Pacifica lectures decried as anti-Semitic
By Jeff Wright The Register-Guard
Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Concerned community members have formed the Anti-Hate Task Force to protest a series of public talks at the University of Oregon that they say are anti-Semitic.
The talks are sponsored by the Pacifica Forum, a local discussion group founded by Orval Etter, a longtime Eugene pacifist, university professor and music patron.
At the forum's most recent public event on Friday, Valdas Anelauskas gave a 75-minute lecture on "Zionism and Russia" in which he asserted that Jews were largely responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Anelauskas dedicated his lecture to Germar Rudolf, a Holocaust denier imprisoned in Germany.
In a recent e-mail, Anelauskas, a native of Lithuania, describes himself as "a nationalist and white separatist and racialist."
Critics contend that Anelauskas' series of lectures, and other Pacifica Forum topics, are bitterly anti-Semitic and steeped in historical falsehoods. Some question whether the UO should continue to provide space to the forum, while others argue for counter-programming.
"This has been going on for years, and we think it's time it be exposed," said Craig Weinerman, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Lane County and a task force member. "The community needs to know that this is going on and be educated about what this really is, which is anti-Semitism, pure and simple."
Organizers, however, say they are guilty only of giving a forum to "politically incorrect" views by daring to question Israel's public policies, especially as they pertain to Palestine, and by offering unpopular assessments of Jews' role in world history.
They also note that critics have been invited to share their perspectives at future forum gatherings - an offer that has yet to be accepted. Some critics are urging that national experts on hate speech be invited to speak locally, in a separate venue, as a counter to the Pacifica Forum events.
The Anti-Hate Task Force is an offshoot of the social justice group Community Alliance of Lane County. Task force members include local clergy and representatives from the UO and the city's Human Rights Commission.
The Pacifica Forum's stated purpose is to "provide information and points of view regarding war and peace, militarism and pacifism, violence and nonviolence." Etter, 91, said he started the forum in 1994, modeling it after a supper club by the same name in the San Francisco Bay Area that presented programs on peace and its absence.
A lifelong pacifist, Etter worked for 11 years for Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith peace group, and later taught a course on violence and nonviolence at the UO. He served for years as staff attorney to the UO's Bureau of Municipal Research, and was chief draftsman for Eugene's 1976 city charter.
He is also an avid music lover and cellist who founded the Emerald Chamber Orchestra and Eugene Symphony Orchestra, and emceed local concerts.
Etter said he organized the forum after he "became convinced that Israel was a very tyrannical state." He said he recalls reading a pamphlet that asserted that "what Israel is doing to Palestine is a holocaust."
"That's inflammatory, but recent events have convinced me more than ever that that's valid," he said.
Pacifica Forum topics this year have included a lecture by Etter on British historian David Irving, a Holocaust denier who in February was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Austria for his views. Critics say they attended another forum that featured a videotape on William Luther Pierce, founder of the National Alliance white separatist group.
Less controversial forums this year have included an "Update on Palestine" by a Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteer, and lectures and videos with such titles as "Israeli-American Militarism," "Kosher Apartheid" and "Washington, D.C.: Israeli-Occupied Territory."
Anelauskas said he attended his first forum earlier this year after learning about the presentation on Irving. He said he was soon asked to give a talk of his own on Russia and Zionism, a project that's grown to seven lectures with several more planned. In a recent e-mail, he praised the Pacifica Forum as "an island of free speech surrounded by all this madness of liberalism."
Anelauskas, 46, identifies himself as a journalist, author and independent researcher. He said his father spent 10 years in Soviet prison camps, where he was interrogated, tortured and sentenced by four officials who all "happened to be Jewish."
Anelauskas defends his self-declared label as a white separatist and racialist. "I believe people have to live among their own kind," he said. "I feel no supremacy - I just want to be separate and live in my own environment."
He also said he disputes the historical consensus that approximately 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust of World War II. "My personal view is that definitely quite a few Jewish people were killed during the war," he said. "But just as many other people - the Russians, the Lithuanians - were also killed."
In his talk on Friday, attended by about 20 people, Anelauskas cited sources that focused on Jewish participation in the Bolshevik Revolution. He called the revolution's leaders "the greatest killing machine in history" and said their history is not widely reported in the United States today because of Jews in academia and the media.
(Jews were a small minority of the Russian population at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, which included some Jews in upper-echelon positions; thousands of Jews were killed in the pogroms of the late 1800s and early 1900s leading up to the revolution.)
At one point, Anelauskas asked how many in attendance had read "The Gulag Archipelago," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's classic work on Soviet prison camps, compared with how many had read "The Diary of Anne Frank." More indicated having read the latter. "It's what is promoted and what is hushed up," he said of the disparity.
During a question-and-answer period, Aviva Sainz called Anelauskas' lecture "anti-Jewish garbage in a tradition that has lasted for centuries." His talk, she told him, "is in the tradition of Hitler's `Mein Kampf.' "
"There's a lot of truth in `Mein Kampf,' " Anelauskas responded.
Afterward, Etter said he was "unable to say" if Anelauskas' lecture could be characterized as anti-Semitic. But he said Anelauskas' viewpoint deserves a platform and that he will be invited to continue the series.
UO officials are aware of the Pacifica Forum and have no plans to take any action, said spokesman Phil Weiler. The university makes classroom space available to campus groups and professors, including retired faculty, free of charge, he said, and does not inquire about meeting content.
"One of the roles of a public university is to provide a venue for the hearing of ideas," Weiler said.
Jann Carson, associate director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said those who object to the Pacifica Forum talks are wise to consider alternative programming.
"The right of free speech means speakers get to speak despicable ideas," she said. "From a civil liberties perspective, we really believe that the cure for bad speech is more speech. If you really believe that a group is wrong - factually, intellectually, morally, ethically - then point that out."
Several past forum sponsors - the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Wesley Foundation and the UO Survival Center - severed their relationships with the forum in 2004 and 2005 over concern about anti-Jewish program content. Critics say the programs in question included two that blamed Jews for Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Germany.
Michael Williams, an Anti-Hate Task Force member who has monitored the forum for several years, accuses the group of bait-and-switch. He said attendance dwindled after the previous controversy, then rebounded when the forum began offering less objectionable programs. The return to anti-Jewish themes commenced early this year, he said.
Williams said the lecture series should not go unchallenged because "it attracts like-minded people and gives them permission to say these things. The community really can't afford to allow these kinds of ideas to be given respectability."
Nadia Telsey, another task force member, said she attended Friday's lecture and found it "quite chilling." She said history has shown that anti-Semitism is cyclical, and can erupt quickly if early indicators are not challenged.