A Growing Gap in Oor Liberal Tradition
"Jews never had it so good as they've had in the United States," mused I. F. Stone, one of America's most respected Jewish journalists who called himself a radical. Famous for his periodical, /. E Stones Weekly, which he issued for nineteen years, and for his independent views, he discontinued the weekly because, as he once said with typical self-mockery, he became "tired of solving the problems of the entire world every week."37
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At seventy-six years old and with eyesight so weak he had difficulty reading even large type, Stone was anything but retired. He was still a hero on campuses across the country and in liberal circles for his views on non-Middle East topics. Indeed, even on those themes his following was always enthusiastic.
"Israel is on the wrong course," he said during an interview, just a few years before his death, while peering through the thick lenses of his eyeglasses. "This period is the blackest in the history of the Jewish people. Arabs need to be dealt with as human beings." "I am gloomy about the future," he said. He could name no one with the promise to lead Israel out of its disastrous policies.
Our conversation drifted to American Jews who dissent, and Stone recalled the day a publisher invited him to lunch and asked him to delete from a book he had written a passage recommending major changes in Israeli policy. The book, Underground to Palestine, deals mainly with Stone s experiences traveling with Jews from Nazi camps as they made their way through the British blockade to what is now Israel. The offending part was Stones recommendation of a "binational solution, a state whose constitution would recognize the presence of two peoples, two nations, Arab and Jewish," to encompass all of Palestine. Stone refused to delete it, and as he wrote in the New York Review of Books, "that ended the luncheon, and in a way, the book. It was, in effect, proscribed."
According to Jewish journalist Carolyn Toll:
From then on, Stone, who might have been a hero on the synagogue lecture circuit as the first American newsman to travel with Holocaust survivors, was banned in any Jewish arena by leaders determined to close the debate on binationalism and statehood.38
In Israel, where Jews establish their identity by birth rather than membership in an organization, Stone would be a full-fledged dissident. But in the American climate of insecurity about non-Jewish majority views, such arbitrary loyalty tests have not been challenged by the same Jews who vehemently champion others' rights to speak freely.
Two years later, Stone s book was published in Hebrew—in Israel— with the offending passage intact. The book was widely read in the Middle East.
While he objected to the "excesses" of the lobby, Stone understood its motivations:
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The Jewish people are apprehensive, fearful. They are afraid about the future. They feel they are at war, and many of them feel they have to fight and keep fighting.
He added, after a pause, "When people are at war it is normal for civil liberties to suffer/'
Stone saw a dangerous gap growing in this liberal tradition:
I find myself—like many fellow American intellectuals, Jewish and non-Jewish—ostracized whenever I try to speak up on the Middle East, [while] dissidents, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Soviet Union are, deservedly, heroes.39
But in the United States they are anything but heroes:
It is only rarely that we dissidents on the Middle East can enjoy a fleeting voice in the American press. Finding an American publishing house willing to publish a book that departs from the standard Israeli line is about as easy as selling a thoughtful exposition of atheism to the Osservatore Romano in Vatican City.40
Those who speak up pay a price, said Stone, noting that journalists with long records of championing Israeli causes are flooded with "Jewish hate mail, accusing them of anti-Semitism" if they dare express "one word of sympathy for Palestinian Arab refugees."41
In an essay in the Washington Post on August 19, 1977, Stone voiced his concern over "Bible diplomacy," particularly the effort to cite the Bible as the justification for Israel's continued control over the West Bank:
In the Middle Ages, as everyone knows, the Bible was under lock and key. The clergy kept it away from the masses, lest it confuse them and lead to schism and sedition. . . . Maybe its time to lock the Holy Book up again, at least until the Israeli-Arab dispute is settled.
Stone died on July 17, 1989. Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called him "the modern Tom Paine—as independent and incorruptible as they come. Notwithstanding poor eyesight and bad ears, he managed to see more and hear more than other journalists because he was curious and fresh with the capacity for both discovery and outrage every new day."42
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Outrageous in the eyes of many American Jews, Stone went so far in his life as to criticize the Jewish nature of the State of Israel:
Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world, the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, nonracial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which the ideal is racist and exclusionist. . . . That is what necessitated a re-examination of Zionist ideology.43
Heading the reexamination were two American Jews, Elmer Berger and Alfred M. Lilienthal, Jr. From the very beginning, they warned against Zionism, forecasting grave danger to Judaism in the establishment of a Jewish state. With no apparent trepidation they separated themselves from what has become the mainstream of Jewish thinking and devoted their lives to a lonely, frustrating, and controversial crusade to alter the policies of the state of Israel. Long after Israel was established, broadly recognized, and supported by the world community, they continued to make a case against the Jewish state. Both were often scorned as "self-hating Jews."
