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JUSTICE TOUR SLANDERED BY GROUPS CHARGING ANTI-SEMITISM
Wheels of Justice tour members were saddened but not surprised to see two male protestors dressed as suicide bombers making a joke of the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians at this rally for human rights.
Thursday, December 11th, 2003
By John Farrell and Lauren Anzaldo
Our colorful Wheels of Justice peace bus rolled into Palo Alto on Dec. 10 for a rally organized by the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center to commemorate International Human Rights Day. We spoke as eyewitnesses to the blatant disregard for human rights committed by the Israeli and U.S. occupying authorities in Palestine and Iraq, respectively. We also explained our work supporting nonviolent direct action and grassroots organizing among Iraqi and Palestinian people working for justice.
The Wheels of Justice cross-country bus tour is co-sponsored by Middle East Children's Alliance, Voices in the Wilderness, Al-Awda, and representatives from the International Solidarity Movement. In its mission statement and platform, the Wheels of Justice tour affirms human rights for all people of the world and specifically denounces the violence of war, terror, and occupation.
About 180 people attended the rally in front of the Palo Alto City Hall. About 100 of those people, organized in part by the Jewish Community Relations Council, protested the presence of the Wheels of Justice tour by holding U.S. and Israeli flags and signs with statements such as "Teaching Hate is not a Human Right" and "Suicide Bombings are War Crimes." (Two examples which can also be found on the JCRC website).
We welcomed the display of free speech in the plaza, especially since we, too, oppose the teaching of hate, but we were appalled to see that two male protestors were dressed as suicide bombers. They had red plastic tubes duct-taped like sticks of dynamite to their chests and black-and-white-checked coverings on their heads. This mean-spirited mockery of violence was disturbing and confusing when seen next to signs -- such as one held by another protester -- that read "Peace, Salaam, Shalom."
Unfortunately, we were not surprised to see these men making a joke of the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians and perpetuating the pervasive, racist stereotype of the "violent Arab male" at this rally for human rights. We had anticipated their presence at this gathering.
On Monday, Dec. 8, we spoke by telephone with someone who called himself Terry McAuliff and claimed to be a reporter with the Independent Media Center of San Francisco. At first, our respective interviews with McAuliff seemed fine, but we reconsidered when he grew more combative and intrusive in his questions. He grilled us on our "political affiliations," how we were "recruited" to work with Voices in the Wilderness and the International Solidarity Movement, and if we had "converted" any of our audience members.
We were both suspicious of McAuliff when he said that he would not be able to meet with us in person when we came to the Bay Area because he had a big deadline to meet with the "bosses" at Indymedia. Since McAuliff had called us from a blocked phone number, we called the San Francisco Independent Media Center and asked if someone by that name worked there. No one at the IMC was familiar with McAuliff.
In our telephone conversations with him, McAuliff repeatedly referred to our appearance in Ukiah, Calif., on Dec. 4, so we called our Ukiah contacts and asked if they had had similar experiences. We found out that one of the people who had welcomed us in Ukiah had received a similar phone call from a man who called himself Lee Kaplan. Kaplan had asked her many of the same questions that McAuliff asked us. With a little more detective work, we found out that a man named Lee Kaplan is also involved with an organization called Dafka, or in Hebrew, "In Your Face." One of our Ukiah contacts gave us the phone number Kaplan had given her.
With this information, we feared that we were being trailed, harassed and lied to by at least one member of Dafka, so we decided to visit the Dafka website (http://www.dafka.org) for more information. There we discovered that members of Dafka had been encouraged to attend the rally that evening for International Human Rights Day in Palo Alto dressed as suicide bombers! We also found on the website inaccurate comments about the Wheels of Justice tour, including the following quote, listed without any supporting arguments or documentation: "Please join us in combatting (sic) fascism and anti-Semitism. Remember, our cause is for demcoracy, (sic) freedom of religion and human rights. Theirs is for dictatorship, anti-Semitism, communism and nihilism."
We then called the phone number we had for Lee Kaplan and asked to speak with Terry McAuliff. The man who answered the phone identified himself as McAuliff. We informed him that we had found no record of anyone working by his name at the San Francisco Indymedia Center. When we asked McAuliff if his was the same phone number as Lee Kaplan's, McAuliff quickly said that he didn't know what we were talking about and that he didn't have time to talk because he was running out the door.
At the rally that evening, Dafka distributed fliers that included lies and distortions about the Wheels of Justice tour too numerous to include in totality. Here is one example from the Dafka flier: "Words used by this group (WoJ) such as "Peace" and "Justice"= Israel being driven into the sea to be replaced by another Arab Muslim dictatorship . . ."
We would like to reiterate that most of the protestors at the rally were there to peacefully express their opinions, but it was apparent to us from our observation and conversations with people afterwards that most of the protestors did not pay attention to the speeches that they were there to protest. This is especially troubling to us now that we know what sort of libel that groups such as Dafka were giving to people in the crowd. If this is the sort of misinformation that people are receiving, then how can we ever have an honest dialogue about these issues?
However, there are also groups such as Jews Against the Occupation, which has endorsed the Wheels of Justice tour, and Jews For a Free Palestine (http://www.renouncealiyah.us), which recently issued an invitation for their members to support the Wheels of Justice tour in the face of the JCRC's charges of anti-Semitism. Specifically, Jews For a Free Palestine has publicly invited people in the Bay Area to join the tour at our appearance in MLK park in Berkeley from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13. We are extremely grateful for this support, and we would like to extend this invitation as well to the other events that we will be holding in the Bay Area. You can find our tour schedule on the Wheels of Justice tour website (http://www.justicewheels.org) or the Middle East Children's Alliance website (http://www.mecaforpeace.org).