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Open Letter on the Alison Weir Affair

Dear Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation:

I belong to two Solidarity groups that are discussing your decision to expel Alison Weir, and am writing to better understand your July 16 Statement on it. Weir’s case is important because the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (CEIO) is a major, excellent organization advocating Palestinians’ rights. We deeply respect and appreciate your work and value your decisions.

It is important to combat racism and anti-Semitism, and to avoid advocating either. You rightly said in your Statement on Weir that “legitimate criticism of Israeli policies”[1] has often been misportrayed as anti-Semitic, and thus it is necessary to distinguish between them. The overall issue that I see is how to decide whether activists have condoned anti-Semitism. CEIO is a broad organization with many members, and activists could look to the grounds used in your Statement to make their own judgments about other activists. So in this letter I am just asking about the criteria used in your decision, and this is not to excuse any actions by Weir unmentioned in the Statement.

In general, my presumption is that human rights activists are anti-racist. Weir says that she “participated in the civil rights movement (and was once arrested for this)”, protested the Vietnam War, and has a long “history of opposition to racism against African Americans, Jewish Americans and others”.[2] Weir claims that she opposes anti-Semitism as "abhorrent", as she writes in her essay "Choosing to Act: Anti-Semitism is Wrong".[3] Should it matter if a prominent activist’s actions under question represent only a tiny fraction of her life’s work? I prefer to give activists the benefit of a doubt when possible, and were I to judge against them I would prefer to rely on direct statements more than on inferences or associations.

I. General Principles.

I strongly agree with your general principle that "we must also ensure that our actions… do not serve to support or perpetuate other racist or bigoted behaviors, practices, and structures."[4] It is important to see how this applies to concrete situations to see if someone clearly violated it. As you said, the need to avoid Divisiveness is not enough reason to simply ignore the principle of anti-racism. You wrote:

In Ms. Weir’s response and public comments, she insists that we need to spread the word about Palestinian rights, wherever we can, to gain more allies to our cause. We strongly believe that one cannot be an ally to the Palestinian cause if one’s objection to Israel’s actions toward Palestinians is part and parcel of one’s broader worldview of hatred toward all non-whites and non-Christians.[5]

By “ally” I think you mean a close ally of the kind that CEIO could include in its ranks and who would serve the people’s real long-term interests, not just any supporters of Palestinian independence like Muslim fundamentalists. It would be helpful to see a quote by Weir on this. Could she be talking generally about using the full range of media outlets to gain allies to the anti-racist “cause” of advocacy for Palestinians rights, instead of seeing all self-professed supporters of Palestinians as close allies regardless of whether they refuse to change their worldviews? She claims: “My goal is to try to reach everyone with the fundamental principle that all racism is wrong and to provide facts that will counter the falsehoods being given to them about Palestinians”.[6]

You wrote: “Some, including Ms. Weir, have incorrectly claimed that the US Campaign is acting at the behest of Jewish Voice for Peace. This suggestion seems to assume that only Jews can be concerned about anti-Semitism and racism in our movement.” Do you think that Weir could have had another reason for imagining this, like JVP’s disavowal of collaboration with Weir only a month previously that focused on the same interview with Clay Douglas, along with a JVP member being on CEIO’s Steering Committee?

II.    Direct Statements by Weir

The best evidence of a violation would be broad, direct statements against an ethnicity. It’s hard to rely on inferences from statements that only relate to some other group, as the Salaita scandal showed. Some of Steven Salaita’s tweets really were objectionable, like: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/ Israel’s aggression… Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.”[7] However, Salaita’s defenders would say that even if he made uncivil tweets, he did not tweet against an entire ethnicity. To me, Salaita’s case suggests that we should avoid using unnecessary inferences to judge a progressive activist.

