A little over a month ago, on May 7, 2015, I attended a talk by Alison Weir hosted by the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, down the street from my home. Weir came to Rochester to discuss her book, “Against Our Better Judgement,” where she claims to reveal the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the biased reporting on the subject in the United States, and the true nature of Israel. I decided to go because a friend posted a link about the event on my Facebook timeline. I should have known what to expect – I have read the Anti-Defamation League brief about Weir, and I am familiar with her line of thinking by reputation – but out of curiosity for an in-person feel for the rhetoric, I went anyway.
About fifty people, including the President of the school, attended the talk at the divinity school chapel. One disturbing thing about the evening was the serenity pervading the space. Hosting the event in a chapel lent solemnity to the gathering, although Weir’s position is that her intentions are secular and social justice-oriented. In this space, Weir introduced her statistics about Israel, how Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli deaths, how this is part of a premeditated ethnic cleansing agenda, and how the United States’ media favors reporting Israeli deaths over Palestinian deaths. She says she is discussing civilian deaths, but does not mention how many of the Palestinian civilians killed may have been combatants too, or how porous these distinctions are. She traces this state of affairs, she says, to the beginning, when Political Zionism set its sights on then-Palestine in the late 19th century, and when growing numbers of American Jewish Zionists in the early 20th century supported the Irgun and the Stern Gang as their terror representatives overseas; she omits the Palmach and the Haganah from her narrative, and does not mention that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were militant splinter groups who acted beyond the World Zionist Organization mainstream and sometimes even militated against it. She also leaves out that Zionism is far more complex and far less monolithic than the sloganeering and political maneuvering that she presents. Weir’s central theses, however, are these: that the United States is complicit in Israel’s past and present activity by funding Israel, and that American Jewish Zionist secret societies, with deeper allegiances than the United States, are responsible for the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Israel’s creation in 1948 by manipulating and intimidating world leaders.
Throughout the talk, Weir repeated: to get the full story with citations, buy the book.
I was unable to remain for the full session for personal reasons, so I do not know if there was any kind of question and answer session, or if anyone tried to examine these claims in open discussion. I can only speak to my experience while I was there. No one protested. People seemed satisfied that they were being told the truth. That what I heard were well-worn and spurious accusations of Jewish dual-loyalty was and still is deeply unsettling to me. Where is the judgment in making these claims, or in receiving them? I do not know.