Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Krzewinski Disgraces Vets for Peace

Note: The complaint below was submitted to VFP Chapter 93 and the Veterans for Peace Executive Director and Board of Directors on April 30, 2006. They did not respond and subsequently a formal complaint was filed under the VFP Bylaws.
As discussed below, Veterans for Peace chapter 93 coordinator Robert Krzewinski has disgraced Veterans for Peace by his unprincipled and public criticism of a fellow anti-war protester and by his evident failure to make principled criticism of Michigan Peaceworks for its lack of democracy, failure to speak out against violence by its own President, and its--at least tacit--lobbying for Israel.

Peace activists are fair game for criticism. Arguably, people who claim the high moral ground like anti-war protesters, clergy, etc. deserve to be held to a higher standard than others. However, criticism ought to be principled and directed at ideas and actions rather than the kind of ad hominem mud-slinging engaged in by Veterans for Peace chapter 93 coordinator Robert Krzewinski in his recent letter to the Ann Arbor News (see text below).

Krzewinski could have explained in reasoned tones why he objects to the slogan "Victory to the Iraqi resistance" but instead he compares fellow anti-war protesters to Fred Phelps and psychopathologizes them as mere attention seekers. Furthermore, Krzewinski offers no evidence that the protester holding the "Victory to the Iraqi resistance" sign was an attention seeker rather than a sincere opponent of the war expressing solidarity with Iraqis justifiably fighting against an occupying army. A reasonable argument could conceivably be made against the sign but Krzewinski didn't do that.

Krzewinski writes, "During the course of the Diag event, a person with a 'Victory to the Iraqi resistance' showed up right next to the display of the crosses." The implication is that the protester deliberately chose the location in order to make some kind of statement. In fact, I know the protester and she "showed up right next to the display" for the simple reason that it was on the route of the march--no more, no less.

Krzewinski also claims that the "crosses" display was "nonpolitical" but this is not credible--the display was, after all, part of an anti-war protest. Furthermore, commemorating, as it does, only American troops killed in the war the display panders to American jingoism while devaluing the many more Iraqi lives snuffed out by Americans in an illegal war initiated on false pretenses.

Moreover, since 2003, Veterans for Peace nationally has demanded "an immediate end to the US/British war and occupation in Iraq" and is a main sponsor of the "Bring Them Home Now!" campaign. The immediate withdrawal of US troops is also the main goal of the Iraqi resistance and who can deny that achieving this goal would not, in fact, also be a victory for the Iraqi resistance?

As for Krzewinski's claim that the "sign was the equivalent of spitting on dead soldiers," the Bush administration and congressional Democrats and Republicans have shown real contempt for the lives of US troops by sending them to kill and die for an unjust cause. And frankly, Krzewinski ought to be ashamed for invoking one of the most notorious slanders ever directed against anti-war activists--spitting on soldiers.

The myth of the spat upon soldier has been soundly debunked by Jerry Lembke in his book, The Spitting Image. As Air Force veteran H. Bruce Franklin writes in Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, "There is no contemporaneous evidence of any antiwar activists spitting on veterans. The first allegations of such behavior did not appear until the late 1970s. The spat-upon veteran then became a mythic figure used to build support for military fervor and, later on, the Gulf War." This is the myth Krzewinski reinforces.

While Krzewinski is willing to publicly smear an anti-war protector he, to my knowledge, has been unwilling to offer any principled criticism of one of the state's largest peace groups, Michigan Peaceworks. On the contrary, Krzewinski and VFP Chapter 93 regularly work with Peaceworks despite its thoroughly undemocratic nature and other problems.

I joined Peaceworks in 2002 when it was still called the Ann Arbor Area Committee for Peace. I was grandfathered into the membership of the new organization when AAACP was reorganized and renamed. Although the group claims to be a "grassroots" organization with "a viable community organizing model" and "dedicated to ... democracy," it gradually stopped holding membership meetings and then sometime in 2004-2005 it quietly dissolved its membership altogether. It now has a Board-selected--as opposed to member-selected--Board of Directors.

You can donate and you can volunteer--you can even join their e-mail list--but you can't participate in the decision-making process or elections of Michigan Peaceworks unless you can convince the current Board members to elect you to the Board. So much for the grassroots and "a viable community organizing model."

In 2005, then-President of Peaceworks and VFP member Eric Van De Vort physically assaulted a fellow peace activist at the September 24 Peaceworks march but I never heard a peep about it out of Krzewinski. The incident was witnessed and acknowledged by fellow Peaceworks Board member, Nazih Hassan, but neither Van De Vort nor Peaceworks has ever apologized to the victim for the incident. It's been swept under the rug. So much for creating "a safe space for dissent" as their mission statement proclaims. Although, in a case of curious timing, Lily Jarman-Reisch replaced Van De Vort as president, apparently after the assault accusation was circulated (Van De Vort was elected president in late March, 2004).

The victim was pretty shaken at the time but declined to notify police and doesn't like to talk about the incident. However, I've also personally spoken to another eyewitness of the assault, Dr. Thomas Kaeding. He confirmed the assault.

