Alison Weir is a 1969 journalism graduate of the University of Michigan who brings no specialized knowledge to speaking or writing about the Middle East. Yet she may be coming soon to a campus near you to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Weir, the executive director of a one-woman organization with its own website, If Americans Only Knew, is a committed anti-Zionist and opponent of Israel and a master of calumny against the Jewish state.
Ms. Weir publicly poses as a neophyte newcomer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As she explains, in 2001 she left her position as editor of the local Marin Scope newspaper in Sausalito, California to search for the truth of the conflict. She toured the West Bank among Palestinians amidst the second intifada. She also began filing reports about Israeli actions, including an early claim she had “sort of [been] shot at” herself by Israeli soldiers.
Her initial articles did not at all address the context for the conflict or the recent Oslo Process or the failed peace talks at Camp David and at Taba. They were instead agitprop pieces on Palestinian casualties and Israeli aggression. They made no mention of suicide bombings and terror in Israel. When she sought to travel again in 2002, she was stopped by Israeli authorities at Ben Gurion airport and denied entry.
When Alison Weir speaks on campus, she says to her audience that she is a journalist who is devoted to journalistic objectivity and balance and that she simply wants to show the unfair tilt the American media give toward Israel. If Americans only knew, she insists, their taxes fund and underwrite Israeli aggression and the destruction of innocents. Her presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — complete with provocative graphs of Israeli and Palestinian killings and tallies of reputed unequal coverage of such killings in the media — is anything but balanced, however.
Actually, Weir is a devoted activist rather than an objective journalist. In 2001, when she first went to Palestine, she was already linked with Al Awda (The Return) SF — a local chapter of the national Palestinian Right to Return Committee. The announced objective of this organization is to end sixty years of Israeli existence. Weir has also appeared and spoken at national conventions of Al-Awda since 2001 and seems to share its objectives, although she keeps this quiet in her public talks.
In addition, in this writer’s opinion, Weir seems moved by a classic animus which she does little to conceal during her appearances. Why do the media not cover things more fairly? Why do American representatives who know about the Middle East continually vote for funding aid to Israel? Weir simply cannot resist referring to powerful lobbies and unseen forces by which the media are manipulated, Palestinians are denied a fair hearing, and American politics are controlled and deformed.
Recently, Weir toured southeast and central Michigan, speaking in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, and in East Lansing. When I identified her forthrightly as an anti-Semite during her visit at Michigan State University, she claimed that she is without bias or prejudice and that the label was defamatory. She called it a typical response from many Jews who cry anti-Semitism, she said, to silence critics of Israel. Yet it is clear in this case that if it walks and talks like a duck, it probably some kind of duck.
On her web site and in her writings, Weir makes or recycles claims that, frankly, would make any radical anti-Semite proud. Did you know that Israel is guilty of purposefully harvesting Palestinian organs? “The fact is,” she says, “substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft… have been widely reported for many years.” [“The New Blood Libel? Israeli-Organ Harvesting,” Counterpunch (Aug. 28-30, 2009).] Of course, no such evidence exists or has ever existed. Did you know that there may be truth to the old medieval calumny that the Jews killed Christian children for their blood? Do you know that today Israel intentionally kills Palestinian children? Americans, Weir says, should stop funding Israel, for the Jewish state uses F-16s and Apache helicopters largely purposefully to terrorize innocent civilian populations.
The organization Stand With Us says the following about Weir: “She claims to be exposing media bias but in fact, she peddles an unusually virulent anti-Israel message.” Indeed, Weir offers a completely Arab view of the history of the conflict, masking it as a “balanced” view. There are not two sides to the conflict, she insists; there is only the singular narrative of “Israel the brutalizer” and “Palestine the brutalized.” Do you want to understand the Israel-Palestine conflict? You need only know this, she asserts:
The central problem is quite straight forward: a little over fifty years ago three-quarters of an entire population was expelled from its land to make way for an ethnically discriminatory state. And this process is still going on. Palestinians are being continuously and violently dispossessed because of one original sin: inhabiting land that others wanted-exclusively…. [http://www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/o_s.html ]
Weir’s history of the conflict is a caricature. The Israeli War of Independence was a purposeful ethnic cleansing operation. Israelis in 1948 comprised a modern European army with modern equipment; Palestinians were a Third World army, ill-equipped and poorly trained! The Six Day War was a second aggressive onslaught by Israel. Egyptian leader Nasser wanted peace! Zionism is a fanatic ideology; Zionists are fanatics.
Israel was created through one of the most massive, ruthless, and persistent ethnic cleansing operations of modern history. In 1947-49 about three-quarters of a million Muslims and Christians, who had originally made up 95 percent of the population living in the area that Zionists wanted for a Jewish state, were brutally forced off their ancestral land. There were 33 massacres, over 500 villages were completely destroyed, and an effort was made to erase all vestiges of Palestinian history and culture.
The fact is that Israel’s core identity is based on ethnic and religious discrimination by a colonial, immigrant group; and maintaining this exclusionist identity has required continued violence against those it has dispossessed, and others who have given them refuge. [http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stats/weir-aid.html]
Absent from this formulation, of course, is any sense of the broader historical context, the United Nations action to partition the land to serve the ends of competing national liberation movements, recognizing self-determination for two peoples, or the concerted effort by Arab nations to prevent a Jewish state.
Alison Weir exemplifies the radical anti-Zionism and in fact in her case outright anti-Semitism that increasingly infects some precincts of the far American left, including Counterpunch where she publishes. The view offered in that journal comprehends the world in simple anti-imperialist binaries – colonial and colonized – and recognizes the right to self determination only by Palestinians, not by Jews. It also does not see that anti-Semitism is real, not merely a charge Jews deploy to blunt criticism of Israel. Be prepared for what Alison Weir will say when she comes to your campus and be ready to counter her speech with better informed speech.
Ken Waltzer is Professor and Director-Jewish Studies at Michigan State University.