Prev message Next message Mail List Reply Reply-All Forward Reject 19 of 35
Subject: JPN: Another attack on Academic Freedom, Activists' Complicity and Fundamentalists for Sharon   
Date: Fri, 05 Nov 2004 20:37:30 GMT Status: Normal
From: "Jewish Voice for Peace" <mitchell@jewishvoiceforpeace.org>

 

November 5, 2004

Jewish Voice for Peace needs your support. We are hard at work trying to expand our reach, to create JVP chapters around the country, to escalate our educational and media services like JPN and pushing forward with our Caterpillar Campaign. We can only do all of this with your help. Click here to donate now and help keep services like Jewish Peace News coming to you.

The views expressed here are those of the editors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Today's Contents:

Joseph Massad responds to the intimidation of Columbia University (Electronic Intifada) Another academic attacked for failing to tow the party line

I, a Collaborator (Direct e-mail) How peace activists reinforce the structure of occupation

Born-agains for Sharon (Salon.com) The increasingly open alliance between fundamentalist Christians and Israel

[JPN Commentary:  Joseph Massad is professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University. He is also on the editorial board of The Journal of Palestine Studies. A campaign aimed at silencing him, as well as other academics who are vocal in their opposition to Israeli policies, has been going on for some years.

Recently, he has been the target of a film "Columbia Unbecoming", which charges that in addition to being an Anti-Semite he has been engaging in intimidating students who disagree with his politics.

Joseph Massad is a staunch anti-Zionist.  While I don't claim to have read everything he has written, all of the articles I have read were nothing short of excellent, and - unless one equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism - I never detected a hint of anti-Semitic attitudes in any of them. Regarding the charge of intimidating students:  In an article which was published in the Jewish weekly "The Forward", a number of his students who were interviewed testified that they were able to voice "pro Israeli" views in his classes without any censorship or retaliation on his part.  -- RG]
 

Joseph Massad responds to the intimidation of Columbia University

By Joseph Massad



http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article3282.shtml

 

The Electronic Intifada
3 November 2004

The recent controversy elicited by the propaganda film "Columbia Unbecoming," a film funded and produced by a Boston-based pro-Israel organization, is the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel. This witch-hunt aims to stifle pluralism, academic freedom, and the freedom of expression on university campuses in order to ensure that only one opinion is permitted, that of uncritical support for the State of Israel. Columbia University, the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, and I personally, have been the target of this intensified campaign for over three years. Pro-Israel groups are pressuring the university to abandon proper academic procedure in evaluating scholarship, and want to force the university to silence all critical opinions. Such silencing, the university has refused to do so far, despite mounting intimidation tactics by these anti-democratic and anti-academic forces.

The major strategy that these pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. But the claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism presupposes that Israeli actions are "Jewish" actions and that all Jews, whether Israelis or non-Israelis (and the majority of world Jews are not Israelis), are responsible for all Israeli actions and that they all have the same opinion of Israel. But this is utter anti-Semitic nonsense. Jews, whether in America, Europe, Israel, Russia, or Argentina, are, like all other groups, not uniform in their political or social opinions. There are many Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel just as there are American Jews who criticize Israeli policy. I have always made a distinction between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures. It is those who want to claim that Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are one group (and that they think exactly alike) who are the anti-Semites. Israel in fact has no legal, moral, or political basis to represent world Jews (ten million strong) who never elected it to that position and who refuse to move to that country. Unlike the pro-Israel groups, I do not think that Israeli actions are "Jewish" actions or that they reflect the will of the Jewish people worldwide! All those pro-Israeli propagandists who want to reduce the Jewish people to the State of Israel are the anti-Semites who want to eliminate the existing pluralism among Jews. The majority of Israel's supporters in the United States are, in fact, not Jews but Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews. They constitute a quarter of the American electorate and are the most powerful anti-Semitic group worldwide. The reason why the pro-Israel groups do not fight them is because these anti-Semites are pro-Israel. Therefore, it is not anti-Semitism that offends pro-Israel groups; what offends them is anti-Israel criticism. In fact, Israel and the US groups supporting it have long received financial and political support from numerous anti-Semites.

This is not to say that some anti-Zionists may not also be anti-Semitic. Some are, and I have denounced them in my writings and lectures. But the test of their anti-Semitism is not whether they like or hate Israel. The test of anti-Semitism is anti-Jewish hatred, not anti-Israel criticism. In my forthcoming book, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question, I link the Jewish Question to the Palestinian Question and conclude that both questions persist because anti-Semitism persists. To resolve the Palestinian and the Jewish Questions, our task is to fight anti-Semitism in any guise, whether in its pro-Israel or anti-Israel guise, and not to defend the reprehensible policies of the racist Israeli government.

