Mark Potok, Editor
President and chief executive officer
Founder and Chief Trial Counsel
Dear SPLC Folks,
This is an open letter to the leaders and founders of the Southern Poverty Law Center. An open response is requested.
I am a supporter of the Center and its work. I also have a good understanding of the evil that can result from hate speech. As a rural environmental activists I have been subjected to hate speech many times; I have also had my tires slashed, received numerous death threats, seen attempts to blackball my wife from a teaching job, had my organization’s office attacked and trashed and I was attacked and beat up once. So you could say I know something about the terrible power of hate speech.
I am disturbed by an article that the Center published in the fall 2007 issue of “Intelligence Report”–the Center’s magazine. The item “Navy Extremist Disciplined–But Not for Extremism” is on page 11. The article focuses on Navy officer John Sharpe Jr.
I do not question your assertion that Sharpe is an “extremist”–he may well also be anti-Semitic. However, the article appears to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. For example, as evidence for Sharpe’s anti-Semitism the article states: “Sharpe also has connections to Arab extremists that were ignored. On his website, for example, is an interview with Ibrahim Ebeid, a Baathist and supporter of Saddam Hussein. Ebeid says in the interview that ‘neo-cons and Zionists’ are responsible for a ‘vicious criminal war’ against Iraq and Palestine.”
This is the evidence that you have used to determine that Ebeid is an “extremist”? If so, I too am an extremist and so are many American Progressives!
I would like to know whether or not it is the position of the Center or you its leaders that opposition to Zionism–either the ideology or the contemporary manifestations – constitutes anti-Semitism. I would argue rather that it is entirely possible–and becoming more and more common–for American and other Progressives who oppose anti-Semitism and all similar ideologies to also reject and oppose Zionism and its manifestations both in the US and abroad. Zionism is rejected by a growing number of American Jews and by many Israelis. In this regard I would refer you to the book “The Tragedy of Zionism–How its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy” by Israeli author Bernard Avishai.
It is of the highest importance that the Southern Poverty Law Center and its leaders clarify their positions on Zionism and specifically whether you equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Since you have not-to-subtly suggested this connection in your magazine, I believe this clarification should also be published in the magazine. Perhaps you should also consider opening a dialogue with those of us in the Progressive Community who are anti-Zionist. At minimum the article you published indicates a lack of clarity at the Center about whether opposition to Zionism alone makes one an “extremist” and/or “anti-Semitic”. For this reason, I would encourage you to also engage in an internal staff-board dialogue on this issue.
Because you cited an article from Counterpunch in the article, and because this issue is of interest and importance to the Progressive Movement in this country, I am providing this open letter to that on-line newsletter. This is done in the interest of a wider dialogue. You might also want to take a look at the anti-Zionist articles which I have published in Counterpunch. Those articles have been interpreted by some readers as “anti-Semitic” and I have received hate speech as a result.
I look forward to your response and to a continuing dialogue among American Progressives concerning Zionism and what constitutes “extremism” and “anti-Semitism”.
Klamath, CA 95548
FELICE PACE lives in Klamath, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org