Please note: Corrections made to the article are in bold or stuck out.
This is the second post in a two-part series on Artists 4 Israel and their event, the Defend The Future Tour. The first post was an effort to give an account of my personal experiences with Artists 4 Israel and was published yesterday. This post deals more directly with criticisms of Artists 4 Israel and their response to some of those criticisms, as well as other Haverford students’ reactions to the DTF Tour. I encourage you to read part one first, because, while this article is also clearly very opinionated, the first post sheds more light on my personal experiences with the group and may help to explain some of my personal biases that came up when writing this post. As is always the case on Vandalog, this post is mine and may or may not represent the views of any other Vandalog writers. – RJ Rushmore
As explained in detail in part one of this series, the Defend The Future Tour (a thinly veiled front for Artists 4 Israel so that they can appear apolitical) visited Haverford College on November 17th with the innocuously advertised aim of putting on a graffiti workshop for students. In reality, they used the creation of a mural as an excuse to pass out pro-Israel and anti-Arab propaganda masked as apolitical facts.
After seeing what the DTF Tour painted at Temple University and Florida Atlantic University, students (including myself) became worried about what sort of mural would be painted at Haverford. We conveyed those concerns to the student in charge of bringing the DTF Tour to campus and he passed on those concerns to the organization. Possibly as a result of that student input, the mural at Haverford was significantly toned down compared to previous Artists 4 Israel murals at college campuses.
Because our concerns may not be immediately apparent, let’s look at those previous mural more closely.
This is the only mural that any Haverford student I’ve spoken with had seen from Artists 4 Israel’s stop at FAU. Some Arab students at Haverford, including Palestinian student Besan Radwan, feel that the depiction of a cross-eyed camel is racist against Arab people. Radwan’s interpretation of the camel as anti-Arab comes from the role that camels play as a symbol of Arab culture, as well as the anti-Arab ethnic slur “camel jockey.” Radwan thinks that the crossed-eyed camel in the mural represented Arab people as silly or stupid (after all, I suppose if you’re going to insult Arabs, a willingness to play up stereotypes about cross-eyed people too doesn’t seem like a giant leap).
As for the other FAU murals and the mural at Temple University, they are clearly one-sided even though they are addressing a larger series of conflicts between Israel and other groups. Even though the murals do call for an end to conflict, they do so solely on Israel’s terms. Of course, people and groups have a right to express one-sided opinions, but the issue is that the DTF Tour’s mission statement advocates an end to partisanship. It’s misleading to imply that the DTF Tour was not a partisan event. If Artists 4 Israel had come to Haverford under that name and said “we are going to follow Artists 4 Israel’s mission and paint something pro-Israel,” this would be very different situation and probably less controversial. How can a mural that says “Pro-peace” and “Pro-Israel” but not mention any other people involved in conflicts with Israel not be partisan? I’m not saying that the mural has to say “Pro-Hezbollah” or “Pro-Hamas” to counteract “Pro-Israel,” but something like “Pro-Palestine” “Pro-Arab people” seems reasonable. While the group J Street uses the phrase “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace,” they are quick to clarify that their position includes a two-state solution and respect for the Palestinian people. The DTF Tour, on the other hand, specifically stays away from mentioning the path the peace that they would advocate, hence any mention of Palestine in this context is absent. Painting a mural about conflicts between Israel and other countries or groups that says “Pro-Israel” and “Pro-peace” without any mention of something along the lines of “Pro-Palestine” or “Pro-Arab” is partisan and there’s no way around that, just as a lie of omission is still a lie.
When I asked Craig Dershowitz, the founder of Artists 4 Israel, about the murals at Temple and FAU, he gave some surprising responses.
First, he clarified that the article some Haverford students saw calling the Artists 4 Israel event at FAU part of the DTF Tour was incorrect. In fact, the FAU stop was an Artists 4 Israel event, but not technically part of the DTF Tour, although Dershowitz said “it’s not worth parsing which is which” when trying to separate events at colleges by Artists 4 Israel from events at colleges by the DTF Tour. This seems strange, given how the mission statements of Artists 4 Israel and the DTF Tour are so different. This again leads to the conclusion that the DTF Tour mission statement was misleading and perhaps intentionally so. In another, later, interview, Dershowitz clarified that “The DTF Tour was supposed to be a separate entity from Artists 4 Israel intended to stimulate discussion and promote our generation’s agenda of art and dialogue over war and fighting.” So maybe the DTF Tour was meant to be distinct from Artists 4 Israel, or maybe it was not.
