Public Comment

Poisonous PR Reported Too Faithfully

By Joanna Graham
Wednesday November 26, 2008 - 10:44:00 AM

The more I study Riya Bhattacharjee’s “hate crime” article in the Sept. 25 Daily Planet, the more troubling I find it.  

It describes Blue Star PR’s pro-Israel poster in detail (a picture of a soccer star “calling for co-existence,” hard to photograph) and transmits pure ad copy from a Blue Star PR spokesman as if it were a personal comment. It also describes in detail (photographs of) the graffiti which appeared on the poster the night of Sept. 17 and quotes Kriss Worthington’s opinion that such graffiti might be followed by actual violence, so that we “need to take this seriously.”  

Finally, even though the article reports Chancellor Birgeneau’s observation that the vandalism “was not on campus property and may not have been perpetrated by our members,” it nevertheless takes at face value ASUC senator John Moghtader’s baseless link to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—he was rebutting a member’s remarks at the time of the defacement!—and includes a long, irrelevant discussion of what the disagreement was about (olive trees). Score 10 out of 10 for Moghtader and Gabe Weiner, “former ASUC senator” and “campus coordinator for the Israel Peace Initiative,” the person who, “extremely angry and upset” upon discovering the defacement (despite the fact that he’d been watching for it), reported it to the chancellor—and to the media. These two shaped the story to portray Israel and Jews as innocent victims while attributing, on no basis whatsoever, both actual vandalism and potential violence to SJP. Bhattacharjee, and others, dutifully spread the poisonous innuendo. 

Fast forward. On Oct. 15, members of Tikvah: Students for Israel noisily disrupted a lecture in Boalt Hall given by professors Norman Finkelstein and John Dugard at the invitation of SJP and other groups. As a result of this action, Tikvah was placed on probation by the Jewish Student Union, the umbrella group under which it is registered. The principal organizers of the action were Tikvah’s president, John Moghtader, and Gabe Weiner. It is unclear from various press reports whether Weiner presently is or is not a student at UC. 

Fast forward again. As recounted in the Nov. 20 Daily Planet, on Nov. 13 the Zionist Freedom Alliance was mounting a hip-hop rally for Israel on lower Sproul Plaza. Two or three dozen people were in attendance. Three SJP members, one man and two women, hung a Palestinian flag out a window in Eshelman Hall to protest “offensive remarks” at the rally. Organizers of the rally went upstairs; a fight ensued; police arrived too late to sort out the conflicting stories. Until UC releases its findings, we are not even certain who was charged. One thing we do know, however, is this: two of the people involved in the fight were John Moghtader and Gabe Weiner. 

I have questions. One, if I were planning to start a fight with up to three dozen people, would I send one man and two women to do it? Two, is Gabe Weiner a currently enrolled student at UCB? Three, why is he connected with such an extraordinary number of organizations? Tikvah appears to be a recognized UC student group, albeit an embarrassing one, but both the “Israel Peace Initiative” and the “Zionist Freedom Alliance” are off-campus groups, dedicated to promulgating Israel’s maximalist territorial ambitions. Four, how did the highly-biased ZFA version of the altercation, initially picked up by the Daily Cal, then later retracted, appear so speedily on the website Israel National, complete with musings on the satisfactions of beating up “anti-Israel” activists? In the past, organizations like these, especially with the same person(s) involved in all, have often been suspected of being “front groups.” 

Zionists are extraordinarily skilled at furthering the narrative about helpless Jews and evil Arabs. Moreover, once such a narrative is well underway (as this one has been for 60 years), it has its own momentum, so that just an occasional push—like a defaced poster at a bus stop—is sufficient to keep it rolling along, especially since many of the finest, most gentle, people among us, like Kriss Worthington, find it difficult to put the whole enterprise to the question. 

Last Wednesday I was at a lecture where tensions ran so high with reference to this latest incident that even the known facts proved too controversial to recite. At least among Jews, and possibly others, a sense that UC has become a hotbed of anti-Semitism and potential Arab terrorist violence is now well engendered. On a campus with a student body of 35,000, this is a pretty remarkable feat for two men (one of them possibly not a student) to pull off. 

What’s happening here is a campaign to discredit an effective pro-Palestinian campus group—a campaign in which at least four off-campus rightwing Zionist organizations appear to be involved. This campaign can hardly be unexpected, since for many years a nationwide effort to silence both faculty and students who criticize Israel has been ongoing at colleges and universities, pretty much the last places in the United States open to the expression of such dissent. Sadly, the Daily Planet, along with other Bay Area media, by reporting these latest stories as concocted, has been turned into an unwitting accomplice in this effort. I strongly suggest that your reporters inoculate themselves against further dissemination of Zionist propaganda by bringing at least a minimal level of skepticism to bear on any story about apparently spontaneous outbreaks of “age-old Jewish/Palestinian conflict.” And certainly, as far as Cal is involved, if either Mr. Moghtader’s or Mr. Weiner’s name comes up, beware.  


Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.