Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hate Rally Organizer Karen Lugo Appointed To California Civil Rights Commission Advisory Committee

Karen Lugo is protecting the culture of Disneyland from the "tyranny of the minority"

Karen Lugo is protecting the culture of Disneyland from the "tyranny of the minority"

The organizers of the anti-Muslim hate rally in Yorba Linda are suddenly on the defensive. Refusing to admit that they behaved like demented racists, or that there is anything wrong with demonizing Muslim citizens of the United States, the North OC Conservative Coalition’s Karen Lugo, Jewish Federation love instructor Rabbi David Eliezrie, and others are claiming that they participated in a peaceful “patriotic” rally that was corrupted by members of an unwanted “splinter group” (was it led by a one-armed man?) who appeared from out of the blue to shout racial slurs at families entering the Muslim charity event.

Lugo and Eliezrie must have been nowhere near Villa Park Councilmember Deborah Pauly when she made the following statement: “I have a wonderful 19 year old son who’s a United States Marine. As a matter of fact I know quite a few Marines who will be happy to help these terrorists [Pauly pointed towards the community center] to an early meeting in paradise.” Actually, Eliezrie has admitted to being in the audience and Lugo was on stage beside Pauly, where she served as the official emcee. How absolutely unfair of CAIR to turn its cameras on the extreme racists at the gates and not focus on the more moderate racists on stage!

Lugo has put herself forward as the official face of the hate rally, yet she has only been identified in the press as a “protester” or “demonstrator.” In fact, Lugo is a veteran right-wing operative and self-proclaimed constitutional law professor who dazzled the crowd with her knowledge of American’s founding documents: “The Constitution is not supposed to protect a tyranny of the minority,” she exclaimed. “It is not discrimination to say no when a group is less than one percent of our population.”

Lugo speaks at 9:30

According to Lugo, who appears to be obsessed with the Muslim menace, patriotic Americans need to save the culture of Disneyland. As she said, “It is a matter of importance to our culture and society to tell a corporation like Disneyland, ‘We support you in keeping your culture and in not allowing the hijab to be worn as part of an employee’s garb.'”

Despite holding such views and having presided over what basically amounted to a cross burning, Lugo’s bio indicates that she has managed to secure an appointment on the California Civil Rights Commission Advisory Committee, which reports directly to the US Civil Rights Commission. I’m not sure how Lugo’s appointment came about, but perhaps it was inspired by the UN Human Rights Council awarding a seat to Col. Moammar Gaddafi.

Anti-Muslim Hate Rally Organizer Eliezrie to Teach “Kabbalah of Love” at Jewish Federation Vegas Mega-Event

It's a thin line between love and hate

It's a thin line between love and hate

It should be clear to anyone who has seen the video of the anti-Muslim hate rally in Yorba Linda that the organizers of the event are extremely dangerous and demented people. If their pathological racism was not apparent before the video surfaced, then it is confirmed now. So why is the Jewish Federation and a who’s who of established Jewish organizations, from Birthright Israel to the New Israel Fund to JDate (even Rock The Vote is involved somehow), hosting one of the hate rally’s key organizers this weekend at a major gathering in Las Vegas billed as “an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration that will draw over 1,500 Jewish young adults (ages 22-45) from across North America?”

Last week, Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Yorba Linda chapter of Chabad was among a mob of local extremists who screamed racial epithets at immigrant families. On Monday, however, the rabbi will lead a session at “Tribefest” on “the Kabbalah of Love.” “Love has always been a central theme in Jewish teachings,” the event description reads. “In an interactive experience we will explore the mystical and classical sources about love.” How touching.

Anti-Muslim hate rally summons the ghosts of Jim Crow

Elizabeth Eckford walks to Little Rock Central High in 1957

Elizabeth Eckford walks to Little Rock Central High in 1957

While watching the unforgettably hideous (and now viral) footage of the recent anti-Muslim demonstration in Yorba Linda, California, I could not help but think of Elizabeth Eckford, the African-American student who was forced to walk through a phalanx of violent white racists chanting “Lynch her! Lynch her!” during the federal government’s first attempt to integrate Little Rock Central High School. This iconic image was immediately recalled by the video of Muslim-American children walking through a crowd of protesters calling them terrorists, threatening them, and chanting “Go home!” as they proceeded towards a local community center for a charity event. Eckford was badly scarred by her experience; the trauma affected her life for decades. I wonder how the children who had to be marched through the gauntlet of racists in Yorba Linda will remember their experience.

Billed as a “Patriotic Rally,” the anti-Muslim demonstration was organized by official hate group leader Pam Geller, Tea Party outfits including the North Orange County Conservative Coalition and We Surround Them OC 912; and Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Yorba Linda chapter of Chabad-Lubavitch, a messianic Orthodox Jewish group. Though Chabad does not make its political positions explicit, I have learned through first hand experience how extreme its leadership is, especially in Southern California.

In 2002, I took a Hebrew class with a rabbi (I wanted to improve my very poor reading at the time), who led the West L.A. Chabad chapter and was supposedly a renowned teacher of the Kabbalah. At some point, the rabbi invited me and some other students over for a shabbat dinner which, given Chabad’s mission to proselytize within the Jewish community, would eventually lead to some form of pressure to join the organization. The rabbi’s father, who was also a rabbi, led off dinner with a bold prediction: “Within five years, the Palestinians will be eliminated by nuclear energy!” I was shocked and did not know what to say. At first, I attempted to politely register my displeasure. But nothing would stop him. “Either we use nuclear energy or we transfer them all!” he said. No one at the table seemed to have any problem with these wishes for genocide. “So will you use cattle cars to transfer them?” I asked. “We can use camels. Whatever,” he responded. Several of the men at the table chuckled at this remark. I excused myself from dinner soon after and would never have contact with Chabad again.