Seth Kennedy, the Haverford student who organized bringing the DTF Tour to Haverford, rightly points out that the DTF Tour has a separate mission statement from Artists 4 Israel and that the DTF Tour is just one aspect of the group.
Surprisingly, Dershowitz defended the cross-eyed camel character. He said “It says a lot about conflicts over land if some group, and I won’t call names, is going to all of a sudden claim an animal as uniquely their own… If the camel looks bad, why does that have to be some sort of negative statement on one group of people? ‘Camel’ is something that everyone visiting Israel comes away with, pictures and ideas, so basically then the Arab population would seem to be equally racist against Israel.” I brought up the fact that some people call Arabs camel jockeys, and Dershowitz’s response was “I would never say that regardless” and that the logical extension of my argument would be that Artists 4 Israel could not include images sand in their murals because of other unspecified anti-Arab slurs. As for the specific portrayal of the camel in the mural as cross-eyed, Dershowitz pointed out that the camel was part of a composition that referenced the cartoonish elements of 1970’s/1980’s subway graffiti. Personally, I think his last point is a legitimate one, but for a man who claims to be promoting peace and a dialogue between various groups, I find it extremely disappointing that Dershowitz would not at least apologize for unintentionally offending people. Instead, he decided to turn the accusation around and assert that those who are offended by the camel seem to be the racist ones.
Despite the worries from some Haverford students, nobody attempted to keep the DTF Tour from coming to Haverford. Nobody I’ve spoken with wanted to limit the speech of a group that had been invited to campus by another Haverford student.
One thing that may have happened due to student concerns was that the concept for Haverford’s mural was a bit more considered than other murals organized by Artists 4 Israel. Kennedy was the main point of contact between Haverford students and the DTF Tour. Even before the artists arrived on campus, Kennedy conveyed concerns of mine and the concerns of other students about the possible content of the mural to Seth Wolfson, the
chief visionary officier Vice President of Artists 4 Israel and Artists 4 Israel’s representative at Haverford that day. According to Kennedy, the final idea for the wall was to spread a message of breaking stereotypes, as it says on the mural. The artists planned to paint what might be considered a stereotypical Hassidic Jewish man and a stereotypical Arab man. Kennedy suggested that they modify their initial stereotypical Arab character, as Kennedy described the character that the artists’ first showed him as “more Indian or Turkish looking. Picture The Sultan in Aladdin.” The artists agreed with Kennedy’s suggestion and changed the character, but they, completely by accident, painted a man with a red and white keffiyeh, traditionally the color-scheme for Saudis and members of Hamas. Although the artists considered changing the colors of the keffiyeh, it was too late in the day to change anything by the time Kennedy realized and pointed out this potential point of controversy.
Despite some potential problems and perhaps thanks to the artists’ willingness to change their ideas on the spot and react to their environment, few Haverford students had any issue with the mural itself. When students did take issue with the mural, it was mostly related to points addressed in this article about how Artists 4 Israel uses a traditionally anti-authoritarian artform or about how a cool mural was being used to mask the group’s true intentions. On the whole, even students who took serious issue with other aspects of the DTF Tour liked the mural that Col, Jedi5 and Broker painted, if taken on its own. When Radwan and I heard about the concept for the mural, we got behind the idea and back off from our plan to hold an alternative event next to the DTF Tour’s mural. The mural was pretty much exactly what we had hoped to create: An example of how an artwork could be pro-peace, pro-Israel and pro-Arab all at once.