I am now being targeted because of my public writings and statements through the charge that I am allegedly intolerant in the classroom, a charge based on statements made by people who were never my students, except in one case, which I will address momentarily. Let me first state that I have intimidated no one. In fact, Tomy Schoenfeld, the Israeli soldier who appears in the film and is cited by the New York Sun, has never been my student and has never taken a class with me, as he himself informed The Jewish Week. I have never met him. As for Noah Liben, who appears in the film according to newspaper accounts (I have not seen the film), he was indeed a student in my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course in the spring of 2001. Noah seems to have forgotten the incident he cites. During a lecture about Israeli state racism against Asian and African Jews, Noah defended these practices on the basis that Asian and African Jews were underdeveloped and lacked Jewish culture, which the Ashkenazi State operatives were teaching them. When I explained to him that, as the assigned readings clarified, these were racist policies, he insisted that these Jews needed to be modernized and the Ashkenazim were helping them by civilizing them. Many students gasped. He asked me if I understood his point. I informed him that I did not. Noah seems not to have done his reading during the week on gender and Zionism. One of the assigned readings by Israeli scholar and feminist Simona Sharoni spoke of how in Hebrew the word "zayin" means both penis and weapon in a discussion of Israeli militarized masculinity. Noah, seemingly not having read the assigned material, mistook the pronunciation of "zayin" as "Zion," pronounced in Hebrew "tziyon." As for his spurious claim that I said that "Jews in Nazi Germany were not physically abused or harassed until Kristallnacht in November 1938," Noah must not have been listening carefully. During the discussion of Nazi Germany, we addressed the racist ideology of Nazism, the Nuremberg Laws enacted in 1934, and the institutionalized racism and violence against all facets of Jewish life, all of which preceded the extermination of European Jews. This information was also available to Noah in his readings, had he chosen to consult them. Moreover, the lie that the film propagates claiming that I would equate Israel with Nazi Germany is abhorrent. I have never made such a reprehensible equation.

I remember having a friendly rapport with Noah (as I do with all my students). He would drop off newspaper articles in my mailbox, come to my office hours, and greet me on the street often. He never informed me or acted in a way that showed intimidation. Indeed, he would write me E-mails, even after he stopped being my student, to argue with me about Israel. I have kept our correspondence. On March 10, 2002, a year after he took a class with me, Noah wrote me an E-mail chastising me for having invited an Israeli speaker to class the year before when he was in attendance. It turned out that Noah's memory failed him again, as he mistook the speaker I had invited for another Israeli scholar. After a long diatribe, Noah excoriated me: "How can you bring such a phony to speak to your class??" I am not sure if his misplaced reproach was indicative of an intimidated student or one who felt comfortable enough to rebuke his professor!

I am dedicated to all my students, many of whom are Jewish. Neither Columbia University nor I have ever received a complaint from any student claiming intimidation or any such nonsense. Students at Columbia have many venues of lodging complaints, whether with the student deans and assistant deans, school deans and assistant deans, department chairmen, departmental directors of undergraduate studies, the ombudsman's office, the provost, the president, and the professors themselves. No such complaint was ever filed. Many of my Jewish and non-Jewish students (including my Arab students) differ with me in all sorts of ways, whether on politics or on philosophy or theory. This is exactly what teaching and learning are about, how to articulate differences and understand other perspectives while acquiring knowledge, how to analyze one's own perspective and those of others, how to interrogate the basis of an opinion.

Columbia University is home to the most prestigious Center for Israel and Jewish Studies in the country. Columbia has six endowed chairs in Jewish Studies (ranging from religion to Yiddish to Hebrew literature, among others). In addition, a seventh chair in Israel Studies is now being established after pro-Israel groups launched a vicious campaign against the only chair in modern Arab Studies that Columbia established two years ago, demanding "balance"! Columbia does not have a Center for Arab Studies, let alone a Center for Palestine studies. The Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures encompasses the study of over one billion South Asians, over 300 million Arabs, tens of millions of Turks, of Iranians, of Kurds, of Armenians, and of six million Israelis, five million of whom are Jewish. To study these varied populations and cultures, MEALAC has three full time professors who cover Israel and Hebrew, four full time professors to cover the Arab World, and two full-time professors who cover South Asia. One need not do complicated mathematics to see who is overrepresented and who is not, if the question is indeed a demographic one.

Moreover, the class that this propaganda machine is targeting, my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course, is one of a number of courses offered at Columbia that cover the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. All the others have an Israel-friendly perspective, including Naomi Weinberger's "Conflict Resolution in the Middle East," Michael Stanislawski's "History of the State of Israel, 1948-Present" and a course offered in my own department by my colleague Dan Miron, "Zionism: A Cultural Perspective." My course, which is critical of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, is in fact an elective course which no student is forced to take.

