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Israel's Friends Against the First Amendment
Criticism of Israel becomes a crime
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Regular visitors to this website can confirm that I am not at all shy about whacking Israel and its nearly omnipotent Lobby in the United States. Take that as a given. But even while whacking I try to base my invective on what I see as the fundamental issue: while I grieve for the Palestinians my role as an American must be to assess the damage that Israel is doing to my own country, which most recently includes insufferable demands for yet more U.S. taxpayer dollars to compensate for the “damage” done by the Iran nuclear deal.

In that light I try to keep my critique on a rational and proportionate basis. While I have sometimes suggested that those who are over the top in love with Israel should consider moving there and have also not hesitated to describe the behavior of certain congressmen like Senators Cardin, Menendez and Schumer as something akin to treason, I have never called for confiscation and destruction of property, denial of citizenship, or exiling the miscreants that I identify. I will leave those sorts of things to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is very good at it.

But sometimes the actions of the friends of Israel in the United States are so truly outrageous that they seem to invite a reaction that is more explosive, like petitioning the Strategic Air Command to nuke AIPAC when it next gathers here in Washington. A couple of recent Israel first initiatives that are aimed at denying first Amendment rights to anyone but those who are supporters of Israel fall into the category that seems to demand a really strong response. Like, what the hell is going on here? Is anyone in Congress and the Judiciary awake?

Last week a billboard was taken down in New Bedford Massachusetts. The billboard read “Help the USS Liberty Survivors – Attacked by Israel.” The billboard had been placed by the Honor Liberty Vets Organization and, as is normal practice, was paid for through a contractual arrangement that would require the billboard company to post the image for a fixed length of time. It was one of a number of billboards placed in different states.

Inevitably, Israel’s well connected friends began to complain. One Jewish businessman threatened to take his business elsewhere, so the advertising company obligingly removed the billboard two weeks early. The company involved Outfront Media Inc., whose CEO is Jeremy Male, apparently made no attempt to justify its breach of contract.

Ernie Gallo, President of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, wrote to Mr. Male:

“Mr. Male, the USS Liberty was on a mission as directed by the Joint Chiefs. The mission resulted in the murder of 34 and 174 wounded some so severely that they died within a couple of years and a few that need operations today to keep them going. The Israeli attack was the attempted murder of 294 Americans on the high seas and LBJ gave them a free pass in order to look good to the American Jewish community in the 1968 presidential elections. However, the military realized this was no accident and the USS Liberty became the most decorated Navy ship for a single engagement. With the latter in mind, I give presentations to Veteran groups except for Jewish American War Vets. With the pressure you recently endured, are you starting to get the picture? Where is your backbone sir?

“I have published a book entitled, ‘Liberty Injustices — A Survivor’s Account of American Bigotry.’ I accumulated stories such as this one and the saga continues so I am collecting them again for my next book. I can assure you that your actions to take down the contracted Liberty billboard will be in the next book. God help this country when Jewish hatred can bring companies like yourself to break a written contract. We are very proud American Navy Veterans of all creeds.”

Ernie is too kind. The Liberty billboard demonstrates that First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech in America is limited by how much money you have and how many corrupt businessmen, journalists, politicians and judges you can buy. The most outrageous anti-Muslim nonsense can be posted anywhere by the despicable Pamela Geller but just try to say something negative about Israel and you will feel the wrath of a totally subjugated corporate America.

Regarding the Liberty and its crew, there has been an orchestrated cover-up of the attack since day one. Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered fighters sent to the assistance of the Liberty to return to their carriers and Johnson reportedly said that he didn’t care if the ship sank, he wasn’t going to embarrass an ally. May they burn in hell and they should be joined there by the so-called “Jewish American War Vets” who condone the killing of U.S. servicemen because it was done on behalf of Israel.

More? My friend and colleague Alison Weir was recently speaking in the library at Walnut Creek California. “The Walnut Creek Police Department had phoned Alison ahead of time, concerned over a hate attack posted online a few weeks before the lecture inciting people to disrupt the talk… As expected, these Israel partisans then carried out their plan to try to sabotage the event.”