Unfortunately, the mural can not be considered on its own. While on the front side of the mural three talented artists painted a positive message and on the back side of the mural Haverford students had the chance to write whatever they wanted (there was even a pro-Israel slogan next to a pro-Palestine slogan, both written in Arabic), the mural was only part of the message that the DTF Tour was spreading. They also put out some flyers on a table near the mural. Here is what the flyers looked like:
This flyer is primarily what ignited controversy at Haverford. Kennedy was in charge of making sure that there were flyers available for students to take, but said that as soon as I brought the content of the flyer to his attention, he “made the conscious decision: No more of these are going out.” Kennedy was not upset about factual inaccuracies, but he said “there was nothing on the flyer that is factually wrong. It’s that the wording was incredibly blunt and inflammatory… I think that they raised valid points, they just didn’t do it in an appropriate way.” Kennedy saw the purpose of the flyer as to provoke and promote dialogue, but thinks that the way it was worded is “counter-productive.” While some students such as Barak Bacharach expressed similar sentiments such as that the flyer included statements that he agreed with but would have phrased differently, other students were greatly upset about the flyer.
The students upset about the flyer had a number of reasons for their anger. At the very least, the back side of the flyer completely rejects the DTF Tour’s mission statement (which is stated on the front side of the flyer). Rather than defend the world against racism, partisan politics and censorship, the flyer shows how Artists 4 Israel embraced these values and tactics for the DTF Tour. For some students, that hypocrisy was the issue, along with the way that they felt the event was misleadingly advertised as being primarily about graffiti and music. The one-sided and insulting content itself was also an issue for some students. Radwan took particular offense to the “Down to Fuck” section. While women’s rights are certainly lack throughout much of the Arab world, the flyer seems to be reenforcing stereotypes to suggest that in some countries “women are forced to cover their faces and cannot leave their homes without their husbands” without naming those countries specifically.
I’m no expert on Israel so I do expect and hope to be corrected on any inaccuracies here and throughout this post, but I will try to look at objections to each section of the flyer one by one:
- Demand the Facts: Yes, people could be better educated on their history, but the same could be said about the lack of knowledge about a history of regrettable actions by Israel and Israelis against Palestinians, and to not acknowledge that there are not also substantial efforts being made to promote Israel and shut up opponents of Israel seems counter-productive to ending “partisan politics and censorship” (for more information about pro-Israel PR, try this book).
- Defeat the Fanaticism: True, extremism threatens rational discourse. But extremism on both sides threatens rational discourse. Just as Hamas are probably not the best group for fostering peace, neither are the Israeli settlers who throw stones at Palestinians or evict Palestinians from their homes so that Israelis can move in. And just as it seems fair to ask Hamas to not send rockets into Israel, it seems fair to ask Israel to “stop blowing shit up” in Palestine, or to at least try to target terrorists more accurately.
- Down to Fuck: Israel is a land with more sexual liberation than Palestine, but let’s not pretend that all of Israel is LGBTQ friendly. Read here and here. And as for the last two sentences of that section, wow! If you weren’t paying attention, a reader could easily be mistaken in thinking that this flyer is referring to Palestine, and in that case the flyer is wrong. Of course, if we do take a more educated guess and try to “figure it out,” the flyer seems to be referring to Saudi Arabia. There, woman must have the permission of a male guardian and the company of a man when they leave the house (so says Wikipedia). If I’m guessing correctly, the flyer is not even 100% accurate with reference to Saudi Arabia (although I’m not saying the Saudi policies are at all respectful of women’s rights). As for how women are treated by a small segment of Israelis, things are not perfect there either.
- Diversity Triumphs Over Fear: Legally, one could argue that the first part of this is true, but the on-the-ground reality is that most Israelis think that Arabs are discriminated against in Israel. It would be great if societies did not “promote fear of the ‘other,'” but unfortunately some Israeli children are often brought up to fear Arabs and some Arab children are brought up to fear Israelis. While some parts of Israel may tend to celebrate people’s differences, others places are more like this (thankfully even Israeli organizations are working to stop these attacks). “The enemies of Israel hate us for our freedoms” might just be the grossest oversimplification of a complex series of issues I have ever had the displeasure of reading. More on that later.
