza and the West Bank, however. There are some ties between the two — not obvious or ‘conspiracy’ oriented.

As you may know, I’ve lived in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Beirut. I’ve traveled in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. I’ve also worked a lot on refugee issues. (I lived in the refugee camp of Bourj al-Barajneh in Lebanon for 3 summers, though that was a while back now — 1999-2002 — but return almost every year to visit friends.)

I haven’t been able to get into Gaza since 2010, but I follow events there closely and keep up with my contacts there. I think an important issue is how the media focus has been taken off Palestine as the Syrian Civil War continues. Both deserve a lot of attention, however. U.S. foreign policy in the region continues to trouble me, to say the least. It deserves a lot of attention and clarification.

Jennifer Loewenstein was Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Last August she moved to Penn State University. She is politically active, and writes as a freelance journalist. Her work has been featured in scholarly publications such as The Journal of Palestine Studies, and she is a regular contributor to CounterPunch.

Loewenstein is a member of the USA board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Jennifer Loewenstein: The ProMosaik interview

Dr. Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik: You have been a lot in the Middle East. Which is the main peace obstacle there?

Jennifer Loewenstein, journalist: Unrestrained U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and the U.S.’ simultaneous refusal to put pressure on its client states to seek non-military resolutions to their conflicts poses, in my view, the greatest obstacle to regional stability to say nothing of real peace. It is impossible to single out one of the many wars and conflicts raging across the Middle East today as being the ‘worst’ situation in the region (now or in the past). Each is related to the Middle East order created by the colonial powers, Britain and France, at the end of the First World War and, subsequently, exploited by them.

After the end of the Second World War, as the British and French empires receded, the United States filled the void left by these powers with its own imperial influence, economic interests and political objectives, strengthened, I should point out, by the Soviet Union’s equally genuine competition for regional influence.

Cold War politics should not be uncritically deferred to as the guiding framework for superpower competition, however. The fear and propaganda generated domestically in the U.S. against “communism” and an “evil” Soviet empire proved a powerful tool for recruiting people to fight in U.S. wars in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe. Much of what we were taught about the designs and power of the Soviet Union, however, was overstated or simply false. Much was omitted with regard to our own alleged allies. It is crucial to understand this in the context of Vietnam and U.S. military involvement in southeast Asia as well.

The Middle East was of particular importance, and has been ever since, because of its strategic location, its oil and natural gas reserves, and because of regional instability deliberately cultivated by those powers that had sought to control parts of it in the past. Until 1967, when the U.S.’ “special relationship” with Israel began seriously to be cultivated, no single Middle Eastern nation was allowed to dominate the region — least of all one with close ties to Moscow.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to members of the audience before speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, Monday, March 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to members of the audience before speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, Monday, March 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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One Jewish Woman’s Fight for Palestine

One Jewish Woman’s Fight for PalestineYasmin Mogahed, Nov 19, 2012

For Jennifer Loewenstein, April 19, 2002 was a “waking nightmare”. She stood silent at the edge of the camp, in disbelief–and horror.

Listening to the sound of wailing, she watched as medical workers lay out the bodies of the dead. The corpses, wrapped in white, were loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck.

“I will never forget this time,” Loewenstein recalls. “I stayed in the camp for two days, picking through the ruins and debris of people’s former lives–watching children and families look for their belongings–anything they could salvage from the wreckage.”

Loewenstein was in Jenin.

She had spent much of the previous two years working as an editor and freelance journalist at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. During that time she traveled frequently to the Rafah refugee camp to visit friends. It was in that way that she came to know Rafah so well and later started the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in December of 2002.

But Loewenstein’s decision to take on the plight of the Palestinian people was not an easy one. She has since been shunned by her community and accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” and “self-hating Jew”–a term she considers as ludicrous as calling her a “self-hating human” for opposing human rights abuse.

Despite this opposition, Loewenstein continues her struggle to expose an injustice she wasn’t always aware of herself.

“I never really knew much about the plight of the Palestinians until I was much older,” says Loewenstein. “I didn’t begin to question all the information I’d gotten on Israel and on Arabs until I got to college (at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).”

Loewenstein grew up in a secular Jewish family, but was instilled early on with a concern for Israel. She still remembers the day when her favorite dress was sent to her cousin overseas. She was only six, but gave up the dress because her family in Israel needed it.

