TRUTH TO POWER
Editors, Daily Planet:
In its Feb. 13-16 edition, the Berkeley Daily Planet printed a letter to the editor written against me, an African American progressive activist, by a conservative pro-Israel individual named Dan Spitzer.
That letter contained an absolutely false allegation about a statement that Spitzer purported I made while engaged in a public protest at the Feb. 10 speech by right-wing, pro-Israel media pundit Daniel Pipes. Spitzer pathetically claimed that I screamed, “You’re all a bunch of filthy Jewish liars.”
As the anti-racist, anti-Zionist, Jewish-American essayist and public lecturer Tim Wise noted, “[Zionists] can’t be expected to place a very high premium on truth” and, obviously, no lie is too brazen.
As I understand it, it is general newspaper policy to refrain from printing an undocumented accusation such as a second-hand, unverified quote.
Of course, I did not say what Spitzer claimed, as many witnesses to the event can readily attest. In fact, it was I who urged the Daily Planet, in their published apology to me for printing Spitzer’s letter, to seek to obtain a recording of the event from Berkeley Hillel. Such a recording would directly demonstrate the falseness of his accusation.
My actual verbal protest against Pipes was only one voice amongst numerous others speaking out from both the campus and the community. Pipes is a highly controversial and divisive figure, well-known as the American voice for the most reactionary anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim elements in the far right wing of Israel’s conservative Likud Party.
Pipes is also a founder of CampusWatch, a right-wing ideological organization that engages in McCarthyist intimidations of academics. It attacks the very free speech and academic freedom that Berkeley Hillel pretends to champion in this case: CW attacks, particularly, those who politically criticize Israel or Zionism (its fundamentalist, apartheid ideology), or for their so-called “un-Americanism.”
Pipes has taken the position that the Middle East peace process should be abandoned altogether. He believes that Israel should pursue the most extreme military action until the Palestinians are totally crushed as a viable, indigenous people and abjectly surrender all claims to their homeland and self-determination. He also characterizes the vast majority of Muslims and Arabs—internationally and in the Muslim and Arab-American community—as either actual or potential terrorists.
Given his background, it is shocking and shameful that his Hillel sponsors—who are keen to count (typically including any political criticism of Israel) every single incidence of hate speech against Bay Area Jews—would invite a hate speaker like Daniel Pipes to campus.
This invitation prompted a Feb. 10 formal letter to the Daily Californian, signed by many Jews and others in the university community, objecting to Hillel’s invitation to Pipes in the strongest possible terms. The letter described Pipes’ remarks as “vilely xenophobic” and “echo[ing] messages directed against Jews in the past.” The signatories of the letter included Professor Emerita Bluma Goldstein, who lost more than 30 members of her family in the Holocaust, but who nonetheless morally rejects the imposition of nationalist Zionism in Palestine.
I, especially as an African American, consider Pipes’ notorious anti-Arab racist views and extreme anti-Muslim bigotries morally unacceptable. Thus, my conscience compelled me to be included in the many ethnically and religiously diverse (including Jews, Muslims, Christians, other faiths, and secular) voices of objection to Pipes’ hate speech.
In a highly visible, nonviolent form of potential civil disobedience, with the voluntary expectation of being escorted out, I proclaimed to Pipes individually, stating: “You’re a racist Jew [implicitly noting the irony] and you should be ashamed of yourself. Gandhi opposed Zionism. Nelson Mandela opposes Zionism. Desmond Tutu opposes Zionism. Paul Robeson opposed Zionism. You’re the Jewish David Duke!”
Thus I did not—contrary to Spitzer’s false quote—engage in invective or derogatory remarks about Jewish people as a group. I noted Pipes’ Jewishness to emphasize the tragic irony of such a person engaging in the same sort of racist and bigoted behavior which Jews themselves have suffered under throughout history, and which goes against the traditions and philosophy of the Jewish faith.
As for right-wing Spitzer duplicitously invoking Mario Savio: First, Savio was not a racist or a bigot. Second, Savio championed the meaningful free speech rights of those who politically dissent—those without state or corporate media backing—to speak truth to power; he didn’t champion power’s right to free speech, which it inherently has. Third, Savio said that when a system becomes so heinously oppressive, people of conscience must throw themselves upon the gears of that onerous system. In a small but visible way, that’s what we protesters did. Savio also said that protest should be principled, not necessarily polite.
Not one word of Pipes’ prepared speech went unspoken: He still had his (otherwise media-ubiquitous) “free speech.” No protester attempted to actually stop him from speaking. But we people of conscience will not let an evident racist/bigot like Pipes carry on without inconvenient interruptions for truth.
There’s a clear message here: If you’re a notorious racist, bigot, or oppressor, don’t come to Berkeley.
Editors, Daily Planet:
On Feb. 17, the Berkeley Daily Planet apologized to Joseph Anderson “for any problems” the publication of Dan Spitzer’s Feb. 13 letter to the editor “might have created for him.”
I in turn regret that you apologized to Mr. Anderson because I, the speaker at the UC Berkeley event in question on Feb. 10, clearly heard verbatim exactly what Mr. Spitzer reported, namely Mr. Anderson yelling repeatedly “You’re all a bunch of filthy Jewish liars.”
Editor’s Note: The controversy over who said what at a Daniel Pipes lecture on the UC campus reminds us of the movie Rashomon, which told the story of an incident through the eyes of several different witnesses who saw what happened in different ways. We originally printed a letter in which one attendee recounted his recollection of what was said by another attendee, after which the second person wrote in to deny that he had said what the first letter reported. At the request of the second attendee, we’ve asked for any tapes which were made of the incident, but none have been produced. In this issue we are printing the second person’s recollection, as well as a brief letter from the lecturer regarding his own memory of the event, and that’s all the farther we’re going to go with this discussion, even though we’ve had several more letters from witnesses with a variety of perceptions of what happened. In the future we request that our correspondents refrain from making specific accusations against individuals who are not public figures.