Leaving the Pacifica Forum but not its Original Goals
by Jack Dresser & Mariah Leung
Referring to the Pacifica Forum presentation by Mark Weber, a Jewish friend of mine complained, “I don’t need a white racist to tell me about Israel’s racism!” This is among several pejorative descriptors that have been applied - fairly or unfairly - to this speaker. Whether or not this term applies to Weber, it may be fairly applied to a small group within the forum who have invited and funded his visit.
Weber will briefly come and go, but this group is the reason we have disassociated ourselves from Pacifica after providing many presentations and films over two years on numerous topics ranging from the illegality of the Iraq War to racism, impeachment, CIA atrocities, PTSD, war profiteering, and depleted uranium. And yes, to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Founded by pacifist Orval Etter, the forum was devoted to the goals of peace and justice. We valued the forum as a community peace organization that went conceptually beyond signs and bumper stickers and was uniquely attentive to deeper forces behind world events. Quite importantly, it has been the only local organization willing to touch the third rail of American liberal politics - Israel’s land seizures and subjugation of the Palestinians.
A small group of attendees with a “white separatist” preoccupation were attracted to the forum and started attending regularly. While never part of forum sessions, emailed views about “race-mixing,” “blood consciousness,” “miscegenation that tears down civilization and pollutes good races,” and “the genocidal war against our own race” began to proliferate.
These familiar echoes from the Jim Crow South ironically mirror the Zionism they oppose, but Orval declined to exclude them from programming decisions. As advocates for peace, justice and human rights, we could not afford to have our reputations associated and our work potentially compromised by conflation in the public mind with these viewpoints.
We have learned from Palestinian human rights advocates that their organizations throughout the country have been infiltrated and corrupted by people holding these worldviews, perhaps sincerely held, perhaps as agent provocateurs planted to discredit critics of Israel. They distort valid critiques of Israeli policies into ideas that can justifiably be labeled “anti-Semitism” - although we reject simplistic name-calling of that kind. Here, they have stated that they don’t care about the Palestinians, just their own “European white race,” thus pursuing agendas entirely different than ours.
Returning to Weber, I would have preferred that he address a “historic” topic of no immediate importance with which he has been previously associated, rather than the Israel lobby which is a legitimate, extremely important topic that urgently deserves our close attention. Critical analysis of the Israel lobby should not be dismissed with the timeworn accusation of “anti-Semitism” based upon the tarnished reputation of a presenter. We fear this may be the result of Weber’s visit.
In contrast, we recently attended a presentation in Portland by two highly respected academics on the same topic. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of the University of Chicago and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government authored a 2006 paper in the London Review of Books and a 2007 New York Times best-seller on “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
They cite 1997 and 2005 surveys of Congress that both rank the principal Israel lobby, AIPAC, first in power among lobbies attempting to influence American foreign policy (and second overall).
These authors describe the lobby’s very effective methods of controlling Congress, the Executive Branch and the media. And they describe consequences often detrimental to American interests.
They cite a State Department report that “citizens in (Arab and Muslim) countries are genuinely distressed at the plight of the Palestinians and at the role they perceive the United States to be playing,” state that “the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel,” and cite the 9/11 Commission finding that “bin Laden explicitly sought to punish the United States for its policies in the Middle East.”
They document pressure from Israel and its lobby as a “critical” and arguably decisive element in bringing about the Iraq War, and report a “pervasive” belief in the U.S. intelligence community that “Israel and the (pro-Israel) neoconservatives conspired to get the United States into a war with Iraq” although “no one mentions it” due to “fear of being labeled an anti-Semite.”
And now Israel and its lobby are pressing for a U.S. attack on Iran. We had better start paying attention, whether or not we like every messenger.
Jack Dresser, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist, is co-founder of Lane County Veterans for Peace, a former Army psychologist during the Vietnam War, and a former columnist for the Springfield News where one of his columns was reprinted in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. Mariah Leung has established the Al-Nakba Awareness Project to increase Americans’ understanding of the other side of Israel’s foundation: the Palestinian “catastrophe."
Pacifica Forum has lost its way
The Pacifica Forum was once a valuable weekly gathering. Of several anti-war groups with which I have at times been associated, theirs was unique in its focus on informational presentations examining deeper societal currents that might lead to effective solutions ending collective violence and war.
It also was unique in its willingness to take a hard look at Israel’s land theft and brutal occupation of Palestine, a proverbial third rail of American progressive politics that also was the original and principal wellspring of Islamic terrorism (predictable guerrilla resistance to military invasion and occupation) directed against the United States for our flagrant pro-Israel bias.
Unfortunately, groups that assert Palestinian human rights and criticize Israel often attract and can be co-opted by people holding anti-Semitic and other racist viewpoints. This fate befell the forum when its venerable founder and continuing chairman failed to safeguard the quality of programming.
That allows legitimate and necessary criticism of Israel’s policies to be dismissed as anti-Semitic by Israel apologists, denying Israel the corrective feedback that might save it from the worldwide disrespect it now suffers and the self-degrading and ultimately self-destructive path it has pursued from its beginnings.
It is clear from 97 United Nations resolutions against Israel and another 41 vetoed by the United States — each time alone among the world’s nations — that without U.S. enabling, Israel would be forced to honor U.N. mandates to withdraw from occupied Palestine and accept refugee return, Israel’s only certain path to moral and social redemption.