We've sent out a press release to more than 800 contacts regarding the statement "On Anti-Semitism, Boycotts, and the Case of Hermann Dierkes: An Open Letter from Jewish Peace Activists." A copy of the press release is attached and pasted below.
Since the statement has been made public, further people have been telling us that they'd still like to sign. Therefore, we have set up an on-line petition site where peace activists of Jewish background can add their names. The site is www.gopetition.com/petitions/dierkes-letter.html
The petition calls on Jews to sign, but everyone can help in spreading the word.
Steven Shalom and Racheli Gai
For immediate release
Stephen R. Shalom, firstname.lastname@example.org (973) 801-2377
Racheli Gai, email@example.com, (520) 407-1432
Jewish Peace Activists Defend German Critic of Israel
Calling for a Boycott of Israel for its Treatment of Palestinians is not Anti-Semitic
Montclair, NJ, April 8, 2009 -- More than 370 Jewish peace activists from around the world signed a statement defending German politician Hermann Dierkes against charges of anti-Semitism.
Dierkes, a left-wing politician with a distinguished record of fighting for social justice, called for a boycott of Israeli goods as a means of putting pressure on the Israeli government to end its oppression of Palestinians. For this he has been subjected to vicious denunciations for anti-Semitism.
The signers of the statement -- from Israel, Germany, the United States, and several other countries -- expressed their objection to those "who use charges of anti-Semitism to attempt to squelch legitimate dissent."
The signers have differing views on the wisdom and efficacy of a general boycott, some favoring it, some preferring a more selective boycott focused on the occupation, but all agree that a call for a boycott of Israel has nothing in common with the Nazi policy of "Don't buy from Jews."
"It is no more anti-Semitic to boycott Israel to end the occupation," the statement declared, "than it was anti-white to boycott South Africa to end apartheid."
Among the U.S. signatories are Phyllis BENNIS; Stephen Eric BRONNER; Leslie CAGAN; Noam CHOMSKY; Daniel ELLSBERG, Melanie KAYE/KANTROWITZ; Joanne LANDY; Zachary LOCKMAN; Frances Fox PIVEN; Adrienne RICH, Matthew ROTHSCHILD; Sami SHALOM CHETRIT; Jerome SLATER; and Howard ZINN.
Among the foreign signers are Tikva HONIG-PARNASS, Adam KELLER, Lea TSEMEL, and Michel WARSCHAWSKI (Israel); Daniel BENSAÏD and Michaël LÖWY (France); Naomi KLEIN (Canada); Felicia LANGER (Germany); and Moshe MACHOVER and Eyal WEIZMAN (UK).
"We gathered these names in just a week," said Stephen R. Shalom, a professor of political science at William Paterson University, one of several individuals who initiated the letter in response to their outrage at the accusation of anti-Semitism levelled at Dierkes. "We've been getting a constant stream of additional names of people who want to add their names to the statement." They can do so at.
Racheli Gai, an Israeli-American peace activist, noted that " "There is real anti-Semitism in the world, and -- like all forms of racism -- it must be vigorously denounced. But frivolously making charges of anti-Semitism makes fighting the real thing harder, because it cheapens its meaning, and renders the motivations of even those who are making the charge legitimately suspect." As the statement concluded, "The Holocaust was one of the most horrific events in modern history. It is a dishonor to its victims to use its memory as a bludgeon to silence principled critics of Israel's unconscionable treatment of Palestinians."
Hermann Dierkes, a former city counsellor in the German city of Duisberg representing the Left Party, said the accusations of anti-Semitism hit him very hard. "Because I am well aware of the German inextinguishable heritage of fascism and the genocide of the European Jews, I feel especially obliged to fight against racist prejudices and oppression. Human rights are indivisible for all individuals and peoples of the world. The right of self-determination has to be guaranteed for the Palestinian people too. This is a precondition to gain peace for the whole region."
Among the many messages of solidarity he has received thus far, said Dierkes, "what moved me most was the open letter, signed by more than 370 Jewish peace activists from so many countries, including Israel."
The full text of the open letter is given below. The full list of initial signatories is at the petition site. The developing list of additional signers can be seen at www.gopetition.com/petitions/dierkes-letter/signatures.html.
On Anti-Semitism, Boycotts, and the Case of Hermann Dierkes:
An Open Letter from Jewish Peace Activists
We are peace activists of Jewish background. Some of us typically identify in this way; others of us do not. But we all object to those who claim to speak for all Jews or who use charges of anti-Semitism to attempt to squelch legitimate dissent.
We have learned with dismay the allegations regarding Hermann Dierkes, a trade unionist and leader of the Left Party (DIE LINKE) in the German city of Duisburg. Dierkes, in response to the recent Israeli assault on Gaza expressed the view that one way people could help Palestinians obtain justice would be to support the call of the World Social Forum to boycott Israeli goods, so as to put pressure on the Israeli government.
Dierkes has been subjected to widespread and vitriolic denunciations for anti-Semitism, and accused of calling for a repeat of the Nazi policy of the 1930s of boycotting Jewish products. Dierkes responded that "The demands of the World Social Forum have nothing in common with Nazi-type racist campaigns against Jews, but aim at changing the Israeli government's policy of oppression of the Palestinians."
No one has made any claims of anti-Semitism against Dierkes for anything other than his support of the boycott. Yet he has been accused of "pure anti-Semitism" (Dieter Graumann the Vice-President of the Central Jewish Council), of uttering words comparable to "a mass execution at the edge of a Ukrainian forest" (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung editorialist Achim Beer), and of expressing "Nazi propaganda" (Hendrik Wuest, General Secretary of the Christian Democratic Party).
We signatories have differing views on the wisdom and efficacy of calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Some of us believe that such a boycott is an essential component of a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions that can end the four-decade-long Israeli occupation; others think the better way to pressure the Israeli government is with a more selective boycott focused on institutions and corporations supporting the occupation. But all of us agree that it is essential to apply pressure against the Israeli government if peace and justice are to prevail in the Middle East and all of us agree that a call for a boycott of Israel has nothing in common with the Nazi policy of "Don't buy from Jews." It is no more anti-Semitic to boycott Israel to end the occupation than it was anti-white to boycott South Africa to end apartheid. Social justice movements have often called for boycotts or divestment, whether against the military regime in Burma or the government of Sudan. Wise or
not, such calls are in no way discriminatory.
Violence in the Middle East has indeed led to some acts of anti-Semitism in Europe. There was a call to boycott Jewish-owned stores in Rome that was widely and appropriately condemned. We deplore such bigotry. Israel's crimes cannot be attributed to Jews as a whole. But, at the same time, a boycott of Israel cannot be equated with a boycott of Jews as a whole.
An acute and disturbing form of racism rising in Europe today is Islamophobia and xenophobia directed at immigrants from Muslim countries. Dierkes has been a champion in defense of the rights of immigrants, while some of those who accuse all critics of Israel of being anti-Semitic often participate themselves -- like the Israeli government and state -- in such forms of racism.
The Holocaust was one of the most horrific events in modern history. It is a dishonor to its victims to use its memory as a bludgeon to silence principled critics of Israel's unconscionable treatment of Palestinians.
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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