by Steven Stotsky
A guest Op-Ed titled “One Americanâ€™s Response to the Israel-Palestine Conflict,” appearing in the September-October 2010 edition of the Juilliard Journal, the publication of the famed Juilliard music school, leveled a number of serious accusations against the Jewish state. According to its editors, the column generated “so many letters to the editor, e-mails, and on-line comments that we simply do not have space to print them all in their entirety.” Curiously, of the seven letters the editors chose to publish which offered praise for the article, four were from recognizable anti-Israel activists. The identities of these four individuals are worth scrutiny for what they reveal.
Three of the anti-Israel activists, Anna Baltzer, Norman Finkelstein and Firoze Sidhwa had no apparent connection to Juilliard or its music community. However, they do have links with each other through various extremist groups, and they also have a link to the author of the piece, Benjamin Laude.
Benjamin Laude, who is a graduating music student at the school, has participated in a radical left think tank called Z-Media Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The institute counts longtime anti-Israel detractor MIT Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky as one of its faculty. Among the published letters supporting the article was one from roving anti-Israel agitator Anna Baltzer from St. Louis, who is linked to Chomsky through her mentor, Tanya Reinhardt, an anti-Zionist linguist with close ties to Chomsky. Ms. Baltzer is an acolyte of the International Solidarity Movement, a fringe group that recruits young Westerners to physically interfere with Israeli military operations against terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank.
Another letter came from Holocaust mocker, Norman Finkelstein, whose repugnant view that Jews exploit the Holocaust for their own selfish ends has garnered considerable publicity. Finkelstein’s “work” has been defended and promoted by Chomsky.
A third letter published was from Feroze Sidhwa, a medical student in Texas, also a veteran of anti-Israel activism, who has been published on the Hamas-oriented web site, Electronic Intifada.
Electronic Intifada also has published the work of a fourth letter writer, Raymond Deane of Ireland. Unlike the first three activists mentioned, Deane does have career involvement in music. However, he is better known for his stance at the most radical fringe of Ireland’s anti-Israel movement. A founder of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign which promotes the boycott and divestment movement against Israel, Deane was at the center of bitter infighting within Ireland’s anti-Israel community. According to a former member David Morrison, this was because Deane regarded the communist party affiliated members within the group’s leadership as insufficiently radical. Deane wanted the group to support Hamas at the expense of Fatah, while the others sought to avoid taking sides in the internal Palestinian dispute.
Laude’s piece is propaganda well-suited to the groups mentioned above. It misrepresents the facts and goals of the May 2010 Gaza flotilla. For example, Laude states the objective of the Gaza flotilla was “to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.” Even the flotilla’s main organizer Greta Berlin publicly stated that the main objective was not to bring humanitarian aid, but to break the Israeli blockade. The flotilla organizers rejected Israel’s offer to deliver all humanitarian aid after it was inspected for weapons-related materials. Subsequently, it was learned that the flotilla carried hardly anything of value to Gaza. Hamas refused to accept the allegedly desperately needed supplies, noting that the medicines brought in on the flotilla were mostly past their expiration date.
Laude also falsely charged that Israel could have peacefully defended itself from rocket fire simply by observing the terms of the June 2008 ceasefire, which it broke in early November. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center documented in this report how Hamas escalated the situation and refused to renew the truce despite Israeli offers to do so. Laude laughably describes Hamas rocket fire as “retaliatory” when, in fact, Hamas itself describes the rocket fire as an integral part of its longterm “resistance” to Israel. Laude’s accusation ignores the reality that Israel pulled out of Gaza entirely in 2005, turning it over to the Palestinians.
Laude makes other misinformed statements. He claims the first suicide bombings struck Tel Aviv and Jerusalem five months after the Second Intifada began in September 2000, when actually the first Hamas suicide bombing was carried out in 1994 and such terrorist violence remained an everpresent threat. His laying the blame for the Second Intifada on Israeli provocation is nonsense as well. Palestinian Communications Minister Imad al Faluji , among others, openly admitted that the Intifada was a campaign planned in the summer of 2000.
