By Alex Kane
Smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic may have cost Josh Block a perch at a Washington think tank, but right-wing groups continue to use the slur to attack those in solidarity with Palestinians. This time, though, the right-wing Zionist group Stand With Us (SWU) was caught pushing fabricated quotes in an effort to attack an upcoming boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) conference in Pennsylvania.
A celebratory press release applauding an official University of Pennsylvania statement on a BDS conference in February turned into a headache for SWU after quick examination of the press release made clear that SWU was making quotes up to undermine the conference. The quotes were attributed to well-known writers Helena Cobban and Ali Abunimah.
We were extremely concerned because the line-up of scheduled speakers indicated that this event would be filled with age-old bigotry and prejudice to incite hatred against Israel and foment bitter divisions on campus. Our research has revealed that most of the scheduled speakers are extremists who oppose the existence of the Jewish state and irresponsibly spread propaganda, distort facts, whitewash or justify terrorism and the murder of Jews, and frequently lie about basic facts to demonize Israel and its supporters…
Another invited speaker, Helena Cobban, has claimed that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.” (January 2009, Georgetown University) Keynote speaker Ali Abunimah has declared that “Ending the occupation does not solve the problem. The Jews do not view all human beings as equal. The 1948 borders were calculated to harm Christians, Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims.” (Chicago Sabeel Conference, October 7, 2005)
When I asked StandWithUs via Twitter to provide and publish the source for the quote, which is not included in the press release, they eventually provided a link to an article by one Alyssa Lappen on FrontPage Magazine, the website of Islamophobic agitator David Horowitz.
I challenged StandWithUs repeatedly (the tweet conversation between us is reproduced below) to publish a recording of my remarks. I asked them if they had even heard such a recording. They never answered whether they had and claimed that the “reporter” must have one and said I should ask her myself.
But the quote went out in a press release bearing the name of StandWithUs. It’s obvious from their statements that they don’t have any recording, they haven’t heard one, and made no effort to verify the alleged quotes.
StandWithUs claimed to have been present at my 2005 talk but hasn’t identified who was there, nor even claimed that the person or persons representing them had heard me utter the words that appear in their press release between quotation marks.
SWU also had their story wrong about Lappen. The group claimed that Lappen had attended the conference, but in an e-mail to me, she said that she obtained the quote from a “reliable source” who was there. Lappen said that there “currently seems to be no publicly available recording of the quotation.” Lappen insisted that she writes “non-fiction” and checks “everything thoroughly,” but it’s clear that Abunimah did not say what SWU and Lappen claim he said; eyewitnesses at the conference in 2005 confirm Abunimah’s story. Furthermore, SWU didn’t bother to link to any sources when attributing the made-up quotes to Abunimah and Cobban.
SWU also appears to have made up the Cobban quote. Cobban says she never said what is in the press release, and told me:
Throughout my 17-year career as a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, pro-Israeli discourse-suppression groups made repeated attempts to smear my name with fabricated quotes and inaccurate claims. They always failed. I see that this organization ‘Stand With Us’ is now continuing that tradition. But they are as incapable of authenticating their current claim as any of their predecessors. My record of standing for the equal rights of all human persons, be they Palestinian or Israeli, and my opposition to all forms of violence, including the very harmful systemic violence embodied in the system of military rule that Israel’s government has maintained over the occupied territories for nearly 45 years now, speaks for itself.
The controversy clearly detracted from SWU’s efforts to undermine the upcoming BDS conference. What’s more is that, as Abunimah notes, their claimed “victory”–that the BDS conference “does not have the university’s imprimatur”–doesn’t mean anything:
@StandWithUs also claiming a fake victory that UPenn isn’t “endorsing” BDS conference. Since when do universities endorse all events?
The SWU press release is part of the group’s efforts to undermine BDS efforts around the US. Embarrassing episodes like this, though, should give grassroots BDS activists hope as they continue to fight deep-pocketed Israel lobby groups.
Alex Kane is a staff reporter for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter