Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alison Weir: If Americans Knew

This is a guest post by Spencer Sunshine. It is extracted from the recently published Political Research Associates report Constructing Campus Conflict. I strongly recommend that report, and in particular its opening section "Setting the Scene" by Chip Berlet. A later part of the report consists of profiles of US universities and of key groups and individuals involved in propagating or campaigning against anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racism on campus. The profile of Alison Weir and her organisation "If Americans Knew" is from that section. ---B.

“Alison Weir: If Americans Knew”
Spencer Sunshine

In Chip Berlet, ed., Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses, 2007–2011 (Boston: Political Research Associates, 2014), http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/06/CCC_May2014.pdf, pp. 103–4.

Few political writers today appear in the publications of both the Left and the Far Right. One rare exception is Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew. Her denunciations of the vast power that Israel and its supporters in the United States allegedly wield resonate on the Far Right with figures like former Klansman and politician David Duke, the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review, antisemitic talk radio host Clay Douglas, and the Pacifica Forum at the University of Oregon, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. (1)

At the same time, she can be found on the Left in the pages of Z Magazine, Project Censored, and CounterPunch. She has been praised by Socialist Worker, broadcast on affiliates of the Pacifica radio network, and spoken at the Left Forum conference. (2)

Weir is a regular speaker on college campuses. She has appeared at Harvard Law School, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Stanford University, American University, the University of Chicago, Vassar College, and elsewhere. In 2003, she received death threats after she and Hatem Bazian debated with David Meir-Levi and Eric Sirkin at the University of California, Berkeley about how to achieve peace in the Middle East. (3)

Alison Weir blogs at www.alisonweir.org and edits “Israel-Palestine: The Missing Headlines” (http://israel-palestinenews.blogspot.com). While there is no editor listed by name at the site, it seems that she is also editor of the new IAK blog http://israelpalestineanalysis.wordpress.com. Weir is president of the Council for the National Interest and sometimes hosts its radio show, “Jerusalem Calling.”

At first glance, Weir seems like a typical Palestine solidarity activist. She says that she founded IF Americans Knew (IAK) after she visited the Occupied Territories in 2001 and witnessed numerous human rights violations that were not covered in the United States press. IAK is sometimes portrayed as a media watchdog group and its tagline is “What Every American Needs to Know About Israel-Palestine.”

But a closer inspection of Weir and IAK reveals disturbing elements. The main focus of their work is not on Palestinian conditions or rights, but on the power of the so-called Israel lobby in the United States. Weir describes the U.S. media’s tilt toward Israel as possibly “the most monumental cover-up in media history.”(2) While she admits that a number of factors may account for this alleged pro-Israel bias, she consistently targets the Jewish backgrounds of editors and reporters.(4) Even if they think they are unbiased, she says, unconscious family influences are likely to sway their opinions. (5)

IAK’s criticisms of Zionism and Israel dovetail with traditional antisemitic narratives, and Weir often cites antisemitic writers and publications as her sources. When asked if the work of antisemitic authors including Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon, and Kevin MacDonald were truly legitimate, she replied, “Yes. I suggest people read their work for themselves.” (6)

In 2005, IAK analyzed the coverage of deaths in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the New York Times and other newspapers, and concluded the outlets had a pro-Israel bias. (7) It met with New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent, who did not accept their findings. (8) The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a pro-Israel media-watchdog group, criticized IAK’s report for methodological errors. (9)

In 2008, another controversy erupted after the public library in Greenwich, Connecticut cancelled a talk by Weir that had been scheduled by a member of IAK in one of the library’s public meeting rooms. Under pressure from free-speech advocates, such as the American Library Association, the talk was rescheduled. The controversy received national media attention. (10)

In 2009, based on stories that had appeared in a Swedish newspaper, Weir published articles in CounterPunch and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs accusing Israel of harvesting organs from Palestinians. (11) Weir’s claim was widely denounced as a modern version of the antisemitic blood libel—the myth that Jews use the blood of sacrificed Christian children to make Passover matzos.

