Former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold should probably buy himself a flak jacket. Gold is scheduled to debate Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University next Thursday and the anti-Israel forces are organizing quite a reception for him.
Goldstone, who chaired the UN Human Rights Council's commission charged with accusing Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, has become a darling of the anti-Israel Left in the weeks since his report accusing Israel of committing both war crimes and crimes against humanity was published last month. And anti-Israeli leftists don't like the idea of someone challenging his libelous attacks against Israel in a public debate at a university.
In an e-mail to a campus list-serve, Brandeis student and anti-Israel activist Jonathan Sussman called on his fellow anti-Zionists to disrupt the event that will pit the "neutral" Goldstone against Gold with his "wildly pro-Zionist message." Sussman invited his list-serve members to join him at a meeting to "discuss a possible response."
As the young community organizer sees it, "Possibilities include inviting Palestinian speakers to come participate, seeding the audience with people who can disrupt the Zionist narrative, protest and direct action." He closed his missive with a plaintive call to arms: "F**k the occupation."
Apparently the aspiring political organizer never considered another possibility: listening to what Gold has to say.
It seems rather unfair to pick on a small fry like Sussman. A brief Web search indicates that Gold's would-be silencer divides his time fairly equally between publishing rambling, Communist verses to paramours and calling for the overthrow of the US government.
The problem is that Sussman's planned "direct action" against Gold is not an isolated incident. On college campuses throughout the US, Israelis and supporters of Israel are regularly denied the right to speak by leftist activists claiming to act on behalf of Israel's "victims," or in the cause of "peace." In the name of the Palestinians or peace these radicals seek to coerce their fellow students into following their lead by demonizing and brutally silencing all voices of dissent.
This, by the way is true regardless of where the speaker fits on the pro-Israel spectrum. Earlier this month former prime minister Ehud Olmert - who during his tenure in office offered the Palestinians more than any of his predecessors - could barely get a word in edgewise above the clamor of students at the University of Chicago cursing him as a war criminal.
While many commentators claim that the situation on college campuses is unique, the fact is that the attempts of leftist activists on campuses to silence non-leftist dissenters regarding Israel and a host of other issues is simply an extreme version of what is increasingly becoming standard operating procedure for leftist activists throughout the US. Rather than participating in a battle of ideas with their ideological opponents on the Right, increasingly, leftist activists, groups and policy-makers seek to silence their opponents through slander, intimidation and misrepresentation of their own agenda.
CASE IN point is J Street. The 18-month old, multi-million dollar American Jewish political action committee held its inaugural convention this week in Washington. J Street seeks to present itself as the representative of a silent majority of American Jews. However, its signature positions - while in line with the Obama administration's policies - are deeply discordant with mainstream American Jewish views.
J Street asserts that Israel must freeze all Jewish construction beyond the 1949 armistice lines; that Israel should withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem and expel all Jews now living beyond the 1949 armistice lines; that the absence of peace is due to the absence of a Palestinian state; that Israel used excessive force in Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report is legitimate. J Street also opposes both sanctions on Iran and military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Just how profoundly out of synch these positions are with the American Jewish community was made clear with last month's publication of the American Jewish Committee's 2009 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion.
According to the survey, a majority of US Jews oppose the Obama administration's call for the prohibition of Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Similarly, the vast majority of US Jews rejects the call for Israel to surrender parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians; believes the cause of the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the Arabs' desire to destroy Israel rather than the absence of a Palestinian state; and supports Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terror. A whopping 94 percent of American Jews believe the Palestinians should be required to accept Israel's right to exist as a precursor to any viable peace. Finally, a solid majority of American Jews supports either a US or an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear installations.
But no matter. Facts are no obstacle for J Street. Just as Sussman smears his opponents to discredit dissenting views, so J Street has not only misrepresented its own place on the American Jewish ideological spectrum. It has misrepresented the position of mainstream American Jewish groups on the ideological spectrum. Owing no doubt to the fact that most American Jews self-identify as liberals, J Street condemns organizations like AIPAC and the ADL as right-wing or conservative or hawkish to try to make American Jews feel uncomfortable supporting them.
At its conference this week J Street's radicalism was on full display. According to the JTA account, one panel discussion featured members of Congress debating the proposition that American Jewish money controls US foreign policy. Congressman Bob Filner (D-California) was reportedly the darling of the crowd for arguing that indeed, Jewish money exerts inordinate and destructive influence over US foreign policy.