Both Lilienthal and Berger persisted in their crusades despite attacks. The two constantly lectured, wrote extensively, and appeared at forums. Their work is as well known in the Arab world as in the United States, and more honored there than here.
In personality, the two had little in common. Lilienthal began as a lawyer, Berger as a rabbi. Lilienthal is a hard-hitting advocate in manner and speech. His mood shifts rapidly. Thoughtful and subdued one moment, he can be challenging the next. Berger, by contrast, was calm and unruffled, a patient listener. Even when his words thundered, his delivery was that of the soothing cleric.
Each had his audience, but neither had many outspoken disciples. The people who read Lilienthal's newsletter, Middle East Perspective, and followed his activities may not be numerous, but his books are found in public and personal libraries throughout the country and are frequently cited in speeches and articles.
Rabbi Elmer Berger s circle was perhaps smaller still—international audiences are hard to measure—but it appeared loyal. When he spon
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sored a two-day seminar in May 1983 at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., the gathering attracted over two hundred people, principally journalists, scholars, clergy, public officials, and diplomats. All had at least two things in common: an interest in the Arab-Israeli dispute and affection for Elmer Berger, "the epitome of scholarship."44 Berger died October 6, 1996.
Lilienthal began his crusade against Israel soon after the government came into being in 1948 and, at the age of seventy, had not let up when I interviewed him in 1984. His 1949 Reader's Digest article, "Israel's Flag Is Not Mine," warned of the consequences of Zionism. His first book, What Price Israel?, was published in 1953. It was followed by There Goes the Middle East in 1957 and The Other Side of the Coin eight years later.
In 1978 Lilienthal published his largest and most comprehensive work, The Zionist Connection, which focuses on the development and activities of the Zionist movement within the United States. An impressive 872-page volume that is studded with facts, quotations, anecdotes, and, here and there, colorful opinions and interpretations, it was described by Foreign Affairs as the "culminating masterwork" of Lilien-thal's anti-Zionist career.
By 1984, his crusade had taken Lilienthal to the Middle East twenty-two times and across the United States twenty-six times.
For all his long-standing and vigorous endeavors for the peaceful reconciliation of Jews and Arabs, Lilienthal remains a lonely figure who is often shunned in the United States, even by those whose banner he carries the highest. Lilienthal says some people kid him as being the "Man from La Mancha." And true to the characterization, he frequently brings audiences to their feet by quoting from the song that had Quixote "reaching for the unteachable stars."
His greatest accomplishment, he says, is getting "some Christians to have the guts to speak up on this issue." Supposedly excommunicated from the Jewish faith by a gtoup of rabbis in New York in 1982, Lilienthal scorns the action: "Only God can do that. I still feel very much a Jew."
"Affirm the Equal Value uf All Beings"
In 1996, Rabbi Michael Lerner of San Francisco, founded Beyt Tikkun, a Jewish renewal movement that describes itself as the "progressive
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pro-Israel alternative to AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]." The organization insists on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, an end to the Israeli occupation, and the dismantling of the Israeli settlements.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times on April 28, 2002, Lerner wrote: "[We should] affirm the equal value of all beings. Reject all anti-Semitism, as well as all demeaning of Palestinians and Arabs. Let our elected officials and media know that you will no longer tolerate a political culture that prevents balanced and honest discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But criticism of Israel must not slide into the denial of the validity of Israel s existence or anti-Semitic rhetoric.... Jews are affirming the highest values of their culture and religion when they conclude that being pro-Israel today requires pushing Israel to end the occupation. . . . All of us are outraged at the immoral acts of Palestinian terrorists. . . . But many of us also understand that Israeli treatment of Palestinians has been immoral and outrageous."
He dismissed as false the common assumption that PLO leader Yasser Arafat should have signed the agreement proposed by Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon's predecessor as prime minister of Israel. Among other shortcomings in Barak's proposal, Lerner mentioned the plight of refugees: "Palestinian refugees and their families now number more than three million, and many live in horrifying conditions in refugee camps under Israeli military rule. Barak refused to provide anything at all in the way of reparations or compensation for the refugees." He could have added that the Barak proposal also left Israel in full control of all Palestinian borders and left most of the Israeli settlements intact. Lerner is the founder of a magazine named Tikkun.
Question Their Loyalty
While numerous Jewish academics, politicians, and rabbis have spoken out against Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians and the active support that treatment receives from America's pro-Israel lobby, it should be noted that many "everyday" American Jews are equally brave in standing up to intense peer pressure and speaking their minds. From journalists to sim
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ply concerned citizens, the actions of these individuals defy the often-repeated conspiracy theories linking all Jews with Zionist aggression.
