”We oppose the militarization of internal conflicts, often abetted and even encouraged by massive US arms exports, in areas of the world such as the Middle East and Central America, while their basic human problems are neglected.” Most people, we believe, would readily support such a straightforward declaration—one sentence from the official “call” for the August 27 march in Washington for “Jobs, Peace and Freedom.” It identifies, with commendable simplicity, a US policy responsible for unspeakable suffering for people unfortunate enough to dwell in these lands so prized by the captains of industry and stewards of state.
For many national Jewish organizations, this sentence represented an unacceptable challenge by the organizers of this event commemorating the great civil rights march led by Martin Luther King 20 years ago. Donald Feldstein, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, dismissed the call as “a hodgepodge of national and international issues quite unrelated to the central civil rights goals that unite most Americans of good will.” Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was more blunt: “In view of Israel being a recipient of some of these ‘massive arms,’ the message is clear: we do not belong in this march.”
Except for New Jewish Agenda and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the major Jewish organizations have refused to endorse the march. They have nevertheless worked behind the scenes to pressure march organizers to delete critical references to US policy in the Middle East, or to the need for the Palestinian people to be represented in settlement negotiations. According to one report, “the Middle East section of the foreign policy [position] paper, in particular, has been drafted and redrafted several times—getting shorter and more vague with each revision—in an effort to reach a consensus.” The consensus will presumably restrain the American Jewish Committee and the ADL from pressuring trade unions and other groups to pull out, and from mobilizing hostile media coverage against the event.
For at least some of the Jewish organizations, this controversy over Israel may provide a convenient distraction from more pertinent differences over civil rights issues, such as affirmative action. In any event, we wonder if the wording of references to the Middle East will have great impact on the hundreds of thousands attending the march. Our sense is that the march organizers are more reflecting than shaping public opinion on this question. Like Congress, which blithely increases US aid to Israel despite the Lebanon invasion and the West Bank/Gaza occupation, the Jewish organizations seem remarkably inattentive to the fact that Israeli policy, and US support for it, no longer enjoys the same popular indulgence of years past.
Several university communities have recently witnessed blatant campaigns of harassment and intimidation against teachers who dare discuss the contemporary Middle East from a perspective different from that of the Israeli government. At Stanford University, a small group of student zealots harassed and censored guest lecturer and former Rep. Paul McCloskey’s discussion of the pro-Israel lobby in his course on Congress and the decision-making process. Here the university administration backed McCloskey in its review of the controversy.
In Tucson, the University of Arizona administration has rather shamelessly allowed the Tucson Jewish Community Council to restrict the outreach program of the Near East studies center there. As we go to press, university president Henry Koffler is sitting on a report by four outside academic arbitrators which might well resolve this two-year-old conflict.
We must report on yet another instance of political intimidation. The Anti-Defamation League has charged that Elizabeth Femea’s film of Rashidiyya camp in south Lebanon, Women Under Siege, is “unabashed propaganda for the PLO.” The film is the third in a series on Middle Eastern women, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Obviously,” claimed ADL director Perlmutter, “American taxpayers never intended their money to be used for such a purpose.” Perlmutter, who believes that American taxpayers intend their money to be used to finance Israeli devastation of Rashidiyya, could be expected to be critical of a film that portrays Palestinians—in this case women and children—as human beings. President Reagan’s chairman of the National Endowment, William Bennet, says he “would have to agree with [the ADL’s] assessment.” The Association of Independent Video and Film Makers, recalling earlier NEH attacks on a film on Nicaragua which did not toe the administration line, has strongly deplored Bennet’s behavior.