Slander – or networked antisemitism: the case of Greta Berlin
This posting has 4 items:
1) Larry Derfner, +972: The slandering of Gaza flotilla activist Greta Berlin ;
2) Emily Hauser, Open Zion: Greta Berlin Clarifies;
3) Bekah Wolf, Mondoweiss: If only it was just one tweet: One activist’s experience in the ‘Our Land’ Facebook group ;
4) Ali Abuminah, Electronic Intifada: A final word on Greta Berlin and the Free Gaza controversy;
A lie of omission is as good a lie as any other.
By Larry Derfner, +972
October 5, 2012
It’s amazing how blatantly, how shamelessly a Jewish Agency official named Avi Mayer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jerusalem Post, Canada’s National Post and I don’t know how many other “pro-Israel” entities have slandered Greta Berlin, a prominent spokeswoman of the Free Gaza Movement, as an advocate of the worst, sickest kind of anti-Semitism. They’ve deliberately left out Berlin’s explanation for a tweet she sent out a few days ago, and without her explanation, one is indeed left to conclude that she’s a crazed Jew-hater. A lot of people, of course, want to believe that about a woman so closely identified with the flotillas that sailed to Gaza, so this story has gone viral.
And it is based on a lie of omission, which is as good a lie as any other. Here’s what happened:
On Sunday, Berlin tweeted the following: “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” The tweet linked to a video said to be of a deceased Jew-hater named Eustace Mullins going on about how the Jews plotted with Hitler to kill anti-Zionist Jews, how the “zi” in Nazi stands for “Zionist” – the worst sewage.
Mayer, who reportedly oversees social media for the Jewish Agency, noticed Berlin’s tweet, watched the video and starting tweeting and Facebooking it like crazy. Then the Jewish Telegraphic Agency did a story on Berlin’s tweet that was picked up in Haaretz and God knows where else, the Jerusalem Post did a story on it, the right-wing National Post ran a column on it.
All these stories referred to Berlin’s apology on the Free Gaza Movement website – but only to one part of it: the part where she explains that she didn’t mean for the tweet to go out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Tweeter account, but only to a group of people on her personal Facebook page. Reporting this and only this as her “apology” naturally made Berlin look even more evil.
What Mayer, the JTA, the Jerusalem Post and National Post left out was the other part of Berlin’s explanation that was posted on the Free Gaza Movement’s website: that her tweet was intended for a Facebook discussion among “a group of people who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.”
The news stories also omitted the Free Gaza Movement’s statement that it “condemns” the content of the video, which was titled “Zionists Ran the Holocaust and the Concentration Camps.” (Here is the apology in full.)
So Berlin’s full explanation, which Mayer and the writers of those news stories chose not to report, is that her tweet was not a statement of her views, but a headline for the video she was sending to a discussion group on “propaganda and racism” as an “example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.”
In other words, Berlin’s explanation, available for all to see, is that the tweet and video don’t represent her views – they represent views she considers extremely dangerous.
Do you believe her? I do, absolutely. I don’t agree with the overall view of Israel-Palestine held by Berlin and the Free Gaza Movement (although I do support the mission of their flotillas, which is to break the blockade of Gaza) – but to think that she believes in this psychotic, frothing-at-the-mouth garbage about Jews? No, I do not.
But I have to admit – when I first heard about the tweet, and read Avi Mayer’s Facebook entries and the JTA story, I found it unbelievable … yet I believed it, because there it was in black and white, the original tweet plus the video, all written up in the newspapers and websites in stories that purportedly included Berlin’s side of the story.
It was only after I read Berlin’s actual side of the story that I realized that Mayer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and the National Post were telling good old lies of omission. They’ve slandered Greta Berlin and the Free Gaza Movement, in most if not all cases out of right-wing political motives. (The writer of the Jerusalem Post article, Benjamin Weinthal, is a right-wing propagandist posing as a journalist. He quotes another right-wing propagandist, NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, saying: “The NGO activists in the so-called ‘Free Gaza’ campaign have always reflected obsessive, irrational and immoral characteristics, and the revelation of links to crude anti-Semitism provides additional evidence.”)
I’d say shame on them all, but like I said, they’re shameless.
