Plumbing the Depths of Greta Berlin’s „Secret Group“

Part I of a Series on Racism and Infiltration

In the aftermath of the racist tweet and multiple, contradictory „explanations“ by Greta Berlin, much attention has been focussed on the letter published as an appendix to Larry Derfner’s second article on the subject, in which a number of purported members of the „secret group“ corroborate Berlin’s claim that nothing untoward or anti-Semitic was going on in the group in question. Benjamin Doherty revealed, in successive articles on Electronic Intifada, that a number of the signatories were in fact sockpuppets controlled by one Ofer Engel. Another central figure, however, has largely avoided the spotlight.

Before we proceed, however, it is important to keep in mind that the following is not about any one individual, though a number of individuals will be given their time to shine. No, this is about the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole: What we are and seek to do as a movement, and those who would hijack us for their own purposes.

Yani Haigh and The Trollpen

Jon "Yani" Haigh: Not One for Subtlety

Jon „Yani“ Haigh: Not One for Subtlety

The final signatory on the „nothing to see here“ letter is a Queensland web designer and photographer by the name of Jon „Yani“ Haigh. He is, in Facebook terminology, the „owner“ of the „secret group“ Any Topic NOT Israel (and a regular in a number of related groups), and operates a number of anonymous and aesthetically nondescript websites, including thebestplans.org and peacearchitects.org.

This article, the first in a series dealing with the activities and associates of Jon „Yani“ Haigh, will seek to provide a brief introduction to Haigh himself, and his close associate Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism. In future articles, we will look at other figures on the „Free Muslims“ Board, including the inimitable Ray Hanania, and other organisations and agencies with which Haigh and his associates collaborate.

Jon "Yani" Haigh: Jews suck

Jon „Yani“ Haigh: Jews suck

A recurring theme in his posts is that „Jews suck“, and can only redeem themselves by being baptised Christian, and by boycotting Jewish community institutions and events (along the lines of Herskowitz‘ schul picket). Alternatively, repentant Jews may simply send money to peacearchitects.org. Conflict, unsurprisingly, follows Haigh like the CIA follows Julian Assange.

The same can be said of other regulars of the „secret group“ and affiliated groups, such as fellow signatory Kyle O’Laughlin, who divides his time in Any Topic NOT Israel fairly evenly between complaining that African-American pride is welcomed whilst „White Pride“ is – shockingly enough – considered racist and posting links together with his comrade James Linden Rose on how the KKK and other white supremacist groups are in fact Jewish front groups designed to make white people look bad and thwart Ron Paul’s perennial presidential run.

"KKKyle" O'Laughlin Laments That "White Pride" is Considered Racist

„KKKyle“ O’Laughlin Laments That „White Pride“ is Considered Racist

Whilst the groups Any Topic NOT Israel, Our Land, and Free Muslims all have anodyne descriptions about getting to know each other and coming up with plans for peace, etc., and mission statements banning racism and flaming, the groups themselves bear little resemblance to these noble sentiments. In point of fact, the groups operate as a breeding and training ground for trolls, particularly those (like O’Laughlin, Linden Rose, and Haigh) of the white supremacist variety, mixed together with a few of the more vocal Zionist trolls. There, they engage in their preferred versions of racism, and hurl accusations back and forth about collaboration, snitching, and participation in world conspiracies of one sort or another, with little to no moderation in sight. One does have to wonder what the purpose of creating and administering a network of racist trollpens would be.

Greta Berlin, as luck would have it, is a member in several of these groups, though the exact

James Linden Rose on "Rule By Jew"

James Linden Rose on „Rule By Jew“

circumstances of her joining them will likely remain unclear, given the fog of bullshit that surrounds her and her cohorts‘ descriptions of the groups.

 The Company He Keeps

             Yani Haigh, it must be said, is a rather embarrassing person to have vouch for one’s anti-racist credentials. Indeed, were it not for his signature on the „nothing to see here“ letter and the creepily detailed set of mindmaps with which, by his own account, he monitors over 200 Facebook groups „to track troublemakers“, he would be an annoying boor of little consequence; he would merely be someone to avoid sitting in front of at the Gabba when the footie’s on, but would not merit much attention beyond that.

However, over the course of the past week, facts have emerged to place Haigh’s combination of racist boorishness and meticulous surveillance into a broader context. One of the websites Haigh designed and operates, thebestplans.org, is that of an organisation founded by one Kamal Nawash, Esq., Haigh’s employer and fellow member of the groups in question.

Kamal Nawash is a Palestinian-American lawyer, with an LL.M. from American University’s Washington College of Law.