Haim "Harry" Katz—a New York Jew with a history of suing Jewish groups—is one such individual. In October 1992 he taped a telephone conversation with then-AIPAC president David Steiner in which the latter told Katz he had been "negotiating" with newly-elected President Bill Clinton over whom the president would appoint to the positions of secretary of state and national security advisor. Katz asked Steiner if AIPAC would actually participate in the selection of the new secretary of state. "We'll have access," Steiner replied. "We have a dozen people in [Clinton's] campaign, in the headquarters. . . . And they're all going to get big jobs."
Katz gave the tape to the Washington Times, citing a sense of fairness as his reason for doing so. "As someone Jewish, I am concerned when a small group has a disproportionate power. I think that hurts everyone, including Jews." The media maelstrom following the tape's release resulted in a full AIPAC denial of any truth to Steiner s comments, and in Steiner s resignation.45
In April 2002, after eighteen months of intense Israeli-Palestinian violence in a new intifada, Philadelphia Weekly managing editor Liz Spikol could no longer keep silent about the atrocities being committed by Israel in the occupied territories. After years of support, Spikol wrote, "Israel has crossed a line, and I—and many, many American Jews like me—will not be able to cross it with them." Despite explicit and implicit instructions never to publicly express disapproval of Israel's policies, Spikol felt a need to make her voice heard:
I'm frankly embarrassed that Israel, in the name of preventing further oppression of the Jews, has now become the oppressor. The hypocrisy is enraging. And as an American Jew, I'm ashamed of my own government's lack of action.
Spikol notes an aspect of the conflict that is rarely discussed:
Though people don't want to talk about it, this is also about race. Here in the United States, the rhetoric of racism was fashioned by slavery, by World
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War II, by Ezra Pound—the list goes on. That's why it's shocking to hear Jews talk about Arabs using similar terminology, including lampooning physical characteristics and religious beliefs.
Unlike Berger and Lilienthal, many American Jews, including Spikol, do not reject out of hand Zionism as a whole, and they believe in a strong Israel. "I also fear for Israel itself," Spikol wrote. "More than anything, I want it to prosper. But for now—and for a change—I'm going to concern myself with justice, not sentimentality. I may be called a traitor, but I wont be silent anymore."46 The reaction to Spikols article was upsetting on several fronts. Initial responses from American Jews were overwhelmingly negative: in an interview for this book, Spikol read from the local Jewish Exponent newspaper, which published "a rather unflattering" editorial declaiming Spikols "skewed thinking," then sent a copy to Spikols office. "I definitely perceived it as a threat," she says, "You know, were watching you.'"
In addition to being called "disgusting, repulsive, a self-hater" by numerous other Jewish Americans, Spikol was ostracized at community events. The day after attending a pro-Palestinian rally in Philadelphia, Spikol joined in a pro-Israel rally in order to report on the differences between the two. "As soon as people found out who I was, they didn't want to march next to me. With my own people, I'm persona non grata" Spikol said. Asked whether the harassment—including threatening calls to her mother's unlisted number—has affected her in any way, Spikols reply was affirmative. "The whole experience—people misinterpreting my words, using them to attack me. ... I just don't feel I should write on the subject again."47
While some speak out, others act. Jennifer Loewenstein, a Jewish human rights worker in the Gaza Strip, wrote a condemnation of those individuals who promote the false perception that Palestinians willingly offer up their children as part of a public relations campaign to gain sympathy. An e-mail full of expletives and abusive statements was quick to arrive.
Adam Shapiro, a nonobservant Jewish resident of Brooklyn, New York, received similar treatment. He joined an international solidarity movement on a trip to the besieged West Bank city of Ramallah in early 2002. While there, he met and shook hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The response at home was terrifying. Shapiro's family
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received so many death threats they were forced to move to an undisclosed location. Thankfully, the threats did not affect Shapiros belief in equality between Palestinians and Israelis. On May 26, 2002, he married fellow peace activist Huwaida Arraf—a Palestinian.
Another Jewish-Palestinian marriage sparked controversy a few months earlier in Kansas City. Livi Regenbaum, a writer for the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, filed a discrimination complaint against the publication after being fired, she believes, because of her husband s ethnicity. According to the Jewish Forward, Regenbaum claimed that editor Rick Heller "initially expressed happiness" upon hearing of the marriage, "then asked her to spell her husband's name, after which he grew hostile and said Tm going to have to think about this.'" He didn't have to think very long: Heller fired Regenbaum the next day.
