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Fri Jul 31, 2015, 03:32 AM

Letter to JVP on Alison Weir affair

Recently, a scandal occurred in the community of activists working for Middle East peace between the leading, valuable organization Jewish Voice for Peace and Alison Weir, the director of If Americans Knew, another pro-peace, human rights organization focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. JVP announced that it would avoid working with Weir because among her speaking engagements over the last 15 years she has included several appearances on far right or intolerant news programs without sufficiently challenging their views.

JVP is correct in its opposition to the intolerant views expressed by those programs. However, I think that the larger question in the affair with Weir is not really Weir herself, with whose journalistic decisions one may disagree, but the lessons from the particular criteria used in JVP's Statement. That is: (1) How should human rights activists relate to other political figures who have appeared on those programs to advocate for non-racist causes? (2) And is it unacceptable to focus on an "American interest" argument in advocating for anti-war positions?

JVP's Statement on Weir can be found here:
http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/jewish-voice-for-peace-statement-on-our-relationship-with-alison-weir/

Alison Weir's defense can be found here:
http://secure.campaigner.com/Campaigner/Public/t.show?8e4vt--4ftpq-95ez5c8&_v=2

Below is my open letter to JVP on the affair:

Dear Jewish Voice for Peace,

I am writing to better understand your Statement on your decision to cease cooperating with Alison Weir's group "If Americans Knew". Your official statement is important because JVP is a leading organization working for equality in Israel/Palestine.

In general, it's necessary to cooperate in coalitions with other organizations with divergent, legitimate perspectives that address the human rights conflict there. I am glad that JVP is sensitive to anti-Semitism, and agree that we must avoid promoting it. One of the main underlying issues is how to decide whether another Solidarity activist is actually doing so, since your Statement said that "We know full well that the Israel lobby uses false and misleading accusations of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israeli policies."1) Many Solidarity activists will look to your Statement to reach decisions in other cases, so in this letter I wish to ask about the factors in reaching your decision to disassociate from Weir, rather than noteworthy concerns that other activists have raised about her.

I believe that we should usually operate on the presumption that other human rights activists oppose racism, look at them as allies, and give them the benefit of a doubt. That being the case, I would prefer to rely on multiple direct, unambiguous statements were I to judge that a fellow activist condoned racism.
For her part, Weir claims that she opposes anti-Semitism as "abhorrent", as she explains in her essay "Choosing to Act: Anti-Semitism is Wrong".(2) However, in your Statement you explained that you decided "not to work with her because... she has consistently chosen to stay silent when given the opportunity to challenge bigotry..." Your statement particularly objected to her August 2010 interview with Clay Douglas, which contained the following exchanges(3):

DOUGLAS: ...the Jews put a full page ad in the New York Times declaring–
WEIR: 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.
DOUGLAS: No it’s not true...
...
DOUGLAS: David Duke’s pointed out about the menorahs being up. You can put it on the White House lawn but we can’t have a Christmas tree on the White House lawn anymore?
ALISON WEIR: 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.


Further, Weir explained to Douglas that: "I don’t, by the way, however, when I write about this or speak about it, 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." And she promoted Jews, Muslims, and Christians living together peacefully while practicing their religions:
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… They lived throughout what’s… Jewish, Christian and Muslim human beings all living, without wiping one another out…

Wouldn't these statements by Weir qualify as opposition to bigotry?

Next, you pointed out that during this interview "she was silent when Douglas invoked the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and engaged in a racist diatribe against Jews." In that exchange, 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 continued to ask her questions, and as you said, she didn't return to challenge Douglas having a weblink to the Protocols. Did her failure to do so imply that she condoned this? She has two essays on her website rejecting the Protocols as an "old czarist forgery".(4)

You wrote further that:
"Her troubling associations and choices further include giving interviews to a range of far-right outlets including The American Free Press (AFP), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group, and the anti-gay, anti-Jewish pastor Mark Dankof."


I understand your objection to her interviewing with far-right outlets, but Weir claims that she just wants to reach audiences with a wide range of political views. Why else then did JVP's National Director Rebecca Vilkomerson have an interview with The AFP's online editor Dave Gahary to discuss Divestment?(5) How should we view Stephen Lendman, whose essay favorably mentioning JVP was hosted on the Tikkun website(6) and yet was also on Clay Douglas' radio program?(7) How should we view the interviews of Ray McGovern, the Corries, Dr. Avner Cohen, CodePink director Rae Abileah, Guardian columnist Suzanne McGee, and CAIR director Zahra Billoo for The AFP?(8) And what about interviews of Ray McGovern, Jennifer Lowenstein, Ilan Pappe, Dilip Hiro, with Rev. Mark Dankof, mentioned above?