Let us briefly review these claims of intimidation. Not only have the students (all but Noah have not even taken my courses) not used a single university venue to articulate their alleged grievances, they are now sponsored by a private political organization with huge funds that produced and funded a film about them, screened it to the major US media and to the top brass of the Columbia administration. Last Wednesday, the film was screened in Israel to a government minister and to participants at a conference on anti-Semitism. The film has still not been released to the public here and is used as a sort of secret evidence in a military trial. The film has also been used to trump up a national campaign with the aid of a New York Congressman to get me fired. All this power of intimidation is being exercised not by a professor against students, but by political organizations who use students against a junior non-tenured faculty member. A senior departmental colleague of mine, Dan Miron, who votes on my promotion and tenure, has recently expressed open support for this campaign of intimidation based on hearsay. Indeed with this campaign against me going into its fourth year, I chose under the duress of coercion and intimidation not to teach my course this year. It is my academic freedom that has been circumscribed. But not only mine. The Columbia courses that remain are all taught from an Israel-friendly angle.

The aim of the David Project propaganda film is to undermine our academic freedom, our freedom of speech, and Columbia's tradition of openness and pluralism. It is in reaction to this witch-hunt that 718 international scholars and students signed a letter defending me against intimidation and sent it to President Bollinger, with hundreds more sending separate letters, while over 1400 people from all walks of life are signing an online petition supporting me and academic freedom. Academics and students from around the world recognize that the message of this propaganda film is to suppress pluralism at Columbia and at all American universities so that one and only one opinion be allowed on campuses, the opinion of defending Israel uncritically. I need not remind anyone that this is a slippery slope, for the same pressures could be applied to faculty who have been critical of U.S. foreign policy, in Iraq for example, on the grounds that such critiques are unpatriotic. Surely we all agree that while the University can hardly defend any one political position on any current question, it must defend the need for debate and critical consideration of all such questions, whether in public fora or in the classroom. Anything less would be the beginning of the death of academic freedom.


[JPN Commentary: In addition to activism in the New Profile movement focused on achieving change within Jewish Israeli society, Dorothy Naor dedicates huge amounts of time to a variety of protest and humanitarian actions in the West Bank -- from the camp at Masha in protest of the separation wall through olive harvesting through securing permits for Palestinians in need of medical treatment in Israel, whom she then drives to the hospital herself or provides with carpools. Dorothy, a retired teacher with a PhD in English Literature, is in her seventies, a grandmother of eight. As part of her work with New Profile she acts as the main contributor to an alternative information service, an email list forwarding or providing information from a variety of alternative as well as mainstream sources on events in the Occupied Territories, anti-militarist analyses and anti-occupation activities.

 

Dorothy's essay below reflects on the paradoxical double bind often encountered in anti-occupation activism. While attempting to resist and alleviate oppression, activists are forced to negotiate the very rules and authorities that implement this oppression. The very act of resisting the system is co-opted, in effect extending its reach. For many activists this is a very real, very painful issue, further compounding the constantly lurking sense of being trapped, powerless. About a decade ago, doing human rights work in Gaza, I wrote: "we are Jewish Israelis, answerable only to the laws that hold only for the rulers here. These we don't break. We stretch them a little when we try to offer a couple of their protective measures to people for whom they were never meant, and probably won't serve. But the freedom we feel ourselves exercising in fact consists of deciding to obey and apply these laws and rules. ... my liberty or strength come of crossing. Back and forth. As if I were subject to neither community while I am actually subject to both." 

This recognition of our own complicity as activists is both depressing and enraging. However, an awareness that each of us, personally, is a player within the power structure is, in my view, vital to effective resistance. Human rights and anti-oppression activism can provide activists with a seductive sense of heroism and generate patronizing attitudes. An awareness of the complex positioning of such activism can temper these tendencies and nurture more careful, context-sensitive and egalitarian practices. Therefore, as sad as they may be, Dorothy Naor's insights make a crucial contribution to continued resistance. RM]

 

I, a Collaborator

 

By Dorothy Naor

 

The realization has recently begun to weigh heavily on me that in almost all my acts regarding the occupation of the Palestinian Territories I collaborate with the powers to be. Of course my collaboration is wholly involuntary. But it nonetheless is. Almost all of our humanitarian and political intentions and acts depend on abiding by the rules, which is another way to say that we kow-tow to the IOF. This applies alike to situations that are planned in advance (e.g., the intention to help with the olive harvest in the OPTs) and to emergency situations (e.g., as when Palestinians stuck at a check point request help to get them through).

