Monday, February 23, 2009

LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE: Park Slope Food Co-op: not yet considering Israel boycott

Park Slope Food Co-op: not considering Israel boycott

Last week, I posted a piece from the Forward indicating the Park Slope Food Coop is weighing whether to boycott Israeli products. They, and I, got only a part of the story, and we got it wrong. In fact, an anonymous individual stood up during the public comment portion of a coop general meeting. She identified herself as South African in origin and compared Israel to Aparheid South Africa. She asked whether the coop carries Israeli products (it does have a few, as she readily could have found out for herself with a little research). Then she said that the coop should boycott Israeli products.

Thus far, she has not followed up and had not submitted a written proposition for the next general meeting to consider. She has not scheduled debate of the issue at the next meeting. She has not garnered any significant visible support for the boycott idea. All that's happened is that she stood up and spoke extemporaneously. There's no indication that she's done anything about this since.

On the other hand, as Gersh Kuntzman, a coop member/worker who also happens to edit a local paper (The Brooklyn Paper), has written that this isn't the first such proposal. He found (here, page 11 of the pdf) two letters to the coop newsletter from a member supporting a boycott. Not exactly a groundswell and not exactly a news story. Less than meets the eye.

In the words of Allen Zimmerman, a coop administrator (read here: comment #8):

The Park Slope Food Coop has 15, 000 members, 3 of whom have expressed their opposition to the Israel conflict in Gaza. The issue of a boycott was raised by a single member at our January membership meeting during our open microphone period, and no one else spoke on this at all. That is the entire extent of this issue so far. I am part of the management team at the coop. When Fox News came to interview me on 2/19, they roamed the store, interviewing members. Later, I asked them how it went. They told me that they were unable to find a coop member who favored a boycott of Israel. They were disappointed, because like me, they couldn’t find the tempest in our teapot

For the record: The Park Slope Food Co-op is NOT considering a ban on Israeli-made or -grown products.

This myth, reported around the globe by the Jewish Forward and dozens of blogs that seem to regard the 16,000-member supermarket as some kind of anti-Israel committee rather than a great place for produce, evolved from a stray comment at an open meeting in January, when a Co-op member who identified herself only as Hima inquired about whether the Co-op sells Israeli products.

“I don’t know whether or not we carry Israeli products,” she said, “but I propose that we no longer carry them.”

Sorry, Hima, but that’s now how it works at America’s largest, member-run food cooperative. Stray comments at a Park Slope Food Co-op general meeting don’t become Co-op law until — and please believe me because I know this from personal experience — extensive debate, discussion and more mudslinging than at an organic composting facility.

And that’s just to get the item on the AGENDA for an upcoming meeting! You should have seen the battle over selling beer! An earlier proposal to sell meat nearly ended in murder (of humans, not cattle)!

Alas, the above fact doesn’t matter to America’s blogosphere, which ran with the story that the Co-op was considering a blockade of Israel.

“Park Slope Food Coop Bans Israeli Food,” read the headline on New York Magazine’s Grub Street blog.

“Food Fight: Brooklyn Co-op Mulls Israel Ban,” read the headline in the original Forward article that set off the explosion of coverage.

Only the New York Post seems to have gotten the story right — by doing what it does best: taking the grain of truth and calling Assemblyman Dov Hikind to get angry about it.

“‘Ban Israel’ bid mushrooms into B’klyn Food Fight,” said the Post headline — accurate, of course, because the Post went out and created the “food fight” itself.

Like any decent reporter, I heard about Hima’s comments at the January meeting and knew there was a great story here. But unlike most of the bloggers and chatterboxes masquerading as reporters these days, a few phone calls and a little shoe-leather investigating revealed that Hima did not do the necessary paperwork to get her “Israel ban” on the agenda for the February meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Oh, and there’s paperwork! The instructions alone on “How to Develop an Agenda Item for the General Meeting,” is two pages, single-spaced. Then the submission form for said agenda item requires an essay.

Hima didn’t do it (for now, at least), so in other words, the Park Slope Food Co-op is NOT considering a ban on Israeli goods — currently persimmons, red peppers and sometimes, mushrooms — at its February general meeting.

This is not to say that talk of a ban won’t come up again. After all, such a ban would find plenty of support among the peaceniks who prowl the aisles at the Food Co-op. From my years as a Co-op member, I have seen the supermarket take positions on a wide variety of liberal causes — most of them having to do with non-violence and the environment, including the well-publicized ban on plastic bags and bottled water.

Indeed, there are plenty of members of the Co-op who think Israel’s battle with rocket-launching Gaza militants is evidence that the Jewish state is a violent thug. There are others, judging by letters in supermarket’s house organ, the Linewaiter’s Gazette, who think Israel’s treatment of its Arab population is the equivalent of Apartheid.

And there are others, of course, who think the Co-op is a supermarket that should focus on what it does best: selling low-cost, organic produce to a diverse collection of Brooklynites, from Muslims to orthodox Jews to atheists to vegans.

But whatever your opinion on Israel — and persimmons — however, the Co-op’s “Israel ban” is a myth.

At least, for now.



Gersh Kuntzman

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brooklyn Food Co-op Weighs Israel Boycott

UPDATE: I was interviewed (briefly) by Fox News in connection with this story.  In case I don't make the cut on what they broadcast, here's what I said: "It's a ridiculous double-standard to penalize Israel for doing what any nation would do to defend itself."  

The co-op has about 14,000 members, most of whom don't bother to vote on resolutions brought up at general meetings, although this one may prove to be an exception.  So far, the only person I know to support it is the person who propsed it, who has declined to state her last name.  (In fairness to her, the negative publicity around this makes her decision to remain semi-anonymous seem understandable.)  

My sense is that this boycott will not be approved, although it has the potential to attract some support.  It's effect may be to spur rancorour debate which will create pointless divisions and hurt feelings within the co-op.  

No other nation, with the exception of South Africa, has been boycotted by the co-op.  The co-op has, over the years, sold products from nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa with histories of human rights abuses.  It does, however, make a good faith effort to stock fair trade, environmentally sound products from small producers.

By the way, the boycott proponents have not asked the co-op to stock Palestinian products, which seems to me to be more likely to actually improve the lives of Palestinians.  Funny ... now that I think of it ... boycott / divestment advocates rarely do push for investment in Palestinian businesses.  If they, and if the Palestinians themselves, had focused more on positive moves to grow the Palestinian economy, just think where it could be today.



Located in the heart of Brooklyn, near Prospect Park, the Park Slope Food Coop is at the nexus of the borough’s many diverse Jewish populations. From the liberal Jews of Park Slope to the Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights, the coop is one of the few places in Brooklyn where Jews of all denominations converge in a shared mission: to buy natural foods at reasonable prices.

But the co-op’s unusual Jewish character is being tested by a proposal to ban products bought from Israel, such as the persimmons and red peppers that are currently in the produce aisle.

Since Israel’s Gaza operation, there has been a rash of campaigns around the world to divest from Israel and to boycott the Jewish state. At Hampshire College this month, a spat ensued when a pro-Palestinian student group erroneously announced that the school was the first American college to divest from Israel. Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe’er was denied a visa to play at a major tournament in Dubai, and Britain has experienced ongoing efforts to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The proposal at the co-op is not likely to be economically meaningful; perhaps a few shipments of vegetables are at stake.  But the debate is taking place in a rare hotbed of diverse Jewish life.