You were right that "Weir has made clear in her response to our letter that she will proudly continue her practice of pursuing airtime on white supremacist radio shows", since she justified her appearance on the three programs listed above thusly: "Some sectors of US society are specifically being targeted by misinformation that is causing an alarming growth of Islamophobia in this country, some of it taking violent turns."9) But why did you write that her response made clear that she would continue failing to decry their intolerant beliefs, since her response included commitment to anti-racism and an apology:
"My goal is to try to reach everyone with the fundamental principle that all racism is wrong... 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."

Next, you objected that "Weir and IAK have a fundamental political framing that the U.S. is not implicated in the same racist and white supremacist structures as Israel." Did you mean that her political framing (A) does not implicate the US system in having the same kinds of domestic inequalities in its institutional "structures" as the Israeli system does (eg. laws discriminating against Israeli Palestinians), or that it (B) does not implicate the US in Israeli discriminatory structures?

I think that you meant (B), because you added: "This 'tail wags the dog' theory is a form of chauvinistic nationalism that absolves American interest in perpetuating injustice--not just in Israel but in other regions around the world." Is Weir's "tail wags dog" theory that the Israeli government makes the US accept unjust "structures", like unequal laws for Israeli Palestinians and the settlements/dispossessions in the West Bank. If so, what do you see as a potential "American interest" in those unjust domestic laws and West Bank land confiscations?

Additionally, do you think that Uri Avnery's position on the US-Israeli relationship and the "tail wags dog" theory (as Avnery wrote in parenthesis) published on the JVP website is acceptable:
This discussion came to a head when the American professors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, published their research paper, according to which Israel imposes on the United States a policy that is contrary to the American national interest. The conclusion upset many who believe the opposite: that Israel is but a small wheel in the imperial American machine. (I permitted myself to argue that both versions are right: the American dog wags its Israeli tail, and the Israeli tail wags the American dog.)(10)


You also noted that IAK's website says that: "[Alison Weir] founded an organization to be directed by Americans without personal or family ties to the region who would research and actively disseminate accurate information to the American public." You conclude: "In other words, according to Weir and If Americans Knew, only non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Palestinian, and non-Jewish voices can be trusted to speak the truth, based solely on their ethnic or religious identity."

Why do you think that by "family ties to the region" IAK meant Jews and Muslims in general, and not just people with recent, direct family connections there? If she does not trust their voices, then why does IAK host many articles by Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, and Israeli writers?(11)

I understand that Americans are not an unbiased group when their government imposes interventionist, supremacist policies around the world. But why does your Statement conclude that this make Americans the "least" objective group on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compared to Israelis or Palestinians?

In conclusion, I appreciate JVP's hard work and collaboration, agree with the importance of sensitivity about anti-Semitism, and accept JVP's freedom "not to work with" Weir, who "is entitled to continue (her) strategy" as you say. I understand that activists have expressed a range of reasonable views and criticisms about Weir. However, I do hope that you will give explanations about the questions I raised because of the decision's unpredictable impact in setting a precedent for judging Solidarity activists.

Wishing you success in your work,
Hal

(1) "Jewish Voice for Peace Statement on Our Relationship with Alison Weir", JVP, https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/jewish-voice-for-peace-statement-on-our-relationship-with-alison-weir
(2) Alison Weir, "Choosing to Act: Anti-Semitism is Wrong", http://ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/as.html
"...questioning Israel’s actions arouses unexamined feelings of disloyalty to values by which we have determined to live our lives. Anti-Semitism is abhorrent to us. Acting in a way that even hints at this feels contaminating, morally and emotionally obscene. Acting in a way that even suggests disloyalty to Jewish friends feels unthinkable."
(3) "Transcript: Alison Weir on The Free American Hour, August 25, 2010", http://ifamericansknewalisonweir.com/2011/03/25/transcript-alison-weir-on-the-free-american-hour-august-25-2010/
(4) "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
(5) "JVP Teaches How to Divest from Companies Profiting from Israel's Illegal Occupation", http://www.americanfreepress.net/html/JVP.html
(6) "Jews against ZIonism" http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/jews-against-zionism-an-intro-to-their-perspective
(7) Archived Shows, http://freeamerican.com/2013ArchivedShows.htm
(8) See eg. the list of interviews on the AFP website: http://americanfreepress.net/?page_id=723
(9) Weir, "Please Help Us Overcome the Accusations", http://www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/accusations.html
(10) Note: Emphasis added, News and Updates, March 19, 2007 https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/content/news-murder-egyptian-pows-checkpoints-illegal-settlement-building-bedouins-negev-and-lebanon
(11) For a list of recent articles that she hosts, see: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/commentary.html


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