Of the students upset about the DTF Tour’s flyer, Emily Mayer is the only one I know of who spoke with anyone from the tour about the flyer. She spoke with Wolfson and attempted to voice her concerns. To start with, Mayer says they disagreed on whether or not the flyer is factually accurate. Regardless, Mayer’s says she explained her main issue with the flyer to Wolfson as that “even if they are facts, you’re choosing which facts to display, and in a way that is explicitly contrary to your pro-peace agenda, or what you say is your pro-peace agenda… Don’t call yourselves ‘pro-peace’ if you’re going to use this language.” Hela Lahar, Israel Program Director at Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, was also there and Mayer says Lahar also voiced concerns to Wolfson which Mayer described as “about how [the flyer] doesn’t allow for nuance, how the conflict is so complicated and how [its depiction on the flyer] in these very black and white terms is perpetuating people’s ignorance about [the conflict].” Specifically, Mayer addressed the “Down to Fuck” section of the flyer, saying that she told Wolfson “You paint Israel as this super-sexually liberated, gender equal place, but if I walk down the street in
Nes Harim, [a religious neighborhood outside of Jerusalem]Mea Shearim [a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem], wearing what I’m wearing, I would be stoned.”
Mayer says Wolfson agreed that this was a valid point and that there are nuances to the issues in the flyer. According to Mayer, Wolfson went on though to say that while groups like Artists 4 Israel could speak about the nuances of issues when at liberal arts schools like Haverford and that he would put the flyers away while he was at Haverford, students at schools like Temple University are “stupider” than Haverford students, so the DTF Tour’s issues had to be put in black and white terms for them to understand. Mayer says she questioned Wolfson about calling Temple students “stupider” so that she could confirm he meant to say that, and Wolfson told her “Yeah, I do mean to say that.” Mayer remembers Lahar backing her up and telling Wolfson that what he was doing was just perpetuating people’s ignorance about issues by continuing to paint them in one-sided or black and white terms, and Wolfson’s response then was to acknowledge that he was working on behalf of an advocacy organization with a specific viewpoint that they were trying to spread.
Unfortunately, Dershowitz was of course unable to comment on the accuracy of Mayer’s version of the conversation and Wolfson declined to comment (his excuse being that the questions I asked him were some of the same as ones that I had asked Dershowitz). If Mayer remembers things correctly, Wolfson called Temple University students “stupider” than Haverford students and acknowledged that the DTF Tour was really just a front for pro-Israel advocacy that targeted those that he believes are not smart enough to pick up on the nuances of political issues. Hopefully some Temple students will read to post and disagree with Wolfson’s assessment of the school. For my part, the Temple University graduates and students that I’ve met have generally seemed like pretty smart people.
Luckily, Dershowitz was very willing to speak with me about Artists 4 Israel, the DTF Tour and the flyer. Numerous times throughout our interviews, Dershowitz insisted that the DTF Tour was about promoting dialogue (one time even asserting that since I was interviewing him and Haverford students were discussing the events of the DTF Tour, the tour had been successful in promoting dialogue). Dershowitz also defended promoting dialogue through promoting a pro-Israel viewpoint on the basis that “in order to reach what’s hopefully a middle point, a point of compromise and consensus, there needs to be someone representing the pro-Israel viewpoint,” adding “You can’t reach a compromise when one side is pushing for a pro-Palestinian agenda and the other side is pushing for a pro-Palestinian agenda for a desire to be fair. Nobody is holding the anti-Israel groups to ask for their lies, for their manipulations, for their thrown-around words like ‘racism.'” Again, Dershowitz seems to be saying that the DTF Tour was a partisan event regardless of the mission statement for the tour and the way it was presented to Kennedy and other Haverford students.
Ironically, Dershowitz then insinuated that his critics might be racist (insinuations rather than statements are an ass-covering technique that I’ve noticed with Artists 4 Israel, the DTF Tour and Dershowitz). This new accusation of racism occurred when I tried to explain to Dershowitz the concerns of Haverford students who thought that the DTF Tour had attempted to manipulate them with a partisan message wrapped in a seemingly non-political event. While I did not mention racism in this question, I did mention the flyers and had mentioned to Craig earlier in the interview that some people I had spoken with thought the flyers were, at worst, racist. Here is his full reaction to that:
The DTF Tour was supposed to be a separate entity from Artists 4 Israel intended to stimulate discussion and promote our generation’s agenda of art and dialogue over war and fighting. It saddens me that against that backdrop, so many had to push and pull and try to find fault and make accusations against such an important, universal message. Artists 4 Israel is openly and proudly pro-Israel. However, we have discovered that we are part of a movement, from across the spectrum of all political, social, and other belief systems that use art and creative means to create a world where debate and disagreement goes no further than competing murals and not to the place of terrorism and violence. We attempted to lead this movement, to coalesce and define it under the banner of Defend the Future. Our flyers spoke against oppression of women, it spoke against oppression of minorities and for equal rights for all. If people have a problem with that – I would ask them to check themselves. If people believe that being anti oppression of women singles out one group of people – they should check their own racism and/or look at the actions of that group and figure out why they might be sensitive or susceptible to such criticism. Regardless of whether A4I is a pro-Israel organization, the messages of opposing violence, segregation, oppression and segregation should be supported by all! But, since it is not, we will go back to doing what we do best – supporting the beautiful, freedom-loving country of Israel and stop attempting to build bridges that others obviously do not want.