By Emily L. Hauser, Open Zion
October 05, 2012
I wrote this morning about a controversial tweet sent by the co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin. I learned later that a writer who I’ve long respected, Larry Derfner, has written in defense of Berlin, calling attacks on her “slander,” and when Derfner writes something, I listen. The heart of his defense was that:
All these stories referred to Berlin’s apology on the Free Gaza Movement website—but only to one part of it: the part where she explains that she didn’t mean for the tweet to go out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Tweeter [sic] account, but only to a group of people on her personal Facebook page. Reporting this and only this as her “apology” naturally made Berlin look even more evil.
…Berlin’s full explanation… is that her tweet was not a statement of her views, but a headline for the video she was sending to a discussion group on “propaganda and racism” as an “example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.”
Initially, I didn’t agree with Derfner. I had seen the statement to which he refers, and it was actually written in the third person as an organizational statement, and the one comment with Berlin’s own name behind it repeated the tone she had taken on Twitter in which she repeatedly apologized for a technical snafu, but not the content of the tweet, or even the impression it might have made.
In the last few hours, however, Berlin issued the following statement:
I am not a Holocaust denier. And I am not a supporter of the video that I posted, nor would I ever have been. It was, in fact, an example of propaganda that is EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over. The video (although I didn’t watch it then) seemed like the kind propaganda that our group was discussing. And I passed it on because of the title.
Ironically I am caught in the same propaganda hysteria that I was trying to fight. It was my mistake that I didn’t post to the small private group on Facebook and the video ended up on my wall. Greta
I know that for some, this will not be enough, because it came after a series of non-apology apologies, or because Berlin has failed in the past to create much daylight between herself and old-school anti-Semitism. I believe that if she and Free Gaza want to genuinely put this story behind them, they will need to produce some proof of the private group discussion to which they refer, beyond a statement made well after the fact with nothing to corroborate it.
For me, however, as one of the writers who has positively slammed her in the past few days, Berlin’s fresh statement is enough: She has said unequivocally that her intent in sharing that deeply disturbing video was not to support its content.
It would be nice if she might indicate that she understands why people were horrified, and sought both clarification and apology. I would also disagree with her suggestion we who took issue with her unexplained sharing of a video claiming that Zionists ran the concentration camps rise to the same level of “propaganda hysteria” as the video itself—but I’m sure that’s not the only thing on which she and I would disagree.
I was careful in writing my piece to speak up for those who are falsely accused of being anti-Semitic simply because they support Palestinian rights—I am among those people, as are many beloved friends. The point of my post was that in spite of what I see as a troubling over-use of the anti-Semitism accusation, real, honest-to-god Jew hatred does still exist, and pro-Palestinian activists who employ it not only hurt the Jews against which it is directed, but also the cause they claim to defend: Palestinian rights, and a just resolution of the conflict.
I am sorry that in writing about a real problem, I used Greta Berlin as the example around which my thesis was built. With her new statement, I now understand that my reading of her earlier comments was absolutely inaccurate.
Emily L. Hauser is an American-Israeli writer who has studied and written about the contemporary Middle East since the early 1990s. She blogs about Israel/Palestine and everything from domestic politics to her kids to loud music at Emily L. Hauser In My Head, and can be followed on Twitter.
If only it was just one tweet: One activist’s experience in the ‘Our Land’ Facebook group
By Bekah Wolf, Mondoweiss
October 18, 2012
Four months ago, I was added to a Facebook group called “Our Land” much of which, when I finally looked at the content, immediately struck me as anti-Semitic in nature, so I complained to the person who had added me.
That person was Greta Berlin. The “Our Land” page currently has 13 administrators, including Greta, and is a combination of posts from legitimate sources such as Ma’an News Agency and Al Jazeera on current events in Palestine, along with anti-Semitic rants and comments. The video of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins that Greta tweeted out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Twitter account on September 30 originated in this group.
Some people have come to Greta’s defense, accepting her assertion that this was a technical mistake, that she did not support the content of the video, and that those who have criticized her response to the “mistake” are on a witch hunt. I’d like to acknowledge that the Free Gaza Movement was not synonymous with Greta Berlin; some of my good friends and people I deeply respect were leaders of that movement and their work and commitment should in no way be minimized by this.
