'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' ~ United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
We request that the Austrian media take responsibility to report with accuracy and impartiality on events in Israel/Palestine and on those who seek a just and peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region. This issue arose most recently in the Austrian media’s treatment of the Holocaust witness Hedy Epstein who was to have spoken at an international event in Vienna.
Background on In Grandmothers' Words Event
Today, March 8th 2016 (International Women's Day), the Austrian Parliament was scheduled to hold an event called In Grandmothers' Words. This event would have joined eight female WWII witnesses from around the world in Vienna in an unprecedented opportunity for the public to hear their experiences regarding specific topics, such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Uprising in Warsaw, and the Blitz in London.
Two women of Austrian descent were among those scheduled to speak, including a Holocaust witness originally from Vienna and a woman of Slovene heritage who had endured multiple labor camps. Unfortunately, the Viennese Holocaust witness had to withdraw due to health reasons.
The US/German citizen Hedy Epstein was scheduled to speak about her experiences working on the Nuremberg Trials.
After the invitations were issued, a media outlet in Israel ran an attack article with quotes such as ''Epstein, 'the Holocaust survivor,' instrumentalizes her role against Israel and is for haters of Jews like the organizers of the Gaza Flotilla apparently a political lotto jackpot'' and that the invitation for Epstein to speak legitimates 'a hate movement against Israel.'
Faced with heightened domestic public opposition and concerned about safety issues, Parliament cancelled the entire event.
Austrian Media's Reporting of the Cancellation
Of those Austrian media reporting the cancellation, there was unanimous condemnation of Ms. Epstein. In just two examples, the tabloid Heute headlined: 'Parliament Cancels Event with Israel Hater.' The newspaper Der Standard mainly quoted another publication's attacks on Ms. Epstein's credibility.
Interestingly, no Austrian media reported having contacted Ms. Epstein to ask if the allegations against her were true. No media mentioned that Ms. Epstein was scheduled to discuss only the Nuremberg Trials at the Parliament event.
And no media questioned whether Ms. Epstein really is an 'Israel hater.'
Undoubtedly, Ms. Epstein has a compelling background. Born in Germany to a Jewish family, she was part of the Kindertransport in 1939. Subsequently, most of her family members were killed in concentration camps. After working on the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg, she moved to the US and has been involved in various forms of activism ever since, most recently, at the age of 90, being arrested in protests surrounding the police shooting of an unarmed African-American youth in Ferguson, Missouri.
And Ms. Epstein is an outspoken supporter of the rights of Palestinians. She has called on members of the US Congress to 'raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories.' She has made multiple attempts to visit the Gaza Strip, has been in the Israeli-occupied West Bank five times since 2003, and openly criticizes the policies and practices of the Israeli government and the Israeli military.
But does that make her an 'Israel hater'? In essence, does questioning the policies of a government equate to hating a country?
Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu does not think so. In a 2014 Haaretz article entitled 'My Plea to the People of Israel: Liberate Yourselves by Liberating Palestine,' Mr. Tutu said that the key to 'a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign' requires 'a mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state's policies as an attack on Judaism.'
In 2013, Mr. Tutu noted: 'It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses… It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians, a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute.'
Another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Maguire, has said: 'I hope we can agree that breaking the Silence on Palestine, and insisting that people have a right to know what governments are doing in their name, is a way in which we all, especially journalists, media, can help… We can especially pledge to support the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli HR and peace movements for justice believing that genuine diplomacy, dialogue and listening brings us to a new understanding of each other, being the only way to peace.'
Would anyone accuse these two Nobel Peace Prize laureates of being 'Israel haters'?
This is not the first time that a prominent supporter of Palestinian rights has been silenced in Austria. There have been multiple cases, such as in 2001, when the cultural critic and public intellectual Edward Said was disinvited to speak at the Freud Society. The Society's president explained that the cancellation arose from the desire to avoid 'an internal clash.'
Mr. Said later noted: 'Freud was hounded out of Vienna because he was a Jew. Now I am hounded out because I'm a Palestinian.'
In his 2003 book, Culture and Resistance, Mr. Said wrote: 'For anyone to deny the horrendous experience of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust is unacceptable. We don't want anybody's history of suffering to go unrecorded and unacknowledged. On the other hand, there's a great difference between acknowledging Jewish oppression and using that as a cover for the oppression of another people.'
After the Freud Society revoked Mr. Said’s invitation, a group of distinguished psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic critics wrote a letter of protest. The London Freud Museum invited Mr. Said to deliver the lecture he was to have given in Vienna. The Austrian Society for Literature and the Vienna-based Institute for the Human Sciences also subsequently invited Mr. Said to speak.
The issue was not whether people agreed with Mr. Said's opinion, but that they defended his right to express it.
That Austria has a difficult history regarding WWII is clear. Sensitivity to issues connected to the Holocaust and the persecution of Jewish and other populations is well-founded. The acknowledgement and prevention of anti-Semitism everywhere is absolutely imperative.