On the plus side, if you get past the accusation of racism, you can see that the DTF Tour is no more. Rather than address the flaws of his own event though, Dershowitz tries to blame others. In another beautiful reversal, he claims that “certain people” (I’m guessing he means Haverford students such as myself, Radwan and Mayer) who pointed out the DTF Tour’s one-sidedness are actually just partisan themselves and can’t stand people like him who are trying to end the partisan deadlock that the Israeli government and those who disagree with the Israeli government often seem to be stuck in:
Unfortunately, Haverford has taught us that the attempt to unify peaceful, creative people is quite difficult. For certain people, so caught up in playing the blame game and imagining monsters in every flyer, there is a partisan politics that cannot be ignored. So, unfortunately for us and unfortunately for the generation of people who are tired of partisan politics creating the tension it does, A4I will be retiring DTF. Instead, we will continue to focus only on spreading a pro-Israel message, using only the support of our volunteer artists who are passionate about the cause to combat the lies spread by well-funded anti-Israel groups. It is a shame.
What is a shame is that the DTF Tour got off the ground in the first place.
Although Wolfson acknowledged to Mayer that the flyer was presenting things in a very black and white way and advocating for a partisan perspective, Dershowitz vehemently disagrees that the flyer and the DTF Tour website’s “Demand the Facts” page are one-side. He said to me “you are making false, inflammatory statements without any proof. What makes our links ‘one-sided?’ How can you prove or believe that? Are any of our links factually inaccurate? Absolutely not.”
Unfortunately for Dershowitz, it is easy to see that the DTF Tour provides one-sided links on their website. Three quick examples: 1. The first two links on the page encourage people to read a book called The Arab Lobby (which one of the links briefly mentions was obviously written in response to The Israel Lobby, although that book is not mentioned on the DTF website at all), 2. The single link about “Israel’s Security Fence” is clearly in favor the the fence and neglects criticism such as that the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that the barrier is illegal and should be torn down or that the UN General Assembly voted that Israel should have to obey the ICJ’s ruling, and 3. Again their “Down to Fuck” section oversimplifies things by linking to a video of a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv without mentioning the violence that has occurred against participants at gay pride parades in Jerusalem or polls such as this one. Like the flyer, the DTF website is a one-sided pro-Israel advocacy site that ignores all nuance and misleads visitors who might think they are being exposed to the nonpartisan and diverse set of views that Dershowitz seems to want people to think can be found there. If people want to educate themselves on all sides of certain issues relating to Israel, the DTF website is a great place to start for pro-Israel information, but it is not the place to go if you are looking to find a nuanced or balanced look at those issues in one place.
On the other hand, once he was confronted with some of the complexities and grey-areas not addressed in the flyer, Dershowitz tries to brush off the possibility that the flyer might be one-sided or inaccurate as no big deal. He said “At no point did we say we were the experts. At no point did we say that on an 8 x 5, or whatever the dimensions of that card is, we could solve all the problems or potentially write a treatise full of facts and information. What we did was open people’s eyes and expect that [the readers] would be able to research and look into that information themselves.” That sounds to me like an acknowledgement that the DTF Tour was not even trying to tell the whole story, and it should be immediately clear to most people (as it was to Kennedy, Mayer, Bacharach, Radwan and myself) that any story they were trying to tell was a one-sided story. Additionally, Dershowitz’s assertions that the DTF Tour was meant to encourage people to look up information on their own seems contradictory to Wolfson’s strategy of targeting the flyers at students who will not take the time to understand the nuances in issues raised by the flyer. I wonder which of them is telling the truth about the strategy for the DTF Tour.
