The eavesdropping transcripts Shamai Leibowitz leaked in 2009 contained information about covert Israeli penetration of the American political environment. If I had transcripts of current Israeli diplomatic traffic now, I’d be hearing conversations concerning the story I’m about to tell. Electronic Intifada reports that the Israeli consul in the Pacific Northwest, Avi Tor, has colluded with StandWithUs’ Northwest director, Rob Jacobs to gin up a lawsuit against the Olympia food coop because it voted for a boycott of Israeli products on its shelves.
In 2009, one of the major themes for Israeli diplomats in this country was provoking hostility and fear of Iran. Today, priorities have shifted somewhat and a new major theme is what the Israeli government falsely calls “delegitimization.” That is, campaigns like BDS and the Gaza flotilla which aim to end the Occupation, but not, as Israel claims, to destroy that nation. You can be sure that the diplomatic traffic and telephone conversations between Israel and its outposts here are filled with this sort of chatter. As will be the conversations between diplomats and American Jewish leaders, who aid and abet Israeli interests in this country.
Let’s return to the food coop lawsuit. This is a prime example of another fake concept dubbed “lawfare,” and popularized by pro-Israel hucksters like Alan Dershowitz to characterize alleged campaigns by pro-Palestinian groups to delegitimize Israel. He’s referring to international arrest warrants filed by human rights groups against Israeli military officers and government officials seeking accountability for potential war crimes like Operation Cast Lead. Of course, the ultimate goal of such suits, aside from actually punishing Israelis responsible for violating international law, is forcing Israel to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict–and again, not to destroy Israel.
The Olympia food coop lawsuit and similar MFA-inspired operations aren’t designed to uncover any real wrongdoing (as the war crimes cases are). But rather, they’re simply designed to destroy the credibility of movements viewed falsely as attempting to destroy Israel. The tools Israel and its agents here use in their campaign are ones of lies and fear. For example, one of the claims in the letter threatening a lawsuit was that last year’s vote had instilled ““a climate of fear and terror for Jews.” Say what? A vote for a boycott instills terror and fear? This is food folks, not the Warsaw Ghetto. Only unbelievably audacious hucksters like SWU could come up with such a tissue of lies.
EI points out that a SWU video promoting its work in Olympia against the coop boycott displays a flyer with a Nazi swastika superimposed on a Star of David and calls it an “actual image from a handout.” It doesn’t specify where the handout was distributed or who produced it. It could be a document from anywhere. Once again, this is typical of SWU’s three-card monte style of political agitprop.
Another proof of the fakery behind this lawsuit is that it doesn’t at all contest BDS or the boycott that members approved. Instead, it claims unspecified technical rule violations disqualified the measure. Not only does it not indicate what the board did wrong, it doesn’t indicate how the vote could be taken properly. And further, the litigants have refused an offer from members to gather 300 signatures necessary to reopen the question and take a new vote.
I would have less problem with this lawsuit if it was one genuinely generated from within the food coop by members who conceived of the idea themselves and organized it themselves. In reality, the lawsuit was conceived, organized and promoted by the State of Israel through its official agents in this country, and by StandWithUs, working as a thinly concealed extension of Israeli government interests.
What’s more, Akiva Tor and Rob Jacobs have lied in characterizing their roles in order to conceal it. I’ve written before about Jacobs’ tendency to lose track of the truth. Again, I would have less problem with this entire arrangement if SWU and the Israeli consulate was transparent about their actions. Something like what the Minneapolis JCRC did when confronted by its local Jewish independent newspaper. The JCRC director put out a statement essentially conceding that they worked on behalf of the Israeli foreign ministry in monitoring Rep. Keith Ellison, deemed by both of them, at least privately, as hostile to Israel.
But Tor and Jacobs conceal and lie rather than admitting their role and actions involving the lawsuit. This is perfectly of a piece with the behaviors and subterfuge laid out in the Leibowitz transcripts. So the question for Americans and American Jews is: is this the sort of behavior you approve of for a foreign power? And for Jews, is this the Israel that makes you proud? I’d like to be proud of Israel. I really would. But not THIS Israel.
Here is something like what I believe happened: Olympia has been on the radar of SWU and the Israeli consulate for quite some time due to the alleged anti Israel activism on the Evergreen College campus. Through its campus activism, SWU has been recruiting in the community for some time. As did the David Project at Columbia, it found willing students or local community members prepared to claim their religion had been disrespected and they had been harrassed merely for being Jews. Anti-Semitism is a powerful canard. And young Jews who have never experienced real anti-Semitism, and have been politically “attuned” to SWU’s skewed version of it, will be inclined to become student soldiers for the pro-Israel movement.
