In a press release issued August 27, 2008, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit (JCRC) criticized my article “Detroit Jewish Federation: Celebrating racism and making money at it” as “despicable.” The article was published in the August 9-15, 2008, edition of The Arab American News and is available on the TAAN web site. I want to thank the JCRC for circulating my article. I’ve been told that they disseminated it to numerous regional media outlets. Hopefully, local reporters and editors will have the courage to investigate the highly favorable contract that the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) obtained from a public agency to celebrate the creation of the apartheid state of Israel. I also want to thank the publisher and executive editor of TAAN for publishing the article and for standing strong in the face of JCRC’s scurrilous condemnation of the “Arab American News (sic) for disseminating such hate speech.”
The JCRC’s response to my article is comprised of the usual mix of distortions and outright falsehoods that supporters of Palestinian human rights have come to expect. The accusation that the article was in any way “anti-Semitic” is an example in practice of what Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban asserted in 1973: “… one of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all.” It is an attempt to change the subject away from what pro-Israel Jews are doing — celebrating the triumph of racism and ethnic cleansing in Palestine — to a subject that is more palatable and more helpful in maintaining the Zionist domination of the American discourse on Palestine-Israel.
By charging “anti-Semitism,” people are diverted away from focusing on the real issue — sixty years of racist domination of Palestine and attacks and wars on Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq — to instead focus upon, in this case, a specious Jewish victim-hood. The charge also serves to stoke fear. As the Right Rev. Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work against South African apartheid, noted in 2002: “… the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic. People are scared in this country [the U.S.] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful — very powerful.”
Below is a rebuttal of some claims made by the JCRC in their press release. Time and length considerations prevent me from fully answering every claim.
The JCRC complains: “It [the article] was a transparent effort to generate incitement within Detroit’s Arab community and manipulate the African American community.” Indeed, I meant to incite all people of good conscience, not just Arabs, to nonviolently protest the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s (JFMD) “Fair to Remember,” which protest organizers called a “Fair of Shame” for celebrating the nakba, the “catastrophe” of the violent Jewish conquest of Palestine and sixty years of occupation and war. But what the JCRC refers to as an attempt to “manipulate the African American community” was actually an appeal to the “proud examples of anti-Zionism from Detroit’s history,” some of which I cited in the article. This is a history that the JCRC would have Black people repudiate and be ashamed of. The JCRC much prefers the poisonous false teachings of Christian Zionism spread by men like Keith Butler, Kenneth Flowers, and Glenn Plummer, whom the JCRC cited glowingly. Flowers and Plummer have both been lauded in official Israel government press office releases.
The JCRC charges the article with “labeling Detroit’s Jews as a wealthy community and implying that Jews are responsible for the economic disparities in metro Detroit.” The study I cited, the “Detroit Area Jewish Population Study, 2005” (DAJPS 2005) was commissioned by the JCRC’s parent organization, the JFMD. It shows conclusively that the Jewish community of metro Detroit is significantly wealthier than the U.S. general population with a median household income of $85,000 vs. $45,000 for the U.S. general population and a median housing value of $300,000 vs. $156,000 for the U.S. general population. Further, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the corresponding figures for Detroit are even more stark: Median household income — $28,364 and median housing value — $91,700. The only implication about Jews being responsible for poverty in metro Detroit resides in the fevered imaginations of the folks at the JCRC. The main point of the comparisons was that the economic disparities and the sweetheart deal the JFMD got for the use of the state-owned fairgrounds parallel the wasteful, to put it mildly, and highly preferential financial, diplomatic, and military assistance Israel gets from the U.S. government.
Elsewhere, the JCRC claims, “Detroit’s Jewish community has a significant population of poor and underprivileged.” Other communities should be so “poor and underprivileged” as the metro Detroit Jewish community. According to the “Detroit Area Jewish Population Study, 2005,” only 1.6% of Detroit area Jewish households lived below the federal poverty level. No doubt that’s a “significant” figure if you’re in one of those families but, according to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, 9.4% of all families in the Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI Metropolitan Statistical Area lived below the federal poverty level. Only 2% of metro Detroit Jewish households were unemployed while the comparable rate for the general Detroit metro population was 10.5%.
