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Organizers say pro-Israel filmmaker with controversial past deceives, disrupts Penn BDS conference

Feb 04, 2012

 Alex Kane

Filmmaker Martin Himel (Photo:

Organizers of the University of Pennsylvania’s BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) conference acted to prevent a rightwing pro-Israel filmmaker from interviewing participants at the conference because he misrepresented himself and disrupted the event Saturday, they said. 

The fracas started when organizers got word that Martin Himel, a Canadian filmmaker with a controversial ideological history, had registered for the event without identifying himself as a reporter and was interviewing conference-goers. After some discussion, a decision was made to tell Himel that he could not film any more, although he was allowed to attend the conference since he registered as a participant.

“This group talks about open press,” but they couldn’t handle tough questions, Himel said in a phone interview.

PennBDS explains the decision:

In order to ensure a safe and orderly event, the organizers of this weekend’s UPenn BDS conference, which has been the target of a campaign of vicious, slanderous attacks in recent weeks, instituted a press registration policy designed to facilitate media coverage without interfering with the work of conference attendees.

Unfortunately, at least one individual has abused this policy by deceiving conference organizers in regards to their true identity and agenda. This misrepresentation, and subsequent interview tactics employed by said individual, caused a substantial disruption to the organizers’ educational mission, prompting organizers to ask said individual to desist so that order could be restored.

All journalists properly registered, including colleagues of said individual [his film crew], maintain their access to participants and to conference proceedings that are open to media. Organizers regret any inconvenience caused to conference participants by the presence of said individual, and reiterate their commitment to allowing free access to journalists who conduct themselves in an ethical and professional manner.

This is not the first time Palestine solidarity activists have had to contend with Himel, who has also worked for WorldFocus and PBS. A documentary he produced about Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Concordia University in Canada and the protests that ensued painted Palestine solidarity activists as anti-Semites and compared the breaking of windows during a protest against Netanyahu to Kristallnacht.

Writing for the Toronto Star in 2003, Antonia Zerbisias dubbed Himel’s documentary as “hyperbolic”:

A controversial Global TV documentary that portrays last September’s student demonstration in Montreal against a speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the dawn of a new Holocaust is getting a repeat showing this week – despite three formal complaints against the film.

The outgoing Concordia Student Union (CSU) as well as Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and the Canadian Muslim Forum claim that Confrontation At Concordia presents an unfair picture of events at the downtown campus, which is portrayed as “the vipers’ nest of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli hatred…”

The complainants have a point. I watched this film twice, and while there’s no doubt that some pro-Palestinian students got too hot under the kaffiya, comparing one broken university window, a trampled Israeli flag, a few frankly hateful placards plus some chanting, jumping and pumping fists to Kristallnacht, that infamous night in Nazi Germany when Jewish shops and synagogues were destroyed, is hyperbolic to say the least.

But that’s how filmmaker Martin Himel described it when I asked him if bringing up the Holocaust wasn’t going too far.

“I don’t know how much you know about history, but Kristallnacht, all that started with breaking windows,” he said. “They broke windows, they put up posters of Jews and lo and behold.”

Himel makes no apologies for his documentary, adding that he is “not aware of the complaints” against it. Fair enough. He’s based in Israel where he reports for Global. But there’s no excuse for his not mentioning – or even knowing – that Netanyahu’s tour was co-sponsored by the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation, established by his ultimate employer, CanWest Global chair Izzy Asper. Even a simple search of the Montreal Gazette, also a CanWest news organ, would have revealed that.

Another of Himel’s films, titled “Jenin: Massacring Truth,” was praised by Aish Hatorah, a Zionist organization linked to West Bank settlements. And at a B’nai Brith-sponsored Ze’ev Jabotinsky Memorial event, Himel criticized a separate film about the Concordia protest by saying that the film “interviewed a self-hating Jew who agreed with the Arabs.”

Himel left the conference threatening to create problems for PennBDS, but returned as a participant. He said in an interview that his crew was continuing to film.

Live tweeting from the Penn BDS conference

Feb 04, 2012

 Adam Horowitz


Phil, Alex and Annie are in Philadelphia for the Penn BDS conference, and while we wait for their first report we thought we’d bring you up to speed on the story to this point. Here was our reporting in the lead up to the conference:

Here is a message Omar Barghouti recorded for the conference that was played earlier today:

Alex Kane is live-tweeting from the conference. Follow him below or at

Praying while Shi’a: the NYPD’s latest religious profiling scandal

Feb 04, 2012

 Lizzy Ratner and Alex Kane

Ray Kelly Kelly Kelly
New York Police Chief, Ray Kelly

How is it possible that New York police chief Ray Kelly still has a job?

Days after news broke that Kelly gamely sat for an interview for The Third Jihad, the anti-Muslim agitprop-cum-police training video, the Associated Press (bless its investigative soul) has broken news of yet another New York Police Department outrage: in May 2006, as tensions flared between the US and Iran, the NYPD “recommended increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists.”That’s right, a whole religious group was deemed potentially suspect simply because they happen to worship the dominant form of Islam practiced in Iran.

The NYPD’s stunning surveillance recommendations were devised as part of a secret intelligence report prepared specifically for Kelly and titled, “US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City.” At nine pages long, the document is filled with troubling tactics and targets, including a list of more than a dozen mosques, stretching from Connecticut to New Jersey, that were identified for surveillance despite no clear evidence of terrorist activity. Even more damning, perhaps, is the simple, eight-word sentence buried part-way down page two: “Expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi’a mosques.” Both New York City law and the NYPD’s own guidelines clearly prohibit this kind of religious profiling.  (Of course, the NYPD is also prohibited from engaging in racial profiling, but that hasn’t stopped its officers from stopping-and-frisking almost every black man who crosses their paths in certain city neighborhoods.)