After a stint as counsel for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in 2003, apparently with the support of hard-right Republican activist Grover Norquist, Nawash stood for election to a seat in the Virginia state Senate. His Senate run was ultimately unsuccessful due to the general climate of scapegoating and criminalisation of Muslim and Arab life in the US.

Some might be led by such an experience to campaign against racism and bigotry. Not Kamal Nawash. Shortly after his electoral defeat, Nawash founded the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terror (and later, its Facebook counterpart, the group „Free Muslims“), an organisation largely dedicated to providing public relations cover to US government repression of the Arab and Muslim community. One view one finds repeated throughout the autobiographies of the Free Muslims Board members is that it is Muslim ideology – and not, say, decades of murderous US and US-sponsored violence against them and their countries – that is at fault for any problems in the Muslim community and the Middle East.

In 2004, the Free Muslims organised a March Against Terror, which was endorsed by a diverse cross-section of people and organisations dedicated to bigotry against Arabs and Muslims (such as Daniel Pipes), to organisations and people dedicated to more general bigotry (RIGHTALK.com), to fellow alibi Muslims such as Zuhdi Jasser of the „American Islamic Forum for Democracy“, to a wide assortment of right-wing organisations that no one had ever heard of and/or offer no proof that they actually exist (such as the „Government of Free Vietnam“, made up of former officials from the US puppet dictatorship who claim to be the legitimate government on account of having been elected fair and square to the position by four US presidents in a row).

Apparently, Nawash’s March Against Terror (and explicitly in support of Bush) caught a few eyes in Washington, because, in 2005, he was rewarded by the Bush White House with an appointment as US envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Around the same time (2003-2007), Nawash began contributing to FrontPagemag.com, the far-right blog run by Stalinist-turned-fascist David Horowitz, who also operates the neo-McCarthyite campus group CampusWatch and the right-wing private intelligence organisation Discover The Networks. Nawash’s articles include titles such as We Are So Sorry for 9-11, French Riots: A Gift from the Open Borders Lobby, and the KCNA-esque Free Muslims Congratulate President George Bush.

This period in the life of Kamal Nawash has been very helpfully chronicled by none other than Daniel Pipes himself. As of 11 September 2003, Nawash earned a strong blast of scorn from the Pipes for suggesting that the Bush administration’s „anti-terrorism“ (i.e., pro-repression) plan raised concerns about „basic Constitutional rights“:

Of particular interest (given that several 9/11 hijackers used a student cover), is Nawash’s objection to the U.S. government tracking foreign students, protesting (nonsensically) that this step would indicate „a willingness to restrict scientific knowledge and scholarship to certain classes of people and to flout, basically, principles of academic freedom.“ Sounds like this man opposes the war on terrorism; in any case, he sure makes for a strange Republican candidate.

Throughout 2003, Pipes had nothing but contempt for Nawash, who was raising objections to the Clinton-era Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allows the executive branch unilaterally to ban organisations as „terrorist organisations“, and criminalises anyone associated with them, criticising the designation of Palestinian groups disfavoured by the US regime as „terrorist“, and generally raising fairly mild questions about the human rights implications of the „war on terror“. Of US Senator John Warner (R-VA), who had endorsed Nawash’s candidacy for the Virginia state Senate, Pipes wrote: „Virginians might wish to inform their senior senator that he is, to put it mildly, going out on a limb on this one.“

By 2004, however, another tune began to be blown on the Pipes. In noting Nawash’s formation of the Free Muslims group, Pipes writes:

It sounds good and it has been getting lots of good publicity, but given Nawash’s record on terrorism, as established here (his dismissing the concept, his close ties to a person alleged to fund terrorism), I need to be convinced that this leopard has changed his spots.

By 2005, we find Pipes explicitly endorsing the Free Muslims March Against Terror, particularly chuffed that one Khaleel Mohammed „denounc[ed] CAIR“.

Whilst Pipes begins expressing sceptical endorsement (and Pipes has no other kind of endorsement on offer for Arabs and Muslims), by 2006, some within the exceedingly mild-mannered antidiscrimination group CAIR were expressing concern with Nawash and the way in which his remarks were eagerly snapped up by the likes of Daniel Pipes.

In two short years, Kamal Nawash went, in the mind of racist „smearcaster“ Daniel Pipes, from something akin to the 20th hijacker to one of the Good Muslims. A remarkable transformation, to say the least.

Pipes‘ timeline ends in 2008, but one can imagine that he would see no reason to reconsider his assessment in the light of subsequent events. In 2011, Nawash endorsed the neo-McCarthyite hearings chaired by Rep. Peter King on the „radicalisation of American Muslims“, and condemned the Muslim and Arab-American antidiscrimination organisations for their opposition to King’s efforts to further scapegoat and criminalise the Muslim community. When it was revealed this year that the NYPD had, for years, been carrying out a massive, illegal programme of spying on virtually the entire Muslim community of the Five Boroughs, Nawash, along with representatives of other Muslim astroturf groups organised a joint rally in support of the NYPD spying effort with none other than Rep. King himself.