We have no option but to request help from the IOF, and by requesting we unwillingly cooperate with its and the government's rules of the game. We thereby involuntarily assist the government and the military to perform the occupation and to perpetuate it, and in this sense I very much realize that--like it or not--I collaborate.

It's a catch 22 situation. If we don't play by IOF rules we are prevented by the IOF from helping the Palestinians and of expressing solidarity with them. Of course there are also means of civil disobedience, and the possibilities of appealing to the high court. These acts are not collaboration. But the ways in which we activists daily involuntarily collaborate are many, too many.

-----------------------------------

 

How do I collaborate?

Let me count the ways.

I. The Olive harvest

When I harvest olives for a family that has received insufficient permits to allow them to harvest their trees by themselves, I, by making up for those who were not given permits, collaborate with the military and perpetuate Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

When I agree to to harvesting olives in certain areas only, because of military restrictions on where the Palestinians may harvest, I collaborate with the military and help perpetuate the occupation.

When I agree to harvest olives on the days that the military has designated for a given village, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.

II. SOS calls

When I phone the so-called Civil Administration to request help to release someone being held hours at a checkpoint, or when I phone them to request finding and releasing a 12 year-old Palestinian boy whom soldiers have detained, or when I phone to request letting an ambulance through post haste, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.

When I request the Civil Administration to issue a permit for a desperately ill person to go to an Israeli hospital for care that she/he cannot receive in the OPTs, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.

When I request a permit to a hospital in east Jerusalem for a father whose 2 year-old daughter is to undergo kidney surgery, and am denied because the Central Security Service has declared the father "barred," and then, even after various attempts to get the permit, nevertheless fail to produce it, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation by letting it keep him from his child's hospital bed.

When I phone the Civil Administration at 1:00 AM to report that the army has entered a village, ordered all the inhabitants (old, young, ill, well) out of their homes in pouring rain, and is throwing their belongings outside into the rain, and after reporting this am told by the woman's voice at the other end of the phone, "What do you want? This is normal" and I quietly declare rather than yell at her, that it's not in the least normal, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.

When, after an hour of arguing with soldiers barring my way into a Palestinian village, I give up trying to get to my destination, and return home instead, I collaborate with the army and perpetuate the occupation.

III. Road blocks and check points

When I accept the reality of road blocks and check points, I collaborate with the army and perpetuate the occupation.

IV. The Apartheid Wall

When I go to a Palestinian village to protest the theft of land, the uprooting of dunams of trees, the destruction of land for the sake of building a wall that will not only rob the villagers of their trees and land but will also enclose them in a ghetto, and then run from the bulldozers and soldiers when they begin shooting tear gas at us, and at the end of the day go home, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation, because construction of the wall goes on.

Dorothy


[JPN Commentary: There is an enormous social base in the US, well beyond any elements of the Jewish community, supporting the Israeli right.  Evangelical Christians number well over one-quarter of the US population.  Their anti-Semitic theology is consistent with the most extreme positions of the messianic settlers.  Evangelicals have been strong supporters of Ariel Sharon (and other right winger Israeli leaders going back to Menachem Begin).  They have developed great political clout in the Bush administration, but will remain a potent force, no matter who wins the presidency. -- JB]
 

Born-agains for Sharon
Savvy salesman Rabbi Eckstein has convinced evangelicals to support Israel -- and he's hobnobbing with the likes of Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. But what will he do if Kerry wins?

By Max Blumenthal


http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/11/01/christian_zionism/index_np.html

Oct. 30, 2004  |  For some 7 million evangelicals at 25,000 churches worldwide, Oct. 17 was the third Annual Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel. For President Bush's Southeastern regional campaign coordinator, Ralph Reed, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's liaison to the U.S. evangelical community, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the event was their latest attempt to rally Bush's base to the side of Sharon. To help make their point, Eckstein and Reed summoned 21 of Israel's diplomatic representatives in the U.S. to the pulpits of some of America's leading conservative churches.

In Atlanta, at the Mount Paran Baptist Church, to which Reed belongs, Israel's consul general to the Southeast, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, shared the stage with Pastor David Cooper, author of the bestseller "Apocalypse." Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., to pay a visit to New Life Church and its senior pastor, Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a star in the glowing documentary about Bush, "Faith in the White House."

Eckstein was confident the Annual Day of Prayer event would keep pro-Israel pressure on Bush. "Over 30 percent of the evangelical respondents to an online survey we conducted last week said support for Israel was their number one factor in electing a president, and another 61 percent identified Israel as an important factor in their choice," he stated in a press release six days prior to the event. "This confirms what our experience tells us -- evangelical support for Israel hasn't diminished one bit. If anything, it's stronger than ever." Though evangelicals undoubtedly will vote overwhelmingly for Bush, the irony is that Jews in America, who support Israel for a different set of reasons than the evangelicals targeted by Eckstein do, are expected to vote overwhelmingly for John Kerry.

