Monday, May 25, 2009

Update on David A. Wesley

This is a follow-up post to "David A. Wesley: Information or Obfuscation?" I went to hear Wesley when he was in Ann Arbor on March 20, 2009 and I took notes but never got around to writing about what he said. Now, through reliable intermediaries, come e-mail messages from Wesley's wife, Elana, and one "Jeanie Shaterian, Bay Area coordinator and host, 2009 Wesley book tour."

Ms. Shaterian's message was posted to a list but some of her comments were addressed directly to another list member named Steve, who posted to the same list a somewhat altered text of "David A. Wesley: Information or Obfuscation?." Shaterian calls the piece "a total misrepresentation" and chastises Steve for circulating "that old piece of inaccurate innuendo." But when it comes specific criticisms of the +3,000 word post, Shaterian's message is predictably lacking.

Specifically, on May 23, 2009, Shaterian writes:
Dear Steve,

Thanks for copying the article Nader sent out [link added by PM].

That article on David Wesley is a total misrepresentation. Although he has a deep attachment to his adopted homeland (he emigrated to Israel in 1955), and that deep attachment can be called Zionism, he sees his homeland's only viable future as a nation for all its citizens, a nation whose name will no longer be Israel. His book tour was sponsored by no organizations, least of all the IATF. He was, however keen to speak to people of all political persuasions, especially those outside of the usual bunch who come to Palestine solidarity events. How else do you open minds? David traveled with his wife Elana. They stayed with friends, many of them Palestinian Americans (no hotel bills for nasty organizations to foot), and their airfare came from honoraria at academic and community events. I'm sure he'd be glad to address any concerns you have. He did not come as part of an Israeli PR or hasbara campaign. I'm sure plenty of ISMers can vouch for his integrity.

I'm very sad that you're circulating that old piece of inaccurate innuendo.


Jeanie Shaterian, Bay Area coordinator and host, 2009 Wesley book tour
The same day, responding to Shaterian, Elana Wesley takes up the cudgel against Henry Herskovitz of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends:
Dear Jeanie,
I can't locate the article in Newsweek that is mentioned here. Do you know what is being referred to here?

When Henry first decided that David's trip and talks were being sponsored by the IATF, he stated such an assumption as fact and promptly circulated that totally untrue assumption as fact. The only thing he did to try to clarify - let alone correct - after the fact of that distribution and treatment of his false assumption as fact - was to finally put his assumption as a question at the time of one of David's talks in Ann Arbor which he attended. David responded to his question on the spot, succinctly and unequivocally that the IATF had not sponsored or organized his trip or his talks, and that in his single meeting with Jessica Balaban [link added by PM], who heads that powerful US Jewish conglomeration of organizations, since they have national connections, his only request was that publicity be given to his impending talks, since her affiliated groups exist throughout the US. Jessica willingly agreed to that. David has no bone to pick with that group of organizations, but he does want it made clear that there was no discussion whatsoever of the IATF financing his trip, talks, research, or anything connected with him and his work. He was able to hand Ms. Balaban a copy of his entire US itinerary. Although the answer Henry received was totally clear, Henry never apologized for spreading that false and misleading word, never retracted his words, and never made it clear to his misled readers that he had been mistaken. Henry who envelops himself in a seemingly moral cloak is very quick to accuse and falsely attribute totally inaccurate suppositions as if they were facts, but he is obviously in no hurry to attempt to undo his own irresponsible actions. Based on this contact and experience with Henry and his 'reports' to his readers, I would not trust anything he writes in his 'reports' as if they were facts.

Our overseas airfare was offered to us by a Jewish philanthropist from Los Angeles. No conditions or limitations whatsoever were placed on David or me as to the length, content, geography, audiences, or any other aspect of that trip. We asked to borrow the internal costs of transportation between US cities, intending to use honoraria to return these costs to our benefactor when we arrived in LA. Our benefactor asked us what sum we would need, and when we told him, he immediately and unexpectedly undertook to fund the entire cost of the internal travel as well. The only sponsor of our trip was that lone philanthropist, and we will be eternally grateful to him and his family for their generosity and belief in us both.

No one except Henry on the occasion of one public talk in Ann Arbor has directly confronted David about sponsorship of his trip and his talks. I, as the person who did the overall planning of the trip from coast-to-coast, including insisting that we stay only in private homes and that all those helping us did so on a totally voluntary basis, am in a position to know exactly what happened and what the true situation was.

Since this vitriol and unjustified attempt to place David's work into total disrepute is still making the rounds, might it be necessary to bring Henry to court for libel? Why has he not long since neutralized the lie he disseminated and thus limited the damage he has done?

I would like to make use of the good offices of Anne to pass this notice on to Henry along with all the accompanying comments and articles (including Jeanie's clarification).... Anne, if you have comments of your own to add, please feel free to do so. I would like to also separately receive a copy of what goes to Henry.

David has not yet discussed this situation with me or anyone else, but I take the liberty of giving Henry this one possibility of a public retraction and apology.