The Forward article did its best to portray Heller and the Chronicle in a good light, which is not surprising given the paper's record of support for Israeli settlements and denial of Palestinian rights. But actions speak louder than words, and this wasn't the first time a Chronicle employee had accused the publication of discrimination: managing editor Deborah Ducrocq was fired in November 2001 for publishing a letter that was "sympathetic to Palestinians."48
A letter of a completely different nature was published in Forward a week after the Regenbaum story. Benjamin Fogel of Delray Beach, Florida, criticized left-wing Jews who expressed sympathy for Palestinians. The letter falsely equated Judaism with Zionism, and called into question the loyalty of Jews who do not unflinchingly support Israel:
I thought that Adolf Hitler and Stalin had taught them all that the only salvation for the Jews is a Jewish state that is viable and defendable. That was the case of all the leftists I knew. Most are now dead, but their conversion took place before they died. Unfortunately it seems not all were converted and not all died.49
Scattering the Seeds of Gatastrnphe
Efforts by the pro-Israel lobby to influence American opinion and policy most often focus on national institutions, particularly the federal government. Yet the lobby in its various forms branches out widely into American life beyond the seat of government. Local political leaders, businesses, organizations, and private individuals in many fields experience unfair criticism and intimidation for becoming involved in the debate over Middle East issues. Many have paid a price for speaking out. Particularly distressing are instances of discrimination against Americans of Arab ancestry.
The Stigma of Arab Ancestry
Pro-Israeli PACs conrributed nearly a million dollars ro Senate races in 1982 alone, and many members of Congress place a value on AIPAC
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support that is beyond accounting in dollars.1 The political activism of such groups is accepted as a legitimate part of the American political system; yet when Arab Americans attempt to become involved in the electoral process, they find doors closed to them.
On Octobet 14, 1983, W. Wilson Goode was in the midst of a hard-fought campaign to become the first black mayor of Philadelphia.2 The widely respected front-runner, popular with virtually every segment of the city's electorate, attended a fund-raising gathering one evening in the home of Nairn Ayoub, a local businessman who had invited a number of friends—prominent academics, scientists, medical professionals, and business leaders—to meet Goode and contribute to his campaign.
After a short social interlude, during which he was told of the discrimination often suffered by people of Arab ancestry, Goode expressed concern and declared, with feeling, "I renew my pledge to be mayor of all the people."3 Ayoub and his guests wrote checks to the Goode campaign. The candidate offered his thanks and departed. The total amount of the checks was $2,725, a small portion of the Goode campaign budget; yet it was enough to spark a heated controversy over Arab influence and the role of Israel in the campaign.
In the increasingly bitter final weeks of the campaign, Goode's main opponent tried to inflate the contribution into a scandal by disclosing that Nairn Ayoub was regional coordinator for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee—a nationwide organization dedicated to opposing discrimination against people of Arab ancestry. Goode, who had been courting the large Jewish vote in the crucial northeast wards by constantly reaffirming his support for Israel, responded by announcing that the checks from Ayoub and his friends were being returned. He explained: "I want to make certain that no one is able to question my support for the state of Israel."
Jewish voters were apparently satisfied with Goode's explanation of his "mistake," as he went on to win the election with overwhelming Jewish support. Yet as one Jewish Philadelphian later observed: "One need not support the entire program of the Anti-Discrimination Committee to share the shock and pain of many of its members and friends over such a highly publicized affront to one of its leaders acting in his private capac
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ity.4 Full participation in the political process should never be restricted to those who espouse only that which is currently popular."
The Goode episode was the precursor of similar incidents involving Senatot Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale in theit campaigns for the highest office in the land.
Arab Americans who have tried to maintain contact with their heritage have found unexpected difficulties. Anisa Mehdi, a New York-based TV producer and the daughter of the late Arab American acrivist and journalist Dr. M. T. Mehdi, observes that it can be "a frightening thing" to be an Arab in America: "I grew up in New York City with a very politically active father.5 If there would be a commemoration of the anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, usually that date would coincide with the Israeli anniversary parade. Jews would be on Fifth Avenue and we would be on Madison Avenue. Thete would be hundreds of thousands of people on Fifth Avenue and maybe ten of us on Madison Avenue. The point is there were at least 100,000 Arab Americans in New York City. Where were they? They were afraid to come out."