Alison describes what took place: “A small contingent of ‘Stand With Us’ people had signs outside the library and passed out flyers against Alison inside. About five or six of the protesters then sat in the front row right in front of Alison, while others stood in the back with their signs. During Alison’s talk the SWU people periodically shouted out objections, and then some audience members, fed up with their behavior, shouted at them to stop. At one point the SWU people managed to disrupt things so badly that Alison couldn’t continue speaking for a while, but finally she just spoke loudly right into the microphone and was able to continue. Even though the SWU people eventually grew so disruptive that some were finally removed by the police, Alison was able to give her full presentation. After one of the disrupters – a prominent Israel partisan named Helen Loewenstein – had been removed and used an obscene epithet outside the room, Loewenstein hit an audience member who was videoing her behavior with an iPad. Since this assault occurred right in front of several police officers, the police took Loewenstein away in handcuffs. This is all on video.”

Unfortunately, the experiences of the Liberty survivors and of Alison Weir are all too common. Groups and individuals who seek to speak out against what Israel is doing to the United States are denied space to speak their mind and are confronted by well-funded opposition that is sometimes inclined to use violence to support the “righteousness” of its cause. Recent developments at the University of California system, where attempts are continuing to label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic hate speech threaten to stifle all discussion of Israel-Palestine at colleges nationwide. The increasing number of state laws banning the peaceful Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic are direct attacks on free speech and it will not be long before such legislation appears at the federal level, where trade agreements with Europe are already becoming conditional on European acceptance of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. Hillary Clinton has explicitly promised to do all in her power to oppose BDS.

And why do we object to Israel and much of what it stands for? Because it is a hateful place and because it is increasingly involving the United States in its dreadful policies. A recent first person memoir relating the experiences of Eric Fair, an interrogator in Iraq, “describes, for example, the use by 82nd Airborne soldiers of a brutal device known as the ‘Palestinian chair.’ The interrogators say the Israeli military taught them how to use it during a joint training exercise. Sitting in the specially built chair, a detainee is pitched forward with his head thrust onto his chest and his hands zip-tied near the bottom of the legs. The device forces all of the detainee’s weight onto his thighs. Fair and a friend tried it out for themselves: ‘Maybe it’s not as bad as we’ve made it out to be. We experiment with different positions and tell each other what hurts the most. We agree that having your hands secured to the lowest part of the chair puts the most strain on our legs. What begins as a searing burn in the calves and quads evolves into a tearing sensation in the hamstrings and lower back. You sweat, you shake, you can’t breathe. It is a violent and frightening pain. It’s torture.’

“Once your legs give out, Fair writes, ‘you basically start to suffocate. They say everyone breaks in the chair.” A mayor of Fallujah was subjected to the chair, to devastating effect. Fair observed this interrogation but did not try to stop it: ‘This is a sin. I know it as soon as I see it. There will be no atonement for it.’”

As I recall, Israeli advisers were present at Abu Ghraib and one might also note that they are currently training U.S. police forces in a major federal government funded program sharing their “techniques.” Benjamin Netanyahu recently described Israel as having the “most moral army in the world” after a soldier shot an injured and helpless Palestinian in the head.

And the hatred that drives many Israelis apparently starts even before birth. Jewish mothers-to-be can demand Arab-free hospital rooms. The wife of a Knesset member explained that she “does not want her newborn Jewish infant touched by non-Jewish hands.” The parliamentarian, “not wanting to be outdone himself, stated that he does not want his newborn baby to be in the same room with an Arab infant who a few years from now will try to kill his child.”

If Americans accept that there should be one standard of freedom of speech for friends of Israel and another standard for those who are its critics we might as well resign what remains of our democracy to the dust heap. The wealth and privilege that Israel’s friends enjoy should also bring with it a sense of responsibility, but when the subject is Israel many have difficulty in accepting that all citizens should enjoy the same rights. If it is all right to look the other way when those who have been directly harmed by Israel, to include the Liberty survivors, are denied their rights or when thugs try to disrupt a meeting in a public library, it corrupts and diminishes the freedom that all Americans should enjoy.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: AIPAC, USS Liberty 
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