Although her parents were not “avid Zionists”, their loyalty to Israel was strong. But even stronger than their loyalty to either Israel or Judaism was her family’s loyalty to peace.

“One year at Christmas/Hanukah time we refused to celebrate either holiday,” remembers Loewenstein. “Instead we made a ‘Peace Tree’ and celebrated our hope for peace.”

Her mother’s concern for peace was complemented by her struggle for civil rights. Loewenstein never forgets the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because it devastated her mother so much.

It was this early awareness of civil rights that Loewenstein carried into adulthood and would bring with her to Jerusalem. In 1981 she traveled to Israel for a semester-long study abroad program. During her stay she was exposed to a world she never knew existed.

One day during a tour of Gaza Strip instead of listening to the tour guide, Loewenstein sat at the back of the bus and looked out the window. She discovered “thousands of people living in tents and shacks.” Loewenstein was appalled.

“It was the first time I had ever seen this kind of poverty and the first time I understood the meaning of “occupation” in a concrete way,” says Loewenstein. “I saw a woman with about three children carrying a jug of water on her head and a soldier watching her and the others around her with his gun slung over his shoulder.”

It was at that moment that she first realized “something was terribly wrong.” But nothing she saw that day would prepare her for what she experienced in April of 2002.

Loewenstein was among the first internationals—and only a handful of Americans–to enter the destroyed Jenin refugee camp the day after the Israeli incursion.

“When I got into the camp area I could not believe my eyes. It had been devastated. Thirteen thousand people had lost their homes,” describes Loewenstein. “The camp was destroyed beyond recognition – flattened into a heap of rubble and dust. The smell of death was everywhere.”

What was most traumatic for her was the discovery that many of the dead were unarmed civilians. “Not all the dead were fighters,” says Loewenstein. “Some were old men, women and children.”

The horrors that Loewenstein experienced in Jenin made her struggle all the more urgent–a struggle she fights, not as a Jewish woman, but as a human being.

Jennifer Loewenstein on KPFT 90.1 FM

Arab Voices, KPFT 90.1 FM, September 26, 2012

mp3 audio file

Jennifer Loewenstein

Political activist and Faculty Associate in Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is an expert on contemporary Middle East: history, politics, culture, religion, and U.S. foreign policy in the region. She is a freelance journalist, a human rights activist, volunteer for the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. In 2010 Jennifer received ADC’s Rachel Corrie Award.

Topics

The ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine and its effects on the Palestinians, the recent verdict by an Israeli court about the murder of Rachel Corrie, the U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, Romney’s recent comments about the Palestinians, the Arab uprisings, and more.


Arab Voices is an independent radio talk show that has been broadcasting live every Wednesday since April 2002 on KPFT Radio (Pacifica Station), 90.1 FM in Houston and 89.5 FM in Galveston. The show also broadcasts live worldwide on the Internet at www.kpft.org or at www.ArabVoices.net.

Jennifer Loewenstein on Progressive Radio News Hour

Progressive Radio News Hour, Jun 12th, 2011

Jennifer Loewenstein teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is Associate Director of its Middle East Studies Program. She’s also a board member of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and a freelance journalist.

Libya, Occupied Palestine and other Middle East issues will be discussed.

April 2, 2011
Palestine Panel at the National Lawyers' Guild Conference

National Lawyers’ Guild Regional Conference Panels
University of Wisconsin Law School
975 Bascom Mall, Madison
3:00 – 4:15 pm: Piecing Together Peace: Countering Israeli Apartheid Through Action

Featuring Jennifer Loewenstein, UW Professor, and a speaker from Minnesota’s Break the Bonds Campaign, an organization calling for the state of Minnesota to support the breaking of economic ties with the state of Israel.

A full schedule is available here.

Did UW-Madison campus Hillel ‘freak out’?

Hard questions were asked about speaker’s views toward Israel

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, May 6, 2010

Steve Horn admits he was drawn to bringing in a Palestinian speaker to a campus-based celebration of Israel in part because he “didn’t want to be part of propaganda.”

Horn, a UW-Madison junior majoring in political science and legal studies, is a member of Kavanah, a liberal-leaning student group that operates under the auspices of the UW’s Hillel Foundation. Hillel, serving the campus Jewish community, sponsored a weeklong series of events in mid-April to celebrate Israel’s independence; Horn was a member of the event’s planning committee.

In late March, Horn was approached about sponsoring an appearance by Jad Isaac, a Palestinian academic from Bethlehem. Isaac, whom the Quakers were bringing to Chicago for other events, agreed to come to Madison on April 21 to give a talk at the UW about water rights in the West Bank.