The following is a link to the article “One Americanâ€™s Response to the Israel-Palestine Conflict” by Benjamin Laude in which the many factual falsehoods and distortions appear. An opinion piece by Yoheved Kaplinsky was published in response to the column. This, however, is not sufficient. The Juilliard Journal needs to come clean about why Laude’s defamatory piece was published and how the publication happened to select the letters of extreme, anti-Israel activists from the large number they claimed to have received.
Music lovers may also want to know what’s happened to an ostensibly apolitical publication with no intrinsic connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Any complaints to the publication apparently should not be directed to the erstwhile Editor in Chief, Sarah Krichieff, on whose watch the Laude piece was published. A new editor, Susan Jackson, is, as of the end of October, listed as running the operation.
The following are the letters published in the Juilliard Journal in response to the original column:
I write about the article in the September issue of The Juilliard Journal on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I read with disbelief the writerâ€™s distortions, omissions, bias, and lack of knowledge about the history of that conflict.
Is he aware that over the past 100 years various commissions, the League of Nations, the United Nations voted to partition the area into Palestinian-Arab and Palestinian-Jewish states? Is he aware that every time the Palestinian Jews accepted the compromise, the Palestinian Arabs and the rest of the Arab world did not, and went on to make war on the Jews? Suicide bombs blew up pizza parlors, at weddings, in hotels and every other place they could reach. This was their answer to statehood.
When Israel withdrew from Gaza, where they never wanted to be in the first place, they left homes, flower beds, schools. As soon as the Palestinian Arabs came in they destroyed everything. Instead of building a country they put their efforts into rockets and hate. After months of rocket attacks, Israel had to invade Gaza to stop the rocket attacks and protect their people and country. What did we do when Arabs blew up the World Trade Center? We attacked Afghanistan, which is where they came from. What country doesnâ€™t have the right to defend its people?
New York City
I was both surprised and heartened to read Ben Laudeâ€™s article. The essay is indicative of a growing awareness among United States citizens, especially politically-engaged students, that there is a side of the Israel-Palestine story that finds no expression in The New York Times, on All Things Considered, and (needless to say) on Fox News. Oppression, brutality, and iniquity are to be exposed and condemned, evenâ€”or, indeed, especiallyâ€”when such critiques are not sanctioned by public or official opinion. Mr. Laude is to be commended for his keen moral instincts and The Juilliard School is to be commended for this signal of its commitment to fostering serious dialogue surrounding issues that deserve to be scrutinized carefully and non-ideologically. That they rarely receive this sort of attention in the mainstream media is nearly a truism, which places The Juilliard Journal in the odd position of making up for the deficiencies, oversights, and systematic blindness of the aforementioned news outlets. Moreover, as an employee and student in a university-level school of music, it pleases me to see this counterexample to the view that members of the academic classical music community are cloistered, socially oblivious inhabitants of the ivory (or, maybe, ivory-key) tower.
Bryan Parkhurst, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Philosophy and Department of Music Theory
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Benjamin Laude has put the case very accurately and fairly. His account is backed up by the U.N.â€™s Goldstone Report, which of course has led to a massive campaign of defamation against Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew with impeccable Zionist credentials. I have just finished reading the book Eyes in Gaza by two Norwegian doctors, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, who were present in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. The book is a catalogue of horrors, meticulously illustrated with photographs. Benjaminâ€™s comparison with Goyaâ€™s The Disasters of War couldnâ€™t be more apt.
Dr. Raymond Deane
It is easy to extrapolate from sources to make a case. I found Mr. Laudeâ€™s case specious and offensive. I wonder if he has ever visited or lived in a place that was subject to random bombardment. Has he ever had to walk a sibling to school, or gone out for a quart of milk, not knowing if a missile was going to hit his car? Has he visited Arab families on the border in Lebanon, to be shown the stash of weapons in their basements?
He doesnâ€™t seem to condemn the Fatah or Hamas leaders who are funneling money for aid to weaponry and living off of the misery of their people. Why does he not mention Mrs. Arafat, who has been bankrolled for years by the suffering of her people?