Weir says “Israel’s core identity is based on ethnic and religious discrimination by a colonial, immigrant group,” and that it has an “exclusionist identity.” (12) She describes the 1948 founding of Israel as “one of the modern world’s most successful ethnic cleansings,” and a “holocaust” for Palestinians; elsewhere she implies this holocaust continues today. (13)

She has also said that “Israel struck first in all its wars except one. Historically, it was the initiator of conflict.” (14) IAK writers such as Mazin Qumsiyeh, Jeffrey Blankfort, and Kathy Christison and the late Bill Christison claim that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was planned and executed by groups that are identified as being overwhelmingly Jewish.

Weir has been on the board of NewPolicy.org, an offshoot of the New Policy PAC, whose mission is “to work with citizens, lawmakers, and administration officials to implement longstanding American positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the interest of enhancing American security” (15) whose antisemitic website http://windowintopalestine.blogspot.com/ includes assertions that Israel was behind the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In one radio interview, Weir also referred to “the significant role that Zionists played in pushing the U.S. into World War I,” and said, “these same groups [are] trying to push us into a war with Iran.” (16)

IAK claims that Israel, together with its supporters in the United States, controls many aspects of the U.S. government. Weir says, “The Israel lobby became far more powerful than those who originally tried to oppose it: the State Department, the Pentagon, the oil lobby.” (17) IAK board member Paul Findley (a former Republican congressional representative from Illinois) describes the United States as in “bondage to Israel’s misdeeds.” (18) Weir summarizes the situation by saying, “What Israel says, our media repeat. What Israel demands, our government gives. What Israel wants, its well-greased lobby delivers.” (19)

IAK is careful never to blame “the Jews”; instead it consistently refers to subsets of Jews such as “the Zionists,” “the Israel lobby,” or “the neocons.” American neoconservatives in particular are specifically identified as being overwhelmingly Jewish. (20) Jewish subgroups are described consistently as elites who subvert national sovereignty. The “dual loyalties” of these subgroups is a common theme on the IAK website. “Neocons” in the United States and “oligarchs” in Russia receive special attention. Weir says that IAK “is opposed to discrimination in all its forms,” and one of her articles is subtitled “Antisemitism is Wrong.” However, the article does not address the issue other than to say that people should not be dissuaded from criticizing Israel because they fear being called antisemitic. (21) When asked about what constitutes an antisemitic view that she would oppose, she identified statements which refer explicitly and collectively to “the Jews.” (22)

IAK narratives are consistent with the antisemitic conspiracisms of the past century, including the claims that Jews are clannish and cabal-like, have dual loyalties, control the media and the government, steal the body parts of non-Jews, and start wars, often in countries where they are a minority and where the wars are against the country’s interests. Following a classic populist narrative, Weir says that the American people must be informed about this situation to start “reclaiming our nation, our principles and our souls.” (23) One email sent by the Council for the National Interest and signed by Weir even deploys one of the most famous antisemitic images, claiming that liberal J Street and the conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee are “two tentacles of the same lobby.” (24)

Like many populist and conspiratorial narratives, some of IAK’s information is true and has potentially important things to contribute to public discourse; some of it is misleading, biased, or suffers from serious omissions; and much of it repeats traditional antisemitic conspiracisms. Alison Weir is not a recognized scholar on Middle East affairs, and campus groups and activists working for recognition and rights for Palestinians would be well advised to seek out more legitimate sources of information on the conflict than IAK. (25)


1. Concerning Weir’s articles: The Institute for Historical Review (IHR) provides links to numerous Weir articles, including: “Should the U.S. End Aid to Israel?” April 2008, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/2008_04.shtml; “Israel and Palestine, Choosing Sides,” September 2004, www.ihr.org/roundupar-chive/0409.shtml; “Humiliation at Israeli Checkpoints: Strip-Searching Children,” June 2007, www.ihr.org/ rounduparchive/0706.shtml; “Do Americans Even Care? Russia, Israel and Media Omissions,” February 2005, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/0502.shtml; “New York Times Minimizes Palestinian Deaths,” April 2005, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/0504.shtml; “The Truth About Israel,” www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/2009_04.shtml; “Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine,” October 2010, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/2009_10.shtml; “We Won’t Forget Rachel Corrie,” March 2005, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/0503.shtml; “The Outrage at Helen Thomas,” June 2010, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/2010_06.shtml; and “Saving Lives by Saving Money,” August 2009, www.ihr.org/rounduparchive/2009_08.shtml.