And the outrages don’t stop there. In addition to its long list of Shi’a targets, the document also recommends tracking Palestinians living in New York City.Why Palestinians? Because, the report claims, Iran supports Hamas, and New York’s Palestinian community happens to contain some “Hamas members and sympathizers.” Call it the transitive property of Islamophobic profiling.

As the report warns:

The Palestinian community, although not Shi’a, should also be assessed due to presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government. According to US Census data, 3,100 Palestinians reside in NYC.

It’s not clear at this point whether the NYPD implemented all or even any of the recommendations of the “US-Iran Conflict” report. While Kelly claims that the report was merely a “contingency plan,” a former police official told the AP that the recommendations were generally followed. Either way, however, the recommendations are part of a pattern and practice of religious profiling — make that Muslim profiling — that raises serious questions about the leadership of the police department. What if the victims of all this profiling had been Catholics or gay men or Jews? What if Kelly had appeared in a conspiracy video called, say, The Third Temple, conflating all Jewish observance with fundamentalism and warning of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrew US culture and politics? Heads would have rolled, apologies would have been issued. And that would have been right, proper. As it is, neither has happened.

There is still time, however. Just yesterday, 33 civil rights groups called for an investigation by New York State’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, into the NYPD’s surveillance practices. “The need to hold the NYPD accountable for its flagrant use of discriminatory policing practices has never been more glaring and urgent,” the groups wrote. They are awaiting Schneiderman’s response.

Should Alan Dershowitz refuse to take himself seriously?

Feb 04, 2012

David Samel

As Alan Dershowitz forcefully inserts himself into the BDS debate, it is helpful to recall Dershowtiz’s own insight into who should and should not be accepted as a “serious” thinker on peace in the Middle East. In his 2005 volume The Case For Peace, Dershowitz offers a lengthy attack on the late great Tony Judt’s groundbreaking 2003 article in the New York Review of Books. (Think Clifford Irving criticizing Pablo Picasso). Dershowitz dismissed as a “nonstarter” Judt’s call for a single binational state of Jews and Palestinians. He then pronounced that history had proven Judt “completely wrong” less than a year after his article appeared. Dershowitz chided Judt for his lack of faith in the “peace process”:

[Judt] declared that “the Middle East peace process is finished” – not delayed or postponed but forever “finished.” He also believed that “the two state solution – the core of the Oslo process and the present ‘road map’ – is probably already doomed.” Not endangered but ‘doomed’! And he criticized those who, in the spirit of “a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully recite . . . the Israeli cabinet line: It’s all Arafat’s fault. . . Well, it turned out the dummies were right and the professor was wrong. The peace process was not finished. All it needed to start up again was the death of Arafat, because its rejection was in fact “all Arafat’s fault.” Arafat’s untimely death (untimely, because if it had come a few years earlier the Camp David negotiations would almost certainly have produced peace and a Palestinian state) immediately changed the dynamics and restarted the peace process. Rarely has history provided such a natural experiment: while Arafat was alive the peace process remained stymied; as soon as Arafat dies the peace process continue. This alone should be more than enough to disqualify Judt from ever again being taken seriously about how to achieve peace in the Middle East.”

Now, more than six years after Dershowitz’s analysis, let’s revisit the issue. Dershowitz claimed that the “peace process” only needed the death of Arafat to proceed and progress toward eventual resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Judt claimed that the peace process was illusory and doomed to failure. Who was right and who was wrong? The 2005 resumption of peace talks was another inconsequential event in the never-ending series of starts and stops known as the “peace process.” Meanwhile, the Occupation wades through its fifth decade with no end in sight. Yet Dershowitz pinned high hopes on the opportunities presented by Arafat’s “untimely death,” and the ensuing fruitless umpteenth chapter of the peace talks that led to a predictable dead end.

Today, Judt looks like a visionary who accurately foresaw what many are only now coming to realize, that the “peace process” will never produce a viable two-state solution, and we had best prepare for the alternative. Dershowitz’s condemnation of Judt could not appear more foolish. If being wrong on this issue is “more than enough to disqualify someone from ever again being taken seriously,” Dershowitz’s own words consign him to the dustbin of history.

Israeli police shoot international activist in the neck during weekly Nabi Saleh protest

Feb 04, 2012

 Adam Horowitz


From the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee:

Border Police Shoot French Woman in the Neck During Nabi Saleh Demo

The woman was hit in the back of her neck with a tear-gas projectile shot directly at her by a group of Border Police officers during the weekly demonstration in the village of Nabi Saleh yesterday. More that 20 were injured during the demonstration.

Despite a ridiculing statement by the IDF spokesperson that the injury was caused by a stone (see here), the above video clearly shows the the injury was caused by a tear-gas projectile shot directly at a group of very peaceful protesters by Israeli Border Police officers. On December 9th, 2011,Mustafa Tamimi from Nabi Saleh suffered fatal injuries after soldiers shoot him in the face with a tear-gas projectile. The practice of shooting tear-gas canisters directly at people, in fact using them as projectiles, is widespread among Israeli soldiers suppressing Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank.

A Dutch man was also hit by a tear-gas projectile in the waist, and evacuated to the hospital with a suspected fracture.

The protest was attacked by the army well within the village shortly after it set out from the center of the village. The soldiers shot volleys of tear-gas and rubber-coated bullets at the march for no apparent reason. More than 20 injuries were recorded among the protesters throughout the day and two Palestinian journalists were detained.







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