The essay by Weir that you found objectionable was on the Israeli organ harvesting scandal. As you said, Weir responded to those who attacked a Swedish paper’s report on the scandal as “a new ‘blood libel’ by citing the research of Ariel Toaff, who purported to have uncovered” a real instance of the medieval blood libel. Weir’s stated purpose for discussing Toaff was to show that reactions against the report were as intense as those against Toaff’s book, rather than to promote the libel, since she said: “Given that fact [i.e. “the multitude of charges that his article is a new version of the old anti-Semitic ‘blood libel.’”], it is interesting to examine a 2007 book by Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history, and what happened to him.”[8]

It’s worth noting that Weir said in the beginning of her essay that the medieval libel was “widely refuted”, that she declared the libel “anti-Semitic”, that she didn’t actually assert it was true, and that on the IAK website she posted Israel Shahak’s writing calling the libel an “ignorant calumny” “propagated by benighted monks in small provincial cities”.[9]

Your Statement also focused on Weir’s August 25, 2010 appearance on Clay Douglas’ radio show. As you noted, Weir claimed that “Muslims feel very close to Christians” and have “reverence” for them, but “sadly, if you look at the theology of Judaism, that is quite different.” Is your conclusion that since Weir rues Judaism’s “quite different” theological position toward Christians, she must be intolerant of Judaism? Could she be saying this because she values interfaith harmony and respect, rather because of prejudice?

Next, you pointed to what I find to be one of Weir’s most problematic statements to Douglas: “Ms. Weir acknowledged several books Douglas mentioned when discussing communism and its connection to Jewish people, stating that she ‘read some portions of those books and they are as you say, they do discuss the Jewish connection to the Gulags...’”

Here, Weir is mentioning a "Jewish connection to the Gulags." But a difficulty in drawing further negative inferences is that she didn't say what she thought about it. Thinking about this sensitive topic in a purely academic way, could one reason that: Many Jews rightfully participated in overthrowing the Tsar's autocracy; then after the Revolution, they participated in the Soviet government at some higher rate than the population, and naturally this applied to officials maintaining the GULAG. I don’t see any particularly anti-Semitic conclusions that should legitimately be drawn from that participation. I definitely don’t conclude that the Jewish people collectively supported the GULAG. So does Weir just share my own opinion on this, or would she draw discriminatory inferences? I don’t know beyond her saying that she read “some portions” of books like Solzhenitsyn’s that discuss the alleged connection.

Looking through these three passages, I understand how one could infer conclusions against her: e.g. since Weir discussed Toaff’s writing and accepted that there was “a connection to the GULAG” that she could be subtly promoting these ideas. But are these really necessary conclusions about her?

III. Implicit Condonement

Your Statement also objected to passages in Weir’s repost on her blog of Roger Tucker’s essay. The first passage was a quote from Antisemitism: Its History and Causes by Bernard Lazare, a chief literary opponent of French anti-Semitism, claiming that “the general causes of antisemitism have always resided in Israel itself, and not in those who antagonized it.” I strongly disagree with this quote, because the general cause is really the inability to overcome cultural and ethnic differences, and that inability clearly applies to the people’s antagonists. Lazare’s explanation in this chapter of his book was: “This does not mean that justice was always on the side of Israel’s persecutors… All through history we see the conquered peoples submit to the laws of the conqueror”, but that it was “Not so with the Jewish people… who could neither be conquered, nor even assailed… [they] could not abandon the divine laws”.[10] So Tucker’s quote from Lazare was not necessarily blaming victims, and Lazare saw among the “general causes” virtues like inconquerability, maintaining distinct nationality, and adherence to God’s rules.

But the problem is not just one sentence from Lazare. Tucker strung together nine other objectionable ideas in the first two excerpts that you pointed to. Perhaps someone could explain how those objectionable ideas are not anti-Semitic, but I am not interested in doing so, and would prefer if Weir removed them.

The next question becomes: Does hosting an essay on a blog mean that the website owner supports all the statements in it? Mondoweiss, a leading Solidarity blog, regularly posts essays by Marc Ellis, a Jewish American like Tucker whose statements are similarly offensive, like: “For when Jews took this collective plunge into perpetrating the cycle of violence and atrocity in Palestine – and then defend it – real Jewish crimes and myths about Jewish menace and conspiracy were bound to coalesce. Which they have.”[11] There are many passages like this by Ellis on Mondoweiss,[12] but does this mean that its editors like Adam Horowitz, who signed a declaration against Gilad Atzmon for promoting anti-Semitism, agree with them?