It is unfortunate that a newspaper from a conservatory finds it appropriate to publish such a charged article. There is nothing that Israel can do now or ever to placate people like Mr. Laude, who seems to be of the belief that a world without Israel would be a better place.
Irene Breslaw (B.M. â€™70; M.S. â€™71, viola)
Assistant Principal Viola, New York Philharmonic
As someone who devotes a substantial amount of time to studying the American role in the Arab-Israeli conflict and has lived and worked in both Israel and the occupied territories, I thought I would write to state what should be obvious to anyone who follows these matters closely. Laudeâ€™s article was arguably the most conservative take one can give on the occupation of the Palestinian territories, in particular of Israeli control of the Gaza Strip, while still taking the humanist perspective he obviously strove for. For example, Laude cites a former foreign minister of Israel as writing that it was Israelâ€™s “disproportionate response to what had started as a popular uprising” that turned the second intifada into a violent confrontation, while a reasonable person might ask what proportionality has to do with anything when an occupying army attempts to crush a nonviolent populist uprising with brutal violence.
My point is that his was not a radical piece in any sense, nor was it one that went out of its way to demonize or “delegitimize” Israel. His criticism of the U.S. for “supporting” Israelâ€”and his focus is clearly on the American role throughout the pieceâ€”is tepid compared to what one can read regularly in the Israeli press. For example, Gideon Levy stating in [the Israeli newspaper] Haaretz from the second day of Cast Lead that the attack was a Lidice-style use of military violence, or veteran Israeli peace activist and former Israeli paratrooper Uri Avnery writing that it was an attack “on the most helpless population in the world.” B. Michael was actually fired from his columnist post at Israelâ€™s largest circulation daily for writing that there is no bravery or courage needed to drop bombs on people who have exactly no way of defending themselves
M.S.-IV, University of Texas School of Medicine, San Antonio
M.P.H., Harvard School of Public Health
It pains me, as an Israeli who cares deeply about peace and justice and is quite prepared to criticize the Israeli government, to see such a well-written, high-minded, but fundamentally misguided article get such an appreciative reception. The writer, like so many in Europe and on U.S. college campuses, ignores the huge constituency in Israel for Palestinian self-determinationâ€”a large portion of which has long since been disabused of simplistic judgments such as those proffered in abundance here.
Where is the mention that Palestinian corruption and infighting, rising to the point of horrendous intra-Palestinian brutality, have much to do with the failure of Gaza to flourish when Israel withdrew, before the current naval blockade? Where is the recognition that every hopeful, good-faith Israeli attempt over the decades to appease and concede has been interpreted cynically by the Palestinian moderates, and has been taken as a sign of weakness by the extremists, vindicating and emboldening them in their destructive efforts? No one likes walls, and it was great having an open flow back and forth of Jews and Arabs for decades. But when times changed, preventing terrorists from ambling right over by putting up a separating wall proved an extremely effective way of reducing the terrorist incidents; should the wall not be put up because someone far away says itâ€™s illegal? The Israeli justice system is very highly regarded for its independence. Does the author have any idea how frequently it intervenes on behalf of the Arabs, often forcing expensive repositioning of that wall, in cases brought by Arabs in conjunction with the many Israeli human rights groups (of which I am proud)?
There are very many very good people in Israel who would be happy to sacrifice much for peace. We are at a particularly hopeful juncture. I am confident that extremists on the Israeli side will not be allowed to sabotage a genuine prospect of peace, if one emerges. I am unfortunately much less confident that the Palestinian side will be able to stand up to their own intransigent elements, who really want Israel to disappearâ€”but I am more optimistic than I have been since the early days of the Oslo accords in the â€™90s. At the grass-roots level, there are many wonderful joint Jewish-Arab projects happening. Letâ€™s just hope that we can get the same spirit to win the day at the national level.
Raphael S. Ryger (Pre-College â€™70)
Concertmaster, Orchestra New England Hamden, Conn.