Arab ancestry can also be a liability outside politics, as Dr. George Faddoul, a specialist in veterinary medicine at the University of Massachusetts, could attest.6 Faddoul's origins are Lebanese, but he was born in Maine and has never had any interest in politics or international affairs. In 1974, Faddoul was working at the Suburban Experiment Station at Waltham, Massachusetts, a facility established by the university to service the farming community in the state. When the directorship became open, he decided to apply for it. After a distinguished career of more than twenty-five years, Faddoul felt that he deserved ir and that such an administrative post would add an interesting new dimension to his work at the station.
Only one other applicant came forward, and a faculty committee voted 7-6 in Faddoul's favor. The rules of the university stipulate that only a simple majority was necessary, but the dean failed to appoint him. Faddoul's own investigation into the reasons for this revealed that there had been a number of slurs against him in the committee deliberations because of his Arab background. In the discussions, Arabs were described as "worthless." Faddoul's assistant, who possessed only a bachelor's
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degree, was named acting administrative director of the station. Only after pressing his case for seven years did Faddoul receive the position.
"80 to 85 Percent... Are Terrorists"
Arab Americans in the Detroit area have learned about discrimination firsthand.7 In a June 1983 meeting in Detroit between U.S. custom officials and airline officials concerning the processing of luggage, a senior customs official declared that "80 to 85 percent of Arabs in the Detroit metropolitan area are terrorists and the rest are terrorist sympathizers."
This harsh accusation came after the arrest in 1983 of a twenty-nine-year-old Arab Canadian who tried to bring heroin hidden in a false-bottomed suitcase through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, and a vendetta in which customs officials began to single out motorists who "looked Arab" for intetrogation and automobile searches.8 In one case, an eighteen-year-old girl was strip-searched.
Although the customs service later apologized for the remark charging Arabs with terrorism—the offending official received only a reprimand—a local publication joined in the racial stereotyping. After the arrest of a military officer from the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) for attempting to smuggle guns out of the United States, Monthly Detroit magazine carried a story entitled "The Mideast Connection: How the Arab Wars Came to Detroit." Although it cited no examples of Arab Americans being arrested for gun or drug smuggling, the article portrayed the city's nearly 250,000 Arab Americans as a lawless and violent community.
"We Will Bestroy You Economically"
Bias and intimidation assume many forms and know no geographical boundaries. Mediterranean House restaurant became an instant success after it opened in Skokie, a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago, in 1973.9 With an Arab cuisine and a mainly Jewish clientele, owner Abdel-Hamid El-Barbarawi—a Palestinian-born naturalized American citizen—held his staff to a strict "no politics" policy. He fired two employees for becoming involved in political discussions with clients.
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At the peak of its success, Mediterranean House was recommended in all major Chicago dining guides and was frequently praised in newspaper articles.10 A growing business led Barbarawi to expand, opening several other restaurants under the same name in other areas.
On a summer night in 1975 a six-foot pipe bomb was thrown through the window of the restaurant in Morton Grove. The attack came late at night and no one was injured, but the restaurant was destroyed. Fire experts said the bomb was meant to "level the building."
Trouble returned a year later when Barbarawi and members of his staff emerged from his restaurant in Skokie at about 3:00 a.m. to discover that one side of the building had been covered with posters proclaiming that "Mediterranean House food in your stomach is like Jewish blood on your hands," and "Money spent here supports PLO terrorism." The graphic impact of the posters' message was enhanced by red paint and raw liver, which had been thrown on the walls. Although the vandals were nowhere in sight, Barbarawi discovered the editor of the Chicago Jewish Post and Opinion taking pictures of the display. The editor said he just happened to be passing by the place.
The next month, under the headline "Skokie Jews Unknowingly Funding Arab Propaganda," the periodical published an article that urged local Jews to boycott the restaurant, basing its recommendation on the fact that the Mediterranean House advertised on a weekly one-hour radio program called The Voice of Palestine.11 Ted Cohen, author of the article, described the program as a source of "anti-Jewish propaganda."
Barbarawi points out that he advertised on six radio stations and also had commercials on several Jewish programs and an India-related program. "I was an advertiser, not a sponsor," he says. "I had never listened to The Voice of Palestine and was not interested in their editorial policy."
Publication of the Cohen article marked the beginning of the end for Barbarawi. A propaganda campaign was mounted against the restaurant. Leaflets urging local Jews to "Stop paying for Arab propaganda" were distributed door-to-doot in Skokie. Large numbers of abusive calls and false orders forced Barbarawi to stop accepting orders by phone. One call threatened his life. In exasperation, Barbarawi interrupted one caller's invective with an anguished question: "Why don't you bomb the place like you did before?" The answer was chilling: "We wouldn't give you
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that satisfaction. We will destroy you economically. You will die while you are still living."