Besides Weir posting Tucker’s essay, you objected to Weir making “little to no effort to challenge, confront, or rebut” offensive statements by Clay Douglas during her interviews. I find so many of Douglas’ statements on his website so intolerant that if Weir actually advocated wholesale his offensive views, I wouldn’t need clarification about expelling her. However, I question whether silence itself means that an interviewee supports an interviewer’s claims.[13] Further, in the instances you raised from her interview, Weir often did challenge some major aspect of Douglas’ statements, although she didn’t go through and debunk every part. Let me address issues that you raised in her April 23 and August 25 interviews:

A. (Disparaging Arabs?)

Your Statement said that Douglas disparaged Arabs 5:00 minutes into the August 25th interview. There, his only mention of them seemed to be an objection to “the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians”.[14] Could you say how this disparaged the latter? As you pointed out, Douglas also asked: “The Palestinians aren’t Arabs; there’s a lot of them that are Christians too, aren’t they?” It’s true that broadly speaking, Palestinians are Arabs, but can’t someone legitimately claim that Palestinians as a people are distinct from the broad Arab identity in order to show that their historical national claims long precede the Arab conquest? What do you think of Weir’s reply, when she said: “Well, Arab is just like saying Europeans, it doesn’t denote a religion. So yes, many Arabs are Christians, many Arabs are Muslims, some Arabs are Jews”?

B. (Douglas’ offensive remarks on “Jewish control”)

You drew attention to her failure to object when Douglas said that people told him: “You need to take that link off of your site to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion… And Alison Weir, you know, she’s a communist… she’s funded by the Arabs, and you need to take [her] film off of your site.” Weir responded that she was not a communist, Douglas quickly added more questions, and she didn't return to challenge Douglas’ weblink. In judging Weir’s failure, is it relevant that her website has two essays rejecting the Protocols as an "old czarist forgery"?[15]

As you pointed out, Douglas claimed that the White House put up a menorah, and that “we can’t have a Christmas tree on the White House lawn anymore”. Although she didn’t know that this was false, could Weir’s answer been considered a challenge?:

I don’t know–is that true? I can’t… You know, sometimes we all hear things and we pass them on, and sometimes the things that we hear and pass on are true, and sometimes it turns out to be one of these urban myths that many of us have believed and told others and then it turns out somebody looks into it and it’s not true. So I personally don’t know for sure if it is the case, that a menorah can be on the White House lawn, but a Christmas tree cannot.

Next, as you noted, Weir did challenge Douglas when he claimed that “the Jews control the media”, by saying: “I don't think it's ever accurate to say the Jews. It's not a monolithic group" and that "sometimes, I think, the majority of Jewish Americans may oppose” the policies wrongly ascribed to them.[16] Douglas jumped in, saying he "agreed with that", kept talking, and as you pointed out, she didn’t go back and discuss media control. Weir responded likewise to Douglas when he said: “...the Jews put a full page ad in the New York Times declaring–“, and Weir interrupted: “Let me just correct you. Don’t say ‘The Jews’. It may sound to people that you are saying every Jewish-American did this, which, as you’ve just said is not true”?[17] 

C. (Douglas’ other remarks)

As you said, Douglas complained about “demonizing” Apartheid South Africa, although he immediately ridiculously denied being a “racist” because he had African Americans on his program. Weir replied that “People like you and myself… probably have different views about different aspects of what you discussed, about racism”. You also pointed to the part where Douglas asked Weir if Obama could be “setting the stage” for Schwarzenegger to become the next president if Obama didn’t get impeached for “lack of a birth certificate”. Weir replied: “I am not comforted by the way our political system is working because most of us aren't getting the full facts”. I understand that Douglas’ hypothesis was unreasonable and that some of Obama’s opponents like Douglas are intolerant, but what specifically was racist in it that Weir failed to object to?

Could you please point me to where Weir directly said “that Douglas is not racist, violent, or anti-Semitic?” She did seem to make light of his violent comment that: ”When you get all these people that say, 'Well, we need to kill all the blacks, we need to kill all the Jews' – No, No… I told [the genocidal Christian Identity movement] flat out... 'Man you’d better hope we don’t get into a war, because if we do, you know, you’re the first one I’m gonna shoot.'” Weir laughed and replied: “That would maybe make them [genocidists] think twice. You know, I think [the belief that] there are other human beings deserving of security, of dignity, etcetera, is what we’re about. And what we’re opposing is when that does not happen.” But here it isn’t clear that she was supporting violence per se, so much as supporting a fight against genocide.