Weir has appeared four times on Clay Douglas’s radio show “The Free American Hour” (April 23 and August 25, 2010; and February 9 and May 18, 2011). Clay Douglas, April 23, 2010, The Free American Hour, BlogTalkRadio, www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2010/04/23/the-free-american-hour;www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2010/08/25/the-free-american-hour; www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2011/02/09/the-free-american-hour; and http://www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2011/05/18/the-free-american-hour.

In 2003, the Southern Poverty Law Center named Douglas one of its “40 to Watch: Leaders of the Radical Right,” www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2003/fall/40-to-watch?page=0,2.

The Pacifica Forum hosted Weir on February 16, 2007: http://pacificaforum.org/archives.html. The SPLC “hate map” includes the Pacifica Forum: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=OR.

2. Z Magazine published Weir’s “Associated Press Omissions” in May 2006, www.zcommunications.org/associated-press-omissions-by-alison-weir, and “Ethan Bronner’s Ties to the IDF” in April 2010, www.zcommunications.org/ethan-bronners-ties-to-the-idf-by-alison-weir-1.

Weir’s “Israel and Palestine: Choosing Sides,” appeared in Project Censored’s anthology Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

A Weir talk was praised as “moving” in Richard Anders, “Portland marches for Palestine,” Socialist Worker, January 14, 2010, http://socialistworker.org/2010/01/14/portland-marches-for-palestine.

She has appeared numerous times on Pacifica-affiliate KBOO in Portland, Oregon, spoke at the 2008 Left Forum conference in New York City. (http://leftforum.mayfirst.org/2008/node/41).

CounterPunch has published numerous Weir stories, including: “An Old Evil Renames Itself as ‘Transfer’: A Thousand Professors”, February 8, 2003, www.counterpunch.org/weir02082003.html; “Death Threats in Berkeley: ‘Close Your Organization or Die’,” October 18/19, 2003, www.counterpunch.org/weir10182003.html; “The ADL’s Security Junkets: Making America as ‘Secure’ as Israel,” February 1, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir02012005.html; “Do American’s Even Care? Russia, Israel and Media Omissions,” February 17, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir02172005.html; “The Meaning of Calm: Relativity, LA Times Style,” February 26/27, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir02262005.html; “We Won’t Forget Rachel Corrie: Uprising on the Anniversary of a Death,” March 15, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir03152005.html; “New York Times Minimizes Palestinian Deaths: The Perversions of Daniel Okrent,” April 25, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir04252005.html; “Memo to Jon Stewart: Glad You’re Against Torture, So Why’d You Give Israel a Pass?,” November 9, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir11092005.html; “Wall, What Wall? My Bethlehem Experience,” December 12, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir12122005.html; “Avoiding the Roman Centurion—My Bethlehem Experience, the Sequel,” December 17, 2005, www.counterpunch.org/weir12172005.html; “Anatomy of a Cover-Up: When A Mother Gets Killed Does She Make a Sound?,” January 25, 2006, www.counterpunch.org/weir01252006.html; “Gunning Down Itemad Ismail Abu Mo’ammar: Just Another Mother Murdered,” October 6, 2006, www.counterpunch.org/weir10062006.html; “Humiliation and Child Abuse at Israeli Checkpoints: Strip-Searching Children,” March 15, 2007, www.counterpunch.org/weir03152007.html; “Some Muslims Are Not Bad: The Message of PBS’s ‘Crossroads’ Series,” April 17, 2007, www.counterpunch.org/weir04172007.html; “American Media Misses the Boat: USA Today and the USS Liberty,” June 23/24, 2007, www.counterpunch.org/weir06232007.html; “Should the U.S. End Aid to Israel? Funding Our Decline,” April 4, 2008, www.counterpunch.org/weir04042008.html; “Letting AP in on the Secret: Israeli Strip Searches,” July 29, 2008, www.counterpunch.org/weir07292008.html; “Fact-Checking the Ceasefire Breaches: Killing Palestinians Doesn’t Count,” January 29, 2009, www.counterpunch.org/weir01292009.html; “The New ‘Blood Libel’? Israeli Organ Harvesting,” August 28–30, 2009, www.counterpunch.org/weir08282009.html; “Your Palestinian Gandhis Exist ... in Graves and Prisons: Calling Bono,” January 8–10, 2010, www.counterpunch.org/weir01082010.html; “NYT’s Israel Editor’s Sticky Situation: Ethan Bronner’s Conflict With Impartiality,” February 5–7, 2010, www.counterpunch.org/weir02052010.html; “My ‘Relationship’ with Tom Campbell: A Wrench in the Israeli Gears”, March 5–7, 2010, www.counterpunch.org/weir03052010.html; “While Israel Kills and Maims... The Outrage at Helen Thomas,” June 9, 2010, www.counterpunch.org/weir06092010.html; “Another Compromised Reporter: The NYT and the Flotilla Inquiry,” June 16, 2010, www.counterpunch.org/weir06162010.html; “Gabrielle Giffords, Tom Hurndall and Palestinian Children: Shot in the Head,” www.counterpunch.org/weir01142011.html, January 14, 2011; “Critical Connections: Egypt, the US and the Israel Lobby”, www.counterpunch.org/weir02042011.html, Feb 4–6, 2011; “McClatchy, the Sacramento Bee, Darrell Steinberg and Islamophobia: Denying Nazi-Zionist Collusion,” www.counterpunch.org/weir03042011.html, March 4–6, 2011; and “What the Media Missed on Itamar: Murdering Babies is ‘Permissible’ When They’re Palestinian,” www.counterpunch.org/weir03172011.html, March 17, 2011.

