Sunday, January 20, 2013

Phil Zuckerman: Gidget's atheist son

Phil Zuckerman, the son of the real Gidget, was briefly interviewed in the documentary Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story. I've never spoken to him, but I knew who he was when he attended the University of Oregon. He's now a professor somewhere. He's managed to latch onto the "New Atheism" bandwagon just as it started losing steam and drifting toward the ditch.

When he attended the UO, Zuckerman was, for a time, the director of the Jewish Student Union. He called himself a "progressive Zionist". He never said a word against Israel and how they treated Palestinians. It wasn't clear in what way he was a "progressive". Mostly he accused "the left" of being anti-Semitic for criticizing Israel.

He wrote basically the same article over and over and got it printed in the university newspaper and in the radical student newspaper, The Student Insurgent. He claimed that Zionism was a "national liberation movement". Since the left supported national liberation movements, he argued, anti-Semitism was "the only possible explanation" for their failure to support Israel.

So what "national liberation movement" did Israel ever support? At the time, they were allies with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Even back then we knew that Israel helped South Africa build and test a nuclear bomb---now we know they tried to sell them nuclear missiles. They were arming the Contras in Nicaragua and had taken over arming the Somoza regime when Jimmy Carter cut off arms sales to them. There was absolutely nothing to recommend Zionism to any leftist.

Calling something a "national liberation movement" isn't especially meaningful, especially forty years after they had already been "liberated". Kenya became independent in the '50s, Algeria in the '60s. But leftists can discuss Africa without voicing their support for those countries' liberation movements.

In any case, the American left was generally pro-Israel until the late '70s. It was only when Begin was elected prime minister that they started wondering what the hell they were doing.

Zuckerman and a (male) rabbi called Hanan Sills launched a smear campaign against a grad student named Gary Murrell who was teaching a class on land tenure in Palestine. He also wrote a column in the Student Insurgent newspaper. Murrell has written about what happened:
In November 1989, only two months after I wrote my first column, Rabbi Hanan Sills, head of B'nai B'rith Hillel and adviser to the Jewish Student Union (JSU) at the University of Oregon, began a series of intimidation tactics, both through surrogates, such as Director Phil Zuckerman of the Jewish Student Union, and on his own.
Some of what is written here I wrote for one of my December 1990 Student Insurgent columns. I wanted the university community to know about the campaign being waged by the rabbi and his surrogates. But, as former Congressman Paul Findley notes in his book They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, one of the tactics suggested to students by the Israel lobby is to gain access to student publications to counter pro-Palestinian viewpoints.

That is exactly what has happened at the Student Insurgent. JSU Director Zuckerman obtained a position at the Insurgent. He thus had access to my column prior to publication. He threatened to conduct a JSU sit-in at the newspaper office if my column was published.

The night of the press run, Rabbi Sills, having somehow obtained a copy of my column, threatened a slander and libel lawsuit against the paper if my column was printed. Members of the editorial board, most of whom were serving their first term, were intimidated enough to cancel publication of my column, one of which had appeared in every issue of the Insurgent since the inception of the paper.
Mr. Zuckerman did not confine his threats to the editorial board. While the debate went on concerning publication of my article, he began calling my home and office, leaving messages on my answering machine threatening physical violence. The calls were anonymous, but I played the tapes for an Insurgent staffer who identified Mr. Zuckerman as the caller.

Eventually, through the actions of one brave member of the editorial board, who suffered enormous verbal and emotional abuse from fellow students at the instigation of Mr. Zuckerman, that column appeared in February. But the editorial board members were exhausted and, hoping to avoid any further controversy, they made me persona non grata at the paper and my column was dropped.
When school began again in September 1992, the United States was on the brink of war with Iraq. At one of the teach-ins organized by the peace and justice community, I spoke about the dilemma of the Palestinians, or should I say I attempted to speak. Mr. Zuckerman and two fellow members of JSU shouted me down with chants of "Sieg Heil."


The end of the school year brought an end to the controversy when the primary antagonist, Mr. Zuckerman, went to live in Israel. It had subsided somewhat prior to that due to the actions of some faculty in the history department. Led by two Jewish members, 14 faculty signed and published a letter in the main college newspaper. While stating that they did not always agree with everything I wrote, this group of historians categorically denied that I am an anti-Semite or that what I had written was anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.
Read Murrell's full account here.

Even Jewish students at the UO were getting fed up with Zuckerman. I can't remember what the event was, but Zuckerman was on a panel with three or four young feminist women discussing some issue. Someone said something about being Jewish. Zuckerman asked her if she was a Zionist. She was offended. She told him it was divisive and aimed at excluding certain students.

"I was just asking," Zuckerman said whinily.

One of the girls, the daughter of another local rabbi, mentioned she had been on a boys baseball team when she was in the seventh grade and told how she was harassed by the boys. So Zuckerman shared his story, how he had been the only boy in a tap dancing class but they all got along fine. It would have been more appropriate if he had told the story of how his mother had become involved in the all-male world of surfing. This was his chance to tell the world that he was the son of the original Gidget.

Maybe that was his problem in the first place-----he had become warped and twisted growing up in Gidget's shadow, a withered flower deprived of the very sun in which his mother had flourished.

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