“There are so many Jews who shop there, there are so many Israelis who shop there, there’s a huge number of frum people from all over Brooklyn who shop there,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn’s largest and most active reform congregation, Beth Elohim, “so my guess is that if it passes, and I want to emphasize that I don’t think it will, they will lose a lot of members.”

Bachman’s congregation is known as a hub for Brooklyn’s progressive Jews, and it has served as a home for the co-op’s monthly meetings, including the one at which the boycott proposal was first raised.

Bachman said he received several e-mails on the subject, a few of which came from congregants asking if the synagogue was taking any action.  Bachman said that his only plan is to attend the meeting when the ban is discussed, and place his name on a list of people who would like to speak.  He said that if the ban does pass, it is likely that the synagogue will ask the co-op to find a different space to rent for its general meetings.

“It will remain an irrelevant gesture to 5 million Israelis and 2 million Palestinians, but it will make someone in Park Slope feel really good about themselves,” he said. That’s what this is about; it’s about the political purity, which is part of Park Slope’s unique self-absorption.

“Bachman does not, though, speak for all Brooklyn Jews, despite having founded an organization with that name. Carol Wald, a Jewish co-op member living in the area, was one of two people to send letters to the co-op’s home-grown newspaper, the Linewaiters’ Gazette, encouraging the boycott discussion.

“All points of view really need to be heard,” she said. “If we start proposing things like boycotts, it’ll prompt more discussion, and that’ll help educate people.”

Since it was founded in 1973, the co-op has grown into a neighborhood institution with a membership of nearly 15,000.  All members are required to work monthly shifts.  According to Allen Zimmerman, general coordinator and produce buyer at the co-op, that philosophy attracts people from all walks of life.

“A lot of people are here for the tofu, but a lot of people are here for the beef and pork,” he said.

On the Jewish side, the co-op has its own kosher committee, which vets purchases of kosher meat and other products.

The push for an Israel boycott adds to the co-op’s long history of political action.  Nestlé products were voted out by the membership, because of the company’s campaign to promote infant formula instead of breastfeeding, and members rallied around a ban of South African goods during the apartheid regime.

The proposal to boycott Israeli goods was first raised by a woman who gives her name as Hima B., a co-op member of South Asian decent, during the “open forum” at the general meeting in January.  She faced no vocal opposition, according to people who were there, and was told to create an agenda item for a general meeting in the future.

“She spoke for less than 60 seconds, and nobody questioned it,” said Zimmerman, who was in attendance that night, along with an estimated 275 others.

Hima said she has since recruited 10 other members and hopes to put the issue on the agenda for an upcoming general meeting.

“There have been other attempts in the past to call for a boycott of Israeli goods. I don’t think it went anywhere,” she said.  A member for nearly five years, Hima was motivated to take action after learning more about the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.  “Economic sanctions worked in South Africa. Why shouldn’t we ask for an end to practices that are violating human rights?” she said.

Though many members are unaware of the proposal — only the most active go to the general meeting, or read the Linewaiters’ Gazette — Jewish groups and synagogues have been sending e-mails and making phone calls.

Many believe that such a boycott could never pass, given the co-op’s diversity.

Michael Barrish, a 48-year-old Web developer who was shopping on February 17, said the ban is absurd. He believes it would be shouted down by Jews who support Israel, and laughed at by those who find a ban of this nature preposterous. But, Barrish said, “I like being a member of a place in which you can propose what you believe.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hampshire College did not divest from companies doing business in Israel...or did they?

Earlier today I posted the following:


Contrary to numerous reports by the usual suspects (here and here and here and here) Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Amherst, Mass., has not divested any investments in response to anti-Israel activism.   A student group called Students for Justice In Palestine (a group which clearly knows the value of a huge wikipedia page filled with irrelevent propaganda, but not the importance of telling the truth) issued a press release falsely claiming that their campaign for divestment was succesful.  They and their friends are now relishing the resulting attention this false claim has brought.  At long last the divestment movement can claim a victory!  Let's see whether they -- and the media outlets who reported their claims without verification -- will now correct the record.



A Massachusetts college denied the claim of a pro-Palestinian student group that it divested from Israel.

The board of trustees of Hampshire College approved a proposal on Feb. 7 to divest school assets from an investment fund found to include 200 companies that violated the college's standards for social responsibility. Violations included unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing and unsafe workplace settings.

The proposal resulted from a review prompted by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. The group named six companies it accused of profiting from or supporting Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Following the board decision, the pro-Palestinian students released a statement claiming that Hampshire is the first American college to divest from Israel.

But school officials say their decision had nothing to do with Israel. Three of the six companies failed a screen for socially responsible investing based on their sales of military equipment, employee safety record and other violations, according to a spokesman. Two of the companies named by the student group -- Motorola and Terex -- passed the screen, the spokesman said. A sixth company, United Technologies, was unlisted.

Divestment efforts and academic boycotts of Israel have largely failed, in the United States and abroad. A divestment push at Harvard University drew a rebuke from Lawrence Summers, then the university president and current Obama administration official. Summers said efforts to single out Israel for divestment are anti-Semitic "in their effect, if not their intent."

After further reflection, I need to correct a factual error in the original post, and ask a question about Hampshire College's denial.  First of all, the correction: Hampshire College apparently did divest in response to the petition of the anti-Israel group: they deny only that their rationale for divesting was the connection to Israel.   

My question for the college is this: if their reason for divesting was not due to the connection to Israel but to the other reasons they cited, have they singled out the investments specified on the list in the petition or have they applied the same standards across the board?   

If the college divested in response to the anti-Israel petition, but are doing so for other reasons, they have certainly created the impression that they support anti-Israel divestiture.  Their claim that such divestment is distinct from an overt anti-Israel action is false.  This may be a case of deliberate attempt to muddy the waters, or a case of inadvertent self-deception, but they certainly have to set the record straight and establish a firm policy which they apply universally.  Anything else would be a double-standard.

They need to clarify their position.

Hampshire College did not divest from companies doing business in Israel...or did they?

Earlier today I posted the following:

Contrary to numerous reports by the usual suspects (here and here and here and here) Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Amherst, Mass., has not divested any investments in response to anti-Israel activism.   A student group called Students for Justice In Palestine (a group which clearly knows the value of a huge wikipedia page filled with irrelevent propaganda, but not the importance of telling the truth) issued a press release falsely claiming that their campaign for divestment was succesful.  They and their friends are now relishing the resulting attention this false claim has brought.  At long last the divestment movement can claim a victory!  Let's see whether they -- and the media outlets who reported their claims without verification -- will now correct the record.



A Massachusetts college denied the claim of a pro-Palestinian student group that it divested from Israel.

The board of trustees of Hampshire College approved a proposal on Feb. 7 to divest school assets from an investment fund found to include 200 companies that violated the college's standards for social responsibility. Violations included unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing and unsafe workplace settings.

The proposal resulted from a review prompted by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. The group named six companies it accused of profiting from or supporting Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Following the board decision, the pro-Palestinian students released a statement claiming that Hampshire is the first American college to divest from Israel.

