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Alison Weir as the First Casualty of Hasbara 2.0

This month Stanford University’s Students for Justice in Palestine shut down a presentation that included the presence of Alison Weir of If Americans Knew which featured as a speaker Palestinian women. The organization later posted this online:

Ms. Weir, however, has made a number of remarks that blatantly attack the Jewish people as whole. In addition, Ms. Weir has also made derogatory remarks about Arabs, endorsed speech by a former head of the KKK, denied the impact of South African Apartheid, and referred to communism as a Jewish conspiracy.

The Palestinian women in turn has participated in an interview where she described the events:

I’m coming here to say that Israel has no right to exist. [The students] said we could discuss this kind of thing with each other, but not in front of American people… The existence of Israel, as I told the SJP, means that I have no right to exist. Because I am a refugee in a Palestinian camp inside Lebanon. The Lebanese government doesn’t want me, and we cannot return. So what are we? Are we going to stay stateless refugees generation after generation?

I have followed this matter over the past year and find it just one more instance of what I call hasbara 2.0.

It has been well-known for years now that apologias for the Israeli state are known as hasbara and that an element of that arsenal includes slurring opponents as bigots. During the Cold War, this sort of thing was exemplified by Right-leaning Jews like Roy Cohn, who would make his pronouncements on shows like William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, but also (supposedly) Leftist Jews like Irving Howe and Jack Newfield, who notably drove Alexander Cockburn out of The Village Voice for his advocacy when this topic was not a popular one. Dr. Noam Chomsky famously raked Howe across the coals in his book The Fateful Triangle while Cockburn’s writings remain more memorable to this writer than anything written by, uh, what was his name again?

The issue is something I previously noted several months ago in a dissection of the PBS Frontline documentary about the fraught relationship between Bibi Netanyahu and President Obama. It is simply impossible today to continue delivering the sort of utopian visions that Howe used to come up with, which consisted of him trying to paint a racist system as some kind of Social Democratic wonderland while he would simultaneously demonize anti-racist Communist movements like Hashomer Hatzair for their creeping Stalinism.

As such, we have seen hasbara evolve in a fashion that now allows for the idea that there is something wrong with Israel but that faux progressives like Obama and Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog might straighten the ship. This is total sophistry and dangerous to any real Palestinian solidarity efforts due to the fact the Democratic Party is part and parcel of imperial hegemony. Indeed, considering it was Bill Clinton who achieved far more under the Oslo annexation process, to quote Dr. Norman Finkelstein, one could make a real argument that Democrats are far more dangerous to the Palestinians than Republicans.

What Alison Weir does is a threat to this because she does not soft-pedal Democratic Party complicity and support for Zionist crimes. Her excellent book Against Our Better Judgement last year held up for all to see the role that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis played in the lobby for recognition of Israel despite protests of major government figures. In response, Max Blumenthal, son of Clinton bagman Sidney, tarred her as a bigot and called her book an aggregation of blood libels and conspiracy theories akin to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Several months ago, when we were beginning to discuss having Ms. Weir come to Rhode Island, the efforts of people affiliated with the New England branch of If Americans Knew and myself were hindered by figures affiliated with local Providence campuses and Jewish Voice for Peace who repeated a variation of these lies, saying that Weir had refused to dis-affiliate with known white supremacists. Leaving aside how problematic it is for academic types who participate in the gentrification of Providence to talk about white supremacy, it also is indicative of a total lack of maturity regarding politics. When you are a single-issue policy advocate, that role requires, in order for one to be effective, that one speaks with parties on both sides of the aisle to make any real headway in their efforts. Is Ralph Nader now to be considered a stool pigeon because he once made a speech at the Chamber of Commerce? That is the level of silliness at play here.

Reviewing a recent story carried by Tablet Magazine, one can see that the newest round of accusations against Weir are based on opportunistic and wholly meritless micro-textual interpretations of her writings. While I personally might be inclined to a more Marxist verbiage due to my own thinking on where American readers stand at this point ideologically, I find nothing worth serious discussion in this material. Alison Weir has taken up the cause of one of the most marginalized and viciously exploited targets of colonial violence in the past century. As Israel has slouched further to the Right and begun to include open bigotry towards African migrants in their midst, she has in fact begun to, intentionally or not, take up within her efforts the cause of these migrants, therefore making this sham racism accusation even more ridiculous.

My own feeling for why this is happening is because the Israeli Labor Party and their allies in the Clintons have recognized how to utilize the Palestinian cause much as they did when it came to the public empathy for the First Intifada. Back then, these neoliberals were able to warp the public outcry for justice into a wholesale robbery that disgusted the late Dr. Edward Said to no end. As a result, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, severely hindered by the implosion of the USSR, was replaced by the quisling Palestinian Authority, which in turn allowed further Israeli annexations.

The Authority is quite complicit in the neoliberal policy agenda. Under the auspices of a one-state solution that gets championed now in the New York Times, always a bad sign, the Palestinians would be subjected to a sort of neoliberal free market political economy in their society, not unlike South Africa today, that would technically end the occupation but would also allow for potential gentrification of the remaining population centers, doing in no time and with complete legality what has taken Zionists over a century to do otherwise.

Dr. Finkelstein has been adamant that one of the maps, provided in the Palestine Papers cache several years ago, might provide the key for a two-state solution that would see the ouster of the quislings in Fatah and some actual justice for Palestine. In the meantime, be sure not to be caught in the deceptive web of hasbara 2.0.

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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