Finally, Michigan Peaceworks is, functionally, a part of the Israel Lobby, as defined by Univ. of Chicago's John J. Mearsheimer and Harvard's Stephen M. Walt in "THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY". They write: "We use 'the Lobby' as a convenient short‐hand term for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro‐Israel direction" (p. 14). As Sara Powell also notes, "Through the decades ... leading American activists have tried to keep Palestinian voices--and the voices of those supporting them--from being heard. ... The peculiar tendency to embrace all other just causes while pretending (at best) that Palestinians do not exist, or blaming Palestine for its occupation--or even vilifying Palestinians as evil terrorists who have no right to the land they have lived on and cultivated for centuries--was exposed as lying deep within groups whose raison d’etre ostensibly was peace and justice."[1]

The struggle over internal democracy in Peaceworks came to a head in late 2002 and early 2003 after Steering Committee members overwhelmingly voted against and refused to implement the group's "Call for Peace in the Middle East." The Call was the result of months of work by a duly appointed sub-committee and was approved by 78% of voting members before the Steering Committee's action. It committed the organization to supporting "the Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers ... who call on their fellow citizens to renounce violence" and "solidarity with all those working for peace in the Middle East."

Eventually, the row over the Call and the lack of internal democracy led to the resignation of dissenting members and two Steering Committee members who supported the Call. The Call was removed from the Peaceworks web site in 2004-2005, and, as of this writing, doesn't appear on the Peaceworks web site.

In 2004, Peaceworks staged a march and rally on the first anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Notwithstanding the group's commitment to "Create and maintain a safe space for dissent," and its "Call for Peace in the Middle East," which had not yet been rescinded at that time, Peacework's organizers imposed a gag rule on discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict by invited speakers.

On March 27, 2004, after the rally, Board member Eric Van De Vort wrote, "I do believe a problem with the pro-Palestinian speakers who were approached [sic] did not feel as if they could stick to the agenda of the day, to end the war and occupation in Iraq." Also pulled from the speaker's list was Teresa Al-Saraji, the anti-war mother of a US soldier in Iraq. Al-Saraji was, apparently, banned due to her association with the Blue Triangle Network, an immigrant rights group. On the other hand, prominent local Zionist Joan Lowenstein was allowed to sit on the dais and speak at the rally although she did not address the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Furthermore, Peaceworks has refused to endorse or publicize the City of Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission’s "Resolution in Support of Ending U.S. Military Support for Israel" and did not support a divestment resolution put before the Michigan Student Assembly in March 2005.

The 9/11 Commission Report and others have identified uncritical US support of Israel as a major source of anger in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Also, there is strong evidence that the security of Israel was a major factor in the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see e.g. Mearsheimer and Walt). Yet, predictably, in Michigan Peaceworks and across the US, supporters of Israel have worked inside the peace movement to keep the spotlight off Israel.[2]

In sum, Robert Krzewinski has disgraced Veterans for Peace by his unprincipled and public criticism of a fellow anti-war protester and by his evident failure to make principled criticism of Michigan Peaceworks for its lack of democracy, failure to speak out against violence by its own President, and its, at least tacit, lobbying for Israel.

Sincerely,

Michelle J. Kinnucan
Member VFP Chapter 93

Notes
1. Sara Powell. "Breaching Another Barrier for Palestine--This One in the U.S. Peace Movement." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 4/04. See also Esther Kaplan. "The Jewish Divide on Israel." Nation. 6/24/04.

2. See e.g. Matthew E. Berger. "Anti-war but pro-Israel: What's a protester to do?" Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2/11/2003; Max Gross. "Leftist Rabbi Claims He's Too Pro-Israel for Anti-War Group." Forward. 2/14/2003; Mica Rosenberg. "Jews raise their voices against war as rallies draw throngs around the world." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2/18/2003; Eric Marx. "Peace Front Faces Schism Over 'Right Of Return.'" Forward. 9/5/2003; Nathaniel Popper. "Orderly Protest Lacks Anti-Israel Vitriol." Forward. 9/3/2004;

On April 11, 2006, the Ann Arbor News published on page A6 a letter to the editor from Krzewinski entitled "Some use a cause to gain attention for themselves." The text of the letter follows:
Years ago, who would have thought someone would have the audacity to protest at a soldier's funeral, and in a totally offensive way? Along came Fred Phelps and his followers, who now routinely appear at military funerals with messages of hate and intolerance.

The sad thing about people like Fred Phelps is that they thrive on attention, and their message and antics almost guarantee press coverage wherever they travel. Unfortunately, our area has its share of people who also seem to have a great need of attention and perform outrageous acts to bring attention to themselves. A recent example was the March 19 Iraq war anniversary event on the University of Michigan Diag.

Part of the event was a nonpolitical display by Veterans For Peace of crosses, one for each Michigan soldier killed in the Iraq war. Most people treated this display with respect, reading the information about each soldier provided and keeping in mind the sacrifices these individuals made.

During the course of the Diag event, a person with a "Victory to the Iraqi
resistance'' showed up right next to the display of the crosses, apparently thinking nothing of the fact that the crude and insensitive sign was the equivalent of spitting on dead soldiers.

If readers can take anything from recent stories about people at peace events carrying signs urging violence, it is that such events also draw individuals who care more about bringing attention to themselves and could care less about creating a more peaceful world.

Robert A. Krzewinski, Ypsilanti
The writer is coordinator of Veterans For Peace Chapter 93
See also: "Response to Krzewinski"

Labels: , ,


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?