“He’s a well-known scholar on environmental issues in Israel and Palestine,” says Horn. “I was pretty excited.”

Horn approached Hillel about providing a room for the event and using money earmarked for Kavanah to cover some costs. An April 8 email from a Hillel staffer to Horn suggests it’s a done deal, asking what equipment is needed and mentioning an agreement to pay for Isaac’s hotel room.

On April 12, Horn was summoned by Hillel to a “crucial meeting,” where he says he was peppered with questions about Isaac’s views. The next morning, Horn got an email from Inbal Unger, Hillel’s director of Jewish student life, itemizing “the details I would need to know in order to proceed with this program.”

Among these was whether Isaac’s talk would include “any pro-Israel points” and “positive” things about Israel. The email asked: “Does he support Israel’s right to exist?” and “Does he believe in a two-state solution?” It also wondered whether Isaac might feel “unease” to appear as part of a celebration of Israel’s independence.

Horn emailed these questions to his contact with the Quakers in Chicago. “Hillel is freaking out a bit about Jad coming,” he related. “I apologize for their paranoia.” He says the contact tried talking to Hillel, to no avail.

Greg Steinberger, Hillel’s executive director, agrees some “hard questions” were asked about Isaac’s visit but says the main concerns came from other members of Kavanah, who in the end “stepped away from the program Steve planned in their name.”

David Meshoulam, a board member at Kavanah, and group president Eric Salitsky confirm this. “This event was handled poorly from the beginning,” says Meshoulam. “There was a lot of miscommunication.”

In the end, a compromise was struck to have the Quakers sponsor Isaac’s speech and for Kavanah to book a room in the Humanities Building, where he spoke to about 20 people. Hillel also let the group use some of its funds to take Isaac to dinner, but did not pay for his hotel or other event costs.

“I didn’t hear that anyone’s voice was stifled,” says Meshoulam, adding that Kavanah members “feel comfortable in openly criticizing Israel. It’s how we position ourselves within Hillel.” The real concern was whether the speech should be part of the larger celebration: “If Jad had come on a different week, none of this would have happened.”

But Horn, an opinion writer at the Badger Herald, says this and similar dustups show that Hillel “doesn’t allow open and honest dialogue on the Israel-Palestine issue to take place within its walls. Every time a proposal is brought forth that involves a critique of Israeli policies, hysteria unfolds.” He says such concerns don’t arise when speakers are aggressively pro-Israel.

Jennifer Loewenstein, a local activist and faculty associate in the UW’s Middle East Studies Program, agrees, calling Hillel’s list of questions akin to a “loyalty oath.” She finds it quite distasteful: “Here we are on a university campus and academic freedom is bypassed when it comes to this organization [Hillel].”

Steinberger rebuts this, saying Hillel has sponsored speakers critical of Israel. “There’s a very pluralistic debate that happens here,” he says. “We’re wide open to a whole variety of opinions, including critics of Israel.”

January 12, 2010
Gaza one year on: Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report

United Nations Association of Dane County

Speaker: Jennifer Loewenstein
Tuesday, January 12, 2010  7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Friends Meeting House
1704 Roberts Ct, Madison  [Map]

Please join us for our first meeting of 2010 to hear our Global Citizen of the Year award winner, Jennifer Loewenstein.

Free parking is available at the Friends Meeting House or the Associated Bank on Monroe Street.

Agenda
7:00 pm Announcements and Business
7:20 pm Featured Presentation

Jennifer Loewenstein is a faculty associate of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a freelance journalist. She has lived and worked in Jerusalem, Gaza City and Beirut. She has visited Gaza repeatedly and spent five months working with the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and writing for the Palestine Chronicle. Most recently she worked at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre in England. Jennifer visited Gaza this past September where she was part of the first Rachel Corrie Foundation delegation.

Jennifer’s topic will be the Gaza Strip and the Goldstone Report. She will address the key organizations she visited in Gaza, the major areas of destruction after Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead”, and the possible long term outlook for Gaza.

January 1 and 2, 2009
WORT Programs on Gaza

“A Public Affair”, WORT 89.9 FM, Thursday, January 1, 2009 at noon, call in 256-2001
Why the Israeli assault on Gaza? Why now? What are the Israeli motivations? What are the broader, deeper contexts for this massive act of aggression against a largely defenseless people? These and other questions will be the focus of a conversation with host Allen Ruff and special guest Jennifer Loewenstein, Palestine Human Rights activist, co-founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and Lecturer on the Contemporary Middle East, the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, the UW-Madison.

