Sidebar: Sanne DeWitt and the Israel Action Committee of the East Bay

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:11:00 AM

A man identifying himself as “Dan Patterson” walked into South Berkeley’s Vault Cafe recently and brandished a letter in the face of proprietor Houishi Ghaderi which threatened consequences for any business which continued to advertise in the Daily Planet,  

The paper contained no signature, but it did state that a newsletter “e-mailed to much of the East Bay’s Jewish community” will continually list the newspaper’s advertisers. 

The newsletter listed in the e-mail is the IACEB Activist Newsletter, published in electronic format by the Israel Action Committee of the East Bay, which is headed by Sanne DeWitt. The handout delivered to Ghaderi marked the group’s first open involvement in the Daily Planet boycott. 

DeWitt, herself a Holocaust survivor, was the sponsor of a controversial Jan. 16, 2005, exhibition of the ruins of a Jerusalem bus at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, adjacent to City Hall. 

That event was marked by heated encounters between Palestinians and their supporters and militant Jews and their supporters from Christians for Israel. The intervention of police in riot gear was required when the confrontation briefly turned to violence. 

The centerpiece was the hull of a bus destroyed by a suicide bomber on Jan. 29, 2004, who took the lives of 11 passengers. According to Front Page Magazine, DeWitt was inspired to bring the bus to Berkeley after she saw it on display at AIPAC’s annual meeting in Washington in 2004. 

IACEB’s newsletter was also center-stage in a second controversy that earned a denunciation from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in February 2008. 

According to a Cox News Service story of Feb. 16, the campaign denounced an e-mail which contained an article from an IACEB newsletter denouncing Obama’s advisers as “Israel haters.” 

According to Cox reporter Larry Lipman, “The article circulating in the e-mail claims that Obama is getting advice on Israel from advisers who oppose Israel and are sympathetic to the Palestinians and Iran.” 

The central focus was Harvard professor Samantha Power, a member of the faculty of the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. A former journalist, Power is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. 

Based on Power’s criticism of Israel’s 2007 invasion of Southern Lebanon, the IACEB article asked, “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” 

Obama’s campaign called the article an outrageous smear, Lipman wrote, And Florida U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler told Lipman, “I think it’s fair to say that no one in Congress is more dedicated to Israel’s security than I am, and that’s why Sen. Obama includes me at this level” as an adviser on Israel policy. 

When Lipman called DeWitt, he reports , she told him that the article was compiled from a variety of sources, and “I don’t vouch for the accuracy of the information in any specific article.” 

Power later resigned from the Obama campaign in March after describing Obama rival Hillary Clinton as “a monster” in an interview with a reporter from The Scotsman. After the election, she joined the president-elect’s transition team, and after the inauguration was named director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Council. 

Another Daily Planet advertiser initially rebuffed the threat when she received a copy of the letter, which she characterized as “someone’s distorted views and vicious ways.” But she said that because several Jewish customers had announced they wouldn’t do business with the company anymore, she had decided to cancel the ads because she couldn’t afford “to get tangled in a political battle, right or wrong.” 

Sanne DeWitt, reached at her home May 15, declined to comment for this article but did say “I have never called for a boycott” of the paper. 

However, DeWitt did write a letter to the editor a few years ago, published in the April 23, 2004, edition of the Daily Planet, following the publication of an editorial cartoon which she characterized as anti-Semitic. “This cartoon reminds me of Nazi art which libeled the German Jews in the 1930s,” DeWitt wrote. “I will not patronize any of your advertisers and I will tell them so.” 

DeWitt is an assertive defender of Israel and told readers of J Weekly in November, “Jews have the responsibility to demand respect from other groups and they have the right to protect themselves when attacked. ‘Turning The Other Cheek’ is asking for trouble. Groveling and cringing are not proper responses from a proud people.”