In a Chicago Sun-Times commentary, columnist Roger Simon conceded that The Voice of Palestine broadcasts were not anti-Semitic, as Cohen had charged, but concluded his column, oddly, by agreeing that Jews should hold Barbarawi "responsible for where his money goes" and backing the Jewish Post and Opinion in calling for a boycott.12 Barbarawi feels that this commentary damaged business more than any other single factor.
Barbarawi appealed, to no avail, to local citizens of Arab ancestry, as well as to the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith to intercede with the Jewish community. He was told that the ADL had nothing against him. Director Abbot Rosen stated personal sympathy—"It's terrible; you should sue"—but did not counter the hate campaign mounted by the Jewish Post and Opinion and the unseen callers.
Meanwhile Barbarawi saw his revenues drop from $40,000 a month to less than $7,000. As regular Jewish customers stopped coming, a number of non-Jews told Barbarawi that their neighbors were refusing to speak to them because they patronized his restaurant. Facing financial ruin, Barbarawi in desperation turned to legal action, but high costs and repeated court delays finally forced him to abandon this last hope. In the end, the hate campaign of unseen enemies put him out of the restaurant business completely. After losing $3 million, Barbarawi had three dollars in his pocket when the local sheriff came to close down his restaurant.
Dick Kay, a reporter for Chicago television station WMAQ, summed up the fate of the Mediterranean House and its owner: "They really did a job on him, and it was the militant part of the Jewish community that did it."13
Such intolerance can also damage long-standing personal friendships. In mid-1983, author Stephen Green took the bound page proofs of his new book, Taking Sides: Americas Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and a close friend of the Green family for many years.14 Together the two men had scattered the ashes of Green's father after his death five years before. The young writer wanted to explain his reasons for writing the book, which discloses intimate U.S.-Israeli military relationships. Bronfman declined
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to see Green. He directed his secretary, whom Green has also known for years, to respond. Green recalled her words: "Mr. Edgar does not want to discuss this book with you, Steve. You've written it. It's your affair, and he doesn't feel he needs to discuss it with you." Gteen was devastated that the man he had known and respected for so long would refuse even to speak with him. He recalled with irony that years earlier Edgar's father had frequently upbraided his son for "not doing enough" for Israel.
Vanessa Redgrave: An Activist Playing for Time
The Middle East conflict has affected the career of Vanessa Redgrave, a British actress who is widely hailed as one of the fotemost stage and screen talents of her generation. Yet her success in the United States has been limited by her long history of political activism. While many performers shy away from controversial issues for fear of damaging their cateers, Redgrave has structured her life largely around her political passions. Her career has suffered accordingly.
Redgrave's apprehension was apparent on Labor Day, 1983, when I interviewed her in a backyard studio in a residential area of Boston." She had just cut a tape for a program directed to Arab Americans and was ill at ease. She spoke quietly of threats against her life, while glancing nervously through an open door. "I don't feel safe here," she said. "I've had so many threats."
Always controversial, Redgrave's opposition to the Vietnam War and sympathy for leftist causes led the U.S. government to refuse her a visa in 1971 when she wanted to come to the United States to discuss writing her autobiography and a possible motion picture. The refusal occurred despite the pleas of her publisher and the intervention of several public figures. Undeterred, she directed her activism increasingly toward support for the Palestinian people.
In 1978 the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards ceremony, in which Redgrave received an Oscar for her supporting role in the movie Julia.16 The JDL was protesting her narration and financial backing of a documentary called The Palestinians, which included an interview with PLO chief Yasser Arafat. In her acceptance speech, Redgrave described the JDL picketers as "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums
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whose behavior is an insult to Jews all over the world" and thanked the Academy for standing up to their intimidation. Many in the audience hissed and booed.
Another controversy arose in rhe summer of 1979, when it was announced that Redgrave would play the lead in a CBS television drama about Holocaust survivor Fania Fenelon, a member of the Auschwitz concentration camp orchestra who was spared death only to play music for other prisoners as well as camp officials.17 Many Jews were outraged that Redgrave was chosen for the part. Fenelon herself declared, "Vanessa Redgrave playing me is like a member of the Ku Klux Klan playing Martin Luther King."18 The network was criticized for keeping "an unusually tight lid on the names of sponsors" for the broadcast in an attempt to avoid expected pressures on them to withdraw.
