Left-wing Critics of Israel Launch Blog To Combat Alleged Intimidation

By Rebecca Spence

Published February 09, 2007, issue of February 09, 2007.
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In the wake of an increasing flurry of attacks leveled against left-wing Jewish groups by their right-wing counterparts, one dovish group is fighting back.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a San Francisco-based organization, recently launched a blog to track what it describes as a growing epidemic of intimidation and harassment from fellow Jews seeking to stifle open debate over America’s policy on Israel. The inception of the daily blog, MuzzleWatch.com, comes as one influential centrist organization, the American Jewish Committee, is facing fierce criticism for publishing an essay charging that Jews on the left, with their vocal criticisms of Israel, are helping to breed a virulent new form of antisemitism.

“As we’ve become more effective and more visible, there’s definitely been an increase in the backlash,” said Cecilie Surasky, communications director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which in the last year has grown from a local Bay Area group into a national organization with five chapters in major cities, including Boston and Washington. “Groups aren’t fighting fair,” she said.

While internecine squabbles within the Jewish community are nothing new, the tenor of hostilities between groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum seem to be reaching a fever pitch not felt in years. As left-wing activists contend that they face increasingly hostile attacks from hawkish groups, right-wing critics charge that their Jewish foes present a growing danger to Israel, already under siege from the international community and facing the prospect of a nuclear threat from Iran. Even a branch of the Israeli government has weighed in, with the consul general of Los Angeles, Ehud Danoch, asserting in a report he issued to the Israeli Foreign Ministry that Jewish groups, presumably left wing, are harming Israel’s image by sponsoring tours of ex-Israeli soldiers who speak out against alleged Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories.

In recent months, those same Jewish groups also have been targeted by hawkish organizations. The Union of Progressive Zionists, a 60-campus student activist network that has co-hosted events with Breaking the Silence, one of two groups of dissident soldiers cited in the Israeli diplomat’s report, came under fire from the Zionist Organization of America, which attempted to oust the progressive union from a pro-Israel campus coalition. The ZOA charged that the UPZ’s affiliation with Breaking the Silence sullied Israel’s image on campus, in direct contravention of the Israel on Campus Coalition’s mission of bolstering the Jewish state’s standing in academia.

While the ZOA’s effort to expel the UPZ from the 31-member alliance was unsuccessful, the call to banish the group is gaining traction in some circles. The American Jewish Congress is weighing whether to resign from the ICC as a result of the progressive union’s continued inclusion. And this week, Janet Lehr, a hawkish activist, circulated an e-mail message asking recipients to send e-mails to ICC members protesting the executive committee’s decision to keep the liberal Zionists in the coalition.

Privately, left-wing Jewish activists say they have been the targets of acts designed to intimidate them. Tikun Olam, a liberal Jewish blog, reported that an anonymous e-mail message was sent last spring to Adam Horowitz, an employee of the American Friends Service Committee — which has strongly condemned Israeli policy — with the subject line “Why do you hate being a Jew, why are you in favor of murdering Jews?” According to the blog, Horowitz discovered that the e-mail had been sent by Allyson Rowen Taylor, who is the new associate director of Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization active on California campuses. At the time that the message was sent, Taylor was an assistant regional director at the West Coast office of the AJCongress.

In an interview with the Forward, Taylor confirmed that she had indeed sent the message. “I shouldn’t have done it,” she said. “But the things they were saying were so disgusting that I basically lashed out.” Taylor explained that she had been monitoring some of Horowitz’s e-mail chats without his knowledge. She also said that she sent the message from her personal account and did not do so in the name of any organization.

In the public realm, it’s not just right-wing organizations that are lining up to criticize left-wing groups. The AJCommittee, an establishment group that takes a wide range of positions, recently published “’Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” an essay claiming that left-wing Jewish intellectuals are promoting antisemitism by critiquing Israel. Authored by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a professor at Indiana University, the report cites Jewish Voice for Peace, the organization behind MuzzleWatch.com, as among a raft of groups whose endgame is the dissolution of the Jewish state.

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace say that the organization does not take a position on whether Israel should be a Jewish state. Surasky explained that the organization’s central focus is on challenging American policies that “are perpetuating the occupation and human rights violations there.” She contended that the AJCommittee report amounts to a blacklist of Jewish organizations. The AJCommittee did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Another target of the AJCommittee report, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, used his February 6 column to sound off against the essay. The report included Cohen in a list of prominent left-wing Jewish intellectuals, including historian Tony Judt, poet Adrienne Rich and playwright Tony Kushner, all of whom Rosenfeld accused of abetting antisemitism with their writings.

Writing in his defense in The Washington Post, Cohen said that he has penned more than 90 columns on antisemitism, “most of them full-throated condemnations of the hatred that killed fully one-third of all Jews during my lifetime.” He continued, “So it comes as a surprise that has the force of a mugging to be accused of aiding the very people I so hate — of being an abettor of something called ‘The New Anti-Semitism’.”

In the United Kingdom, a similar debate is raging in Jewish circles. Saying that Britain’s mainstream Jewish groups have stifled a free discourse on Israeli policies, about 130 generally leftist Jews have formed their own group, Independent Jewish Voices. Signatories to a public letter declaring the nascent group’s principles include playwright Harold Pinter, filmmaker Mike Leigh and fashion designer Nicole Farhi.

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