Evangelical support for Israel has increased dramatically in the past four years even as the country's international reputation has suffered as a result of Sharon's repressive, unilateral policies. To most evangelicals, Israel is "covenant land," a place granted to the Jews in God's covenant with Abraham; to many, Israel also represents the eventual landing pad for the Second Coming of the Messiah. While this scenario is not exactly friendly to Jews -- according to premillennial theology, once biblical Israel is fully resettled and Christ returns, Jews must accept him or perish -- evangelicals' theological interest in Israel renders them fervently opposed to any territorial concessions to the Palestinians and, thus, the natural allies of Sharon and his rightist Likud Party.

Rabbi Eckstein seems to have reached the apex of his lonely, 25-year-long quest to cultivate America's evangelical community as Israel's financial lifeline and most ardent lobbying bloc. Once a pariah among his peers, he has gained influence through savvy salesmanship, building his International Fellowship for Christians and Jews into a philanthropic powerhouse that donates tens of millions of dollars to Israel annually. In the process, he has forged close relationships with popular right-wing evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer, as well as White House neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams, who is in charge of Middle East policy on the National Security Council. Together, Eckstein and his allies have played an instrumental role in pressuring the Bush administration to abandon the so-called road map to peace and defend Sharon's ham-handed handling of the occupation unconditionally.

I met with Eckstein in August at the IFCJ offices, which occupy an entire floor of a building in Chicago's Loop. Inside his office, Eckstein reclined behind a desk, looking out over the city's breathtaking skyline. Husky and youthful at 53, he looked more like a pro athlete than an Orthodox rabbi. (Think legendary Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly with a yarmulke.) He lives in Israel, where he serves as an informal advisor to Sharon, and was in Chicago to attend to business and visit his family.

During our meeting and an hourlong phone conversation the month before, Eckstein spoke glowingly about the Christian-Zionist alliance he has brokered. "With evangelicals, I haven't had to change opinions like I do with the [liberal] National Council of Churches. All I have to do is tap into their abiding love for Israel," he told me. "Since 9/11 and since the intifada, the Jewish community has become much more pragmatic; they feel Israel's survival is at stake, and they've recognized the one group that stands with us boldly and proudly is this evangelical group."

Eckstein found his calling in 1977 when he was director of inter-religious affairs for the Anti-Defamation League. When some neo-Nazis planned a provocative march in Skokie, Ill., a heavily Jewish community with numerous Holocaust survivors, the ADL sent him to Chicago to marshal Christian opposition to the march. Eckstein soon found himself in Wheaton, Ill., the epicenter of the mounting evangelical movement. It was during a meeting with the director of Wheaton College's Bible study program and the dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that Eckstein had his epiphany about the role of evangelicals.

"The Jewish community was very frightened by this phenomenon of the rising Christian right, but I came to know that evangelicals are not bogeymen; they are simply a group of serious people who felt the pendulum had swung too far to the left and that what was needed was to return to the Judeo-Christian roots."

By 1983, Eckstein had formed the IFCJ and become a fixture at National Religious Broadcasters conferences, where he promoted tourism to the Holy Land and solicited donations for his organization. "When I started out 25 years ago, there was nobody in the field. I went to my first NRB convention and I was the only Jew there, and I went for 15 years straight," Eckstein recalled. "What I participated in spawning has kind of caught on ... Now there are 10 to 15 booths at NRB conferences selling Israeli or Jewish stuff and lots of Jews in yarmulkes walking around."

Five years later, Eckstein was in New York helping maverick Republican presidential primary candidate Pat Robertson "mitigate Jewish opposition" to his campaign -- and cultivating him and his legion of followers as supporters of Israel. In 1986, Robertson had compared non-Christians to termites deserving of "godly fumigation"; he later asserted, in the book "The New World Order," that communism was "the brainchild of German-Jewish intellectuals." But while Robertson may not be particularly fond of secular Jewish liberals, he has always been an ardent Christian Zionist who, in his preaching and pulp-prophecy books, refers to the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Israel's victory in the 1967 war as miracles presaging the Second Coming.

In 1994, when the ADL issued a scathing report blasting fundamentalist evangelicals, and Robertson's Christian Coalition in particular, as a grave threat to Jewish life, Eckstein leaped to defend his allies. He convened a meeting in Washington between evangelical and Jewish leaders, and convinced the ADL's director, Abe Foxman, to invite Robertson's master tactician, Reed, to issue a call for reconciliation at ADL's annual conference. And in a 1995 address broadcast nationally by C-Span, Reed reassured the ADL of the Christian Coalition's commitment to a pluralistic society, recounted a moving visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and issued a call for Jews and evangelicals to "move from confrontation to cooperation." According to Eckstein, "Reed made a wonderful impression."

