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Now It's Andover's Turn
John Haber

Andover parents just now getting wind of the controversy surrounding the partisan group Wheels of Justice, scheduled to speak to a captive audience of Andover High School students on January 5th, may be bewildered as to how their town became the latest front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

That is because the Wheels of Justice visit did not originate in Andover, but within the wider context of a small but determined community of anti-Israel activists in the greater Boston area, with extensions well beyond the Bay State. 

Locally, approximately 100-200 individuals are responsible for the bulk of anti-Israel political activity in the area, from holding noisy protests at Jewish and Israeli cultural events to running film and lecture series at churches and college campuses. 

This group (and younger shorter-term activists - often college students or recent graduates) has traveled under a variety of organizational identities (such as The Middle East Justice Network, The New England Committee to Defend Palestine or One Palestine, and the Somerville Divestment Project) headed by Andover teacher Ron Francis. These organizations have been fluid, often organized around trends in Middle East politics (nationalist, Socialist or, currently, Islamist trends) or specific tactics (such as divestment) and, just as frequently, disbanding, reorganizing or renaming themselves. 

These local individuals and groups are, in turn, connected with a network of national and international organizations (such as the International Solidarity Committee or ISM, or the Al Awda “Right of Return” organization), groups committed to anti-Israel activism on a wider scale.

While not part of a formal network or hierarchy, these groups – both in Boston and beyond – share a common overriding goal: to wear away at the generally favorable impression Americans have of Israel by falsely presenting the Jewish state as the inheritor of South Africa’s now-defunct racist policies (thus the use of phrases like “apartheid Israel” in nearly every sentence uttered by members such groups). 

Because of their small numbers, a key strategy of this “movement” is to attach their political message to one or more large, respected institutions whose reputation can be leveraged to help the anti-Israel crowed punch considerably above its own limited political weight. 

Over the last few years, anti-Israel divestment activities within institutions such as Harvard, the Presbyterian Church or the city of Somerville have not been so much about economically punishing the Jewish state as they have been about forcing the Israel = Apartheid message into the mouths of a respected university, religious organization, municipality or other civic institution. 

In many ways, the Wheels of Justice coming to Andover is as much about getting Andover’s name onto the list of towns that have been “happy” to accept the organization’s “educational” message, as it’s been about proselytizing Andover students with WoJ’s political campaign.

The tactics used to implement this strategy are now quite familiar: (1) identity a civic institution such as a school, city or church with a commitment to human rights and other progressive causes; (2) present the Arab-Israeli conflict as consisting solely of Israeli oppressors and innocent Palestinian victims (leaving a century of Arab war, terror and political repression on the cutting room floor); and (3) misuse the language of human rights to ruthlessly push the institution to take an anti-Israel stand that activists claim is their only choice.

Andover is currently experiencing a campaign that has been repeated endlessly across the country over the last few years.  In this case, free speech is the argument being deployed to make the claim that Wheels of Justice’s “rights” are being violated by not allowing them unfettered access to a captive student audience (understanding that an open-minded town such as Andover would be sensitive to accusations of stifling free-speech). 

Needless to say, WoJ’s champions have not been willing to stand up for the free-speech rights of their critics.  And in other instances (such as last year’s international controversy over the publications of Danish cartoons featuring the likeness of Mohammed) many of these same “free-speech absolutists” appealed to other hot buttons, such as respect for minorities or the fight against racism, to get their way or silence their critics. 

Tip O’Neil’s aphorism that “all politics is local” has some resonance in Andover where the Wheels of Justice controversy has as much to do with the battle between administrators and the teacher’s union over who controls the schools as it does with Middle East politics. 

That said, the small minority that is pushing for this event at all costs, despite protests by students, teachers, administrators and parents, demonstrate that their political desires clearly take precedence over their professional responsibilities. 

Despite what some may think, the Wheels of Justice controversy has little to do with Andover per se.  Rather, like the city of Som-erville (targeted for divestment campaigns over the last several years by at least one of the people currently trying to import the Middle East into your town, Andover High teacher Ron Francis), Andover is a prop in this drama, a piece of political furniture being used by partisans to establish their credentials as “revolutionaries” rather than simple political nuisances.

In fact, it is a testament to Andover’s broad mindedness that is has been targeted by the Israel=Apartheid circus, a traveling show that knows it does best when unleashing its cynical abuse of the language of human rights and justice against those who sincerely hold those values dear.

When this poison was being peddled to Somerville voters, or Presbyterian Church leaders or even college students, one could at least make the claim that the target for such campaigns were adults who were capable of making their own decisions (which they did, rejecting anti-Israel programs such as divestment by margins of 10 or 20 to one). 

But abusing their authorities as teachers to force high-school students to sit through a professional, political indoctrination, all so Andover’s name can be added to the WoJ bandwagon as it rolls through other cities and towns represents a level of cynicism, not to mention an abandonment of professional responsibility, beyond anything that has yet been seen in the region.

Jon Haber is a Boston area writer and activist who has fought divestment efforts in Somerville and in the Presbyterian Church. His writing on the subject have appeared in the Jerusalem Post and on his two Web sites, www.somervilleMEjustice.com and www.bearing-witness.org.

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The January 2007 Edition of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly Publication.
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