Setting aside Greta’s woefully inadequate explanations for the tweet (of which there were several), the fact remains: Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it. Since the controversy broke, the “Our Land” group has attempted to cover some of its tracks. The fact that Greta remains an active administrator of a Facebook group that accommodates this kind of bigotry raises serious issues about her commitment to building an anti-racist movement committed to justice and equality. Moreover, her unprincipled, vicious and Islamophobic attacks on the Palestinians who have called her to task for her behavior should alarm all of us who are committed to Palestine solidarity work.
While I am personally disappointed in Greta the stakes here are much higher than one person’s lack of judgement. This moment is a challenge to the Palestine solidarity movement and for us to define the movement we want to be, and the rhetoric and ideas we are willing to embrace. I hope by writing this, I can explain what led me to address these concerns, and what I hope we can all learn from the experience.
A History of Anti-Semitism
On July 11, 2012 I started poking around “Our Land”. I found this article, with a personalized introduction posted by Greta, about Zionist-Nazi collaboration:
At the time, the group had just begun, and it included a wide range of voices. While the issue of Zionist leaders having some level of coordination with the Nazi government is well-established, someone immediately took issue with the introduction, which did not come from the article itself but was added by Greta. Particularly, the idea that “The H” was “to a large degree created” by Zionists.
Greta’s assertion that the introduction was not hers but was a comment her “Jewish friend” wrote could not be verified, as the comments on this article had been turned off by countercurrents.org due to “racism”. This excuse, however, once again reeks of the same rationale she used about the tweet: these aren’t her words, yet she still chooses to disseminate them, without qualification.
After I began to engage in the discussion, challenging the anti-Semitic claim that Jews orchestrated the Holocaust, I was immediately attacked by a prolific poster to the group: Joachim Martillo. He posted to the group often; his area of interest seemed to be the inherent viciousness and evilness of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. When I challenged both his outrageous bigotry, and his penchant for posting pseudo-scientific rants on Facebook, this is what he said to me:
“Bekah Wolf is expressing the same sort of bigotry that Jews commonly express when they claim non-Jews can’t write about Jewish history or the Holocaust because they are not sufficiently in touch with the Jewish experience.[…]
For the record, I tend to comment here in the morning to get my mind working — sort of like calisthenics.
At one time I was trying to focus on becoming a scholar of modern Eastern European and Jewish historical political economics.
But it is really hard to obtain a university position if one does not write what rich Jewish donors want to read.
Then I moved into packet switching technology (cash flows in an economy are mathematically indistinguishable to packet flows in an Internet) and invented one of the key building blocks of the Internet.”
I then, in a private direct message to Greta, complained about him, and the group in general, for its content, questioning why she had added me to it in the first place. She had this to say:
I just posted this to the idiots ganging up on you in Our Land. I have not been online or I would have stopped it much sooner. …….Sorry Bekah, the page is not mine. I belong to it just like you do. And, for everyone else in here, Bekah has more cred in her little finger than many of you do in your entire body. She lives in Beit Ommar, a Palestinian village in the Hebron District where PSP is based and puts her feet where her mouth goes. She’s too modest to tell you these things, but she is an amazing women who works nonstop for the Palestinians…….
I was laughing at Joachim though. He has his good moments but his head is sometimes up his ass…ertions. And they have no idea who you are, so I just had to smack them a bit
What was shocking to me was the fact that she in no way addressed the issue I was bringing up: that Martillo was habitually making virulently and anti-Jewish postings in the group. And she just plain lied, she wasn’t just a member of the group, she was an administrator who had been added as one in June:
Take a look at that list of administrators, by the way. Eight of the 12 besides Greta are the same people who signed a letter on her behalf as members of another “secret” Facebook group in which she claims she intended to post the Eustace Mullins video.
I left the group in July, but when I heard about the tweet she posted, and her claim that it was just a mistaken posting intended for a Facebook group, I was reminded of Our Land. On September 30, I requested to rejoin the group. Greta approved me within 15 minutes of my request, clearly still an active administrator. At the same time, I notified a couple of Palestine solidarity activists, including editors at The Electronic Intifada, about the existence of the group and my belief that it was probably involved. Sure enough, there, on Sept. 28, was the video posted by another of the administrators. This is the posting Ali Abunimah referred in his October 6 post on The Electronic Intifada, (“Greta Berlin’s statement is not correct”).
