US activists’ homes targeted in pro-Israel intimidation campaign

American Muslims for Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace say smear campaign against their leaders won’t stop them working together.

An anonymous campaign has targeted two leaders in the Palestine solidarity movement at their homes in New York and California.

University of California, Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian left his house on the morning of 10 May to take his daughter to school. He grabbed a flyer that was tucked under his car’s windshield wiper and threw it in his car.

It was only after he dropped his daughter off that he took another look at the flyer and realized it featured a color photo of himself and the claim, “he supports terror.”

His picture was next to one of Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national group that organizes for Palestinian rights.

Bazian is the chair of American Muslims for Palestine.

Underneath their photos was printed the hashtag “#SketchyAlliance.”

“When I got back home I realized that every car on my street had one of these flyers,” Bazian told The Electronic Intifada.

Sowing fear of “terror”

Bazian is familiar with campaigns of harassment and intimidation. He has been the target of similar poster campaigns on campus and has received hate mail and emails for years. But this was the first time that his opponents hit him at his home.

The back of the flyer calls Americans for Muslims for Palestine a “smokescreen for a violent movement” and claims that Bazian called for a “violent uprising here in America.”

It also accuses Jewish Voice for Peace of “supporting terrorists” and claims that American Muslims for Palestine’s ideology is “deeply rooted in terrorist organizations like Hamas.”

In bold letters, the flyers warn, “Today terror abroad. Tomorrow terror at home!”

Bazian contacted Vilkomerson, and found out her home in Brooklyn had also been flyered that morning.

Vilkomerson told The Electronic Intifada that her entire block and two surrounding blocks had been plastered with the same flyer. Her husband and neighbor tried to collect the hundreds of flyers before her children returned home from school.

The flyers were also spotted in different parts of Manhattan as well as downtown Berkeley. One person forwarded to Vilkomerson pictures said to show a man handing out the flyers in Berkeley.

Only a few Twitter accounts have used the hashtag #SketchyAlliance.

The first was created in April this year. The user, who claims to be a Berkeley graduate student, used the hashtag the day before the flyers appeared.

The only others using the hashtag were two editors of the pro-Israel blog Israellycool.

Brian Bishko, who tweets and writes under the pseudonym Brian of London, is a contributing editor at Israellycool, according to his Linkedin profile.

David Lange, who works under the pseudonym Aussie Dave, is the publisher of the propaganda website.

Lange and Bishko have been associated with online harassment campaigns against Palestinians and Palestine activists in the past.

Lange has a history of using online aliases to infiltrate Palestine forums. Bishko, or Brian of London, has a history of overt online incitement and racism against Palestinians.

Harnessing Islamophobia

Bazian is also the founder and co-editor of Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project. He sees the flyer’s invocation of terrorism and fear of Islam as part of pro-Israel groups’ strategy to consolidate support for Israel in the United States and Europe.

“Specifically, these groups are trying to say that Israel’s war with Hamas is the same as the US’ and Europe’s war with terrorism in the Muslim world,” Bazian said.

This line of argument appeared in a recent opinion article in The New York Times by Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan against the Palestinian hunger strikers.

Erdan asserted that European capitals are becoming more sympathetic to Israel’s war against “terrorism.”

“As I was told recently by the ambassador of a northern European country facing a growing terrorist threat, ‘Now we get you,’” Erdan claimed.

Israel’s “black ops”

Erdan also leads Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, which spearheads the country’s effort to thwart the growing Palestine solidarity movement. The ministry is reportedly engaged in secret “black ops” which, according to a veteran Israeli analyst, may involve “defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists” as well as “infringing on and violating their privacy.”

Neither Bazian nor Vilkomerson know who is behind the flyers. Bazian says the posters embody an attitude promoted by a number of pro-Israel groups.

The tactic closely resembles a poster campaign by anti-Muslim agitator David Horowitz, targeting students and professors involved in Palestine solidarity on campuses.

Horowitz’s posters which appeared last October also attacked Bazian and contained unsupported claims attempting to tie American Muslims for Palestine to Hamas.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, says Horowitz has “become a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Black movements.”

Undeterred

“This is not new to target American Muslims for Palestine or to use them to target others by using these guilt-by-association tactics,” Vilkomerson said.

Bazian filed a report with Berkeley police, who he says initially wanted to categorize the flyers as an attack on free speech. Bazian objected, insisting it be labeled an Islamophobic incident.

He says he is also installing a security system at his home.

But Bazian and Vilkomerson are not deterred. A day after the flyers appeared, they reaffirmed their commitment to working together: “Our two organizations represent a hopeful future horizon for Jewish-Muslim partnerships grounded in social justice, deeper understanding and opposition to all forms of racism.”

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elektros, yes, our police chiefs have been going to Israel for police tactics training since the 70s.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.