But school officials say their decision had nothing to do with Israel. Three of the six companies failed a screen for socially responsible investing based on their sales of military equipment, employee safety record and other violations, according to a spokesman. Two of the companies named by the student group -- Motorola and Terex -- passed the screen, the spokesman said. A sixth company, United Technologies, was unlisted.

Divestment efforts and academic boycotts of Israel have largely failed, in the United States and abroad. A divestment push at Harvard University drew a rebuke from Lawrence Summers, then the university president and current Obama administration official. Summers said efforts to single out Israel for divestment are anti-Semitic "in their effect, if not their intent."

After further reflection, I need to correct a factual error in the original post, and ask a question about Hampshire College's denial.  First of all, the correction: Hampshire College apparently did divest in response to the petition of the anti-Israel group: they deny only that their rationale for divesting was the connection to Israel.   

My question for the college is this: if their reason for divesting was not due to the connection to Israel but to the other reasons they cited, have they singled out the investments specified on the list in the petition or have they applied the same standards across the board?   

If the college divested in response to the anti-Israel petition, but are doing so for other reasons, they have certainly created the impression that they support divestature in companies doing business in Israel.  Their claim that such divestment is distinct from an overt anti-Israel action is false.  This may be a case of deliberate attempt to muddy the waters, ora case of inadvertant self-deception, but they certainly have to set the record straight and establish a firm policy which they apply universally.  Anything else would be a double-standard.

They need to clarify their position.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sudan expels reporter investigating arms industry


The expulsion of a Canadian journalist from Sudan has brought new attention to Khartoum's uneasy relationship with the news media.

Sudan is a relatively free country – with a vibrant independent media, where other African countries have only state-owned newspapers – but it maintains firm control over local and foreign news organizations through censorship on issues deemed sensitive by the government. In the case of Heba Aly, a Canadian journalist with Egyptian nationality as well, Sudan says it expelled her because of immigration issues, not because of her reporting.

Yet Ms. Aly says it was her investigating of Sudan's arms manufacturing industry that prompted agents from Sudan's national security agency to call her in for a hastily convened meeting this past weekend at a restaurant in Sudan's capital.

It is sensitive issues like the military that have led Sudan to impose censorship rules on its independent newspapers, jail protesting reporters, and to arrest an opposition leader for suggesting that Mr. Bashir should face trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

"It is pretty paradoxical, because Sudan is a country that does well in press freedoms compared with other African countries," says Ambroise Pierre, Africa desk officer for Reporters Without Borders in Paris. "But the whole climate within the country is one of censorship and self-censorship, where there are many subjects that just cannot be investigated."

Although he admits that any government has the right to decide who enters its borders, and who has the right to work inside its territory, Mr. Pierre says that Sudan makes it very difficult for journalists to play by the rules, to get accreditation, and to obtain work authorization.

"For the last six months, Heba Aly has been fighting to get accredited as a journalist, and she never succeeded," he says. "It's pretty difficult when you are like Heba Aly, trying to do your best as an honest journalist, you are like a hostage of the administration. The government can control who can work, where people can work, and what they can write."

Aly, a freelance reporter who writes for several news organizations including the Monitor and Bloomberg News, says she had been told by a Sudanese official at the time of her arrival that, as an Egyptian passport holder, she could live in Sudan without a residence permit. She says that she maintained her status as a member of the press – with a press card from the Sudanese Ministry of Information – throughout the bulk of her stay in Sudan, but despite months of waiting, she never received a work permit or accreditation as a foreign correspondent residing in Sudan.

While she admits that she worked for her final month, January, without accreditation, she says it was only after she started pursuing a story about Sudan's arms-manufacturing industry that she received a call from National Security agents requesting a meeting. At the meeting, the agents told her that she must leave Sudan by Monday.

"I was never given any written expulsion order, despite my repeated requests," says Aly, who had been detained twice before during her year in Sudan. "I was simply harassed, and was counselled by someone in government that if I did not leave I would be arrested. I was followed, intimidated into leaving the country, and escorted by national security all the way onto the tarmac to board the airplane. The reason they gave me was that I was asking about arms. But they told me the line they would use publicly was that I didn't have my work papers."



Heba Aly works with the Puliter Center.  Her profile and links to some of her articles are available at their website here.  Her report for the radio program PRI's The World is available here.

Ken Starr's anti-family campaign

You remember Ken Starr.  He's the defender of traditional morality who made the details of oral sex the subject of breakfast table conversation for families all over the country.  Now he claims he didn't want to investigate the Lewisnsky matter and blames unnamed others.  (Read here.)  If you found that confusing, paradoxical, hypocritical, check this out . . .  

Now he's working to dissolve 18,000 legally recognized families in the name of ... wait for it ... 'protecting families'!  (Read here.)




"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Intercepted Gaza "aid" ship had no aid


Last night, Israel intercepted a freighter that was supposedly filled with 60 tons of aid for Gaza, that originated in Tripoli.

Predictably, the moonbats have been hysterical over this, saying that Israel was shooting at the people on the ship and then beating them

Free Gaza's update on the ship last night was telling: its 8 PM (Central European Time) report said

The Israelis said the boat can not go to Gaza, and it appears they will try to force it to Arish, but the captain intends to push forward. (And having been aboard the TALI I think it will take more than a ramming to sink it)
In other words, the "peace activists" were really hoping for a fight.

From the times of the reports, it is clear that Israel warned the ship for several hours before boarding it.

The only reporter who is saying that Israel beat and threatened them is the embeddedAl Jazeera reporter.

Israel took the ship to Ashdod to examine the contents and question the passengers. According to Haaretz, the "60 tons" of aid was imaginary:
The Israel Defense Forces said that troops found about 150 bottles of mineral water and a few dozen kilograms of food and medicine on board, despite earlier claims that it was carrying dozens of tons of humanitarian aid.

The Tali, a cargo vessel flying the flag of the West African state of Togo, was sent by the Palestinian National Committee Against the Siege in cooperation with the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement. Its cargo was claimed to have included about 60 tons of medicine, food and toys, plus 10,000 units of human blood plasma which requires constant refrigeration.
So these pro-terror "peace activists" are caught lying. Again.

And one of the "human rights" activists on the ship has a bit of a checkered history:
Military sources said that on board the vessel - dubbed the "Brotherhood Ship" - were nine people, including Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who was arrested in 1974 after being caught smuggling weapons from Lebanon to activists in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Which is exactly what one would expect a "peace activist" to do, right?

For context, here are the amounts of aid that Israel shipped into Gaza over the past few days:

February 1 - 4,656 tons of supplies
February 2 - 5,354 tons of supplies
February 3 - 
6,106 tons of supplies
February 4 - 
5,367 tons of supplies

So even though they were lying about the "60 tons," it is about what three trucks carry. This is hardly an efficient way to get aid to Gazans. (I have not heard about any shortage of blood plasma in Gaza, either.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lindsay Graham: 'Presidents shouldn't be fear mongers'

Here's what he said:  "'Scaring people is not leadership ... (W)e've had enough presidents trying to scare people to make bad decisions."  He was trying to criticize President Obama, not Bush.  Freudean slip?