The following year, Eckstein capitalized on his successes by forming the Center for Christian and Jewish Values in Washington. Co-chaired by Orthodox Jewish Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and evangelical Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the now-defunct center, according to Eckstein, "brought together disparate groups to find common ground on issues of shared concern." While Eckstein did bring people of different faiths under one roof, their ideological leanings were mostly uniform. The center was made up almost entirely of right-wing evangelicals like then Family Research Council director Bauer, Southern Baptist Convention executive director Richard Land and the dean of Robertson's Regent University's school of government, Kay James. (James is now director of the Office of Personnel Management under Bush.) Also involved were neoconservatives such as Abrams, William Kristol and William Bennett. The center was essentially a command post for the culture war.

Despite its pantheon of influential conservatives, however, the center produced little more than a flurry of symbolic resolutions calling for religious freedom in the Third World, more education for what Eckstein termed "non-abortion" and a moment of silence as an alternative to school prayer. The center also served as the platform for Lieberman, Bennett and Brownback's censorship crusade, which ultimately amounted to a few blustery editorials blasting Hollywood's "mental poison" and a failed bill in 1997 that would have mandated that TV manufacturers install "V-chips" allowing parents to block offensive programming.

While the center's culture warriors soldiered on, Eckstein shifted his focus to filling the IFCJ's coffers. By 1999, he had settled in Israel and was cruising the Holy Land in a van with his own film crew to produce a line of fundraising videos custom-tailored to evangelical tastes. In one of the videos, "Guardians of Israel," Eckstein appears amid scenes of heart-wrenching poverty, staring directly into the camera like Mister Rogers' long-lost brother, his hand on the shoulder of one destitute Israeli or another, pleading for Christian money. "If you don't hear this woman's tears, you're not human," Eckstein says in "Guardians of Israel," while standing above a sobbing woman in Nazareth. In another of Ekstein's videos, "On Wings of Eagles," a narrator, soliciting money for his immigration program for Russian Jews, informs viewers, "Just $350 can save one Jew."

After viewing one of these videos in 2000, the ADL's Foxman accused Ekstein of "schnorring from non-Jews to help Jews." However, what may seem like shameless pandering to Eckstein's critics is, in fact, effective salesmanship to those familiar with the insular evangelical culture. When Eckstein looks into the camera with tears welling in his eyes and declares, "I couldn't face God if I didn't open up to you, Christians" -- a phrase few Jews could imagine themselves uttering -- he is appealing to the confessional tradition that stresses God's transformative power. It is the same tradition that prompts President Bush to say, "There is only one reason I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar. I found faith."

Eckstein's uncanny ability to penetrate evangelical culture has fed a perception among his detractors that he is really a "Jew for Jesus." One of Eckstein's most strident critics, Jerusalem City Councilor Mina Fenton, has enlisted a group of high-profile rabbis in a campaign to in effect excommunicate him. Fenton points as proof of Eckstein's crypto-Christianity to his fictional novel, "The Journey Home," loosely based on his friendship with evangelical pastor Jamie Buckingham. In the book, Eckstein writes, "While I still don't believe in Jesus as the Christ as Jamie does, and view him instead as a Jew who brought salvation to the gentiles, in some respects, that is exactly what I have become -- a Jew for Jesus."

In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Fenton accused Eckstein's IFCJ of trying to "create a situation of dependency [of Israel on evangelical funding], so that they can control us. They pour money galore into welfare, absorption, aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel], and education and find our weak points." Fenton also believes that by pumping so much evangelical money into Israel, Eckstein is helping to further evangelicals' apocalyptic "end times" agenda.

That charge has dogged Eckstein throughout his career in spite of his best efforts to defuse it. In 2003, he commissioned the Tarrance Group to conduct a poll of evangelicals' attitudes on Israel. While a majority of respondents cited a literal belief in Genesis 12:3 -- "he who blesses Israel shall be blessed" -- as their primary reason for supporting Israel, a minority, albeit a large one at 28 percent, cited "reasons related to the End Times." Even though the Tarrance Group is run by veteran GOP operative Ed Goeas, who has collaborated with Reed on numerous campaigns, Eckstein feels vindicated by the poll.

"The media portrays [evangelicals] as premillennialists who do this [support Israel] to get all the Jews to Israel, ... [so] those who don't accept Jesus will be killed. It's just hogwash. If anything, it's about Genesis 12:3," said Eckstein.

