In his June 21 column, Peter Beinart accused The Israel Project of wanting to suppress the video of an anti-Israel event held on Capitol Hill on June 8. If we had wanted to suppress the video, we would not have drawn attention to it.
Beinart described the event as being about “the Palestinian experience under Israeli control.” That’s misleading, but there’s another element that can’t be ignored: Each one of the speakers is not just an advocate for Palestinian statehood, but also an advocate of the destruction of Israel.
By leaving out the viewpoints of the speakers, Beinart did what he accused TIP of doing: exporting ignorance.
Each of the speakers at the event is an advocate for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, which, by the admission of its founders, isn’t about creating a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state; it’s about advocating for the destruction of the Jewish one.
The event in question, called No Way To Treat a Child, was sponsored by Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan and was a joint project of Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCI-P) and the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee.
The program and speakers were introduced by Jennifer Bing of AFSC. According to NGO Monitor, an organization that shines a light on otherwise unaccountable organizations operating in Israel, AFSC “actively promotes boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel; accuses Israel of ‘apartheid against Palestinians’; and advocates for the ‘right of return,’ meaning the end of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”
The first speaker, Omar Shakir, is the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch. HRW has a long record of accepting poorly sourced charges against Israel, but Shakir’s record is particularly bad. According to NGO Monitor, as a legal fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Shakir promoted BDS tactics at public events and represented Steven Salaita in his lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2014, Salaita was fired by the university for posting a series of Twitter messages, including “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”
Shakir, by the way, is one of a number of anti-Israel activists hired by HRW, calling into question the organization’s objectivity when covering Israel.
The next speaker was Brad Parker, a staff attorney at DCI-P, which, according to NGO Monitor, “supports BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) campaigns against Israel and is an active participant in lobbying the U.N., EU, and other international bodies to promote this agenda.” They add that Parker himself has “accused the U.S. government of playing a ‘role in blocking international efforts to hold Israel accountable’ in the face of ‘damning evidence of war crimes.’”
Parker was followed by Yazan Meqbil, a Palestinian student attending college in the United States. While not formally associated with any organization advocating BDS, a quick check of Meqbil’s Twitter timeline shows him favorably retweeting items by the BDS-supporting organization Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (or BDS Movement).
Nadia Ben-Youssef, the American representative of Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, was the final speaker at the event. Adalah, NGO Monitor has reported, “was involved in a ‘platform’ released by the Movement for Black Lives (MBL) that supports BDS and calls Israel ‘an apartheid state committing genocide.’” Ben-Youssef was originally cited as one of the authors of that document, but her name was later removed.
In all, there were five speakers at the event, and each one is involved in the campaign to destroy Israel. They are not critics of Israel, but rather opponents of its existence.
Maybe Beinart doesn’t trust NGO Monitor’s reporting, despite the links it provides to the speaker’s own words or from sympathetic sources. NGO Monitor’s work shows that many NGOs operating in Israel are hostile not to Israel policies, but often to Israel’s very existence.
In this respect, Ben-Youssef gave away the game, not just in terms of her own views, but also in terms of the event on Capitol Hill. She didn’t say that the problems between Israelis and Palestinians go back 50 years, beginning with Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Rather, she declared: “Nakba. Remember that name, say that name. It means catastrophe in Arabic, and it refers to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.” Ben-Youssef explicitly objected to Israel’s existence, and no one at the event protested.
While Beinart proclaimed, “I believe that in a post-Holocaust world, it’s important to have one country on earth that assumes a special obligation to protect Jewish life,” Ben-Youssef’s admission doesn’t seem to have rattled him. In our video, we tried to make it easy by emphasizing her comments, so it’s surprising that he didn’t see it.
Given the extreme anti-Israel bias of the five speakers, all their claims must be judged with a level of skepticism, but Beinart — an academic, no less — simply quoted them uncritically. Yet he had the gall to say that we were exporting ignorance.
But maybe he isn’t being hypocritical. Maybe Beinart really believes that deniers are essential to any debate. A few years ago, Beinart ran an online forum called Open Zion. When the project ended, he wrote a self-congratulatory retrospective of the enterprise.
He took pride in two of the authors whom he engaged to contribute:
“Getting Palestinians to write, I was told, would be impossible. By including the word ‘Zion,’ we had pulled up the drawbridge. But instead of saying no, Yousef Munayyer and Maysoon Zayid tested us. They equated Israeli policy with apartheid and insisted the country was built on ethnic cleansing. They argued that the very idea of a Jewish state was racist. For some of our Jewish editors, myself included, it was hard to read and harder to publish.”
The testing to which Beinart referred is that he was accepted into what was to be a forum that could be critical of Zionism, contributors who are outright opposed to Zionism and Israel. This is not unlike expressing pride about having the Ku Klux Klan contribute to a journal on race relations in the United States. It is an argument that no sane person would make. Yet Beinart appears to believe that in order to have a proper discussion about Israel, one must include advocates for its elimination. This does not enhance the debate. It is simply insanity.
Josh Block is the CEO and president of The Israel Project.