Itâ€™s about time we began hearing about justice and peace from Juilliard. Society places with artists a special responsibility to work for these goalsâ€”a vocation, alas, rarely fulfilled. Congratulations to Ben Laude and The Juilliard School!
Ferdinand Gajewski (B.S. â€™63, piano)
The inaccurate and distorted revanchist populist canard as regards the Israel Defense Forces’ (I.D.F.) attempt to respond to years of shelling and terrorism emanating from Gaza contravenes any attempt at presenting a balanced picture of the events as they have taken place. Gaza, from 1948-1967, was under the military control of the Egyptian army, which strictly prohibited its inhabitants from leaving this narrow strip of territory that borders the Sinai Dessertâ€”a virtually unlimited space. The Egyptians, as well as other states which neighbor Israel, encouraged and abetted mayhem and the murder of innocent Jews. To equate the fascist bombing of Guernica in Spain prior to World War II with the I.D.F.’s measured response to the unfettered rocket attacks by thousands on Sderot, a small city of several thousand civilians, is but one example of the evil and cynical intentions of Mr. Laude and his colleagues to blame the victim for the misdeeds of crypto-Nazi supporters against Israel. Please bear in mind the I.D.F. as well as Israeli civilians who lived in Gaza unilaterally withdrew from this area in 2005 with the understanding that the Palestinian Authority would maintain security of the borders.
The citizens of Israelâ€”which is the only democracy in the Middle East, as a matter of factâ€”enjoy the benefits of science, industry, technology, agriculture, and the humanities, including a spectrum of music, theater, and the fine arts. The due-process of law provides for freedom of dissent, protection of women’s rights, and the open manifestation of human sexuality.
The pollution as expressed in Mr. Laude’s outrageous writings must be repudiated in the strongest terms.
New York City
A friend forwarded me Ben Laude’s thoughtful and factual article on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Your journal should be commended for allowing space to a broad spectrum of opinions, thereby enabling readers to decide for themselves where truth lies.
Soâ€”now Juilliard is becoming involved in world politics?
Iâ€™m so shocked, so saddened. Whatâ€™s more dangerous and evil than half-truths? It makes the half-lies sound truthful. Where was Ben Laude when Ashkelon houses were destroyed by Hamas rockets? Why doesnâ€™t he attack the oil-rich Arabs who pushed and paid for Palestinians to become violent (to start all those wars with Israel)? Instead, why didnâ€™t they, the oil-rich Arabs, set up industries, hospitals, and schools in Gaza? As a result, these poor people had to go to Hadassah Hospital and get jobs in Israelâ€”of course, as Mexicans in the U.S., they got the lowest-paying labor jobs: construction, farming, etc.
The whole thing is a tragic jokeâ€”these mothers celebrate the death of their suicide-bomber sons? As far as proportions of death tolls, there at least 100,000 Arabs to every Israeli.
New York City
I was recently e-mailed a link to the Voice Box column in The Juilliard Journal and was surprised and moved by what I read. Not only is Benjamin Laude an elegant writer, his article on Israel-Palestine is brimming with hyperlinks to outside sources which displays an eye to the documentary record absent even in mainstream newspapers. The piece is journalism in the strongest sense: morally driven and tied to fact.
Iâ€™m writing because I recognize the bravery of publishing this kind of work. Its presence in your paper should dispel anyoneâ€™s misconception that Juilliard cultivates its studentsâ€™ performance abilities to the exclusion of all else. Laudeâ€™s demonstrated sense of social responsibility is heartening, to say the least.
Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology,
University of Pennsylvania
As a Jewish American who cares deeply about peace, justice, and security for all people in Israel/Palestine, I want to thank you for publishing Benjamin Laudeâ€™s piece. Laudeâ€™s well-documented assessment offers information that is important for American taxpayers to know, given our financial and political support of Israel, including during the ongoing U.S.-brokered peace talks. I have seen first-hand many of the realities Laude mentions and respect Juilliardâ€™s courage in publishing a perspective not always heard.
St. Louis, Mo.