My love and blessings to you both,
There are several revealing things to note in these messages. First, Henry Herskovitz did not write most of the blog post in question. The only thing authored by Herskovitz is the 254-word letter, written on behalf of the Middle East Task Force, to David Wesley at the very end of the post. Elana Wesley did not bother to inquire about this, though, and Herskovitz informs me that the Wesleys have still not responded to the letter.

Second, Shaterian asserts David Wesley's "deep attachment to his adopted homeland (he emigrated to Israel in 1955)... can be called Zionism ..." Elana Wesley does not dispute this.

Third, the substance of Elana Wesley's and Jeanie Shaterian's criticism is seemingly focused on the nature of his problematic relationship with the IATF. So, what did David Wesley say when questioned in Ann Arbor about the IATF? My notes of his response paint a slightly different picture than the one presented by his wife and Shaterian. David Wesley said the assistance of the IATF had been "very valuable" and that "one accepts one's allies" though he indicated that he was the one who initiated contact with the IATF. He acknowledged the IATF was promoting his tour and said he "welcomes that much sponsorship."

So, while there is no evidence I aware of that the IATF "organized" Wesley's book tour (and that has been corrected in the original post), he did seek and receive their "very valuable" assistance. The original error, if error it was (and that now seems to be the case), was based on the fact that the IATF had listed Wesley's book tour as an IATF event on their web site. I provided a link to the relevant page in the original post but that link no longer works.

It would be interesting to know the identity of the mysterious "Jewish philanthropist from Los Angeles" who, contra Shaterian, bankrolled the air fare for the entire trip (David Wesley said it was fifty speeches in three months) to the tune of at least several thousand dollars. What are the connections of the Wesleys' "benefactor" to the IATF, its constituent organizations, and the rest of the US Zionist terrorist infrastructure?

Fourth, and this is probably the most telling point, neither of the messages from Elana Wesley or Shaterian addresses the substance of my or Nimer Sultany's critiques of Wesley's book. After all, he is on a book tour and these critiques makes up the bulk of the post.

In closing, I will address a couple more issues from my notes of Wesley's talk. At one point Wesley addressed the issue of how one identifies the indigenous people of Israeli-occupied Palestine. Wesley said that "out of convenience, probably" he would refer to them as "Arabs" instead of Palestinians. This, of course, disregards the evident preference of Palestinian citizens of Israel to identify as Palestinians. But then why should an American-born Jewish Israeli social scientist concern himself with the preferences of Palestinians?
Consciously or not, Wesley's usage harks back to the words of Irgun terrorist-cum-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. To paraphrase Begin's 1969 warning to an Israeli audience: If these are Palestinians then this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, and you are conquerors, not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If these are Palestinians, then this is Palestine and it belongs to a people who lived here before you came.

Wesley described the research behind his book as an "attempt to uncover" the source of pervasive anti-Palestinian discrimination in Israel. He found it "puzzling" that the price charged to Palestinians for land in Israel was three-and-one-half times more than the price charged to Jews. "How could that be?", he wondered. One imagines poor, befuddled Dr. Wesley stumbling around like Mr. Magoo until he suddenly "discovered [sic] the Zionist discourse in Israel." Oh, Wesley, you've done it again!

If only Wesley and his project were as benign as Magoo. As I indicated in my notes, Wesley is a living testament to pervasive anti-Palestinian racism in the so-called peace movement in that so many people (there were 50-60 in attendance when I heard him) would eagerly come to hear a lackluster Jewish scholar who voluntarily left the land of his birth to occupy Jaffa, an ethnically-cleansed city in Israel, talk about something that Palestinians have been complaining about for decades, as even Wesley acknowledges.

During the Q&A, an Arab woman suggested that Wesley was trying to put lipstick on the pig of Zionism and challenged Wesley's notion that foreign-born Jews like himself had an equal claim to the land of Palestine. In true Zionist fashion, Wesley responded that Palestinians only became Palestinians in the encounter with Zionist Jews. This is an idea debunked by Rashid Khalidi in Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. As Khalidi writes, "it is a serious mistake to suggest that Palestinian identity emerged mainly as a response to Zionism" (p. 20). But then why should an American-born Jewish Israeli social scientist concern himself with the work of a Palestinian-American scholar?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Op-Ed on the Morikawa Conference

Below is the text of an opinion piece by Michelle J. Kinnucan on last November's Morikawa Conference. It was submitted and accepted for publication in the Ann Arbor News before the conference. But the opinion page editor later contacted Michelle and told her it wouldn't be published except as a 250-word letter. That was unworkable and it was distributed to some of the conferees as a leaflet. Click here to download the leaflet.

On "Taking Sides" and the 2008 Morikawa Conference

by Michelle J. Kinnucan

The thematic question of this year's Morikawa Conference is: "In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how can Jews, Christians, and Muslims make religion part of the solution, instead of part of the problem?"

Just weeks after September 11, 2001, one of this year's three keynote speakers, Rabbi Marc Gopin, wrote an article entitled, "This War Is About Religion, And Cannot Be Won Without It." The main religion to which Rabbi Gopin refers is Islam and in the article he writes, "The time has come for a war for the soul of Islam."