Filner related how in 1994 he was one of the few members of Congress who refused to sign onto a resolution condemning an anti-Semitic speech given by Nation of Islam lieutenant Khalid Abdul Muhammad. Filner claimed that by refusing to condemn a public figure's calumny against the Jewish people he lost some $250,000 in electoral contributions in each subsequent election cycle. "That kind of money is an intimidating factor. I raised a lot less in succeeding years, but my conscious was cleared," he bragged.
Filner went on to condemn pro-Israel lobbyists in general. Indeed he insinuated that the act of lobbying on behalf of Israel is inherently treacherous. Filner argued that unlike labor lobbyists who provide some public benefit, pro-Israel lobbyists are dangerous because they convince legislators to take "positions that can lead to war."
Then there was the self-professed "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group's panel discussion on Iran's nuclear program. As James Kirchick reported in The New Republic, the panel included two of Iran's most outspoken apologists in Washington. Both former National Security Council staffer Hillary Mann Leverett and National Iranian-American Council head Trita Parsi asserted a moral and security equivalence between Iran, Israel and the US. Leverett accused opponents of Iran's nuclear program of racism. In her words, those calling for Iran to be denied nuclear weapons are "reinforcing stereotypes of Iranian duplicitousness," and their warnings are "fundamentally racist."
Here we see how just as Sussman seeks to demonize dissenting views, so J Street gives an open forum to radicals who castigate their opponents as illegitimate, racist and treacherous.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the far-left's behavior is its trenchant refusal to acknowledge that it is the far-left. Just as J Street fatuously claims to represent the American Jewish majority, so it claims to be the American Jewish equivalent of the Kadima Party. J Street's Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami told The Jerusalem Post, "The party and the viewpoint that we're closest to in Israeli politics is actually Kadima."
This of course is pure nonsense. Kadima - like every other Zionist political party in Israel - supports strong sanctions on Iran. Indeed, Kadima supports taking whatever steps are necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Beyond that, Kadima waged two wars while it was in office. Both Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War were opposed by the far-left. J Street was outspoken in its criticism of Cast Lead. Moreover, Kadima's leaders have emphatically opposed the Goldstone Report.
So other than its support for the rapid establishment of a Palestinian state, Kadima shares none of J Street's positions.
THE FACT that J Street represents neither mainstream Israeli thinking nor mainstream American Jewish thinking is of little concern to its leadership. J Street represents the Obama administration. In his keynote address before the conference, National Security Adviser James Jones told his cheering audience that J Street has a friend in the Obama White House. As he put it, "You can be sure that this administration will be represented at all other future J Street conferences."
In recent weeks we have discovered that like its agent J Street, and indeed like Sussman at Brandeis, the Obama White House is also dedicated to silencing opposing voices by marginalizing and demonizing dissent. In fact, the White House's modus operandi is startlingly similar to theirs.
There are six national television networks in the US. Five of them support President Barack Obama. One - Fox News - does not. Rather than rejoice in what is an overwhelmingly favorable state of affairs for it, in recent weeks, the Obama White House has gone to war against Fox News. Obama's senior advisers have castigated the network as "the research arm of the Republican Party," and claim daily that it is "not a news organization."
Obama as well as top administration officials boycott Fox programs and are seeking to intimidate friendly news organizations into joining them in isolating Fox. In a spate of recent statements on the subject, Obama's top advisers have warned the other networks not to follow Fox's lead on any of the stories it reports, lest they discover they have allowed themselves to become the tool of the Republicans.
A straight line connects Sussman's rants, J Street's lies and the Obama administration's attempt to destroy a news organization. In each case, actions aimed at silencing debate are falsely characterized as the brave moves of an underdog seeking to confront the evil powers that be. Sussman writes of the need to overthrow the "oligarchs." J Street claims to be breaking the "right-wing stranglehold" on US Israel policy. And Obama's adviser Valerie Jarrett claims that by attacking Fox News, the White House is "speaking truth to power."
Luckily, the falseness of all of these claims has not been lost on the American public. Despite the actions of the likes of Sussman, "wildly pro-Zionist" voices still resonate on college campuses just as they do throughout the US. J Street has been unable to convince American Jews that its anti-Israel positions are the true expression of American Jewish Zionism. And Obama's approval ratings now stand at a mere 51%.
But the fact that these views have not become dominant in America is no reason to be sanguine about the future. That opponents of free speech today occupy the top echelons of power in Washington and are represented at all levels of American society constitutes a critical challenge to the continued vibrancy of American democracy.