A little over a month ago, as anti-Israel activists gathered in Greece expecting to embark on their journey to the Gaza Strip, Ha'aretz published a column by would-be flotilla participant,Gabriel Matthew Schivone ("A Moment before boarding the next flotilla," June 24, 2011).
Schivone is identified as "a Chicano-Jewish American from Tucson, and coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona." Schivone begins his column: "You might wonder what would motivate a Jewish American college student to participate in what may be the most celebrated -- and controversial sea voyage of the 21st century. . . ."
Schivone emphasizes his Jewish identity no less than eight times, and repeatedly emphasizes the influence of his identity on his anti-Israel activity. For instance, he writes, "I am one of a growing number of American Jews who are determined to shake off an assumed -- and largely imposed -- association with Israel"; "For our part, we Jews launched an initial chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace at the UA campus. . . ."; "Through JVP, I discovered there were a great many others like me, who were experiencing profound internal conflicts regarding Israel"; ". . . we as Jews had an alternative to either unquestioning support of Israel (the status quo) or staying silent and thus supporting it by default. I myself was silent and timid for much too long.
"We are committed to acting out of Jewish ethical traditions. . . ."
But there is just one problem -- Schivone is not Jewish. On Aug. 1, Valerie Saturen of Tacoma, Wash., who personally knew Schivone, penned a letter-to-the-editor in Ha'aretz, writing:
In his editorial about joining the flotilla to Gaza, Gabriel Schivone represented himself as a Jewish college student. I feel I must point out that this not his true identity, but one he has created in order to generate insider credibility, shield himself from accusations of anti-Semitism, and resonate with a target audience.
I met Gabriel in 2004 while attending the University of Arizona, where we became very close friends. I am a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights and agree with Gabriel that the blockade of Gaza has caused great humanitarian suffering. However, readers have a right to know the facts and reach their own informed conclusions.
Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity. He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that "you use what you have."
In all the time I've known him, he has never expressed feeling morally conflicted about Israel, nor has he succumbed to pressure to be "silent." The editorial's narrative is not Gabriel's story, but one crafted to lend moral and emotional weight to his argument while appealing to the young, college-aged Jews whose participation is so vital to the pro-Palestinian movement.
The aim of this letter is not to discredit that movement or the flotilla, or to take a political side, but to alert readers to specific distortions in this editorial. It is a shame that the war of narratives so readily eclipses and manipulates the truth.
Ha'aretz uncharacteristically gives Schivone the opportunity to reply to Saturen's letter. Aside from attacking Saturen, he confirms having known her, and does not deny that his sole connection to Judaism is one distant relative.
Thus, an anti-Israel activist who falsely identifies as Jewish enjoys the platform granted by Ha'aretz to publish a manipulative and deceptive column. As Saturen suggests in her letter, international anti-Israel activists place a premium on the participation of Jews in their activities. In this case, the flotilla organizers seemingly scored big -- a Jewish participant, and writing in an Israeli media outlet, to boot. Claims of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism are thus defused.
While Ha'aretz did commendably publish Saturen's letter, the damage was already done. Schivone's column ran when the flotilla was in the headlines, and garnered a much greater readership than the letter which appeared just a few days ago, when few recalled the original piece. In light of Ha'aretz's unprofessional failure to fact-check, the paper has once again lent a hand to Israel's delegitimizers.