So reviewing her statements to Douglas, it’s true that she didn’t challenge some of his offensive statements, and the question becomes whether her failure to make more than partial challenges shows that she approves of them. Alternately, would it matter if she would admit that she should have given better replies? She wrote on her website about this: “I don’t pretend that I am perfect and that all my responses will be flawless; all I can do is try my hardest. I apologize if there were cases where I should have done better.”[18]

IV. Weir’s Decision to Appear on Intolerant Programs

Besides the issue of Weir’s reactions to Douglas’ statements, you objected that “Weir is fully committed as a matter of principle to continuing to contribute to American Free Press, ‘Free American Hour’, and any other show regardless of its agenda. That may be her principle but it is not ours.” Was it just her appearances on the programs that were grounds for expulsion, or was it her failure to challenge them, since you wrote: knowing full well Douglas’s larger record of white supremacist views, Ms. Weir made little to no effort to challenge his worldview?

Personally I strongly wish to avoid contributing to Douglas’ program or to American Free Press because I am aware of their intolerance and definitely do not want others mistakenly associating me with them. But even though this does not apply to me personally, expelling human rights activists for this raises many questions. First, do you know of a precedent in major progressive mass movements like the Civil Rights or Vietnam-era Anti-War movements where prominent humanitarian activists were banned for appearing on offensive programs and failing to challenge their hosts’ views?

Second, Weir did oppose racism numerous times in Douglas’ two interviews you highlighted, as when she said: “I never say ‘the CIA’ does this, I never say ‘the Jews’ do this. What it is are specific individuals within these groups that are doing these things.” Another time, she promoted Jews, Muslims, and Christians living together peacefully: “Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in Palestine for centuries, without armed conflict, without conflict, all practicing their religions. Christians and Jews lived throughout Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco… Jewish, Christian and Muslim human beings all living, without wiping one another out…”[19] So where must we draw the line between these kinds of challenges to racism and sufficient opposition?

Third, what do you think about Weir’s decision to appear on a right wing Israeli program that manipulated her interview, as she related:

I have appeared on radio programs across the political spectrum from the far left to the far right, and some years ago even went on a right-wing Israeli talk show. I knew ahead of time that this show would be unpleasant, and, indeed the host frequently turned off my microphone while another individual attacked me on air with false claims that I was left unable to defend against. But I felt it was important to even try to reach Israeli listeners, including conservative ones.

Fourth, how should we apply the ban against speaking on intolerant venues to other activists? Stephen Lendman, a radio host for the Progressive News Hour, was on Clay Douglas’ radio program[20] and his articles have been promoted on your News page.[21] Your Statement portrayed the American Free Press’ intolerance as obvious from its website, with its defenses of the Confederate flag, etc. How should we relate to others who have appeared on the AFP like Ray McGovern, the Corries, Dr. Avner Cohen, CodePink director Rae Abileah, Guardian columnist Suzanne McGee, and CAIR director Zahra Billoo?[22] Perhaps they were not all unaware of AFP’s offensive views, since McGovern appeared on AFP repeatedly?

How should we react to Noam Chomsky’s essay portraying Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as a “liberal” and claiming that Chomsky found no evidence that he was anti-Semitic?[23] Chomsky’s essay became the preface to Faurisson’s book and Chomsky openly regretted his unheeded request for Faurisson to remove this preface.

Fifth, as I said at the beginning, my main concern is not so much Weir’s case as it is the larger precedent that its criteria set. Following the Statement against Weir, Solidarity activist Elise Hendrick noted that Counterpunch hosted not only Weir’s article on organ harvesting, but many writers like Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir, commenting: “CounterPunch offers a very steady diet of white supremacist and other reactionary authors.”[24] She then listed Counterpunch’s leftist writers like Tariq Ali, Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Amy Goodman, concluding that the leftist authors “whatever their intentions may be, are helping to mainstream a veritable cesspit of white-supremacist ideology”. Might Solidarity organizations look to your decision in the future and act similarly against such leftist authors?

In conclusion, let me emphasize that I deeply appreciate your hard work for human rights, which has prompted my letter. I strongly support your sensitivity to anti-Semitism, and understand that Solidarity activists have raised reasonable views and criticisms of Weir. I do hope that you will give explanations about the questions I raised because of the impact on judging Solidarity activists. Many activists signed a petition on Weir’s behalf,[25] but personally I really want to understand your thinking about this controversy.