“A Public Affair”, WORT 89.9 FM, Friday, January 2, 2009 at noon, call in 256-2001
Judith Siers-Poisson hosts a show on the crisis in Gaza. Guests: Ewa Jasiewicz and Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement on the Israeli attack — in international waters — on the boat Dignity. Dignity was loaded with 3-4 tons of emergency medical relief supplies, doctors, and international observers including former U.S. Congresswoman and recent presidential candidate for the Green Party, Cynthia McKinney. Jasiewicz is in Gaza, Berlin in the U.S. Also, a representative of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

Civil Society and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Beneath the Hideous Veneer of ‘Security’

Jennifer Loewenstein, CounterPunch, 23 september, 2007

On January 26th 1976 the United Nations Security Council debated a resolution (S11940) introduced by Jordan, Syria and Egypt that included all the crucial wording of UNSC resolution 242. It accepted the right of all states in the region to exist within secure and recognized borders while re-emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. This resolution added for the first time, however, what was missing from 242: recognition of Palestinian national rights. The phrase “all states” was taken to include a new Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

Israel was, of course, invited to attend the session but refused, preferring instead to have a national tantrum that included bombing Lebanon the same day, killing about 50 people ­in all likelihood a typical “in your face” message to the UN and the world. Unsurprisingly the US vetoed the resolution causing the PLO, which was present at the session, to speak of the “tyranny of the veto.” As with similar resolutions since this one, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations supported it. The two nations that have consistently opposed this and comparable resolutions were the United States and Israel thereby establishing the well-known pattern of rejectionism that persists to this day. As a result, resolutions such as S11940 have vanished from the historical record despite its significance in marking the first time a UN resolution explicitly recognized the inalienable national rights of the people of Palestine.

In the debate leading up to the vote on this resolution, one of the participants remarked that the problem of Palestine is at the heart of the Middle East conflict and must be resolved….We are sorry that Israel stayed away from the debate and has instead been [wreaking] havoc all over and hurling defiance against the alleged bias of the United Nations. In truth it is Israel which is maintaining, by the use of force, and [which] wishes to be left alone to continue, its occupation of the territories of its Arab neighbors. Persistence in this policy of tone and diktat can only breed more violence, engender further bitterness, and make ever more remote the prospect of the peace and cooperation which the Israeli government professes to be seeking and which all the peoples of the Middle East desire and need. (M. Akhund; representative of Pakistan; in transcript of debate following introduction of resolution. S/PV.1879 of 26 January 1976. UNISPAL home; See also: UN DPI multimedia: United Nations. Thirty-first year; 1879th meeting.)

Reading these words, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu and had to double check the source to certify that they were in fact spoken 31 years ago. Unfortunately, however, although the similarities with present day circumstances are remarkable, the situation that we face vis a vis the Palestinian issue today is far more serious.

Noam Chomsky’s response to my upbeat description of last year’s UN’s Conference in Geneva on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was that if things did not soon improve on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the next such conference “would be a wake.” It was a sobering reminder of just how dire the situation has become; how, in Chomsky’s words we are currently witnessing an event almost unprecedented in the modern era: the systematic, deliberate and long-term destruction of an entire nation.

As activists and representatives of civil society NGOs concerned with what is happening in Israel-Palestine, we know the importance of maintaining a realistic level of optimism; of dogged persistence even in the face of what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. I have not given up that hope, nor ­I suspect-have any of you, which is why we are here today.

Nonetheless as important as solidarity work is for us and for the continuation of efforts to effect change in the circumstances facing millions of Palestinians in the territories and beyond, none of us is deluded enough to believe that a Just Peace is at hand. With every killing, every maiming, every act of state-sponsored terror, every home demolition, every arrest, every confiscation of property, resources and identity, every closure, checkpoint, permit, roadblock, or concrete slab put into place along the serpentine Wall that is devouring Palestinian land in its path, Palestine is rendered increasingly invisible, buried behind euphemisms and peace scams ­ a non-entity for non-persons whose continuation as one of the many nations populating the globe today is seriously threatened.