The two people most responsible for what one columnist called "the Vanessa thing" were Bernie Sofronsky, the CBS executive in charge, and Linda Yellen, the show's producer. CBS explained that it could not bow to pressure. Yellen responded to the criticism more directly: "I had always adored her as an actress, and I turned to her as the best person for the part. Basically, I was unaware of her politically. I never considered firing her for her political beliefs. That would have been anathema to me, given what I know about blacklisting and the McCarthy era. I believe her performance is extraordinary and speaks for itself."19
The critics were nearly unanimous in acclaiming Redgrave's performance. One asserted that it "may be the finest ever seen on television."20 But the excellence of the program did not quiet her detractors. The Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles urged a nationwide boycott of the film, titled Playing for Time, and some Zionist groups went even further by urging a boycott of products sold by its sponsors.21 Obviously, Redgrave's talents as an actress were not the real issue. As the Los Angeles Times cogently observed: "Her dazzling portrayal of a Holocaust survivor has no bearing on the controversy. . . . The principle involved is the simple one of keeping separate things separate—in this instance, separating the artist on the screen from the eccentric and grating political activist off the screen."22
The difficulty in keeping this distinction clear was demonstrated again in 1982, when Redgrave was designated to narrate Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in a series of April concerts by the Boston Symphony
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Orchestra.23 In the face of a vociferous outcry by the local Jewish community, the orchestra canceled the concerts without explanation. The announcement did not mention Redgrave by name, but as columnist Nat Hentoff pointed out, "There was no mystery. Wishing to offend as few people as possible—particularly during the spring fundraising season—BSO made its craven decision" not to do the performances with Redgrave.
Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School who has been noted both as a Zionist and as a defender of civil liberties, defended Redgrave's statement that, "No one should have the right to take away the work of an artist because of political views." Redgrave, who sued the orchestra and was awarded $100,000 in damages, represents a complicated case, in that her political views are disagreeable to more than just partisans of Israel. Nat Hentoff invoked the wisdom of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to suggest how Americans should react: "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free only for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought we hate."
"A Consistent Pattern"
Efforts to stifle public debate on the Middle East focus to a great extent on the centerpiece of free speech in our country: the press. Over the years, support for Israel has almost become a requisite for respectability in journalism, just as it has in politics and other professions.
Edmund Ghareeb, a scholar who has written widely on the Middle East and the American media, observes that the media present "a rosy picture of Israel as the democracy in a sea of barbarians in the Middle East."24 On the other hand, the Palestinians are often referred to as "Arab terrorists, the Arab is portrayed as a camel driver, somebody who is a murderer, or something of this sort." Journalist Lawrence Mosher agrees: They have stereotyped the Arab as an unsavory character with dark tendencies, and they have ennobled the Israeli as a hero."25
Even Time magazine is guilty of perpetuating such stereotypes. In 1982 the magazine ran a four-color house advertisement with a photo of a sheik under a single-word headline: "Power."26 Columnist Richard Broderick described the sheik as "all you could want from an evil Arab—
5 They Dare to Speak Out
dyspeptic, garbed in traditional Saudi dress, he stares out at the camera with palpable malevolence."
Such stereotyping of Arabs is common in editorial cartoons. As Craig Macintosh, editorial cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star pointed out, "The Arabs are always in robes, the Palestinians always in 'terrorisr' garb, with an AK-47."27 Robert Englehart, editorial cartoonist for Dayton, Ohio's Journal Herald agreed: "I could depict Arabs as murderers, liars, and thieves. No one would object. But I couldn't use Jewish stereotypes. I've always had the feeling that I'm treading on eggs when I try to do something on the Middle East."
The Israeli lobby works diligently to keep journalists from rowing against the tide of pro-Israel orthodoxy. This mission is accomplished in part through carefully arranged, "spontaneous" public outcries designed to intimidate. Columnist Rowland Evans wrote: "When we write what is perceived to be an anti-Israeli column, we get mail from all over the country with the same points and phrasing. There's a consistent pattern."28
The ubiquitous cry of "anti-Semitism" is brought to bear on short notice, and it is this charge that has been most responsible for compelling journalists to give Israel better-than-equal treatment in coverage of Middle East events. Even former Defense Department official Anthony Cordesman was not immune from this charge when he wrote a 1977 article, for ArmedForces Journal International, examining the Middle East militaty balance.2' Observing, for example, that the number of medium tanks requested by Israel for the decade 1976-86 would approach the number to be deployed by the United States within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cordesman questioned the need for ever-increasing U.S. military aid to Israel. For this straightforward assertion, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith denounced the article as "anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish."30
"Too Controversial and Fanatical"
Journalist Harold R. Piety observed that "the ugly cry of anti-Semitism is the bludgeon used by the Zionists to bully non-Jews into accepting the Zionist view of world events, or to keep silent."31 In late 1978 Piety, with
Scattering the Seeds of Catastrophe 5
holding his identity in order not to irritate his employer, wrote an article titled "Zionism and the American Press" for Middle East International, in which he decried "the inaccuracies, distortions, and—perhaps worst— inexcusable omission of significant news and background material by the American media in its treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict."32
Piety traced the deficiency of U.S. media in reporting on the Middle East to largely successful efforts by Israel and its pro-Israel lobby to "overwhelm the American media with a highly professional public relations campaign, to intimidate the media through various means and, finally, to impose censorship when the media are compliant and craven." He listed threats to editors and advertising departments, orchestrated boycotts, slanders, campaigns of character assassination, and personal vendettas among the weapons employed against balanced journalism.