But does that equate to censuring a Holocaust witness who lost her family to concentration camps and was going to speak about her experience working on the Nuremberg Trials?
The democratic process depends on informed citizens taking an interest in the actions of governments. The media has an obligation to promote freedom of speech in that regard.
Journalists everywhere face pressure from powerful interest groups seeking to silence certain perspectives on different topics. Yet the journalistic tenets of objectivity and impartiality necessitate reporting fairly on those whose opinions may be controversial.
We, members of the global community, are deeply concerned about the Austrian media's recent treatment of Hedy Epstein and the clear pattern of silencing voices which are critical of the policies and practices of the government of Israel. Questioning the policies of a government does not equate to hating a country. Freedom of speech is a basic democratic value incumbent upon society to uphold and for media everywhere to pursue.
The list of supporters below is not exhaustive, but rather indicative of the strong support this open letter receives worldwide:
Avram Noam Chomsky, Ph.D.: Linguist, philosopher, historian, logician, social critic, and political activist. Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the founders of the field of cognitive science. The author of over 100 books, USA
Brian Eno: Musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist, England
Professor Richard A. Falk: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, USA
Johan Galtung, dr hc mult: Professor peace research around the world, Founder TRANSCEND International for Peace, Development and the Environment (Professor Friedensforschung rund um die Welt, Gründer TRANSCEND International für Frieden, Entwicklung, Umwelt), Basel, Switzerland
Christiane Hessel: Member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Honorary Member of PUGWASH France (membre du Tribunal Russell sur la Palestine, membre d'honneur de PUGWASH France), Paris, France
Erwin Lanc: Federal Minister of Austria ret., Honorary President of International Institute for Peace, Vienna, Austria
Mairead Maguire: Nobel Peace Laureate (1976), co-founder of Women for Peace/the Community for Peace People, Northern Ireland
Dr. h.c. Hans-C. Graf Sponeck: Former Assistant UN Secretary General, moreover, inter alia UN Coordinator in Islamabad, New Delhi and Baghdad (ehemaliger Beigeordneter UNO General-Sekretär, darüber hinaus inter alia UN Koordinator in Islamabad, Neu Delhi und Bagdad)
Alice Walker: American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Avigail Abarbanel: Psychotherapist, Inverness, Scotland
Paula Abrams-Hourani: Founder, Women in Black, Vienna, Austria
Kaveh Ahangar: Rapper, activist, journalist, Berlin, Germany
J'Ann Schoomaker Allen: Missouri, USA
James D. Allen Jr., PhD: Missouri, USA
Teresa Arrietta: Journalist, Kritzendorf, Austria
Ofra Ben Artzi: Israeli citizen
Alice Bach: Professor of religious studies, anti-war activist, journalist, Cleveland, USA
Dr. Wolfgang Bahr: Journalist, translator, reader (Journalist, Übersetzer und Verlagslektor) Vienna, Austria
Frank Barat: Coordinator Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Belgium
Ronnie Barkan: Israeli dissident Boycott from Within, Israel
Ramzy Baroud, Ph.D.: Author and journalist, Washington, USA
Dr. Georg Becker: Vienna, Austria
Dr. Johannes M. Becker: Associate Professor, Peace Research (Privatdozent, Friedensforscher) Universität Marburg, Germany
Medea Benjamin: Author, Co-Founder of Code Pink, USA
Univ.Prof.Dr. med. Ernst Berger: Specializing in psychiatry and neurology, Vienna, Austria
Greta K Berlin, MFA: Co-founder, Free Gaza movement, author/editor, Freedom Sailors, France
Randy Bernard: Writer/Editor, North Carolina, USA
Judith Bernstein: Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group Munich (jüdisch-palästinensische Dialoggruppe München), Germany
Stephen Bingham: Attorney, past President, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, National Lawyers Guild, USA
Jeffrey Blankfort: Radio journalist, former Editor, Middle East Labor Bulletin
Walter P. Blass, B.A. Honors, M.A.: Dual Austrian/American nationality, North Carolina, USA
Harald Moritz Bock: Secretary General of the German-Arab Society D-A-G (Generalsekretär DEUTSCH-ARABISCHE GESELLSCHAFT), Berlin, Germany
Barbara Bogard, BA, BS, MA: Co-Founder and Chair of Pesticide Free Marin, Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, USA
Audrey Bomse: Attorney, Member, National Lawyers Guild and co-chair of Palestine subcommittee, USA
Lauren Booth: Journalist, broadcaster and blogger, UK
Dr. Mark J. Boyd, PhD: North Carolina, USA
AnnaLisa Erdemgil Brandstätter: Vienna, Austria
Dr. (theol.) Martin Breidert, Germany
Diana Buttu: Attorney
Mark Chmiel: Professor of Humanities, Maryville University, Missouri, USA; author of "Eli Wiesel & the Politics of Moral Leadership"