Howard Dean to be HHS Secretary?

A great idea.

Sen. Harkin Backs Dean For HHS Secretary

The idea of nominating Howard Dean to head up the Department of Health and Human Services has the backing of at least one prominent national Democrat.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who endorsed Dean's presidential campaign in 2004 and is rumored to be in the HHS running himself, applauded the idea of the former DNC header taking over the cabinet post vacated by Tom Daschle.

"I think that would be a very good move," Harkin told the Huffington Post. "He brings all the background and experience. He's very strong on prevention and wellness, which I'm very strong on. I think he'd make an outstanding secretary of HHS."

Asked if he had spoken to White House on the matter, Harkin demurred: "I'm not going to get into that," he said after a pause.

Dean's hopes of taking over HHS -- he would, those who know him say, take the job if offered -- is, at this point, not a campaign. The former Vermont Governor has and will remain mum on the notion because, as he himself admitted, the surest way to not be chosen is to actively pine for a post. In progressive circles, however, supporters of Dean insist that he is best suited for the job, having managed health care in Vermont and served as a doctor himself.

Whether this endorsement helps or hurts is a topic of debate. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Dean's frosty relationship with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will be the main impediment to his ending up at HHS. Others are concerned that a major netroots movement to appoint Dean will actually turn the White House off the notion. They don't want it to seem like they are "bending to the demands of the left," as one Democrat put it -- not because they aren't concerned with progressive priorities, but because the choice will be criticized as an effort in political pacification.



I'm frankly skeptical that the pragmatist Emanuel would put dislike of Dean ahead of what's in the interest of furthering the Obama administration's agenda.  The idea that Emanuel's personal conflict with Dean, stemming from their conflicting strategies in the 2006 Congressional race, might sidetrack a good nomination makes no sense.   If that angle of the story is true, and if the Obama administration wants to preach bipartisanship, they might start by putting an end to counterproductive grudges within the Democratic Party.

More serious an impediment to Dean's nomination to HHS might be concern that it would be spun as a move to the left by the Republicans and the news media.  I can just hear the Fox News crowd screaming "socialism" with wild-eyed expressions, and the CNN commentators thoughtfully intoning "partisanship".   Obama shows signs of wanting to placate the right and their media sounding board with centrist nominations and talk of compromise.  I don't know how Dean would fit into that strategy, but, frankly, that strategy is being overused.  Dean is hardly a leftist, although he, like Obama, is sometimes portrayed as such.  President Obama should choose the person best able to establish, articulate and implement the best policy.  If the Republicans choose to attack Dean without concern for the real world implications, let their strategy be exhibit one in President Obama's argument against partisanship and for pragmatism.  It's time to ask for bipartisanship to be reciprocated.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Norman Geras on the Gaza war crimes allegations

Read this brief but important post on the charges that war crimes were committed in Gaza.

Quoting Chomsky's misquotes

Philip Weiss' blog Mondoweiss is not at the top of my reading list, but I read it occasionally when it shows up in search results. That's how I found this January 18 post consisting of purported quotes by Israeli officials past and present regarding the Palestinians (accompanied by disturbing images of casualties).


The first quote caught my eye. Here's how Weiss would have it:

Early 1970's: "We have no solution... You [Palestinians] shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads."– Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) served as Chief of Staff of the IDF, defense minister, and leader of the Labor party in Israel. He said these words in a talk with members of his Labor cabinet. Noam Chomsky cites as source of this quote: Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud (Revivim, 1985), 42; an important review of cabinet records under the Labor Party. Books that cite these words (excluding Chomsky's).


Here, as demonstrated below, is a classic case of Chomsky citing an obscure, foreign-language source, distorting its meaning, and thereby distorting the debate. This is Chomsky's version of creating facts on the ground.

On some level Weiss must know this, because he makes a point of claiming that Chomsky is not the sole source. But if anyone bothers to click on the link Weiss provides, it leads to a Google Books search with the terms ["moshe dayan" "like dogs" -chomsky]. Weiss intends to demonstrate that Chomsky is not the sole source for the quote by adding that last term ("-chomsky") . But by doing this, he in fact draws attention to the fact that Chomsky is the sole source for these quotes. If you click on the link and look at the 11 books which the search yields, none provide a source other than Chomsky or any details other than those in the Chomsky version. Two of the purported non-Chomsky sources cited by Weiss merely repeat Chomsky's version in a conclusory manner without a direct quote and without attribution to either a primary or secondary source (i.e. they neither cite Chomsky or Beillin; read here and here.) One of Weiss' purported non-Chomsky sources is a collection of art works (read here). At least three of the eleven purported non-Chomsky sources cited by Weiss are chapters authored by Chomsky himself (in this book and this book and this book). One of the purported non-Chomsky sources cites an interview with Chomsky in Z Magazine as its source (read here) and another is the interview itself (read here). Another of Weiss' non-Chomsky sources, the newsletter of Americans for Justice in the Middle East, doesn't refer at all to this quote, but mentions the term "Moshe Dayan" in a poem cited in its index, and the term "like dogs" only in reference to Zionists. As best I can tell, Chomsky is the sole English language source for the quote which Weiss cites. (For future reference, Weiss should understand that merely including the term "-chomsky" doesn't eliminate texts which use Chomsky as a source or even pieces which he authored.)

So the sources Weiss cite as independent of Chomsky are in fact Chomsky. But Chomsky did not tell the whole story. In fact, Chomsky selectively quoted portions of Beillin's quote of Dayan, excluding the portion which did not support his conclusions. He also misstated where and when, according to Beillin, Dayan said these words, thereby changing their motivation and meaning. These distortions allowed Chomsky and those who subsequently quote him to claim that Dayan's long-term plan was to have Palestinians "live like dogs", when, in fact, he was saying that this would be the result of a lack of a comprehensive peace. Dayan, far from saying that he wanted this to happen, was considering raising the threat that this would end up happening as spur for peace negotiations: 'this is what's going to end up happening if you don't settle with us'.

Here's a post written by David Bernstein at the blog The Volokh Conspiracy in April 2008:

One of Noam Chomsky's favorite debating points regarding Israel is to allege that Israel has had a longstanding policy of intentionally destroying Palestinian society rather than attempting to make peace. He backs this up with a quote attributed to Moshe Dayan. Here, for example, is Chomsky in a 2005 debate with Alan Dershowitz:

One choice is to support Washington’s continued dedication to the road to catastrophe that's outlined by Israel's four former security chiefs, namely watching in silence as Washington funds the cantonization of the West Bank, the breaking of its organic links to Jerusalem, and the disintegration of the remnants of Palestinian society. That choice adopts the advice of Moshe Dayan to his cabinet colleagues in the early 1970s. Dayan was in charge of the occupation. He advised them that "we must tell the Palestinians, that we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes, may leave." That's the solution that is now being implemented. Don't take my word for it. Go check the sources I cited, very easy, all English.

A while back, a VC reader asked me whether I could confirm the accuracy of the quote attributed to Chomsky. The answer is, yes, but.