Rabbi David Elriezie at the Yorba Linda hate rally

Correction: This photo does not show Rabbi David Eliezrie, however, Eliezrie has admitted to participating in the rally

Chabad’s Rabbi Eliezrie appeared at the Yorba Linda hate rally with an Israeli flag in one hand and an American flag in the other. Other participants displayed the Israeli flag as well. In fact, the Israeli flag seemed to be peeking out from a cluster of American flags that formed the backdrop for speakers including Republican Rep’s Ed Royce and Gary Miller, who both railed against the Muslim presence in Orange County. At 4:06 in the video, the crowd can be seen hectoring a Muslim couple with the chant, “We support Israel!” As even Haaretz has noticed, the Israeli flag is becoming a key symbol for a trans-Atlantic neo-fascist axis that thrives on violent resentment towards Muslim and Arab immigrants. Given the ethnocratic basis of the Israeli state and the country’s settler-colonial ethos, the trend is not ironic or very surprising.

Back in 1957, in Little Rock Central High, an awkward, acne scarred boy sat behind Elizabeth Eckford every day in class, muttering in a low drone, “Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger.” Harassment from him and scores of white students would eventually drive Eckford to attempt suicide several times. Fifty years later, that awkward student, whose name is Charles Sawrie, expressed deep contrition for what he had done. “It was all kind of stupid,” he told journalist David Margolick. “I just wanted to get a name for myself. I don’t remember anything about her except she was black and my job was to make it as rough for the blacks as I could.”

Demonstrators celebrate their intimidation of Muslim families

Demonstrators celebrate their intimidation of Muslim families

On the Facebook page of the North Orange County Conservative Coalition, adults who behaved just as Sawrie did as a high school student in the Jim Crow South are overflowing with pride. “This was a great opportunity to speak out against an oppressive threat to us all. The speakers were GREAT as were the Patriots who joined us,” remarked someone named Gibbs Carol. Another protester named Desare Ferraro commented: “Americans are finally waking up to the dangers of multi-culturalism and putting out the “NOT WELCOME” sign to terrorist supporting fundraisers in our communities.” “What a great rally yesterday in Yorba Linda!” said Neil O’Brien.

Below are two videos. The first is of the Arab American Institute’s congressional briefing on Rep. Peter King’s upcoming hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community, which will essentially function as a congressional legitimization of the anti-Muslim crusade. I speak at about 32:00 and describe the trans-Atlantic Islamophobic axis:

The second video contains my appearance on Viewpoint with Jim Zogby, where I discuss the Islamophobic axis in further detail with Maya Berry:

Facing Up To Jewish Nationalism and Racist Violence

This piece originally appeared on Electronic Intifada and was co-authored by Joseph Dana.

When we released the now famous and censored video Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem, we were widely attacked and dismissed for daring to publicize footage of college-age Jewish kids behaving like racist fanatics while intoxicated. We argued that our footage revealed a deep sickness within Israeli society and among diaspora Jews who defined their Jewish identity according to extreme Zionist ideology (“Censored by the Huffington Post and Imprisoned By The Past: Why I Made ‘Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,’” 6 June 2009).

We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.

In response, Ben Hartman claimed in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that we were “on a mission to humiliate the Jewish people” (“Jews gone wild: Why camcorders and booze don’t mix,” 11 June 2009).

American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).

Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).

Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.

A year and a half later, hate crimes carried out by Jewish youths against random Arabs are increasingly common in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel (“Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel,” 30 December 2010).

The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).

What happened next was eerily familiar to us. After a media blackout imposed by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security police, the Israeli media produced a series of articles dismissing the gravity of the murder (“Did Israeli media sideline racist motives in killing of Arab youth in Jerusalem?” 23 February 2011).

“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.

With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.

Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).

It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).

While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).

Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Kadima Party, recently warned that an “evil spirit has been sweeping over the country” (“‘Evil spirit’ sweeping over Israel, warns opposition leader Tzipi Livni,” The Guardian, 10 January 2011).

Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.

After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).

She also praised the Israeli army for “going wild” in Gaza, as The Independent, reported on 13 January 2009 (Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge“).

Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?

Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).

Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.

JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson debates for BDS at J Street’s annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

Today at J Street’s annual convention, my friend and one-time debate partner Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, made the case for BDS against liberal Zionist opponents Ken Bob of Ameinu and writer Bernard Avishai. I was not at the conference, in part because I am speaking at Rutgers’ Palestine Awareness Week later today. But I have heard that the session was packed; according to Vilkomerson, a sizable portion of the room was with her.

Because it wasn’t videotaped, I have reproduced the full text of Rebecca’s opening remarks below. Note that she identified BDS as a Palestinian-led movement that forms the international backbone of the Palestinian non-violent strategy and is “part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region.” Building on these points, Vilkomerson questioned why there were no Palestinian members on the panel (the BDS movement’s mastermind, Omar Barghouti, has been mysteriously denied a visa to enter the US to promote his book about the boycott). In the end, however, she was grateful to J Street for simply hosting the discussion while the rest of the Jewish establishment — including Ameinu — demonizes BDS proponents and tries to change the subject.

Remarks to Jstreet BDS Panel

February 28, 2011

Rebecca Vilkomerson.

I just want to take a moment in appreciation of J Street for including this discussion at the conference.  It is the most important conversation, in my mind, that we can have at this moment, and I thank you for having it.

I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is.  BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.

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