So when the food coop announced it would vote on a BDS resolution, SWU either asked its local recruits to join the coop or, if it was lucky, they already belonged. That’s how SWU and the consulate recruited the current crop of litigants. And to be clear, you’ll hear the consulate shrey that they had nothing to do with this and that it was solely an internal matter worked out among the complaining coop members. But in this matter I make virtually no distinction between SWU and the Israeli government. The two are working hand in glove and whatever the consulate can’t or won’t do because it is a foreign entity, SWU does for it. In that sense, SWU in this matter really is what many accuse Aipac of being, an agent for a foreign power.
Now, once they had the litigants they needed to recruit a willing local pro-Israel Jewish attorney. Through the good graces of SWU or the consulate they found Avi Lipman, who’s taken the case. Rob Jacobs again lies when he claims he knows nothing about how the lawyer was recruited and how he’s being paid. Jacobs swears that SWU isn’t funding the lawsuit. Perhaps he’s right. But if he isn’t, then a fatcat SWU donor (like say, Aubrey Chernick or someone like him) is. And that donor was, I’d be willing to bet, recruited either by SWU or the consulate (but more likely SWU).
There’s another chilling aspect of this story as reported by EI. Ali Abunimah writes, quite convincingly, that SWU may be trying to establish a record of violations of Jewish civil rights on campuses like Evergreen (UC Santa Cruz is another campus afflicted with SWU-like complaints of Jewish harassment) in order to lobby the federal government to file suit against these campuses for creating environments hostile to the civil or religious rights of students.
If he’s correct, this would be a further ratcheting up of pressure against the BDS/anti-Occupation movement on U.S. campuses. It would take the struggle out of the realm of the purely soapbox and bring it into the the courts and the halls of government. This is lawfare perfected to a high art.
To any who might dismiss the assault against the Olympia coop as a trivial matter think on this: if SWU and the Israeli foreign ministry are willing to lavish this amount of attention and effort on a grocery store, imagine how much effort they’d be willing to devote to plying the halls of power on behalf of Israel. Imagine how slavishly SWU or the Seattle federation’s political lobbyist or Aipac are willing to monitor our local Congressional delegation seeking tell-tale signs of flagging devotion to the cause.
Returning to Rob Jacobs, he fudges or lies outright a number of times in his interview with EI. For example, he claims SWU is really a shoestring operation and that he’s devoted no more than a few hundred dollars worth of materials to the effort. What this obscures is that SWU’s national budget is over $4 million and that Jacobs himself earned nearly $100,000 in 2008. Rob Jacobs didn’t tell his interviewer how many hours he and his assistant have devoted to Olympia. If we add that to the tally this is undoubtedly a major expenditure of resources for SWU.
Jacobs attempts to downplay his role in the lawsuit:
Jacobs told The Electronic Intifada his group’s contact with the five letter writers [litigants] was largely limited to providing printed materials, helping bring in speakers and offering advice…
Although Jacobs did acknowledge working with and meeting repeatedly with the letter writers, he characterized the relationship to any potential lawsuit as arms length:
“Since we’re not actually a party to anything down there, frankly we’re not in any of the loop regarding the legal matters. Just from an attorney-client privilege standpoint anything we would do with anybody would be violating some kind of potential privilege. So, we know that they’re doing some stuff. I know they’ve been working with an attorney. I know which firm it is but beyond that we have not in any way participated in the legal discussion.”
Jacobs acknowledged attending one meeting related to the potential lawsuit.
“We were at one meeting, I don’t know how many months ago, before anything actually happened,” Jacobs explained.
“We had been asked by some of the folks down there if we knew any attorneys up here [in Seattle], so we mentioned a number of names. But I was at a meeting where they had an initial — they had not retained any attorney or developed any permanent relationship with an attorney — when they had someone there talk off-the-cuff about what an attorney could do for them.”
Compare this mumbo-jumbo to SWU’s website’s characterization of its activity in Olympia (by the way, meeting reports are no longer publicly accessible on the SWU site, makes you wonder what Rob feels he has to hide):
A “Weekly Status Report” of StandWithUs Northwest, for the week of 5-11 March 2011 states that the following meetings took place:
“Rob [Jacobs] and Carolyn in Olympia with Olympia activists, Akiva Tor and Avi Lipman on Thursday – Presentation of legal case, discussion of Evergreen strategy and Olympia community speaker opportunities.”
EI raises an important question: why did the Government of Israel find it necessary for its official representative to be present at a planning meeting for a lawsuit against the Olympia food coop. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: would it be appropriate for the U.S. consul general in East Jerusalem to be present at a meeting during which Palestinians planned to sue the State of Israel; or at a meeting where settlers planned to sue their opponents? What does this tell you about Israel’s priorities in this country?
Jacobs’ lies are further refuted here:
The agenda for an upcoming 27 September 2011 StandWithUs Northwest Executive Committee meeting includes the following items:
- The civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College
- The law suit against the Olympia Food Co-op
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.