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.

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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.

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Brothers in Arms: The Triumph of U.S.-Israeli Policy in Palestine

Jennifer Loewenstein, The Progressive, June 26, 2007

Contrary to the many claims that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip represents the failure of US and Israeli policies in Palestine, the violent civil infighting that has dominated the Gaza Strip over much of the last year and a half and that led directly to the Hamas coup of June 2007 marks yet another major foreign policy victory for the occupiers. Hamas will never be allowed to remain in power in Gaza so we must fear for the future of that tiny, desperately overcrowded strip of land and its 1.4 million inhabitants; additionally, Abbas – in order to maintain his role as “Good Guy”— will have to accede to the dictates of Israel and the United States or suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Yassir Arafat.

Western nations are standing by in silence as the deadly siege of Gaza and the dismemberment of the West Bank continue unabated. What we are witnessing in full view each day are unprecedented steps taken by the world’s only superpower and its favorite client state, Israel, to ensure the death of a nation. While friction between the two key political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories has long undermined the smooth functioning of internal affairs, it was the direct, cynical involvement of US and Israeli policy-makers in these affairs that guaranteed the breakdown of internal stability and paved the way for the Hamas “coup” in Gaza.

Media reports have been careful to leave out important facts leading up to the coup such as that Hamas was the legitimate, democratically elected ruling party in the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections; that it was the US-Israeli dismissal of those election results that fueled the civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah; that obvious US backing of Fatah against Hamas helped create popular mistrust of Fatah increasing Hamas’ popularity in Gaza and leading directly to Hamas’ takeover of the Fatah military apparatus in the Gaza Strip. In other words, there were real and understandable reasons for the coup. But in the end, Hamas’ seizure of the power that it should have had in the first place ends up serving the interests not only of Mahmoud Abbas and the warlord Muhammad Dahlan. It also provides the perfect opportunity for US-Israeli policy in the region to move forward with even fewer objections, if that is possible to imagine, than have heretofore been made. Who will stand up for a “terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel”? The line has been beaten into our heads with every mention of the word “Hamas” for years. We should not expect a change in the behavior of the American public or of other western audiences until, when Israel is mentioned, we immediately say to ourselves, “a terrorist state that seeks the destruction of Palestine.” Seeks and is succeeding in it.

II

Watching the barbarous killing between brothers in Gaza, a power struggle between rival factions seething in frenzy like the great prison in which they thrive, Israeli and American political analysts can rest their cases with confidence. Across the spectrum of debate, these experts can expect vindication by the media juries which, in sanctimonious indignation at the brutality meted out by partisans of Fatah or Hamas, have assembled all the “evidence” they need to justify our righteous war against Muslim-Arab terrorists and their internecine blood feuds.

That the US has temporarily chosen a weak, compliant leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the power thirsty warlord, Muhammad Dahlan, to back during the bitter strife between key Palestinian factions testifies not to a belief that one side is trustworthy and deserves our support, but rather to the ease with which the Americans and their clients pick and choose their pawns in their bitter regional cockfights. Today’s statesmen were yesterday terrorists, their titles dependent on the needs of the superpower and its clients: Yesterday Fatah was on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and its leader, Yassir Arafat, was a declared “terrorist,” “irrelevant,” and exiled in his presidential compound in Ramallah until his mysterious death. Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is still listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Neither of these factors apparently bothers the current leadership, which understands that power and prestige are most easily acquired and unchallenged when bequeathed from above.

Truth be told, the Abbas/Dahlan alliance elicits far greater contempt in the eyes of the masters than the more independent and genuine resistance faction headed by Hamas. The numerous meetings and photo-ops between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, and US President George Bush and Abbas, are little more than tactical stunts to make it look as though genuine negotiations are taking place. In fact, Abbas has been repeatedly bypassed and shunned when Israeli and US negotiators make the real policy decisions—decisions that remain one-sided and dismissive of any demands (other than those that are entirely self-serving) that Abbas and his entourage have made. The arms and funding channeled through Abbas’ Fatah (for his clique represents only one of the many spin-off Fatahs that emerged during the secondIntifada) signify little more than the conduit through which US-Israeli policies can be secured. For all the claims about US backing of Fatah, neither Abbas nor Dahlan have yet to benefit on the ground from this “support.” Indeed, the ease with which Hamas was able to wrest control of Gaza indicates just how little US support for Fatah was worth there. Nevertheless, the same pipeline of support for “Fatah” has done a great deal to bolster perceived US and Israeli national security interests in the same region.

III

Once again the pictures on our television screens in our newspapers are intended to suffice for missing substance. The context of empire is invisible or deliberately obscured –in Palestine as in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. If the takeover of Gaza by Hamas was unanticipated, its success was a gift of immeasurable value to the overlords, a welcome but unforeseen consequence of fueling divisions among a weakened and oppressed people, undermining any steps toward positive change. Abbas and his underlings have foolishly offered up Palestine cut in two to the occupation regime that worked so hard to end the charade of a single Palestine to begin with. This was a coup for Israel in its ongoing quest for regional hegemony, and a triumph for America’s “War on Terror.” For all the talk about a one-, two- or bi-national state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, the reality is that no state solution for Palestine is on the near or distant horizon. Palestine is a series of disconnected pieces whose division into still smaller parts continues month after month.

Those fretting about a “Hamastan” in the Gaza Strip ought to be worried not about its viability or longevity or about whether or not Islamic law and social mores will be imposed. Hamas’ presence in Gaza will be but a short-lived, transitory phenomenon entirely at the mercy of the US-backed Israeli military, which has not left Gaza alone for a single day since Hamas’ coming to power despite a yearlong ceasefire called by its leaders and scrupulously observed. Those concerned about a Hamas-controlled Gaza ought instead to be wondering how they are going to justify Hamas’ destruction within the Strip and all the suffering, chaos and death that will ensue over the shameful silence of the international community.

IV

Claims that Hamas’ “victory” in the Gaza Strip is a sign that the Bush Doctrine in Palestine has failed are misguided. While no one can foresee all of the events that might take place in a region as volatile as the Middle East, Hamas’ takeover in Gaza will ultimately benefit Israel and the United States. It will benefit Israel by giving it a free hand to destroy Hamas, permanently sever the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and re-“negotiate” with its newly appointed “partners” the remaining islands of economically unviable territory that will soon be entirely encircled by a concrete and barbed-wire wall, cut off from their supplies of water and fertile land, and separated internally by “Arab-free” roads. It will benefit Israel and the United States by assuring another compliant puppet regime adjacent to Jordan, friendly to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and hostile to Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, even as the fault lines harden. It has already benefited both Israel and the United States by reassuring them that their tactics for undermining indigenous experiments in democracy have once again proven effective, that the people who have dared to defy those tactics learn quickly how painful it is to advocate or practice popular sovereignty and the rule of law.

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