Despite this impressive list of tools for media manipulation, Piety, dtawing from his own experience, blamed the prevailing media bias more on editors and journalists who submit to the pressure than on the lobby that applies it. Pressure began to build against Piety's employer, the Journal Herald, in the late sixties as Piety's growing interest in the Middle East led him to write editorial pieces that were critical of Israeli policy. His editor received a long letter, hand-delivered by the president of the local Jewish Community Council along with a lecture on Middle East politics. A column asserting that American Jews "were being herded, and willingly so, into the Zionist camp" brought a lengthy response from the Zionist Organization of America and a delegation of six Jewish leaders to the newspaper's offices for a meeting with the editorial board.33 A 1976 column on West Bank riots led Piety's editors to order him to write no more on the theme.
Upon wriring another column in April 1977 on the anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, in which Jewish terrorists under Menachem Begin murdered more than 200 Palestinian villagers, he was sharply rebuked by his editors. Editor Dennis Shere informed Piety that he had received orders—presumably from corporate management—to "shut you up or fire you."34 Piety was subsequently told that he was "too controversial and too fanatical" and that he would not receive a promised promotion to be editor of rhe Journal Herald editorial page. Under this pressure, Piety left his position.
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"Mediawatch" Blinks Out
During the summer of 1982, Minneapolis columnist Richard Broderick devoted several installments of his "Mediawatch" column—a weekly feature on media coverage—to exposing inequities in American media coverage of the Israeli invasion. Among his findings: "Tapes, purportedly of [Yasser] Arafat's 'bunker' and 'PLO military headquarters' being bombed, aired over and over again, while tape of civilian casualties wound up on the edit room floor. ... As Israeli ground forces swept through southern Lebanon, the American press continued to employ the euphemism 'incursion' to describe what was clearly an invasion."35
In local newspaper coverage, Broderick found: "While Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were being killed by the thousands, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune ran a front-page photo of an Israeli mother mourning her dead son. Later that same day, another photo showed a group of men bound and squatting in a barbed-wire enclosure guarded by Israeli soldiers. The caption described the scene as a group of 'suspected Palestinians' captured by Israeli forces. Simply being Palestinian, the caption implied, was sufficient cause to be rounded up."
Broderick also used his column to relate scenes of horror that were witnessed by the Reverend Don Wagner, who had been in Beirut inspecting Palestinian refugee camps when the Israeli bombing began. Wagner saw a wing of Gaza Hospital knocked down by the bombing, and he was in Akka Hospital while hundreds of civilian casualties were brought in. Wagner described his experiences to the Beirut network bureaus for NBC, ABC, and CBS, but their reports, which were beamed back to the United States, were never aired.
While such examples of bias are disturbing, still more so are the consequences suffered by the journalist who publicized them. Soon after the "Mediawatch" columns on Israel ran in the Twin Cities Reader, movie distributors of Minneapolis—who collectively represent the largest single source of advertising for the paper—began telephoning editor Deb Hopp with threats of permanently removing their advertising as a result of the Broderick column. Hopp mollified them by agreeing to print, unedited, their 1,000-word reply to the offending column. Contrary to usual policy, Broderick was not allowed to respond to this rebuttal.
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Later in the summer, Broderick reported an attempt, as he saw it, by Minnesota Senator Rudy Boschwitz to manipulate public opinion through the local media.36 Boschwitz coordinated and appeared in a press conference with members of the American Lebanese League (ALL), an organization that endorsed the Israeli invasion. Boschwitz cited the testimony of league members in arguing that the people of Lebanon welcomed the Israelis. Broderick quoted in his column a report by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee that described the league as "the unregistered foreign agent of the Phalange Party and the Lebanese Front. They work in close consultation with AIPAC, which creates political openings for them. " Senator Boschwitz, upset at seeing this information made public, castigated Hopp and Broderick in a lengthy telephone call. Three weeks latet, Broderick was informed that his services would no longer be needed at the Twin Cities Reader.
"Frail Geyer" Under fire