First, I've located the original source cited by Chomsky. It's Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud 42-43 (Revivim, 1985), a Hebrew book, never translated to English, written by Israeli dove Beilin. It's a secondary source that provides only the barest context for Dayan's remark--all the book tells us is that Dayan's comment illustrates an extreme attitude toward Palestinian refugees, and was made during a meeting with other leaders of the small RAFI party, which was composed of hawkish defectors from the dominant Labor Party. Apparently, Chomsky couldn't be bothered to look up the original transcripts, which are footnoted by Beilin.

Second, Dayan didn't make this remark in the "early 1970s," he made it in September 1967, just three months after the Six Day War.

Third, he didn't say it to his "cabinet colleagues," or in any official government capacity, but at meeting of the leaders of his small party, and his statement on that particular day may or may not have reflected his more general, or his longer-term, views regarding the Palestinians.

Fourth, according the book, Dayan was addressing the situation of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, not all Palestinians, or even all Palestinians in the West Bank.

Fifth, and by far most significant, Chomsky leaves out the next few sentences uttered by Dayan: "For now, it works out. Let's say the truth. We want peace. If there is no peace, we will maintain military rule and we will have four to five military compounds on the hills, and they will sit ten years under the Israeli military regime." Thus, rather than this quote reflecting a long-term "plan" by Israel, it reflected Dayan's view of the alternative if a peace deal with Jordan (Beilin notes on the same page that Dayan was willing "to divide authority on the West Bank with Jordan"), could not be reached. Moreover, even in the absence of an immediate peace deal, Dayan was not speaking of a permanent occupation, but of a ten-year Israeli presence.

Nevertheless, the quotes in the book don't make Dayan look good. Shimon Peres objects that the occupation proposed by Dayan would make Israel act immorally like Rhodesia, and Dayan responds that moral considerations should be irrelevant.

So, if you want to claim, as Beilin does, that Dayan was prone to adopting extreme views regarding the Palestinian refugees in September 1967, this certainly provides strong supporting evidence. You could argue, moreover, that this suggests a moral blind spot on Dayan's part, as Shimon Peres (whom Chomsky also despises, and also claims was not interested in peace) did at the time. But if you want to argue, as Chomsky does, that the relevant quotation shows that in the early 1970s the man in charge of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was lecturing his cabinet colleagues (without apparent dissent) that they should reject peace, and mistreat the Palestinian population so badly that they will all want to leave, you are stretching the truth beyond recognition.

For those who are interested, I've posted a translation of the relevant part of the book in the comments.

UPDATE: Commenter "Stu" makes a very salient point:

Assuming the statement was made to someone, I find it interesting that the statement was most likely made after the Khartoum Arab summit. After the June '67 war, representatives of eight Arab states met in Khartoum, Sudan and announced a resolution on September 1, 1967 calling for a continued struggle against Israel and reportedly adopting the position of infamous "Three NOs" with respect to Israel: 1. NO peace with Israel; 2. NO recognition of Israel; 3. NO negotiations with Israel. If Israel had no Arab state with which to negotiate, presumably including Jordan, which had previously occupied the West Bank until the '67 war, Israel had only a newly occupied population with which to deal. I don't recall ever reading that that population had any kind of any kind of representative government with which to negotiate or to whom to turn over possession of that territory.

I think that it gives some context to Dayan's alleged remark. Jordan won't negotiate peace and now Israel's stuck as an occupying power. If anything, it was probably said out of exasperation over the situation.

Putting aside speculation as to Dayan's motives, the fact that the relevant RAFI meeting occurred very soon after the Khartoum summit does provide some very important context.


Chomsky, and therefor Weiss, excluded the following from the quote: "For now, it works out. Let's say the truth. We want peace. If there is no peace, we will maintain military rule and we will have four to five military compounds on the hills, and they will sit ten years under the Israeli military regime." This is what Dayan proposed saying in response to a refusal to negotiate a peace.

Dayan may not come off particularly well in Beillin's account, but he comes off as more pragmatic than immoral. The threat he informally proposed and Beillin condemned was not an objective in itself but the means to an end. Dayan's problem was a practical one: how to achieve a settlement with the Arabs which would produce both peace and security. It certainly was not factually wrong for Dayan to point out that, without a peace settlement, the Palestinians would suffer. If Dayan's planned threat had been spoken, and by doing so, the Israelis had been able to convince the Palestinians to negotiate a peace settlement and create a state, the Palestinians would now be celebrating the 40th anniversary of that state.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

SSPX and "traditionalist Catholics": fundamentally anti-Jewish

Recently, there has been an air of scandal surrounding Richard Williamson, a so-called "bishop" of the Catholic schismatic group called the Society of Saint Pius X or SSPX. Williamson denied the Holocaust in a television interview, and, shortly thereafter, had his excommunication from the Catholic church rescinded by the Pope. It has since come out that Williamson has written and spoken extensively of conpiracy theories accusing Jews and Freemasons of destroying Catholicism in particular and western society in general. People are asking why the Pope would welcome such opinions into his church. In response, there's been some effort on the part of both the SSPX and Vatican to spin the opinions expressed by this "bishop" as somehow anomalous -- uncharacteristic of "traditionalist Catholicism". This spin is patently false.

The opinions of Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of Saint Pius X can hardly be called anomalous or uncharacteristic of "traditionalist Catholicism". His opinions defined that belief system; they are the rule, not the exception. Toward the end of his life, he wrote of his "Spiritual Journey", which he defined as opposing a conspiracy of Jews, Freemasons, Communists and liberals to undermine the Catholic Church. He also referred (without apparent irony) to the Second Vatican Council as a third world war, one worse than the previous two. (Read his piece here.)

At the close of a long life (for I was born in 1905 and I now see the year 1990), I can say that it has been marked by exceptional world events: three world wars, that which took place from 1914 to 1918, that which took place from 1939 to 1945, and that of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.

The disasters caused by these three wars, and especially by the last of them, are incalculable in the domain of material ruins, but even more so in the spiritual realm. The first two paved the way for the war inside the Church, by facilitating the ruin of Christian institutions and the domination of Freemasonry, which has become so powerful that it has deeply infiltrated the governing body of the Church with its Liberal, Modernist doctrine.

By the grace of God, instructed as early as my seminary days in Rome of the mortal danger of these influences by the Rector of the French Seminary, the venerated Father Le Floch, and by the professors, Reverend Fathers Voetgli, Frey and Le Rohellec, I was able to verify, during my entire priestly life, how their calls to vigilance, based on the teachings of the Popes and, above all, of St. Pius X, were justified. I was able to verify at my own expense how this vigilance was justified, not only doctrinally, but also by the hatred which it provoked in the Liberal laity and clerics - a diabolical hatred.

The innumerable contacts, brought upon me by the duties conferred upon me, with the highest civil and ec- clesiastical authorities in numerous countries, particularly in France and in Rome, have preciously confirmed for me that opinion was generally favorable to all those who were disposed to compromising with the Liberal, Masonic ideas, and unfavorable towards those determined to remain firm in traditional doctrine.

I believe I can say that few persons in the Church have been able to become as well informed as I have been able myself, not by my own will, but by the will of Providence.

He then goes on, at some length, to describe the Second Vatican Council as literally a resurgence of the French Revolution's reign of terror. The original should be read for it's sheer absurdity, but it's too lengthy, and too rich with obscure personal references, to quote here.