Looking at this trajectory, one might be excused for speculating that Nawash’s conversion from moderate Republican and defender of Muslim and Arab-American rights to Pipes pet was not entirely free of opportunism.

Opportunism, as we will see as this series progresses, is something of an overarching theme.

*    *     *    *    *   *    *

UPDATE: In the twelve hours since this post went live, someone temporarily shut down my Facebook account, and there was an attempt to hack this blog. It appears someone might have succeeded in changing my blog password, thus preventing me getting in. All appears well now, but it does seem that someone is not exactly chuffed to bits that this article was published. They will be positively unecstatic about the subsequent parts of this series.

Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah has published his „final word“ on the debacle that gave rise to this series:

Should I have been more explicit about what I saw? Perhaps, but I had my reasons to take a more restrained approach. I had hoped that by sounding the alarm, and signaling that Berlin’s explanations were not credible, Berlin herself would begin to take the issue seriously, and that the new Free Gaza board would do the same. Sadly that did not happen.

The most dispiriting spectacle over the past two weeks was seeing Berlin disseminating, and a small group of people embellishing, outlandish stories intended to distract and shift the blame on to those who were asking for accountability.

Almost every day, I’ve received emails alleging, among other things, that I am a “Zionist agent,” that I’ve been “conned” by Israel into attacking Berlin so that Israel can steal Gaza’s natural gas, that I am engaged in a “vendetta” because Berlin endorsed a book I didn’t like, and so on. A few of these messages came from people I had previously believed to be reasonable and sensible, which added to the disappointment.

Read the full article here.

Bekah Wolf of Mondoweiss has also come out with a piece very germane to the topic of this series, documenting what some of us had been saying since this began: This wasn’t just one accidental tweet. Alas, Greta Berlin has form.

Some people have come to Greta’s defense, accepting her assertion that this was a technical mistake, that she did not support the content of the video, and that those who have criticized her response to the “mistake” are on a witch hunt. I’d like to acknowledge that the Free Gaza Movement was not synonymous with Greta Berlin; some of my good friends and people I deeply respect were leaders of that movement and their work and commitment should in no way be minimized by this.

Setting aside Greta’s woefully inadequate explanations for the tweet (of which there were several), the fact remains: Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it. Since the controversy broke, the “Our Land” group has attempted to cover some of its tracks. The fact that Greta remains an active administrator of a Facebook group that accommodates this kind of bigotry raises serious issues about her commitment to building an anti-racist movement committed to justice and equality. Moreover, her unprincipled, vicious andIslamophobic attacks on the Palestinians who have called her to task for her behavior should alarm all of us who are committed to Palestine solidarity work.

The full article can be found here.

16 comments ↓

#1 Asa Winstanley on 10.18.12 at 12:29

Good article, thanks for diving into this sewer, so we didn’t have to.

I want to know more about this Kamal Nawash and his connection to Yani.

#2 sara maimon on 10.19.12 at 01:31

Yani is webmaster for a project initiated by Kamal. http://www.bestplans.org

#3 elisehendrick on 10.19.12 at 02:22

Indeed he is. I mentioned it in the piece, and will be coming back to it in greater detail in the next part.

#4 FINALLY, A FINAL WORD ON GRETA BERLIN « Desertpeace on 10.19.12 at 05:14

[…] Hendrick who understood what was at stake from the start, and has helped illuminate some of the disturbing connections that have come out of […]

#5 David A Levy on 10.19.12 at 05:59

Nice article

however you are only scratching the surface opf the participant in these sites

for example Kyle is a recent convert to Islam, apparently his attraction to islam started when it affirmed his hatred of jews

send me a message on FB and we can chat, i’ll introduce you to some people and then we can chat about Greta, jaochim Martillo, Mary thompson Hugh, Yani and the rest of that vile bunch

#6 uh...clem on 10.19.12 at 10:54

@David A. Levy: Islam „affirmed his hatred to Jews“??!! wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that his „interpretation“ of Islam „affirmed his hatred to Jews“? Can I send you a free subscription to the Islamophobic Gazette? (tell me if I have misinterpreted you)

#7 uh...clem on 10.19.12 at 11:53

hatred „of“ jews, not hatred to jews. mea culpa.

#8 mark on 10.19.12 at 20:58

So Greta Berlin is a manger of a Facebook group that has some nut cases in it, Only the onwer of the group has any real power over what happens there.

