At some point, and it will come soon, blind backers of Israel will be forced to acknowledge the horrific human rights abuses in their beloved homeland. But in the meantime they prefer to behave like bullies, trying to silence any voices that challenge Israel. Palestine? Don’t even think about such dirty things.
This is a revealing Al Jazeera investigation that uncovers some predictably under-hand tactics in the US:
Over the past year, I have obtained public records that shed light on how the Israel lobby works on US campuses. At UC Berkeley, my alma mater, as well as at UC Hastings School of Law, the documents reveal how the Israel lobby pressures university administrators to interfere with campus activity – both academic and political – that addresses Israel’s policies towards and treatment of the Palestinian people.
My requests were made in the shadow of two high-profile backlash campaigns to counter events at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings School of Law. In March 2011, esteemed legal academics and practitioners attended a conference called “Litigating Palestine” at UC Hastings School of Law.
On the eve of the conference, the UC Hastings Board of Directors voted in a closed emergency meeting to withdraw its sponsorship of the event without explanation. Though the conference was permitted to proceed, the Dean of the Law School was asked not to give opening remarks as planned.
A year earlier, a historic decision by UC Berkeley’s student government to divest from companies profiting from Israeli human rights violations and war crimes and occupation was overturned in response to similar pressure. Though the bill initially passed with a 16-4 majority, the student body president vetoed it and, after weeks of intense lobbying, the student senate was one vote short of overcoming the veto.
Though the fact of lobby pressure is a matter of common knowledge, it requires demystification. The records I obtained tend to reveal some of the ways in which the lobby actually applies its pressure. They contain valuable lessons for those who wish to defeat it. I draw several hypotheses from these documents.
Foremost among them is the proposition that the lobby’s influence stems primarily from the fact that, despite public criticism, it is largely uncontested by organised campaigns. Subject to intense pressure, university administrators often make decisions they do not like because they feel they have no other choice.
In hundreds of pages I obtained from UC Berkeley, UC office of the president, and UC Hastings School of Law, I saw communications between the highest level university administrators – people who students can rarely meet or address – and lobbyists in Washington DC at the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organisation of America, and more.
Yet not a single letter came to these administrators on issues like UC Berkeley’s divestment campaign or the UC Hastings’ conference from similarly high-profile national community organisations like the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Council for American-Islamic Relations, or the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
As a result, university administrators were presented with a one-sided view and the impression that the only organised feedback was negative. In both cases, they ultimately adopted the view in front of them, caving into pressure on policy decisions without making an effort to solicit the input of other groups. Where issues were clearly important not only to Jews but also to Arabs, Muslims, and others, administrators only took into consideration the position represented by the Israel lobby. But there is no rational reason why one group’s perspective should be privileged over the others.