As I looked through the posts of the group, my suspicions that anti-Zionism was consistently confused with overt anti-Semitism was confirmed. For example, another video posted on the same day as the one Greta tweeted was entitled: “The Holocaust Hoax.”
When one contributor posted an article with the introduction “we must never generalise about Jews and Zionist Jews” Joachim Martillo came back with this explanation of why we, in fact, should:
This is the same man who Greta told me “had his good moments”. She also welcomed him back after he was banned from the forum for the week.
What needs to be understood and emphasized is that this kind of virulently racist material was common in the group, and, as far as I could see, never challenged by the administrators, including Greta.
A Guilty Mind?
After it became clear that The Electronic Intifada had gained access to the group, there was a belated attempt at a cover-up. On October 9th, several prominent members of Greta’s support network, along with the most racist contributor, deleted their Facebook pages, eliminating their previous posts to the group. When administrator Sam Siddiqui deleted her Facebook profile, she took with it a post in which another member of the group wrote that she did not support Greta because she too had confronted Greta about her anti-Semitic rhetoric on Facebook (in one example I saw, Greta blamed bad coverage of Israel/Palestine in the Economist on the fact that it is “50% owned by the Rothchilds.” Besides playing into tropes of Jews running the media, this is also factually inaccurate).
In addition, Joachim Martillo also deleted his Facebook profile, taking with it all traces of his previous posts.
What is perhaps even more disturbing is that while Greta refused to condemn these posts (let alone exercise her authority as an administrator to remove them and ban the contributors), she is totally unapologetic. When someone posted one of the articles in an Israeli newspaper about the tweet, she said about her detractors, “I find them hysterical. What they don’t seem to realize is that, like Gilad Atzmon, people are now buying the book. What morons.”
Greta Berlin continues to defend and openly participate in a Facebook group that posts videos exactly like the one she tweeted two weeks ago and reportedly finds “disgusting.” She is unapologetic about it now, and has been in every interaction I’ve had with her about it. I do not think that Greta is a Nazi-sympathizer, but I have seen her engage, accept, and encourage anti-Semitic rhetoric, and this is incredibly damaging to the Palestine solidarity movement. What she, and this group, represents is dangerous to our movement in solidarity with Palestinians: a complete disregard for the basic principles of anti-racism and anti-bigotry most of us hold dear.
Several people, particularly Palestinians in Palestine, have criticized the amount of attention Greta and her tweet have gotten. Some have criticized her for making this about her and drawing attention away from the people who are actually suffering. Others have criticized those in the movement who have tried to hold Greta accountable. What people seem to be missing, however, are two key reasons why we cannot tolerate this rhetoric in our movement.
First, as a movement based on universal principles of human rights, freedom, and dignity, we should not allow any bigotry, racism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism in our midst. This was a point eloquently made in recent days in a statement signed by more than 100 Palestinian activists, academics and cultural workers.
Secondly, there are some utilitarian reasons why we should avoid this kind of rhetoric. Every time a Palestine solidarity activist takes on the issue of Holocaust and its connections to Zionism, every time they conflate Judaism with Zionism, they are making an inherently Zionist argument. The horrific historical reality of the Holocaust does not, and never can, trivialize or justify the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people. But Greta and others, by insisting on making such topics a primary concern are tacitly conceding a key Zionist claim that the legitimacy of Zionism and its past and present deeds in Palestine stems from the Holocaust.
As an anti-Zionist Jew who has been active in Palestine for 10 years, Greta Berlin’s statements and the content of “Our Land” not only offend me, but they have damaged my ability to combat Zionist rhetoric by claiming that I cannot be both religiously Jewish and anti-Zionist. Zionists routinely argue that to be Jewish is to be Zionist and the kind of rhetoric displayed on “Our Land” concedes this important point and supports this fundamental Zionist claim. In addition, this episode regarding Berlin’s tweet has damaged our movement as a whole and has shown deep short-sightedness by opening us up to attack and dismissal by Zionists who are desperately trying to paint us as a movement as anti-Semitic. Palestinians have not asked the solidarity movement to concern itself with notions of Jewish identity, authenticity, and the Holocaust, but to offer active and effective solidarity in restoring their rights in their country.