(1) In trying to assess how we can put a stop to this devastating dynamic I came up with three pre-conditions that are necessary before we can even begin a process leading to a just settlement. First and foremost is to demand an end to Israeli crimes. These include, most significantly today, its bloody and sadistic torture of Gaza, but also its continued territorial expansion which it has no intention of ending, an end to atrocities against the people of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, recognition of the right of Palestinians to have free elections ­meaning, in this case, the recognition of Hamas and the establishment of dialogue with it and all other Palestinian political factions regardless of whether or not we like them; the release of Palestinian Parliamentarians taken hostage beginning in the summer of 2006; the release of thousands of prisoners and illegal detainees whose only “crime” was resistance to an illegal occupation.

I should add here that on December 7th, 1987 the United Nations General Assembly passed UN resolution 42/159 which, among other things, authorized peoples living under occupation regimes the right to resist. This is yet another piece of the historical documentary record conveniently forgotten lest it be used to support Palestinian and other just causes.

To reiterate: it is crucial that all of Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian nation cease; that we in civil society and in world organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union so allegedly concerned with the adherence to and principles of international law take it upon ourselves to enforce it or soon, with regard to Palestine, there will be nothing left to talk about.

(2) The second pre-condition is that the Quartet, which includes the United Nations and the European Union, publicly acknowledge the international consensus as it has existed since January 26th, 1976 and was broadened by the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut to include full normalization of relations, in return for Israel’s compliance with international law. As mentioned, however, this consensus has been systematically and often hysterically rejected by the US and Israel whereas virtually all other concerned parties, including Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, have ­contrary to what the American media would have us believe-explicitly accepted it.

(3) Finally, once the international consensus is acknowledged, civil society activists and organizations must pressure European Nations to have the courage to act independently of US policies, as they can do in many important ways, instead of ­as one activist put it-“toddling meekly behind the Boss and participating in his crimes”(Noam Chomsky; private correspondence). Actions taken by the UN and the EU among other world organizations to ostracize and isolate the United States and Israel rather than kowtow to them in servile obedience must serve as the beginning of constructive change; of sending a message to the world’s only superpower and its principal client that they may, by sheer military force, continue to get their way, but that their actions will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

It is bad enough that the United States and Israel together behaves like neighborhood bullies dictating their whims to both friends and enemies alike; but when their pious appeals to freedom, democracy and justice are heard as tanks, heavy artillery and warplanes devastate the lands and decimate the civilian populations they have occupied it is long past the time to censure their record-breaking violations of international law and basic human morality.

With regard to Palestine, it is important to ask ourselves why Hamas, which won power in free, fair and transparent democratic elections has been deemed a criminal terrorist organization whose carefully planned demise depends on the calculated starvation and suffering deliberately imposed on the Gaza Strip, 50% of whose population is under age 25. We need to understand that brutal, authoritarian regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are upheld as “moderate” and “friendly” states by the US because their first priority is to the Master and his whims.

By understanding this we are forced to confront the sudden cynical embrace by both Israel and the US of Mahmoud Abbas and his disturbing acquiescence in this embrace. Abbas’ illegal government-by-decree has agreed not only to avoid any dialogue or attempts at reconciliation with Hamas; it has also accepted ­ in Orwellian fashion-the US/Israeli designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Indeed Abbas himself while lauding the values of freedom and democracy announced on Israeli television that he would refuse to “conduct negotiations with murderers.” Surely his Israeli and American backers have satisfied their immediate aims of making him an honorary Warrior on Terror. Thus, with help from his foreign backers, Abbas’ Fatah faction has succeeded in splitting the Palestinian National Movement in half making it easier still for the Israelis to continue to destroy the economic, social, cultural and political fabric of Palestine. Who are these people that they would sacrifice on the altar of celebrity, power and corruption the historic struggle and soul of Palestine? The path on which this cynical triumvirate of power is moving leads inexorably to a fate none of us here would seriously like to contemplate.

Last November I had the pleasure of returning to Gaza to visit friends to whom I owe more than I can ever say. Yet the visit called up the usual mixture of emotions that fill one’s heart with the beauty and anguish that is Gaza today. In the midst of a lovely family gathering, of laughter, warmth and an uncanny sense to me of belonging, the treacherous thundering guns of “Operation Autumn Clouds” commenced in the north, in Beit Hanoun. In the days that followed I visited the Shifa and Kamal Adwan hospitals ­the ICU wards full of badly wounded civilians- and the morgues on which the dead men, women and children lay silently on cold, silver freezer trays.

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