Eckstein's close associate Bauer echoed his opinion. "Among Christians, there's just a fundamental religious idea that the Jews are God's people and the land of Israel is covenant land that God granted them. Beyond that, what drives Christian support for Israel is that Christians tend to see U.S. foreign policy in very moral terms," Bauer told me. "We believe Israel and the U.S. are facing the same types of totalitarian forces, and we as two countries that share the same values should stand against that."

Away from the media's critical eye, however, Eckstein has struck an altogether different tone. In "On Wings of Eagles," as montages of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shaking hands in Oslo in 1994 and the crumbling Twin Towers flash across the screen to an ominous soundtrack, a narrator intones, "The mosaic of events we see happening today is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with the pieces beginning to form the exact picture foretold by the prophets." Next Eckstein appears standing on a mountaintop somewhere in Israel, and, before launching into a pitch for donations, says, "You can see the pieces of the puzzle that are coming together." Is he insinuating that with so many "end times" prophecies in the headlines, evangelical support for Israel is all the more urgent? It's unclear what else he could mean.

However controversial Eckstein's fundraising techniques may be, they are working. His videos enjoy widespread viewership on Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network and through paid spots on local networks across America's heartland. Eckstein has even organized aggressive fundraising campaigns in countries like Mexico and El Salvador, where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line. With nearly 350,000 donors, the IFCJ was able to dole out a whopping $20 million to 250 social welfare projects in Israel last year, including an armored, mobile dental clinic that provides services to Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Today, the IFCJ is the second largest nongovernmental donor to Israel, next only to the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel.

By building the IFCJ into a such a powerful philanthropic force, Eckstein has mollified erstwhile critics like Foxman. "I'm popular now because we give away money and that has helped leverage this whole issue [evangelical support for Israel] to give it legitimacy in the Jewish community," Eckstein said proudly. As a testament to Eckstein's success, in 2002 Foxman took out full-page ads in major U.S. papers, reprinting a pro-Israel Op-Ed written by Reed, then chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.

When Sharon and Bush came to power in 2000, they began a cozy relationship that has become iconic of the evangelical-Likudnik marriage Eckstein helped broker. With Eckstein as his advisor, Sharon has courted the support of evangelicals more aggressively than most of his predecessors. In the fall of 2002, for instance, Sharon told a crowd of 3,000 evangelical tourists in Jerusalem, "I tell you now, we love you. We love all of you!"

That same year, he invited Bauer to Jerusalem for a private meeting with his Cabinet. "I was given a great deal of access and a number of briefings on the various issues they're facing," Bauer told me. "In my meeting, ... I attempted to explain that they had a much broader base of support in the U.S. than perhaps they realized and they should be sensitive to the fact that more Americans than they think regard Israel as a natural ally." To help make his point, Bauer gave Sharon a letter of support signed by leading evangelicals like Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell and Focus on the Family president James Dobson.

As for Bush's friendly relations with Sharon, Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor for the first President Bush, told the Financial Times this month, "I think Sharon just has [Bush] wrapped around his little finger." Yet Bush is complaisant not only to Sharon but also to his own domestic base. After all, over the past four years, Eckstein and his evangelical allies have waged a fierce lobbying blitz to pressure Bush against participating in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that every American president since Jimmy Carter has engaged in.

Their campaign gained momentum at the National Rally in Solidarity with Israel in April 2002 on Washington's Mall, which was attended by over 100,000. While popular figures like author Elie Wiesel and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani issued fiery denunciations of Palestinian terror, the most boisterous applause of the day was reserved for evangelical radio host Janet Parshall, who boomed, "We will never give up the Golan. We will never divide Jerusalem." None of the rally's Jewish speakers was nearly as strident; in fact, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a prominent neoconservative, was booed for referring to the daily suffering endured by Palestinians under occupation. The rally coincided with the initiation of Reed and Eckstein's Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel, which mobilized 17,000 evangelical churches to pray for Israel that October.

With a number of close associates now working in the White House, Eckstein and company leveraged their grass-roots muscle into high-level access. In July 2003, Eckstein brought 20 leading fundamentalist evangelicals to the White House for "a quiet meeting" with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Middle East advisor Abrams. There, delegation members stated their fervent opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian road map while Rice explained the administration's sympathy for their position. Rice "talked about her religiousness and how her father was a Baptist minister," Eckstein recalled. "And she explained the administration's position: It's Bush's faith that prompts him to take some of his major positions. I think that's what's so attractive about Bush to people," Eckstein added. "You can become relativistic, but what's needed is black and white."

