Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Freedom of Speech Only a Memory in Gang-Ridden Los Angeles

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Freedom of Speech Only a Memory in Gang-Ridden Los Angeles

Article excerpt

Freedom of Speech Only a Memory In Gang-Ridden Los Angeles

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right in the United States except, according to the Jewish Defense League, if the topic is Palestine. Americans who have tried in vain to raise this topic in the mainstream media anywhere are well aware of this. So, now, are some Californians who tried to help the Palestinians and learned who can control the streets as well as the media in Los Angeles.

Months ago, a non-Arab American who returned from a visit to the West Bank and Gaza distraught over Israeli maltreatment of the Palestinians proposed a benefit concert to the Los Angeles chapter of the Palestine Aid Society. The entertainers-all non -- Arab Americans -- agreed to donate their talents to an Aug. 17 performance out of sympathy for Palestinians living under military occupation. The venue was to be Largo, a bistro on Fairfax Boulevard, whose proprietor, Mark Flanagan, is a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Ireland.

Entertainment was to feature Danny Peck, a singer/guitarist whose lyrics are socially conscious messages akin to those of Sting, soul singer Teresa Tudury and Jewish poets reading works on the intifada and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

All proceeds were to be used by PAS for humanitarian assistance to Palestinians living under military occupation, stated an ad that ran in the Aug. 14-20 issue of the Los Angeles Weekly. The ad, for which the PAS paid $300, caught the attention of Jewish Defense League leader Irv Rubin.

The Largo is across the street from Canter's delicatessen, a Rubin hangout. Like any Los Angeles ethnic gang leader, Rubin set out to "protect" his turf by taking the L.A. Weekly ad to merchants on Fairfax Boulevard. He told them it was a provocation for Palestinians to have a political rally in the largely Jewish Fairfax neighborhood.

Concert planners explained to the merchants that Flanagan was the only nightclub owner approached who was willing to open his club for a humanitarian Palestinian benefit. On the day before the performance, however, Flanagan began to receive phone calls threatening violence if the benefit occurred.

Flanagan said Rubin approached him on the day of the concert and warned him to "expect trouble" and an "angry protest." Soon after, the Largo proprietor discovered his club's door locks had been destroyed by still-dripping Crazy Glue. The bill for replacing the locks was in excess of $700. Rubin denied any part in the vandalism.

Just hours before the concert was to open, Flanagan canceled the performance out of fear club patrons might be hurt in a possible JDL attack. PAS members prepared flyers explaining why the concert had been cancelled. As they handed them out to arriving concertgoers, a group of 15 JDL members patrolled the area around the club, taunting the PAS contingent.

At a press conference called the next day by the PAS and the Los Angeles chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), broadcaster Casey Kasem explained that the concert was not planned as a provocation to the Jewish community but was conceived by an American who had visited Palestinian refugees in their camps and wanted to help them. …

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