Zionist McCarthyism -- the Politics of Smear: Rabbi vs. Graduate; Intimidation of the University of Oregon

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Zionist McCarthyism--The Politics of Smear: Rabbi vs. Graduate; Intimidation at the University of Oregon

The process that turned me from a closet critic of Israeli policy to a public supporter of Palestinian rights began with an advertisement in The Nation calling for volunteers to participate in the "Eyewitness Israel" program sponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Having had the honor of being chosen as a delegate to monitor human-rights abuses in occupied Palestine, I had the privilege of living with Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza during July and August 1988.

Witnessing the systematic brutality of Israeli "state terrorism" left me, and my 15 fellow participants, sickened, shocked and horrified. We expressed our group outrage in a statement released to the press in Jerusalem and upon our return to Washington, DC. Israeli violence is so ubiquitous and so familiar to readers of the Washington Report, that repetition of our findings here would be tedious, but one incident stands out so vividly in my mind that the retelling will serve as an example of the whole.

In the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, as I sat in her modest but immaculate home, a Palestinian mother described for me what had taken place a few weeks earlier in the very room in which we were sitting. She had been changing the diapers of her six-month-old twin sons, who lay on a rug on the floor, when six Israel Defense Force soldiers chased her 11-year-old nephew into the house. He tried to hide in the bedroom, but the soldiers seized and handcuffed him.

As the soldiers led him out of the house, one soldier lagged behind. He moved to the back of the room and then, like a soccer player, ran the three steps to where the babies lay on the floor and kicked the closest child as if it were a football. The baby flew across the room, bounced off the wall and crashed to the floor. Leaving the mother and both children screaming, the soldier, laughing, left the house.

After I returned from occupied Palestine, I continued work on my Ph.D. in U.S. history. One of my minor fields of study is 19th and 20th century Arab nationalism. I also gave slide shows and lectured throughout Oregon on what I had seen and heard in occupied Palestine for audiences where many heard the reality of Israeli occupation for the first time. I continue to publish op-ed pieces in several mainstream Oregon newspapers, including the Oregonian and the Eugene Register Guard.

Starting in September 1989, I began writing a column devoted to the Palestinian struggle for liberation for the University of Oregon Student Insurgent. My writings were criticized, but my detractors avoided any debate on the facts I presented, and concentrated instead on my personal motives.

My detractors avoided any debate on the facts I presented.

In November 1989, only two months after I wrote my first column, Rabbi Hanan Sills, head of B'nai B'rith Hillel and adviser to the Jewish Student Union (JSU) at the University of Oregon, began a series of intimidation tactics, both through surrogates, such as Director Phil Zuckerman of the Jewish Student Union, and on his own.

What Rabbi Sills and Mr. Zuckerman have had to say about me in several publications seemed mild when compared to the campaign Sills began to wage to discredit me with my department and, when that didn't work, with faculty throughout the university.

In the spring of 1990, when the University of Oregon summer catalog announced I was to teach a summer class entitled "Land Tenure in Palestine, 1876-1990," Rabbi Sills, in a May 21 letter on B'nai B'rith letterhead stationery addressed to the chair of the history department, said in part:

"Gary Murrell has been attacking Israel and Zionism in the U of O school papers for a couple of years. . .I am appalled to learn that the U of O History Department is sponsoring his course on Palestinian history vs. Zionism this summer as a short course. …