While I disagree with Rabbi Gopin's diagnosis and prescription (as the late Edward Said observed in 1995, "the best response to terrorism is justice"), I share his assumption that religions are fair game for criticism even by outsiders, such as Gopin is to Islam. Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be "part of the solution" by bringing their universalistic justice traditions to bear upon the conflict. To do this, though, everyone will have to abandon particularistic notions of justice and make all of the narratives and supporting ideologies subject to forthright but fair criticism.

This will require Christians to courageously reject what Jewish theologian Marc H. Ellis calls an "ecumenical deal" requiring "eternal repentance for Christian anti-Jewishness unencumbered by any substantive criticism of Israel." Ellis adds, "Substantive criticism of Israel means, at least from the Jewish side, the reemergence of Christian anti-Jewishness."

Under the terms of the deal, Ellis says, "the main energy of ecumenical gatherings is spent on diverting the question that hovers over all discussions of Jews and Christians: the oppression of the Palestinian people by Jewish Israelis with the support, by commission or omission, of Jewish and Christian partners in the ecumenical dialogue." It is this situation that the late the Rev. Dr. Michael Prior had in mind when he lamented how "thoroughly Zionized Judaism infects the so-called Jewish-Christian dialogue."As Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether states:
... [Western] Christians evade knowing and hence having to speak about [Palestinians] in order not to be denounced as anti-Semitic by those Jews with whom they wish to cultivate 'ecumenical relations.'

Christian repentance for the Holocaust and anti-Semitism have been effectively distorted into a silencing of Western Christians in regard to Palestinian human and civil rights, a view carefully nurtured and reinforced by the Jewish establishment, especially in North America. Any effort to break through this wall of self-censorship of Western Christians in regard to injustice to Palestinians ... encounters built-in walls of ignorance and self-censorship among Christians.
This year's Morikawa Conference could mark the beginning of a break with this sad history. But in promotional materials it is stressed: "This Conference is about religion and enhancing the human condition. It is not about taking sides." This signals, before the Conference has even begun, a profound betrayal of justice, one of the most vital principles of the best of our faith traditions. Justice requires us to takes sides.

In 1993, in its "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic," the Parliament of the World's Religions affirmed: "that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the [world's] religions, and that these form the basis of a global ethic." It declared, "No person should ever be considered or treated as a second-class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever. ... We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse."

Mainstream American Judaism is committed to supporting Israel, the "Jewish state." Israel is built upon past and ongoing domination, abuse, and violence facilitated by decisive American financial, diplomatic, and military support. The Rev. Naim Ateek, the Palestinian founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, eloquently describes the resulting situation on the ground in his 2001 Easter message:
Here in Palestine Jesus is again walking the Via Dolorosa. Jesus is the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint, the woman trying to get through to the hospital for treatment, the young man whose dignity is trampled, the young student who cannot get to the university to study, the unemployed father who needs to find bread to feed his family; the list is tragically getting longer, and Jesus is there in their midst suffering with them. He is with them when their homes are shelled by tanks and helicopter gunships. He is with them in their towns and villages, in their pains and sorrows.

In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.
To look at it less metaphorically, in 2008 alone, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, Israelis have, thus far, killed 434 Palestinians, 86 of whom were minors. The respective figures for Israelis killed by Palestinians are 30 and 4.

Just as people of conscience and faith opposed militarized, state-identified religion in the service of South African apartheid and today oppose it in the service of the US "War on Terror," they must also today oppose such religion in the service of Israel and Zionism. As the "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic" concludes: "Let no one be deceived: There is no survival for humanity without global peace! ... Let no one be deceived: There is no global peace without global justice!"

Contra the call of the Morikawa Conference, both faithfulness and justice demand that we do "take sides." As the Rev. Allan Boesak, a Black South African anti-apartheid activist, wrote in 1977: "Neutrality, as you know, is the most abominable demonstration of partiality because it means choosing the side of power and injustice without assuming responsibility for them." As Elie Wiesel, put it in his 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere."

Christians and other people of faith and conscience would do well to consider the example of this year's University of Michigan Wallenberg Endowment honoree. Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to prominence as a result of his active opposition to South African apartheid but the disappearance of that racist state has not silenced him. On April 13, 2002, he told a Boston audience:
... the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic, as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. ...

People are scared in this country to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful–very powerful. Well, so what? This is God's world. For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
This is, indeed, God's world and as the Psalmist reminds us "The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed." Fortified by Tutu's inspiring words and example let us go forth confidently "to say wrong is wrong," to challenge Zionism—Christian and Jewish, and to do our part to work for justice and to toss Israeli apartheid onto the dust heap of history. The Morikawa Conference is as good a place as any to start.

About the author: Michelle J. Kinnucan is a member of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor and she can be contacted [via]. Her writing has previously appeared in, Critical Moment, Palestine Chronicle, Arab American News, and elsewhere. Her 2004 investigative report on the Global Intelligence Working Group was featured in Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Pr., 2004) and she contributed a chapter to Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise (Peter Lang, 2006).

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