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The Israel Lobby and Free Speech

Sid Walker

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Until civil society in general shows some determination to defend core values of post-Enlightenment western civilization on freedom of thought and speech, I believe the Zionist lobby in the USA and elsewhere will continue to bully opponents and attempt to close down public debate on topics it would prefer to keep "off the agenda" (such as its own existence, power and use of strong-arm tactics).

There are encouraging signs this may be happening.

A few minutes ago, I began a post as follows, reproducing a post from the anti-war blog:

Tony Judt Speech Shut Down by ADL

Historian Tony Judt, a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and director of the Remarque Institute at NYU, writes:

I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGO, academics, etc, from the US and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan.

I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was cancelled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli anti-Semites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved and Network 20/20 were forced to cancel.

Whatever your views on the Middle East I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America.

When I went to check the link in my post, I noticed the content had changed as follows:

Tony Judt Speech Shut Down by ADL

UPDATE: Apparently, the Judt speech will go on as planned. But see this from the New York Sun.

In case the New York Sun article changes, here it is:

Poland Abruptly Cancels a Speech By Local Critic of the Jewish State

By IRA STOLL - Staff Reporter of the Sun - October 4, 2006

The government of Poland, moving to avoid getting embroiled in anti-Israel politics, last night abruptly canceled a scheduled speech by a professor at New York University who has become hostile to the Jewish state, just hours before the event was to have taken place at Poland's consulate here in New York.

The decision to cancel the speech, which was billed as being about "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," is a signal of the quickening entente between free Poland and Israel, a relationship that is all the more remarkable for the fact that among the founders of Israel were Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Poland. A Polish diplomat told The New York Sun that the speech, by the NYU professor Tony Judt, would have been inappropriate for the Polish consulate.

"It is a diplomatic post. Whatever is organized here should be in compliance with Poland's foreign policy," the deputy consul general of Poland in New York, Marek Skulimowski, said. "The consulate is not a Hyde Park, it's not a discussion club, it's a consulate." Mr. Skulimowski said that Mr. Judt had been "very critical" of Israel, while the president of Poland had just made a warm visit to Israel a few weeks ago.

The Polish decision was hailed by one of the leading Jewish defense organizations. "Bravo to them for doing the right thing," said the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris. "Tony Judt's message is the polar opposite of the remarkable surge in bilateral relations between Poland and Israel and between Poland and world Jewry."

The speech was to have been at the consulate, but it was actually sponsored by an outside group called Network 20/20, which describes itself as an apolitical educational organization. The group's president and founder, Patricia Huntington, yesterday blamed one Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League, for the cancellation of the speech. "Apparently the Anti-Defamation League tracks Tony Judt's talks on the Internet and tries to get the talks canceled," Ms. Huntington said. "This is censorship, which is of concern to Americans who believe in free speech." She accused the Anti-Defamation League of having "forced," "threatened," and exerted "pressure" on the Polish consulate to cancel the talk.

Mr. Skulimowski of the Polish consulate disputed that account. "I completely disagree with all of her accusations against us," he said. He said the consulate had received phone calls expressing concerns from "a couple of Jewish groups" but also from "representatives of American diplomacy and intelligentsia."

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said that after the League received a phone call and e-mail inquiring about the scheduled talk, it looked into it. When the consulate explained that it was not the sponsor of the talk but was merely renting space to an outside group, Mr. Foxman said he had no objection.

"We said ‘Fine,'" Mr. Foxman said. "We had nothing to do with the cancellation." Mr. Foxman said he was surprised to learn of the cancellation. "That was their decision," he said. "We didn't ask for it."

The canceled speaker himself, Mr. Judt, who is director of the Remarque Institute at NYU and a professor of European studies and of history, blamed the Anti-Defamation League and Mr. Foxman for the cancellation. "The pressure was brought by the ADL," Mr. Judt said. "They had no choice. Foxman had been leaning on the consulate all afternoon."

Mr. Judt said he was happy to have an unexpected free evening, but "sad at what this means for the country." He said he had planned to speak for about 30 minutes, and then to answer questions, about the paper on the influence of the "Israel Lobby" that was authored by professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. That paper described what it alleged to be a vast Israel lobby that included the editors of the New York Times, "neoconservative gentiles," the Brookings Institution, and students at Columbia. The ""Lobby," the paper said, had the "ability to manipulate the American political system," "a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress," and was actively "manipulating the media."

Mr. Judt said he is a Jew who lived in Israel in the 1960s and volunteered for "a number of weeks" as a member of the Israel Defense Force auxiliary after the 1967 war. In a 2003 Los Angeles Times article adapted from a longer and much-discussed article in the New York Review of Books, he called Israel a dysfunctional anachronism and suggested that "a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians" might be preferable.

Ms. Huntington said she planned to reschedule the event at some other venue. "We are going to hear him anyway," she said. In the meantime, she was trying to telephone and e-mail the 100 or so members who had planned to attend the event, letting them know of the cancellation.

Mr. Foxman said the idea that he was to blame for the cancellation is "the conspiratorial nonsense that Mearsheimer and Walt are spinning with the support of Tony Judt."

"The Polish government made up its own mind," Mr. Harris said, dismissing other explanations for the cancellation as irresponsible fearmongering. "Tony Judt can try and frame this however he wants for his own marketing purposes," Mr. Harris said. "No one is stopping the event from being held elsewhere."

Messrs. Walt, Mearsheimer, and Judt have claimed that debate on the U.S.-Israel relationship is squelched by false accusations of anti-Semitism. Mr. Judt and Mr. Mearsheimer participated in a debate last week at Cooper Union in New York, and Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt spoke recently at the National Press Club. The Forward recently reported that Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer had signed a deal with the New York-based publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, owned by the German publisher Holtzbrinck, to write a book about the influence of the "Israel lobby."

The Network 2020 Web site lists another speaker for next month: M. Javad Zarif, the ambassador of Iran to the United Nations. He is scheduled to speak on "Iran's Role in Regional Security."

Edited by Sid Walker
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Good post, Sid. Very interesting indeed.

I hope your optimism is well founded, but there's still 10 days or so till October 16 so Tony Judt might still get the night off, IMO.

Good move posting the Sun article. It might end up as a rare collector's item. :)

Edited by Mark Stapleton
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