Standing against Israel’s propaganda

February 10, 2011

Mark Clinton, a professor of political science at Holyoke Community College, shares an open letter he sent to the interim president of Hampshire College about a recent protest of a speech given by a member of the Israel Defense Force.

VETERANS OF the Israel Defense Force (IDF) have opened a new front for psychological warfare operations (what Zionists call hasbara) in the U.S., speaking on college campuses in an effort to "humanize" the IDF and deflect attention from its institutional responsibility for war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Last fall, Sgt. Kenny Sachs spoke at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Approximately 50 activists mobilized by the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine (WMCP) disrupted his presentation, using tactics modeled after protests staged earlier in the semester at the University of Michigan and Arizona State University.

The hasbara offensive in Western Massachusetts opened this spring with a thinly disguised recruitment pitch for the IDF delivered by Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, the self-described founder of Our Soldiers Speak, at Hampshire College on Thursday, February 3.

Sgt. Anthony's talk was sponsored by the David Project, which has a history of circulating Islamophobic propaganda; the Hasbara Fellowships, which is linked to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the international arm of Aish HaTorah, an extremist settler group in Israel that has erected a one-ton model of the "Third Temple" close to the Western Wall in Jerusalem as a warning of "what's to come" for Muslims living in the city; and Stand With Us, a group actively involved in "pink-washing" Israel and whose members recently pepper-sprayed members of Jewish Voice for Peace during a meeting.

Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine, supported by the WMCP and other local social justice organizations, mobilized to confront Sgt. Anthony and make clear that apologists for Israeli racism and oppression are not welcome on our campuses or in our communities.

A film representation of our protest inside the auditorium is not available, for reasons explained in the open letter that follows.

The protest at Hampshire underscores the urgency of developing tactical flexibility, studying the tactics and tendencies of hasbara organizations as they emulate the Pentagon in "perception management," and creatively seeking ways to communicate our principled solidarity with the demand of the Palestinian people for self-determination.

An open letter to Marlene Gerber Fried, interim president of Hampshire College

February 6, 2011

Dear Dr. Gerber Fried,

On Thursday, February 3, I attended the so-called lecture delivered by Sergeant Benjamin Anthony, an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reservist, at Hampshire College.

I was so shocked--and I do not shock easily--by the role that members of Hampshire's administration appeared to play in facilitating Sgt. Anthony's hate-mongering recruitment pitch for the IDF that my conscience will not let me rest until I register my discontent with you.

If I had any doubts about the need to send you this open letter, they vanished after I read your letter of Friday, February 4, to the Hampshire College community, which a friend shared with me after I had written the first draft of my letter to you.

Your letter, which purports to represent an event you did not attend, is clearly based on "reports" from members of your own administrative team and, perhaps, supporters of Sergeant Anthony who were in attendance.

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you frankly that I was struck by its injudicious absence of the investigatory and critical spirit I would expect from a philosopher.

It is, I think, compelling evidence of the soul-deadening burden of overseeing an administrative apparatus.

At the outset, I must say that if the objective of Hampshire's administration in its "facilitation" of Sergeant Anthony's appearance was that of allowing Hampshire students and community members who attended a small taste of the oppression that Palestinians experience on a daily basis, I believe that you succeeded.

THE EVENT began late, and one entrance to the auditorium was closed for no apparent reason. When those of us waiting there to enter inquired why we could not use what appeared to be a perfectly functional doorway, we were given no answer.

After waiting what seemed an interminable period in the lobby, people were finally allowed to enter the auditorium in single file while security guards counted us.

I kept nervously fingering my wallet, expecting at any moment to be asked for my identification papers, especially as I have a rather full beard and was wearing a keffiyeh as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Given what transpired as the event began, I am somewhat surprised in retrospect that I was not refused admission to the auditorium because I was "disrespectfully" attired. Members of Hampshire's administration began the event by enjoining the audience to listen respectfully and warning them sternly that anyone who disrupted or filmed the lecture would be removed from the auditorium.

At the same time we were informed rather peremptorily that Sergeant Anthony's private security team would be filming the event.

