I Witnessed the Israel Lobby in Action

Sample collection of Palestinian car-keys confiscated by IDF soldiers (Breaking the Silence)

A few weeks back at Columbia, I watched with amazement as the former Israeli soldier Yehuda Shaul, who started the group Breaking the Silence, gave his presentation on the horrors of the occupation to about 75 students in a darkened hall. My amazement had to do with the fact that Shaul’s visit was sponsored by a largely-Jewish group at Columbia - Pro-Israel Progressives - and was attended by members of the Hillel chapter at the school. Kudos to them.

After Shaul’s speech, representing “my comrades and not just myself,” he was bombarded by hostile questions from Israel supporters in the audience. Shaul handled them with strength and ease. (Q. “Do you know of a counterpart organization where Palestinians question their moral decisions?” A. “I really don’t care - I am an Israeli who has to raise his children in Israel…”)

Just as gripping to me was the discussion that took place after the event between Rachel Glaser, the campus coordinator of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America, and the students who had organized the event.

“What did this accomplish? What did it accomplish?” Glaser barked at the organizers.

“It achieved something important,” one of the Jewish students said. “People perceive pro-Israel groups as monolithic. They think that we are not able to take responsibility for the bad things that happen.”

Fine, Glaser said, but the students should have organized “a panel,” in which Shaul was just one voice. “Have someone else,” she said. (Just as the New York Theatre Workshop wanted to “contextualize” the Rachel Corrie play with pro-Israel voices.)

It was one thing to have Yehuda Shaul give a talk inside Israel, Glaser said. “Outside of Israel, you’re playing with fire.”

This chilling statement was a candid expression of the goals of the Israel lobby. A member of a Jewish organization was saying that it’s OK to have a wide-open discussion of these issues in Israel, but it’s dangerous to have such a discussion here. Why? Because America is the mainstay of support allowing Israel to continue its policies in the Occupied Territories. The Israel lobby fears that Americans, if left to their own devices, will abandon Israel, out of indifference, or antisemitism. So Americans must be influenced -in this case by having the information they get about Israel/Palestine vetted, and by pressuring Jews on campus to toe the party line.

I bring this up because Glaser’s group, the Zionist Organization of America, is now trying to have the Jewish group that sponsored Shaul’s tour, the Union of Progressive Zionists, kicked out of a consortium of campus groups that promote Israel’s image on campuses. Why? Because (per the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) “Jewish money should not be spent on programming that provides fodder for Israel’s most virulent critics.”

This is shameful news. Jews are better than this, America is better than this…

This piece was first published on Phil Weiss’s blog and is republished with permission.

Related Links

  • Breaking the Silence
  • Interview: Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence, Christopher Brown (1 November 2006)