My final question for Dershowitz was about the end of the flyer. I asked if he disagreed that it is extremist and dangerously oversimplified to say “The enemies of Israel hate us for our freedoms?” Again, Dershowitz turned the tables and implied that those who disagree with him might just be racist:
We are all human beings with many more similarities than differences. Yet, there are groups of people that hate one another. This hatred seems to come from when people are placed into (by their own choice usually) various groups (religion, nation-state, etc) that then have conflict with one another. Israel has full and complete freedoms for all its citizens be they Arab, Jewish, Russian, Ethiopian, Man, Woman and so on. The Arab nations surrounding Israel do not have this same level of freedom for its citizens. So, if all is the same between us in every other regard (and to think otherwise would be racist, would it not?) then it must be these freedoms which create the animosity. Sad, yes. Simple, no.
As to be expected from Dershowitz at this point, there’s some quite twisted logic in his response that ignores so much. Freedom and race are not the only things that define people, although Dershowitz seems to think they are. But if he wants to talk about freedom, as pointed out earlier, not even most Israelis believe that all Israeli citizens really have “full and complete freedoms” regardless of what the laws say should be the case. Another possible reason for animosity between Israel and “enemies of Israel” would be the injustices and violence committed or perceived to have been committed by Israel against whichever enemies that flyer is referring to. Just as some Israelis who have had loved ones killed by terrorists in Israel might hate the groups that committed those attacks, those who have had loved ones, innocent or guilty, killed by Israeli military attacks might hate Israel.
I asked Barak Mendelsohn, an assistant professor of political science at Haverford who is particularly interested in terrorism and counter-terrorism, for his thoughts on that section of the flyer and Dershowitz’s defense of it. Here is what he said:
Dershowitz’s position, at least as he conveyed to you (which is not necessarily exactly what he had in mind) has logical flaws. Besides ignoring the possibility of realist variables (i.e. national interests) it is a reductionist view of the content of identity. We can argue about his claim about freedoms in Israel (yes, all enjoy more freedoms than in the Middle East’s other countries but I would be very hesitant to call it “full and complete freedoms”), but the difference in identities is not simply a matter of freedoms. Quite interestingly Dershowitz didn’t go for a more plausible, even compelling, argument about antisemitism as a possible explanation. The discourse of “hate our freedoms” came after 9/11 and I’m not a great fan of it. At the same time, I am far from certain that you can argue that the hatred to Israel is simply a matter of its policies and that it would go away once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
So there you have it. Sorry it took 5000 or so words, but hopefully some of you have made it through all this and also come to the conclusion that the DTF Tour came to Haverford College and several other schools with promises of working towards peace, but instead delivered materials only meant to spark hate or trick innocent students into believing what Artists 4 Israel believes.
It is absolutely ridiculous and downright wrong what Artists 4 Israel did with the DTF Tour. They purposefully oversimplified a complex series of issues, claimed to be attempting to build bridges across differing viewpoints and promoting dialogue, presented the tour as nonpartisan and targeted students that they anticipated would not critically engage information presented by Artists 4 Israel. Thankfully, I know enough h0nest and sincere supporters of Israel and Israelis that the DTF Tour has only tainted my view of the Artists 4 Israel organization rather than my view of people who strongly support Israel. It’s been discussions with people like Kennedy and Bacharach that have reminded me that Artists 4 Israel is not representative of most people who strongly support Israel. What worries me is that so many people may have already been and may continue to be fooled by Artists 4 Israel’s action; actions that make interacting with the pro-Israel movement much less palatable to those of us who believe that Israel (as well as those groups that Israel as fought against and continues to fight against) should be subject to some criticism as well as praise. If I were a bitter antisemite or antizionist who despised Israel, I’d probably donate to Artists 4 Israel in the hope that they continue doing projects like the DTF Tour. But I’m not, so instead I urge supports of Artists 4 Israel, including the artists, to reconsider their position if they really do want to support Israel in an honest way.
To end things on a positive note, it does seem like the DTF Tour has unintentionally brought Haverford students together. Less that 24 hours after the DTF Tour left Haverford, a group of us with a variety of different viewpoints met to discuss the DTF Tour, as well as how we could move past it and toward a series of events that truly builds bridges between all the sides of these issues through honest dialogue and respectful engagement.