I could not help but wonder why Hampshire College was so interested in protecting Sergeant Anthony's privacy as he delivered a public lecture (I recognized him instantly, by the way, since his photograph is widely available on the Internet) while having no discernible interest whatsoever in protecting the privacy of anyone who had a strong enough stomach or a weak enough heart to sit "respectfully" while he spewed his hate-filled bilge over the audience.

To hear Sergeant Anthony tell it, the IDF is the victim of a mainstream media that can only be motivated by anti-Semitism, which apparently was intended to explain why they actually covered the IDF's violently disproportional attacks on Lebanon in 2006, on Gaza in 2008-2009, and on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last year.

While I wondered how Sergeant Anthony would attempt to explain that same media's overwhelming silence regarding the quotidian violence and oppression of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and how I could manage to hold my peace, a young man whom I happened to be sitting behind rose and in a calm, loud voice observed that Israel's occupation of Palestine de-legitimized Israel.

A member of your administration hurried over to inform the young man that if he did not stop disrupting the event, security would remove him from the auditorium.

As this warning was delivered, supporters of Sergeant Anthony and, presumably, Israeli aggression, shouted invectives at the young man.

I know it probably wasn't respectful, but I could not resist asking the member of your administrative team if he was going to warn these members of the audience that they too would be removed.

I am certain that he heard me since he glared at me with what I could only interpret as contemptuous hostility and then turned on his heel without warning anyone else about their disruptive behavior.

TO ME, the message was crystal clear: anyone who dared express dissent during Sergeant Anthony's verbal barrage would be charged with disruption and cleared from the room, while it was open season for audience members who vocally supported Sergeant Anthony; they could say anything they pleased to the dissidents.

That Sergeant Anthony's supporters reached roughly the same conclusion would appear to be indicated by the fact that one of them felt empowered to refer to a dissident in the audience as a "faggot" without reproach by any member of your administration.

It took another student rising and informing the homophobe that he too was a "faggot" and that the use of that word to characterize another human being was unacceptable to shame the homophobe sufficiently that he left the auditorium.

For those of us who did leave the auditorium of our own volition--and in the interests of full disclosure, I was one of the people who participated in an organized walkout during the "lecture," walking in front of Sergeant Anthony and showing him the name of a Palestinian child killed during Operation Cast Lead (I guess that was why he needed a private security force--to protect him from exposure to the facts on the ground that disclose the unmistakable evidence of Israeli war crimes and discredit Israel's attempt to maintain its master narrative of the fabled Israeli purity of arms)--Hampshire security announced that no right of return existed.

This rule, apparently created on the spur of the moment, was applied inflexibly, much to the surprise of people who had left for such a perfectly innocent reason as the need to use the restrooms.

The security guard enforcing this rule at the one functional entrance to the auditorium not only refused to give his name when one young man asked for it, he also conspicuously covered his name badge with one hand while engaging in this refusal, keeping it covered for several minutes.

Hampshire's chief of security finally appeared and spoke to the group who had gathered in and around the stairwell adjoining the entrance, addressing us with what I can only describe as contemptuous hostility (I know that the phrase is redundant, but I cannot think of a better one.)

The security chief did finally inform us, "His name is Officer Erickson."

He refused to answer any other questions, however.

In short, your administrative team and security officers did not so much provide neutral facilitation for Sergeant Anthony's "lecture" as protection for a thug who had brought his own bullies with him, creating an atmosphere of intimidation.

I think it is a credit to Hampshire students expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people that they steadfastly displayed the courage of their convictions, and I am proud to be associated with them.

I have spent a great deal of time describing my observations of the fundamental procedural unfairness with which the event was conducted because there is actually nothing to say about the intellectual substance of the so-called lecture.

It was simply, as I observed in my opening paragraph, a hate-mongering recruitment pitch for the IDF, as I am sure you can assure yourself if you ask Sergeant Anthony to provide you with an unedited copy of the filmic record his security team made of the event.

In closing, I do have one question, however.

If Hampshire College does indeed intend to provide its students and members of the Pioneer Valley Community with all "sides" to contested issues of public discourse, when may I expect to receive an invitation to attend a recruitment speech by a member of Hamas that Hampshire's administration will facilitate as subserviently as it did the appearance of Sergeant Anthony?

Mark Clinton, Ph.D., professor of Political Science, Holyoke Community College (for identification purposes only)

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