3. Alison Weir (alongside Hatem Bazian), debated David Meir-Levi and Eric Sirkin on October 2, 2003.

4. Alison Weir, “Censored: Israel and Palestine,” If Americans Knew, www.ifamericansknew.org/media/sides.html. (This article originally appeared as “Israel and Palestine: Choosing Sides” in the Project Censored anthology).

5. One article gives seven possible sources for media bias. Alison Weir, “The Coverage—and Non-Coverage—of Israel-Palestine,” The Link, Vol. 38, No. 3, July–August 2005, www.ameu.org/page.asp?iid=262&aid=530&pg=1.

6. For the unconscious familial influence on ethnically Jewish editors and reporters, see: Alison Weir, “New York Times Minimizes Palestinian Deaths: The Perversions of Daniel Okrent,” CounterPunch, April 25, 2005, http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/04/25/the-perversions-of-daniel-okrent/

7. Alison Weir email interview with Spencer Sunshine, September 20, 2010.

8. “Analysis of Media Coverage of Israel/Palestine,” If Americans Knew, www.ifamericansknew.org/media/.

9. Daniel Okrent, “The Hottest Button: How The Times Covers Israel and Palestine,” New York Times, April 24, 2005, www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/weekinreview/24okrent.html.

10. Gilead Ini, “Study of New York Times Coverage Severely Flawed”, CAMERA, May 13, 2005, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=8&x_nameinnews=161&x_article=896.

11. See Norman Oder, “Greenwich Library, CT, Rescinds Permission for Pro-Palestinian Speaker, Then Reverses Course,” Library Journal, February 14, 2008, www.libraryjournal.com/lj/community/legislation/860618-270/greenwich_libraryct_rescinds_permission_for.html.csp; Peter Applebome, “Speech on the Mideast Brings Opinions to a Boil,” New York Times, February 17, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/nyregion/17towns.html?fta=y.

12. Alison Weir, “The New ‘Blood Libel?’ Israeli Organ Harvesting,” and “Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2009, 15–17, www.wrmea.org/component/content/article/321-2009-november/6602-israeli-organ-trafficking-and-theft-from-moldova-to-palestine.html.