In the following passage, Lefebvre argues in favor of the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime and against the forces led by Charles DeGaulle, calling Vichy "the Catholic order" and the Allies part of an atheist, Masonic conspiracy!

As a missionary in Gabon, contact with civil authorities was obviously more frequent than as Vicar at Le Marais-de-Lomme in the Diocese of Lille. This time of mission was marked by the Gaullist invasion; we were able to witness the victory of Freemasomy (sic) against the Catholic order of Petain. It was the invasion of the barbarians without faith or law!

Perhaps one day, my memoirs will give some details on these years from 1945 to 1960, and will illustrate this war inside the Church. Read the books of M. Marteaux on this period; they are revealing. The rupture between Liberalism and the doctrine of the Church was growing both in Rome, and outside Rome.

The Liberals were able to choose Popes like John XXIII and Paul VI, causing their doctrine to triumph in the Council, a marvelous means to obligate all of the Church to adopt their errors.

He goes on to say...

John XXIII and Paul VI, have made themselves active collaborators of international Jewish Freemasonry and of world socialism. John Paul II is above all a communist-loving politician at the service of a world communism retaining a hint of religion. He openly attacks all of the anti-communist governments and does not bring, by his travels, any Catholic revival.

Yes, you read that correctly. The founder of SSPX believed to his dying day that Pope John XXII, Pope Paul XI and Pope John Paul II were part of a Jewish/Masonic conspiracy and that they promoted Communism.

Such conspiracy theories are the basis for the entire belief system of the "traditionalist". Lefebvre goes on to write, based on the above, that:

(t)he current Pope and bishops no longer hand down Our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather a sentimental, superficial, charismatic religiosity, through which, as a general rule, the true grace of the Holy Ghost no longer passes. This new religion is not the Catholic religion; it is sterile, incapable of sanctifying society and the family.


These beliefs, far from being uncharacteristic of the "traditionalist Catholicism" movement, are its fundament.

SSPX Leader Franz Schmidberger: 'Today's Jews Guilty of Deicide'

Werner Cohn, on his blog FringeGroups, posts the following excerpts from a letter written by Franz Schmidberger, the head of Germany's SSPX group.  The letter was written in October 2008 and posted to the SSPX website.  





Mit dem Kreuzestod Christi ist der Vorhang des Tempels zerrissen, der Alte Bund abgeschafft, wird die Kirche, die alle Völker, Kulturen, Rassen und sozialen Unterschiede umfasst, aus der durchbohrten Seite des Erlösers geboren. Damit sind aber die Juden unserer Tage nicht nur nicht unsere älteren Brüder im Glauben, wie der Papst bei seinem Synagogenbesuch in Rom 1986 behauptete; sie sind vielmehr des Gottesmordes mitschuldig, so lange sie sich nicht durch das Bekenntnis der Gottheit Christi und die Taufe von der Schuld ihrer Vorväter distanzieren. Im Gegensatz dazu behauptet das II. Vatikanum, man könne die Ereignisse des Leidens Christi weder allen damals lebenden Juden ohne Unterschied noch den heutigen Juden zur Last legen (§ 4).

With the death of Jesus on the cross, the old covenant is abolished. The Church now encompasses all peoples, cultures, races, social classes. With that, not only are the Jews of our days not "our elder brethren in faith," as the Pope maintained in a visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986. They are, rather, guilty of the murder of God, insofar as they do not embrace the divinity of Christ and accept baptism, the only actions that would distance them from the guilt of their forebears. But Vatican II maintains, wrongfully, that the sufferings of Jesus cannot be attributed either to the Jews of His days nor to the Jews of our days (§ 4).
This is an excerpt from a letter sent by Fr. Franz Schmidberger to the Roman Catholic bishops of Germany in October 2008. Fr. Schmidberger is the German head of that very Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) whose members have now been re-admitted to full communion in the Roman Catholic church by Pope Benedict.


(NOTE: For those of you not following this news story, the SSPX is a so-called "traditionalist Catholic" group which rejects the innovations of Vatican II.  It has a long history of promoting anti-Semitism in the form of Christ-killer imagery and conspiracy theories involving Jews and Freemasons.  Mel Gibson is the most famous adherent of "traditionalist Catholicism".  A.H.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mugabe's NYC supporters

The New York City Council has been the site of some outrageous misbehavior over the years, including the 2003 fatal shooting of a councilman by a frustrated political opponent. (You can read about that here and here and here). Among the most outrageous official acts of the City Council was a special ceremony it held at City Hall in honor of Zimbabwe's murderous dictator Robert Mugabe. The person responsible for that outrage was Councilman Charles Barron. (Read here and here.)

In the years since 2002, Barron's admiration for Mugabe has apparently not been dimmed by Zimbabweans' suffering, as evidenced here:




Barron's undying love for Mugabe is shared by his longtime chief aide Viola Plummer. By way of background, you may remember her as the person formally expelled by the Council for threatening a Councilman with assassination at a press conference at City Hall. That made for entertaining political theater, but in light of the actual assassination of a Councilman at City Hall a few years earlier, the Council found her threat to be beyond the pale of acceptable discourse and kicked her out. She subsequently entered the Council chamber in defiance of this ruling and was physically removed from the chamber. (Read here and here.)




Plummer subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the City over her expulsion, the status of which I do not know. But I do know a few things about Plummer which you may find interesting.

Plummer is one of the leaders of a political organization called the December 12 Movement, a major part of whose mission is to support Robert Mugabe. They organize on behalf of the Mugabe regime, conducting meetings and rallies in New York City, such as the one in July 2008 at Harlem's Abysinian Baptist Church described very effectively in this article from the Zimbabwe Times: "Close shave with Mugabe’s Harlem allies" by Jane Taruvinga. Read that article and take a look at this video of the meeting taken by a Zimbabwe Times staffer:



Here are some excerpts from Jane Taruvinga's article:

“Mugabe is right, U.S. hands-off Zimbabwe” was the headline that caught my eye when a friend gave me a flyer which she picked from the Abyssinian Church in Harlem, New York. On the flyer was the name of an organization, the December 12th Movement. A telephone number was listed and I called it. When a woman answered the phone I asked her to clarify what the flyer meant.

“We are having an event on Thursday July 3rd at 6.30pm” she advised, somewhat impatiently. “Come there and you will find out what we mean.” The line went dead.

Prior to this incident, I had watched and listened with horror to the news coverage of Zimbabwe over the last three months. Most of my news sources have been family, relatives and friends in Zimbabwe as well as online newspapers run by Zimbabweans, because only state run newspapers are allowed in today’s Zimbabwe. They informed me that most schools in the countryside outside the cities were deserted as the teachers had fled. Teachers were being targeted for brutal victimisation by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

Some of them had acted as polling agents in the March 29 elections, which Mugabe lost. I read the heartbreaking story of a headmaster who, fearing for his life had fled the school, but had returned after being assured of his safety. A week after his return, he was kidnapped by Zanu-PF militiamen. After two days, his worried wife found his Identity card, tie, shoes, and pair of trousers on the veranda of their home.
She went to the police and was told to go to the local mortuary. His body was there. I have seen pictures of people with their faces smashed in, their backs raw and bones sticking out. I read about people whose homes had been burned; people who had been murdered in cold blood.