I am hopeful, however, because of the principled stances prominent members of our movement took against this offensive and misguided rhetoric. In my experience, a majority of Palestine solidarity activists are genuinely anti-Zionist and desire to combat a modern-day political movement, not an ancient religion or group of people. To paraphrase what a fantastic Palestinian activist once said, there were Jews in Palestine long before Zionism, and there will be Jews there long after Zionism as well.
Bekah Wolf has worked in Palestine since 2003. In 2006 she co-founded the Palestine Solidarity Project with her husband, former administrative detainee and current popular committee leader Mousa Abu Maria. She lived for 4 years in her husband’s village of Beit Ommar, Hebron District and currently splits her time between the U.S. and Beit Ommar with her daughter Rafeef.
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada
October 18, 2012
On 6 October I published a post casting doubt on Free Gaza movement co-founder Greta Berlin’s explanation of how she came to tweet a link to a video of an anti-Jewish diatribe by notorious anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins, from the @freegazaorg Twitter account.
Like others, I had at first accepted Berlin’s explanations that it had all been a mistake, just one single tweet posted in the wrong place, that was supposed to have been part of an anti-racist discussion in a private Facebook group.
But as the versions of the story began to vary, my doubts grew. Once I saw the content of the “Our Land” Facebook group that Berlin administers, I was certain we were dealing with a well-established pattern of exchanging, tolerating and indulging truly racist material that has no connection to Palestine solidarity work.
Today in an article on Mondoweiss[above], Bekah Wolf has published some of the racist material I saw in that group.
Even though I knew about this material, I did not elaborate on it in my 6 October post. Instead, other than the Mullins video, I restricted my comments to what was not in the group, rather than what was there:
This evening I had an opportunity to spend several hours with full access to a private Facebook group of which Berlin is an administrator, and where the video was first posted by another administrator on 28 September with the comment “This will be a real thought provoker for some.”
When the video was posted on 28 September it was neither preceded nor followed by any interactions that would fit the description that it “was shared with a group of people who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.” This context does not exist.
Contrary to various claims I’ve seen, I never labeled Berlin an “anti-Semite.” Yet as Wolf writes:
Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it.
And as Wolf shows, Berlin often went beyond that.
Should I have been more explicit about what I saw? Perhaps, but I had my reasons to take a more restrained approach. I had hoped that by sounding the alarm, and signaling that Berlin’s explanations were not credible, Berlin herself would begin to take the issue seriously, and that the new Free Gaza board would do the same. Sadly that did not happen.
The most dispiriting spectacle over the past two weeks was seeing Berlin disseminating, and a small group of people embellishing, outlandish stories intended to distract and shift the blame on to those who were asking for accountability.
Almost every day, I’ve received emails alleging, among other things, that I am a “Zionist agent,” that I’ve been “conned” by Israel into attacking Berlin so that Israel can steal Gaza’s natural gas, that I am engaged in a “vendetta” because Berlin endorsed a book I didn’t like, and so on. A few of these messages came from people I had previously believed to be reasonable and sensible, which added to the disappointment.
Berlin herself has used Islamophobic epithets against me, accusing me of issuing “fatwas” and mocking me as “Ali Ayatollah.” But for me this is not and has never been about Greta Berlin. I knew that what I saw in the “Our Land” group could not be more damaging and discrediting to the Palestinian rights movement.
I also received tremendous encouragement and affirmation that was far louder. I am thankful to individuals including Élise Hendrick who understood what was at stake from the start, and has helped illuminate some of the disturbing connections that have come out of this.
As someone who is frequently accused by Zionists of being “anti-Semitic,” I do not take these matters lightly. But this episode also helped me gain some clarity about the symbiotic relationship between Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Many Zionists constantly claim that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, while anti-Semites try to convince us that their hatred of Jews as Jews is actually anti-Zionism. So both Zionists and anti-Semites constantly collude to blur the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and between Zionism and Judaism. We should do nothing to help them.
The movement I am proud to be part of eschews racism and bigotry in all their forms, and doesn’t seek the support of those who trade in them.