Disturbing the Peace

The local conversation between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists is getting less civil every day. And Lee Kaplan's tactics aren't helping.

Appel believes that Kaplan either wrote the entry or submitted Appel's name to those who run the SHIT list, a charge that Kaplan refutes. However, Kaplan does admit that he posted a nearly identical write-up in the "rogues' gallery" on one of his own Web sites, StopTheISM.com, soon after Lee Kaplan Watch launched. Only a few words were different: "Kike" became "kapo," and a coda was added at the end: "If anyone reading this Web site knows any members of Ehud Moshe Appel's family in Israel, we would like to talk to them and find out what they think of a guy who works for the likes of Hamas that declares no Jews may live anywhere in Israel at all and that it is OK to kill them."

"Lee Kaplan has designated himself as our persecutor," says a resigned Paul Larudee. This polite and soft-spoken man, nearing 60, is one of the most active campaigners with the Northern California chapter of the ISM; he's also the prime example of Kaplan's effectiveness. Larudee recently spent 14 days in an Israeli detention center, and believes that Kaplan's work was largely responsible for his lockup. Kaplan agrees.

Larudee has been visiting the occupied territories for 40 years, and has become more politically engaged over the last five. Kaplan spoke with him while arranging to take part in the ISM training session in 2004, and Larudee earned a spot in Kaplan's resulting article and in his online "rogues' gallery."

The pro-Palestinian rally in front of the Israeli consulate.
The pro-Palestinian rally in front of the Israeli consulate.

This June, Larudee set out for Gaza with a dual purpose. Acting as a professional piano technician, he would tune Palestinians' pianos, while as a professional activist he would organize ISM volunteers who showed up for "Freedom Summer 2006" (for the past few years, the ISM has called on activists to use their vacation time for the Palestinian cause). Larudee had about 20 piano-tuning appointments waiting for him at Gaza's cultural centers and schools, but that wasn't a good enough story for the Israeli customs officials, he explains. They interrogated him for hours, inquiring about allegations that Larudee recognized from Kaplan's articles, and then announced that he would not be allowed to enter Israel. He spent 10 days waiting to appeal the decision, but on his day in court the judge reviewed what the prosecution called "secret evidence" in her chambers. Several days later, she declared him a danger to the country. He was on a plane to Jordan that night.

At the end of the detention diary Larudee kept (and later posted online), he makes an unexpected gesture: He wryly thanks Lee Kaplan for his "tireless work." In a phone interview shortly after his return to the United States and before an impromptu trip to Lebanon, he explains that several newspapers printed his Op-Eds during his ordeal. "He really did result in me being able to publish things that otherwise I would not have been able to publish, and it may result in a book, indirectly," he says. "In a way, it's like the head of MGM once said: There's no such thing as bad publicity."

Yet Larudee does acknowledge that Kaplan's scrutiny has changed the way the ISM works in the U.S. "We started out being a very open kind of organization," he says. "We're not a danger to anybody, and what we're doing is the same kind of things that the civil rights movement used to do in this country. This is not a secret terrorist organization." Now, if activists use their full names at conferences or in mass e-mails, they worry they'll end up on the watch list in an Israeli customs computer. After Larudee was featured in Kaplan's writing, he legally changed his last name and got a new passport, which got him into Israel several times. He suspects he got stopped this time because Kaplan found out about the name change, and passed the information on to Israeli officials.

Kaplan links nearly all of his foes to the ISM, and considers it his trump card. He insists that ISM volunteers directly support Hamas and other militant groups when they're in the occupied territories. Larudee admits that there have been some unintended connections in the past. In 2003, two Muslim men from Britain stopped by an ISM activists' office in Gaza, where they briefly talked politics, shared tea, and asked to see the place where Rachel Corrie was killed. About a week later, the two men carried out a suicide bombing at a bar in Tel Aviv.

Larudee says there's no indication that the ISM volunteers had any idea of the two men's intentions. But there are a lot of things they don't know about the Palestinians they meet and work with from day to day. When Larudee was interrogated by the Israeli security agents at the airport, they asked if he had ever had contact with people from Hamas. "I said, 'Probably. I wouldn't be at all surprised if people I know are members of Hamas,'" he explains. "'I don't ask these questions.'"

Both Kaplan and the pro-Palestinian groups had been eagerly anticipating the Al-Awda convention in mid-July at San Francisco State University. Al-Awda, also known as the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, takes as its founding principle that all Palestinian refugees and their descendents have the right to return to the land they lived on before the creation of Israel in 1948. To supporters of Israel, this is an extremist position that amounts to a call for the country's destruction, because the roughly 5 million Palestinian refugees would outnumber Jewish Israelis, and bring about a radically altered state. As Kaplan said, "Then they could even vote the Jews out of existence!"

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