Though these events were taking place far away back in Zimbabwe, the stories were real to me because the names of the victims were familiar. These are names that, no matter where they are in the world, if Zimbabweans hear such names they immediately recognise them.
But in the comfort of my life here in New York, I thought I could switch on and off the horrific drama that was unfolding in Zimbabwe when it suited me. Then a week ago I received a phone call that my elderly parents in their seventies had been beaten up by the notorious Zanu-PF youths, led by members of the army. Mugabe’s war had come too close to home. I was distraught with worry.

I spent sleepless nights calling my sisters back at home, trying to persuade them to go to our rural village. They were reluctant to go, because in the rural areas far from the prying eyes of the world, Zanu-PF’s militiamen were unleashing an orgy of violence and intimidation. The rural peasants were reliving the Chimurenga War of the 1970s. People were being rounded up and made to sing war songs. The opposition supporters (MDC) were paraded and forced to take turns beating each other up.

In our village, they went around beating up everyone, including a Mugabe supporter, my father. My father’s philosophy is simple. If people don’t vote for Mugabe, there will be war again. In past elections I threatened to withdraw the money that I sent home. Then I threatened not to speak to him if he went ahead and voted for Mugabe. But, when he became seriously ill and needed surgery, I forked out the US$500.00 required.

I have at my disposal in New York many news sources out of Zimbabwe. I remember telling my sisters on the phone that I had seen Tsvangirai’s new red campaign bus. I also told them of incidents that had happened outside Harare, which they did not know about. My family’s knowledge of what’s happening in Zimbabwe has been limited to what is passed on to them by word of mouth. Sometimes they will find out what happened weeks after an incident took place - like the beating of our sister-in-law’s cousin and his wife (both teachers) and their son.

When my sisters visited our sister-in-law they found out that she had just arrived from visiting the trio in hospital. They are still in hospital today, more than a month after the vicious assault.

It was against this background that I was driven by curiosity to find out who these supporters of Mugabe in New York were. I asked a friend who has a video camera to come along with me. My idea was not only to find out the identity of these supporters but also to capture them on video.

When we arrived at the Abyssinian Church the event was already in progress. The room was packed . . . I turned to the man seated next to me and asked him how he had found out about the meeting. He . . . pulled out a letter from WBAI. “I am a member,” he said with a grin.

I took the form from him. It was from WBAI, requesting members to send contributions. I handed it back to him.

“Don’t you listen to WBAI?” he asked me. “That’s where I got the information about this event, they announced it.”

Sure enough, I noticed something that had not occurred to me before. Most of the audience comprised WBAI listeners. I did an internship at the station a few years ago. WBAI . . . relies on contributions from listeners. These members have a lot of control over the program and if they don’t like what they hear, they call up to complain. When I went on air to read international news, which included reports about the bloody land invasions in Zimbabwe, the listeners called the station soon after I came off air. They called me names. . . .

(P)residing over . . . Thursday’s meeting was one Viola Plummer. She rallied against Human Rights Watch (and) Amnesty International, accusing them of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. The MDC, she told her audience, was a front of the white people.

When a young black reporter asked her why Mugabe had banned all the NGOs, she replied that they were distributing food as well as the opposition pamphlets. What about Save the Children (UNCEF), the reporter asked. “They are all the same,” Plummer said, “including CARE.

As her audience cheered her on, she vowed to fight to the death. Trade unions in Zimbabwe were the most racist, she declared. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, of which Morgan Tsvangirai was secretary general, has an almost exclusively black membership. Plummer claimed that the international organizations in Zimbabwe were funded by the Bush administration and the British government.

To the people of Zimbabwe, Viola is a foreign dignitary. Over the last several years, she and her entourage have been the guests of Robert Mugabe’s government. In his book, Against the Grain, Geoffrey Nyarota [read here] says as Zanu-PF’s circle of friends in the international community diminished, the December 12 Movement of Harlem in New York shot to prominence in Harare.

“The head of the movement acquired an avant-garde name, Comrade Coltrane Chimurenga, to reinforce his revolutionary credentials,” Nyarota says. “Comrade Chimurenga and one Sister Viola Plummer undertook an annual pilgrimage from Harlem to Harare, their visits timed to coincide with Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations on April 18.

The delegation from Harlem was flown across the Atlantic and accommodated in the five-star Sheraton Hotel at taxpayers’ expense. After being feted, entertained and flown to exotic tourist attractions like the Victoria Falls, they were paraded at the Independence Day festivities.

“They inevitably granted so-called exclusive interviews to the Herald, the Sunday Mail and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television channels in which they extolled the virtues of the ruling party and the allegedly profound wisdom of its leaders. They told Zimbabwe’s long-suffering taxpayers what a good job their President was doing for the nation and urged them to support Zanu-PF unflinchingly.

“Soon after the land invasions in 2000, Comrade Chimurenga was quoted by the government media as having unreservedly endorsed the ‘Third Chimurenga’, or Third Revolution, whose centrepiece was the violent occupation of white-owned farms. In New York, Mugabe relied on the December 12 Movement to organise an occasional demonstration, even at short notice - rent-a-crowd events, as Bill Saidi aptly summed up their timely interventions - in support of Zimbabwe’s President and government.”

An editorial in the June 12, 2007, issue of the New York Daily News has this to say of Plummer. “Who is Viola Plummer? Let’s go to the record. In 1985, she stood trial with seven co-defendants on charges of plotting to crash out of prison two members of the gang that pulled off the 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery in which a guard and two cops were killed in Rockland County. “Acquitted of the most serious charges, other members of the group, including Plummer’s son Robert Taylor, were convicted of possessing weapons such as dynamite and machine guns. In the transcript of an undercover recording introduced at the trial, a leader of the bunch, Coltrane Chimurenga, instructed Taylor in the ways of armed robbery.”

As she angrily rallied against white injustice here and abroad last Thursday, her audience cheered and clapped their hands. She characterised what was happening in Zimbabwe as white retaliation for the land invasions. Some in the audience were wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts with the campaign message: “100% empowerment, VOTE for Mugabe.”
But the people of Zimbabwe, including her contacts in Zanu-PF do not seem to know who Viola Plummer really is? Viola Plummer is a former aide to councilman Charles Barron, who is also known as a former member of the Black Panther Movement. She was fired by New York City Council Speaker Christina Queen after she threatened to assassinate a New York City councilor over a legislative dispute. The (threatened) councillor had refused to support her measure to have a street renamed after a black activist called Sonny Carson.
Prior to this incident, Viola Plummer went on trial after being accused of trying to stage the jail break-in to free two fellow activists who had been jailed for their involvement in the1981 Rockland County robbery. Plummer ended up only being convicted of falsely identifying herself to the police.
Plummer was in Zimbabwe during the independence celebrations this year and prior to the June 27 presidential runoff. At the meeting, she said she had attended the inauguration of Mugabe in Harare on Sunday, June 29.


You may know Comrade Coltrane Chimurenga by one of his aliases, listed on the caption of this federal lawsuit: "randolph Simms", "rashidpendergrass", "lionel Jean-baptiste", "john Thomas", or "macio Mcadams".