The JCRC takes exception to the article’s description of Israel as an “apartheid” state. Well, what else does one call a country that permits any Jew — including converts with no ancestral link whatsoever to Palestine — from anywhere in the world to freely move to Israel while the three Palestinians — all of them born in Palestine before 1948 — who helped organized our protest and millions of other Palestinians are prevented from ever moving home? What else does one call a country that has militarily dominated millions of people in the West Bank, Gaza, al-Quds (East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights for more than forty years and extends to them neither citizenship nor any real say in the rule over them?
South Africans know something about apartheid. Here is part of a statement from the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa:
“We, South Africans who have lived through apartheid, cannot be silent as another entire people are treated as non-human beings; people without rights or human dignity and facing daily humiliation. We cannot permit a ruthless state to use military jets, helicopter gun-ships and tanks on civilians. We cannot accept state assassinations of activists, the torture of political prisoners, the murder of children and collective punishment.
“We, South Africans who lived for decades under rulers with a colonial mentality, see Israeli occupation as a strange survival of colonialism in the 21st century. Only in Israel do we hear of ‘settlements’ and ‘settlers’. Only in Israel do soldiers and armed civilian groups take over hilltops, demolish homes, uproot trees and destroy crops, shell schools, churches and mosques, plunder water reserves, and block access to an indigenous population’s freedom of movement and right to earn a living. These human rights violations were unacceptable in apartheid South Africa and are an affront to us in apartheid Israel.”
The JCRC asserts “that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strongly supported Israel and said anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.” The Rev. Dr. King was an “extremist … for the extension of justice,” to quote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and he opposed racism and segregation — two hallmarks of Israel. It is virtually inconceivable that he supported Israel or Zionism. Conveniently, the JCRC omits any sources for their claim. A 1967 letter attributed to the Rev. Dr. King that Zionists frequently cite in their favor has been described by the pro-Israel Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America as a “hoax.” And as Fadi Kiblawi and Will Youmans, writing in “The Use and Abuse of Martin Luther King Jr. by Israel’s Apologists,” have shown, this leaves only the report of the pro-Israel Seymour Martin Lipset on a 1968 speech that probably never happened and was only published more than a year after the Rev. Dr. King was dead and, thus, unable to refute lies spread in his name.
The JCRC gripes that the article “rewrote the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, falsely portraying Palestinian Arabs as victims of genocide.” In a 1997 article entitled “Palestine Should Sue Israel for Genocide before the International Court of Justice,” the distinguished professor of international law, Francis A. Boyle sums the case up nicely:
“For at least the past fifty years, the Israeli government and its predecessors-in-law — the Zionist Agencies and Forces — have ruthlessly implemented a systematic and comprehensive military, political, and economic campaign with the intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnical and racial group known as the Palestinian People. This Zionist/Israeli campaign has consisted of killing members of the Palestinian People in violation of Genocide Convention Article II(a). This Zionist/Israeli campaign has also caused serious bodily and mental harm to the Palestinian People in violation of Genocide Convention Article II(b). This Zionist/Israeli campaign has also deliberately inflicted on the Palestinian People conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in substantial part in violation of Article II(c) of the Genocide Convention.”