13. Alison Weir, “Should the U.S. End Aid to Israel? Funding Our Decline,” CounterPunch, April 4-6, 2008, http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/04/04/funding-our-decline/; Weir, “Censored: Israel and Palestine.”

14. On ethnic cleansing, see Alison Weir, “Alternate View of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Hillsboro Argus, February 6, 2009, www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/argus.html; The “holocaust” comparison is in “Censored: Israel and Palestine,” Weir implies this holocaust is ongoing in both “Choosing to Act: Antisemitism is Wrong,” www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/as.html, and “Unprinted Oped to the San Jose Mercury News,” July 23, 2002, www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/sparrows.html.

15. Alison Weir, “Saving Lives By Saving Money,” Gilmer Mirror and Grayson Country News-Gazette, June 21, 2009, www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/savelives.html.

16. NewPolicy.org is currently offline. “New Policy PAC Raises $12,000 for Congresswoman Donna Edwards,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2012, http://www.wrmea.org/component/content/article/10190-waging-peace-new-policy-pac-raises-12000-for-congresswoman-donna-edwards.html.

17. Clay Douglas, “The Free American Hour,” August 25, 2010 broadcast, www.blogtalkradio.com/claydouglas/2010/08/25/the-free-american-hour. (Weir’s comments start at 18:45. A transcript is available at http://ifamericansknewalisonweir.com/2011/03/25/transcript-alison-weir-on-the-free-american-hour-august-25-2010/.)

18. Alison Weir, “My ‘Relationship’ with Tom Campbell: A Wrench in the Israeli Gears,” CounterPunch, March 5-7, 2010, http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/05/a-wrench-in-the-israeli-gears/.

19. Paul Findley, “Reflecting on Our Relationship With Israel,” If Americans Knew, September 12, 2002, http://www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/p-findley.html.

20. Alison Weir, “Uprising on the Anniversary of a Death: We Won’t Forget Rachel Corrie,” CounterPunch, March 15, 2005, http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/03/15/uprising-on-the-anniversary-of-a-death/.

21. See Jeffrey Blankfort, “A War for Israel,” If Americans Knew, www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/warforisrael.html, as well as Blankfort’s annotated notes to a Mitchell
Plitnick talk, “The Debate that never Happened: Blankfort vs. Plitnick on the Israel Lobby,” www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/iraq-pal-israel.html.

22. Alison Weir, “The Coverage—and Non-Coverage—of Israel-Palestine”; Alison Weir, “Choosing to Act: Antisemitism is Wrong.”

23. Alison Weir, interview with Spencer Sunshine.

24. Weir, “We Won’t Forget Rachel Corrie: Uprising on the Anniversary of a Death,” http://www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/rc-cards.html.

25. Admin, “Weir and Council for the National Interest: J Street and AIPAC “Two Tentacles of the Same Lobby,” If Americans Knew Alison Weir..., April 25, 2011, http://ifamericansknewalisonweir.com/2011/04/25/weir-and-council-for-the-national-interest-j-street-and-aipac-“two-tentacles-of-the-same-lobby-”/.


Richard Armbach said...

"...and campus groups and activists working for recognition and rights for Palestinians would be well advised to seek out more legitimate sources of information on the conflict than IAK."

Such as ?

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Richard Armbach said...

Well it could have been worse. You could have said Harrys Place or CAMERA.

Spencer Sunshine said...

CAMERA? No thanks. I would start with Walter Laqueur, Benny Morris, and B'Tselem.

The Contentious Centrist said...

What's wrong with Camera?

Richard Armbach said...

Apart from Adam Levick, Dexter Zan Vile, Gilead Ini (banned by Wicki )and Gideon Shaviv you mean ? Lemme think.

Richard Armbach said...

I did of course mean Gidon Shaviv and the juvenile delinquent Adam Levick whose brother is an enthusiastic engager with us.

Jeannie Craig said...

Having read and listened to Alison Weir, I would recommend everyone do the same; however, I would strongly advise that you be avoided at all costs. The main difference is that she says it how it is, and you say it how you want others to think it is.