Prior to Zimbabwe's March 2008 election, the Mugabe regime had banned most foreign observers, as reported here and here. They did, however extend an invitation to a delegation from the December 12 Movement. Readers will be reassured to learn that, according to this article in Zimbabwe's official government-sanctioned newspaper, the Herald Reporter:

THE December 12 Movement, one of the foreign observer missions that witnessed the June 27 presidential run-off election, has endorsed the poll as an expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

The African-American organisation, based in New York in the United States, however, said the existence of sanctions and the disproportionate and biased reporting of what was taking place in Zimbabwe by a few media outlets with global outreach had skewed the playing field against Zanu-PF. Members of the mission yesterday said their findings so far indicated that the poll outcome was not only a free expression of the will of Zimbabweans, but that it set an example for the rest of Africa and the Africans in the Diaspora.

If you want a sense of what the December 12 Movement think of Mugabe's Zimbabwe and want it from the horse's mouth, read this transcript from WBAI Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now. The subject was the March 30, 2008 election in Zimbabwe. The speaker was Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement "International Secretariat". Clay was part of the delegation invited by Mugabe to observe the election, which occured on the day preceeding his report.

Omowale Clay: I have something very important to report to the Pacifica community in general and to African people, in particular. Yesterday the people of Zimbabwe resoundingly said they will never be a colony again. Unofficial results have confirmed that Zanu PF has won a major victory, and by all counts will in fact capture over 2/3 of the electoral vote, which will give them the ability to restructure their constitution, to institutionalize the [inaudible] which was always the view of them fighting for the total emancipation of their people politically and economically. So I wanted to make sure to bring back the people, to also let them know, Amy, that democracy in Zimbabwe is not anything new. For the past 25 years as we celebrate the 25th silver jubilee, democracy was brought to Zimbabwe through national liberation armed struggle and it was never given to the Zimbawean people. But since 1980 when the first elections took place, there have been six major parliamentary elections that have taken place, and there have been three presidential elections that have taken place. So no one can teach Zimbabwe democracy. Zimbabwe is teaching it to the African and pan-African world, as well as to the neo-colonizers who are trying to re-colonize Zimbabwe.



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In case you wondered where Viola Plummer landed after leaving the City Council, well ...she fell up. In December 2008, Viola Plummer was chosen to be chief of staff for newly elected New York State Assembly Representative Inez Barron, who just happens to be the wife of Councilman Charles Barron. Here's a local blog post about that appointment:

VIOLA PLUMMER JOINS ASSEMBLYWOMAN INEZ BARRON'S STAFF

Assembly member Inez Barron has selected Viola Plummer to join her staff. Ms. Barron made the announcement during her judicial swearing-in ceremony at the House of the Lord Church. Ms. Plummer, who served as Chief of Staff with Council member Charles Barron, will work in Assembly member Inez Barron's 40th AD district office. Ms. Barron has also selected Mel Faulkner to staff the district office. Mr. Faulkner has worked in Council member Barron's district office.

The announcement was made during the first of 2 consecutive ceremonies celebrating Ms. Barron's new position. Judge Sylvia Ash gave Assembly member Barron the Oath of Office at both events - first at the House of the Lord Church, then later that evening at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church. Rev. Herbert Daughtry gave a historical perspective of community activism and electoral politics. Councilman Charles Barron spoke of his love and support for his wife.

Elected officials in attendance at the events were Judge Geraldine Picket, Assembly members Annette Robinson, Karim Camara, and Michael Gianaris, State Senators Eric Adams and Bill Perkins, Council members Letitia James, Bill DiBlasio, and Eric Gioia. Others who came to witness Ms. Barron's oath were family members and a variety of community leaders: Dr. James McIntosh, Faye Moore (Local 371 Public Sector Social Service Workers), David Galarza (CSEA Local 1000), Ms. Ollie McClean, Dr. Ron Daniels and his wife Mary France, Sam Anderson, Kevin Powell, Stan Kinard and his wife Tulani (candidate for the 41st Council seat), Bob Law, Dr. Lenora Fulani, and Brenda Walker.

Special acknowledgements were made to those who assisted in getting Ms. Barron elected: Paul Washington (Inez Barron's Campaign Manager) and his wife Peggy, Andre Mitchell, founder of Man Up, Inc. and Hip Hop SUV (Stand Up and Vote), December 12 Movement, Operation Power, the United African Movement, and the Coalition of the Outsiders.

Noted at both events was the history made: a siting council member and assembly member husband- wife team covering the same geographic area at the same time.


You may recognize Dr. Lenora Fulani as the public face of the sometimes far-left, sometimes far-right political cult called the New Alliance Party. (Read about them here.) Fulani, who has over the years run for several positions without success, may be considering another run for office, this time for New York mayor, according to this blog post.)

To bring this post full circle, Paul Washington, Inez Barron's campaign manager, was Charles Barron's chief of staff. He's also the guy who introduced Mugabe at New York City Hall when he recieved the official honors of the City Council in 2002 (read here). According to this blog post:
(The City Council honoring Mugabe) was the inspiration of Councilman Charles Barron, and his Chief of Staff, Mr. Paul Washington, whom Barron calls his "Comrade in Struggle and Co-Council Member," brought it to fruition.

And now, according to the Daily Gotham (read here):

Charles Barron is intent on running his former chief-of-staff (Paul Washington) to replace him after he is term-limited from his seat in the council.


So it appears likely that Robert Mugabe will continue to have a voice both in the New York State Assembly and in the New York City Council (as well as on WBAI radio) even as the most of the world condemns him.


December 12 Movement Rally, NYC



















_________________________________________________________________

UPDATE 4/14/2009:


Plummer Case Redux

(By Elizabeth Benjamin on April 7, 2009)


The case brought against the city and Council Speaker Christine Quinn by Councilman Charles Barron's ex-chief of staff, Viola Plummer, in the wake of the 2007 Sonny Carson street re-naming flap is one step away from being dismissed.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling today that overturned a lower court decision denying immunity to Quinn on Plummer's claim that the speaker's decision to fire her violated her First Amendment rights and ordered the case remanded for dismissal.

The decision note the city's burden in making its case was lower due to Plummer's status as a high-ranking public employee and the fact that her use of the word "assassination" in connection with Councilman Leroy Comrie sparked a reasonable concern for his safety in Quinn, given the 2003 muder of Councilman James Davis.

"The First Amendment does not require employers to sit idly by when an employee engenders such concerns. In view of these two incidents of “disruption,” taken together, and because we conclude that there is no genuine issue as to whether Quinn’s actions were taken in retaliation for Plummer’s speech...For these reasons, we hold that Plummer’s First Amendment rights were not violated and enter summary judgment for Quinn and the City of New York."

According to an attorney in the city's Law Department, unless Plummer decides to appeal, the case will end here.

I reached Plummer at her new job as director of operations in Assemblywoman Inez Barron's office. She hadn't yet heard of the ruling, and thus couldn't comment on what her plans might be.

NOTE: The decision is by three judges: Circuit Judges Rosemary Pooler and Debra Ann Livingston and District Judge Jed Rakoff.

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