All you’ve shown is that, like most of us who are active in political social networking sites, , we belong or have belonged to groups that have such people in them. Does that make us all somehow responsible for everything these other people have said or done?

Would Ali Abunimah not be found to have been ins uch associations?

Would you yourself not be found to have been in internet social networking groups with similar people? I doubt it.

#9 elisehendrick on 10.20.12 at 05:20

I did not focus on Greta Berlin’s role and the fact that she actually has posted a good deal of racist material herself (not to mention her glowing endorsement of Atzmon’s „The Wandering Who“, which she lied about in her interview with Derfner), because that has been dealt with extensively elsewhere. Bekah Wolf’s article on Mondoweiss, which I linked to in the update to the article, covers that aspect in detail.

The point here is that not only are several of the people who signed the „no bigotry here“ letter reproduced in Derfner’s +972mag article in fact major purveyors of racism in a „secret“ troll group dedicated to racist trolling (again, see Wolf’s piece), but that these groups (and Haigh himself) are also connected to organisations that should inspire no confidence whatever in anyone who cares about the Palestinians, organisations that have a track record of supporting the surveillance and repression of political dissidents (especially those working on issues related to the Middle East).

Also, bear in mind that, as the title itself notes, and as is noted repeatedly throughout the article itself, this is not the entire story. It is part I of a series – the research I have been doing, along with several others, has produced more material than can be properly dealt with in a single piece.

#10 The OtherSite – die andere Seite von was? | MondoPrinte on 10.20.12 at 15:32

[…] Atzmon, Booth – oder Greta Berlin bzw. “Our Land”: Wo Palästinasolidarität lediglich ein anderes Wort ist für Antisemitismus, bin ich raus. Teilen […]

#11 mark on 10.20.12 at 21:39

For example, is Ali Abunimah an apologist for zionism, just because he annually appears as the keynoter at a MECA event in Berkeley, and MECA is a zionist organization that includes many supporters of ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population?

I’m sure you agree that I wouldn’t be justified in saying that.

But this Stalinoid type of guilt by association and taking tweets out of context is all you and Abunimah are doing.

[I didn’t realise it counted as „guilt by association“ to associate a person with his or her own words and actions. Perhaps you should try actually reading the article you’re commenting on before writing nonsense like this. Ed.]

#12 mark on 10.21.12 at 00:57

If Abunimah was not engaged in a witch hunting operation, rather than legitimate commentary, why does he not print my comments, the same ones you have so democratically printed?

And with all due respect, your article above is all about Haigh, Nawash, Pipes, Bekah Wolf, who also writes about other people like Martillo…?

There is nothing in your article about what Greta Berlin said, aside from this tweet with this video…and her defenses against the obviously coordinated and prepared-in-advance attacks against her!

#13 elisehendrick on 10.21.12 at 01:31

I can’t speak to Electronic Intifada’s reasons for not printing your comments. You’d have to ask them about that. I would note, however, that plenty of critical comments have been published, so perhaps the problem isn’t so much the point of view of the comments, but their overall quality.

As I already said, what Greta Berlin has said, and her multiple contradictory explanations for the context in which she said it, as well as her racist slurs against Ali Abunimah („fatwa“, „Ali Ayatollah“) have been discussed in detail elsewhere. This series is not about that.

#14 elisehendrick on 10.21.12 at 01:58

Speaking of „witch hunts“, Mark, thank you for e-mailing me the smear piece you wrote, in which you defame Emma Rosenthal and myself as „liberal Zionists“. In fact, we are both anti-Zionists, unlike white supremacist Gilad Atzmon, who is a vocal defender of Zionism and smears anyone who criticises the racist and colonialist underpinnings of that ideology.

You preface several of your false statements in that piece with „to my knowledge“. This implies that you are in a position to know anything all about what relationship, if any, Emma or I has with Greta Berlin. You are not in a position to know anything of the sort, and it is highly dishonest of you to imply otherwise.

Thank you for making it clear, however, where your true loyalties lie. When forced to choose between committed Palestinian activists like the 22 drafters and signers of the „Grant No Quarter“ statement, and racists who have done nothing but detract from the Palestinian struggle, you choose the latter, and are happy to lie in order to defend them.

#15 Roger on 02.18.13 at 21:05

Some egotists here believe they ARE the SOLIDARITY Movement……

There Never has been SOLIDARITY & there never Will BE.

Let the belating hearts bleat there little hearts out.

#16 BDS Attacked by the Deir Yassin Remembered | KADAITCHA on 11.09.14 at 06:06

[…] thoroughly in 2012 and despite Eisen’s attack on her in his withdrawn blog post above, Greta Berlin […]

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