Alhough Eckstein says his meeting with Rice marked the first time leaders of the Christian right had met with a high-level White House official on Israel policy, it wasn't the last. As Rick Perlstein of the Village Voice reported, in March Abrams met with leaders of a self-identified "theocratical" lobbying group, the Apostolic Congress, to allay their concerns about Bush's pending endorsement of Sharon's Gaza pullout plan. And evangelical leaders like late Religious Roundtable director Ed McAteer have reportedly held numerous off-the-record meetings on policy toward Israel with White House public liaison Tim Goeglein, who was the spokesman for Bauer's 2000 presidential campaign.

Curiously, Eckstein refused to tell me who was among the delegation he brought to the White House, though he did mention that Bauer was pointedly uninvited as punishment for running against Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries and attacking him as insufficiently conservative. Yet lack of direct access hasn't prevented the wily Bauer from influencing White House policy on Israel. When the Bush administration criticized Israel's botched assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in June 2003, Bauer e-mailed an alert to 100,000 followers calling for pro-Israel pressure on the White House. "We inundated the White House with e-mails and faxes arguing that Israel had the same right to defend itself as we did. In very short order, the tone of the White House changed dramatically, and I believe it was the reaction of Christian conservatives in favor of Israel that changed the tone," Bauer said. And when Israel did kill Rantisi in April, the White House issued the
 now boilerplate statement of support for Israel's "right to defend herself."

Bauer's influence earned him the keynote address at the 2003 annual convention of pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), where he says he was interrupted 12 times by standing ovations. Bauer has also played a leading role in lobbying on behalf of Israeli settler groups (he refused to say which ones) against both the road map and Sharon's Gaza pullout plan. "Off and on over the years I have met with various groups in the West Bank, and they've come to the U.S. I've given them my best read on what the lay of the land is in Washington and how they might be more effective in getting their message out here," Bauer said. "I oppose ethnic cleansing, and the idea that the West Bank or Gaza should be a Jew-free zone is deeply offensive," he added.

Bauer, unlike Eckstein, who is beholden to Sharon and his Gaza policy, has little to lose and everything to gain by working with Israel's most reactionary elements. Through his political action committee, the Campaign for Working Families, Bauer is aggressively soliciting donations from conservative Christians for the Bush campaign while plugging the latest version of the GOP's anti-Kerry "flip-flop" attack on his group's Web site. Bauer ostensibly hopes that by backing Bush, he can heal the wounds his 2000 primary run opened and, if Bush wins, earn back his place at the grown-ups table.

Although Eckstein says he's a registered Democrat, he has converted to Bush's side and is urging other Jews to join him. "I personally think the Jewish community and America should vote for Bush because I think he will be stronger on terrorism. And anything less than a full confrontation [with terrorists] has the potential, God forbid, to spell the end of Western civilization as we know it," Eckstein said. "I, like many Jews, support John Kerry's domestic agenda, and that's why I think many Jews are struggling with this choice in a big way."

Whether or not Jews have struggled with their choice, most are supporting Kerry. A nonpartisan poll taken by the American Jewish Committee in September showed 69 percent of Jews supporting Kerry, compared with 24 percent for Bush. The poll's other findings reveal strong Jewish opposition to Bush's policies on social issues, but overwhelming support for further dismantling of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, an issue Kerry has studiously avoided and Bush has refused to press with Sharon.

Another factor in Jewish support for Kerry is his unabashedly pro-Israel platform. To reinforce Kerry's message, his campaign in July released a policy paper, "Strengthening Israel's Security and Bolstering the US-Israel Special Relationship," stating positions on the Gaza pullout and Israel's separation wall that are identical to Bush's.

But if Kerry is elected, members of the Christian-Zionist lobby should not expect any backslaps from the new president. With Bush back in Crawford, Texas, Eckstein and company's White House soul mates would have to return to their think-tank fellowships and academic jobs, severely compromising the influence and access the lobby has worked for over two decades to attain.

Already, Bauer is grumbling, "I would be happy if Kerry was overall pro-Israel, but I would have to caution that before the race got going in earnest, Senator Kerry repeatedly said where the president failed in not having a balanced approach in the Middle East. A balanced approach is the last thing I would want."


Max Blumenthal is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

Jewish Peace News Editors: 
Judith Norman
Alistair Welchman
Mitchell Plitnick
Lincoln Shlensky
Ami Kronfeld
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai

 

Jewish Peace News needs your support. Your donation to Jewish Voice for Peace is the only way that JVP can continue its important work, including this news service.

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about this.
 Tell-a-friend!

If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

If you would like to unsubscribe from a specific Jewish Voice for Peace list, or update your account settings, you can visit your Subscription Management Page. Click here to remove yourself from all Jewish Voice for Peace lists.

 

Tell-A-Friend

Prev message Next message Mail List Reply Reply-All Forward Print


View headers Variable width font Inline Images
View as HTML Execute HTML


CWMail 2.8a Copyright NetWin Ltd.