Wishing you success in your advocacy as always,

Hal     

CC: Board of Directors of CEIO


  1. Statement on Complaint Filed Regarding Alison Weir and If Americans Knew, CEIO, July 16, 2015, http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=4510
  2. Alison Weir, “Please Help us Overcome the Accusations”, http://ifamericansknew.org/about_us/accusations.html
  3. Alison Weir, "Choosing to Act: Anti-Semitism is Wrong", http://ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/as.html ("Anti-Semitism is abhorrent to us. Acting in a way that even hints at this feels contaminating, morally and emotionally obscene.")
  4. “US Campaign Anti-Racism Principles” http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=3403#sthash.4IUoKarz.dpuf
  5. Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “Statement on Complaint Filed Regarding Alison Weir and If Americans Knew”, July 16, 2015 http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=4510#sthash.pr3ilaFo.dpuf
  6. Alison Weir, “Please Help us Overcome the Accusations”.
  7. “The Salaita Scandal”, The Forward http://forward.com/opinion/editorial/205518/the-salaita-scandal/
  8. Alison Weir, "Israeli Organ Harvesting", August 28, 2009, http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/08/28/israeli-organ-harvesting
  9. Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, 2002, http://www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/shahak.html
  10. Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism: Its History and Causes, 1894 https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/lazare-bernard/1894/antisemitism/ch01.htm
  11. Marc H. Ellis, “When myths about Jews collide with Jewish reality”, October 7, 2013, http://mondoweiss.net/2013/10/collide-jewish-reality
  12. See e.g.: “The same accusation we made against others… those perpetrators and bystanders of history – are what we Jews have become.” (http://mondoweiss.net/2013/06/prophetic-jewish-gatekeepers); “What we as Jews are doing to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong.” (http://mondoweiss.net/2013/09/should-jews-break-bread-on-yom-kippur); “It was in the wake of the [1967] war that the Holocaust became central to Jewish identity. Simply put, Jews named Jewish suffering when Jewish power was assured.“ (http://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/exile-and-the-prophetic-jewish-reeducation); Like Jews and Christians, Muslims have little left of their ethical tradition.” (http://mondoweiss.net/2013/09/should-jews-break-bread-on-yom-kippur) “…the New Testament stretches from Jesus to Auschwitz… the Gospels that are carried forth by Christians in the world. I think especially of the Gospel of Colonialism and the Gospel of Treblinka” – (http://mondoweiss.net/2014/11/reverend-sermonizes-jerusalem)
  13. Many people see silence as consent. But the feminist writer Maria Barreno suggested that silence means the opposite when people are expected to voice approval: "Let no one tell me that silence gives consent, because whoever is silent dissents." In law, silence usually does not prove agreement. (See e.g.: Stolt-Nielsen SA v. AnimalFeeds International, 130 S. Ct. 1758 - Supreme Court 2010)
  14. “Transcript: Alison Weir on The Free American Hour, August 25, 2010”, If Americans Knew Alison Weir, http://ifamericansknewalisonweir.com/2011/03/25/transcript-alison-weir-on-the-free-american-hour-august-25-2010/
  15. “Too Many Smoking Guns to Ignore", http://www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/nc-christisons2.html; "The Israel Lobby and the Left", http://www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/pg-blankfort.html
  16. The Free America Hour, April 23, 2010, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2010/04/23/the-free-american-hour
  17. “Transcript: Alison Weir on The Free American Hour, August 25, 2010”,
  18. Alison Weir, “Please Help us Overcome the Accusations”.
  19. “Transcript: Alison Weir on The Free American Hour, August 25, 2010”,
  20. Archived Shows, http://freeamerican.com/2013ArchivedShows.htm
  21. In the News, http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1644; In the News in 2012, http://www.endtheoccupation.org/section.php?id=399.
    In your letter to Weir you also objected to Veterans News Now giving Weir an author page (she denies that she has an actual relationship with VNN), however VNN also has “author” pages for Stephen Lendman, James Wall, and West Chester history professor Larry Davidson, See e.g. http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/author/lendman, http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/author/davidson
  22. See e.g. the list of interviews on AFP’s site: http://americanfreepress.net/?page_id=723
  23. Faurisson affair, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faurisson_affair
  24. Elise Hendrick, “Counterpunch or Suckerpunch”, July 19, 2015, http://meldungen-aus-dem-exil.noblogs.org/post/2015/07/19/counterpunch-or-suckerpunch/
  25. “An open letter to the U.S. Campaign and other Activists for Justice in Palestine”, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1oyHWpfZtMvDez5XThztcbRMbgzQqMnCibkVk4Rjh3Hw/viewform

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