The JCRC claims “Israel takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties.” This is a bald-faced lie. If Israel wanted to minimize its killing of Palestinian civilians then it would be a simple matter to stop sending bombs, missiles, and bullets from helicopters and airplanes down into densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods. But the Israeli government prefers these criminal tactics out of sheer military and political cowardice. The thugs who rule the self-described Jewish state know that if they used ground troops instead of their cowardly air and artillery attacks then Israeli military casualties would rise dramatically and to politically unsustainable levels. And, so, they take the coward’s way out and kill many Palestinian noncombatants. Moreover, in 2006, Israel turned southern Lebanon into a “free-fire zone,” according to Human Rights Watch. During Israel’s attack, the BBC reported: “‘The Israeli military seems to consider anyone left in the area a combatant who is fair game for attack,’ said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ‘Such consistent failure to distinguish combatants and civilians is a war crime.'” The Israeli attacks on Lebanon killed hundreds of civilians.
The JCRC asserts that “Israel is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society which guarantees non-discrimination.” I had the pleasure of speaking with several young Palestinian women from the Galilee region in northern Israel at a conference in Dearborn a couple of years ago and they all agreed with one of their compatriots that they were “fifth-class citizens” in Israel. Even the pro-Israel U.S. State Department’s 2007 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel noted, “Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Israeli Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued.”
Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel reports: “The absence of constitutional equality for the Arab minority and the fundamental definition of the State as Jewish have permitted a system of structural and institutional discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel. At least twenty Israeli laws discriminate against the Arab minority, either by excluding the Arab minority while providing specific rights to the Jewish population, according different rights to different sectors of the population, or by abridging the rights of the Arab minority. These discriminatory laws touch on all aspects of life, including laws restricting immigration and citizenship, several legislations expropriating land and restricting land use and ownership, quasi-governmental status given to solely Jewish bodies such as the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, laws designating Jewish symbols and national holidays (while ignoring Arab holidays and religious dates), as well as laws mandating separate and unequal educational and cultural systems.”
The JCRC claims “The [JFMD] event at the state fairgrounds will, in these times of tight state budgets, provide the state with as much as $100,000 in unexpected revenue.” This claim completely ignores the revenue foregone by cutting the number of days the fair is open to the general public but giving the JFMD exclusive use of the fairgrounds and a steep discount on admissions, rides, and parking fees. If the JFMD is really interested in helping with “tight state budgets” then why don’t they pay the state the same prices as the state fair charges to the general public? Why don’t they give up their sweetheart deal and volunteer to pay a $50,000 premium for having first and exclusive access to the fair while the rest of the community had to wait for the Jewish community to finish celebrating the creation of their apartheid state? They certainly have the money to pay the same prices as everyone else. According to the 2007 “American Jewish Year Book,” the JFMD in one year raised “about $35,000,000.” But, no, it is in the very nature of racists to expect special treatment — here and in Palestine —and, undoubtedly, the JFMD will hold onto every cent squeezed out of its sweetheart deal.
The JCRC says “Israeli leaders were, at most, lukewarm in their support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iraq is far from Israel’s border.” In fact, Israel is so close to Iraq that in 1981, American-made Israeli F-15s and F-16s were able to fly from Israel, bomb an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad, and return to Israel without ever refueling. In their book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” two distinguished American scholars have thoroughly documented that Israeli leaders and their partisans in the U.S. lobbied aggressively for the U.S. to attack Iraq in 2003. In April of this year, the Israeli newspaper “Ma’ariv” reported that Likud leader and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University that the September 11, 2001 attacks and “the American struggle in Iraq” were “benefiting” Israel — no lukewarmness there. Perhaps, Netanyahu didn’t get his memo from the JCRC on the proper Israeli attitude toward the war.
In closing, it is worth recalling words from “Beyond Chutzpah,” a book by Norman Finkelstein: “Wrapping themselves in the mantle of The Holocaust, … Jewish elites pretend and, in their own solipsistic universe, perhaps imagine themselves to be victims, dismissing any and all criticism as manifestations of ‘anti-Semitism.’ And, from this lethal brew of formidable power, chauvinistic arrogance, feigned (or imagined) victimhood, and Holocaust-immunity to criticism has sprung a terrifying recklessness and ruthlessness on the part of American Jewish elites. Alongside Israel, they are the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.”