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Max Blumenthal and Israel Apartheid Week: No laughing matter

By Prof. Harry Mairson (COSI)
On March 18, 2014

My respect and even affection for Glen Chesir '15 compel me to offer a response to his essay from last week ("Focus Israel dialogue on ending violence, not blaming sides", Mar. 10). I believe that he did not understand the significance of Max Blumenthal's talk that began Brandeis's Israel Apartheid Week.
That Glen began his essay, as he did his question to Max Blumenthal, by recounting a bus bombing he witnessed near Jerusalem, isn't surprising. Personal experience is compelling. His wish for "ending violence" is surely motivated by that frightening, tragic event. But one must ask, where is the capacity and propensity for violent action?

Who has the trained military force, fighter jets, white phosphorus bombs, drones, guided missiles, nuclear weapons, elaborate counterintelligence, extensive foreign service and media influence, $3 billion annual foreign aid from our country, and the Dahiya Doctrine (massive attack on civilian infrastructure, enforcing deterrence through collective punishment)? Who has the rock and Molotov cocktail throwers, rockets without navigational guidance systems or significant payloads, suicide bombers, kids throwing tear gas canisters back in the other direction, BDS, observer status at the UN, and no status at the International Criminal Court?

How many readers would want to change sides, based not on ideology, but solely on the comparable force strength? Napoleon said that God favors the side with the heavier artillery. Zionist supporters call this, without apology, Israel's "qualitative military edge." The reason to have an edge is to use it.

There's an analogous, parallel qualitative rhetorical edge at Brandeis. We have a phalanx of centers devoted to institutionally supporting Israel-including the Crown Center, the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute-with significant endowments, access to the University seal, webpage and other public relations machinery, funds to put on high-visibility conferences with ideologically friendly speakers, power to frame the discussion, and so on. The goal of these centers, quoting ex-President Jehuda Reinharz, their creator, is hasbara: to address "Israel in the eyes of Americans-a call to action." The Crown family, Mrs. Schusterman, and Mr. Steinhardt funded these institutes because they, and their institutes, support Israel as is.
So does Brandeis University, which institutionally contravenes its own Mission Statement, falsely asserting that we "cherish...independence from any doctrine or government." Why have a Mission Statement saying what we repeatedly, intentionally don't do?

Some relevant data points: University President Frederick Lawrence just attended the AIPAC annual meeting, has photo ops with Shin Bet directors and goes to Friends of the IDF dinners. Speaking at a 2012 Birthright Israel conference, at Brandeis, he proclaimed himself a proud Birthright parent, asking "How do we grow this? How do we take it to the next level?" His Chief of Staff David Bunis is on the board of The David Project, which fought against the establishment of a mosque in Boston, and now devotes itself "to positively shape campus opinion on Israel." Our ex-Board of Trustees chair, Stephen Kay, told the Faculty Senate Council during a Board meeting, in unambiguous terms: "We support Israel"-not individually, but institutionally.

Mr. Kay was hardly the first Board chair with such views and matching actions. The most renowned of Board chairs, Abraham Feinberg, arranged funding for President Harry Truman's 1948 whistle-stop campaign, Israel's nuclear bomb facilities in Dimona and facilitated its end-run around President John Kennedy's efforts toward nuclear non-proliferation. Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion called Feinberg-and the Dimona benefactors he assembled-the makdishim, the consecrators of a holy thing. Feinberg endowed our Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. Are his life's actions an exemplar for the goals, underlined in the center's title, of promoting ethics and justice?

John Judis's recent book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, analyzes Feinberg's leverage; Judis calls AIPAC "a thousand Feinbergs." When nuclear proliferation prevented Ben-Gurion's wish for a state visit to Washington, Feinberg organized an honorary degree convocation at Brandeis (Ben-Gurion spoke on "Science and Ethics"), and an ensuing private meeting with President Kennedy. 

It's a Brandeis tradition, with which Glen's essay fits in well. The first words of his title ("Focus Israel dialogue") identify his focus. It's about Israel, not Palestinians.

In the face of that qualitative rhetorical edge, the other side of this in-name-only "dialogue" was held up, for one week, by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine and Max Blumenthal. Aya Abdelaziz '16, the primary undergraduate organizer of the Blumenthal event and Israel Apartheid Week, conducted herself with personal dignity, decorum and derech eretz

She told me of a Brandeis student friend whose Palestinian great-grandparents were shot by Zionist partisans, whose grandparents were run off their land, and when the friend recounted this tragic history to an undergraduate supporter of Israel, he responded with personal vulgarity that can't be printed here. Aya continues to endure a deluge of similar abuse for organizing Israel Apartheid Week. Her father, who flew in from Beirut to support his daughter and attend this event, works for the United Nations in the Middle East, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Max Blumenthal was prepared, precise, and unapologetic. Did Glen expect Max to fall, honorably, on his own rhetorical sword? Max wasn't a moderator: he promoted discussion by holding up his end of it. Why would Glen write that "to pretend the speech was promoting discussion is laughable?" 

Hold your derision. I think that what he really and maybe unconsciously sensed was, instead, this: that for one night at Brandeis, in one room holding around a hundred people, the prevailing wind was not blowing in the traditional, friendly, liberal Zionist direction. That's no laughing matter.

Terrorism, as Glen witnessed and recounted, is a way of killing people. So are other violent, military means involving state-sponsored uniformed soldiers and weapons of destruction. Terrorism is a military strategy, not an ideology. The key issue regarding implacable political adversaries and "ending violence," and a first principle of international relations, is comprehending what the adversaries want, and why they want it. To conflate strategy with ideology is a misleading form of propaganda. 

Peace and "ending violence" are necessary, as Glen observed, but not sufficient: an oppressor can impose both, without justice. Similarly, "civility" at the University is easy when in a political environment, speech is chilled. And "blaming," as he calls it, is an emotive description better put as "holding people responsible for what they've done." Responsibility is an essential component of justice. 

When we pledge allegiance to "One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all," we enunciate universal principles. The Declaration of Independence says that everyone, not just Americans, is created equal with inalienable human rights of life, liberty and happiness. Universal principles, human rights, "truths that we hold self evident," all mean the same thing, elsewhere and for everybody, that they do here.

Ari Shavit wrote in his recent book, a panegyric paean of praise to liberal Zionism, "either reject Zionism because of Lydda [i.e., the brutal, catastrophic Nakba ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes], or accept Zionism along with Lydda." His answer, verbatim: "I'll stand with the damned."
I won't stand with the damned. Neither will Max Blumenthal or Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine. That, in large part, is what their week's worth of events was about.

Since when does our conception of justice, "social" or otherwise, include standing with the damned, about anything?

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