Kia Corthron: Novelist/playwright, USA
Anne Herzon Craig, M.Ed.: North Carolina, USA
KZ Gemeinschaft Dachau (Concentration Camp Community, Dachau), Germany
Rawan Allan Damen: Senior Producer, Al Jazeera, Doha, Qatar
Lawrence Davidson: Emeritus Professor of History, West Chester University, Penn., USA
Raymond Deane: Composer, author, Dublin, Ireland
Dominique Doujenis: Vienna, Austria
Gretta Duisenberg: Founder and chair "Stop the Occupation," The Netherlands
Evelyn Dürmayer: Attorney (Juristin) Vienna, Austria
Fritz Edlinger: Secretary General, Society for Austro-Arab Relations, Vienna, Austria
Dr. Edda Egerer: Women in Black, Vienna, Austria
DI Erik Egerer: Architect, Vienna, Austria
Irmgard Ehrenberger: Vienna, Austria
Debra Ellis: MS Counseling and Human Systems, co-founder of The Islah Reparations Project, retired University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
Dahr Jamail: Journalist, author, recipient of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, USA
Jim Ennes: USS Liberty Survivor, author, "Assault on the Liberty," USA
Ayed Fadel: Kabareet, Haifa
Eva Fitz: Co-founder ‘Kirchenfrauenkabarett, eh. Präsidentin KA,’ Vorarlberg, Austria
Peter Fleissner: Social scientist, coordinator of Transform! Austria
Kathlyn Gadd: Chartered Accountant, UK
Dr. Richard Gadd: Retired Head of Nuclear Medicine Imaging, RSUH, UK
Ophira Gamliel, PhD: Research scholar at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany
Philip Giraldi: Executive Director, Council for the National Interest, USA
Tali Feld Gleiser: Dominican Republic
Rita Giacaman: Professor of Public Health and Research and Program Development Coordinator, BIrzeit University, Occupied Palestine
Neta Golan: Co-Founder of International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
Tsilli Goldenberg: Retired teacher, political activist, Jerusalem, Israel
Elleanne Green: Activist and founder of PALESTINE LIVE, UK
DI. Friedrich Griess: Former President of the European Federation, Vienna, Austria
Gordon Griffin: Actor and Casting Director of the English Theatre of Hamburg, Germany
Prof.Dr. Alfred Grosser: Peace prize winner of the German Booksellers (Friedenspreisträger des deutschen Buchhandels) Paris, France
Serge Grossvak: Director of Social Center, member of l'UJRE (Directeur de Centre Social, membre de l'UJRE - Union des Juifs pour la Résistance et l'Entraide), Marseille, France
Diane Guildoni: Free Speech Supporter, Missouri, USA
Jeff Halper, Ph.D.: Anthropologist, author, lecturer, and political activist, Co-Founder and Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
Dr. Ilana Hammerman: Writer, editor and translator, Jerusalem
Dr. Roni Hamermann: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, co-founder of Machsomwatch, Israel
Oliver Hashemizadeh: BDS Austria, Vienna, Austria
Evelyn Hecht-Galinski: Publicist, Germany
Chris Hedges: Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and former Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, USA
Karl Helmreich, OSB: Verein Netzwerk, Benediktiner des Stiftes Melk, Leobersdorf, Austria
Shir Hever: Heidelberg, Germany
Dr. Hannes Hofbauer: Publisher and publicist (Verleger und Publizist) Vienna, Austria
Joyce Holliday: Author, United Church of Christ Minister, North Carolina, USA
Tikva Honig-Parnass, PhD: Jerusalem, Israel
Univ.-Prof. Dr. iur. Frank Höpfel: University of Vienna, Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology (Univ.-Institut für Strafrecht und Kriminologie), Austria
Jocelyn Hurndall: Mother of Tom Hurndall, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteer who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper
Patricia Hynes, MS JD: North Carolina, USA
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
Priv.-Doz. Anne Maximiliane Jäger-Gogoll: Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany
Jane Jewell, L.R.A.M. B.A. (mus) Hons, USA
Dr. Ghada Karmi: Palestinian academic and Research Fellow, Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK
Rev. Dr. R. David Kaylor: Professor of Religion, Emeritus, Davidson College, North Carolina, USA
Dr. Elizabeth B. Keiser: Charles A. Dana Professor Emerita, English Dept., Guilford College, North Carolina, USA
Dr. R. Melvin Keiser: Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies Dept., Guilford College, North Carolina, USA
Ramsis Kilani: Student, his father, five of his siblings and his father’s second wife (all German citizens) were killed in Gaza during "Operation Protective Edge," Universität Siegen, Germany
Martha King: Human rights activist, Missouri, USA
Prof. Ali Kohlbacher: Austrian anti-fascist, Board Member of ‘Österreichischen Nord-Süd-Instituts,’ Vienna, Austria
Klaus Kucharz: Austria
Christopher Ben Kushka: Human rights activist, (BDS + ISM), Ungedanken, Germany
Sabine Lafazani: Data Analyst, Localization (IT), Vienna, Austria
Ilias Lafazanis: Data Analyst (IT), Vienna, Austria
Susan Larhrop: President, Just Peace for Israel/Palestine, North Carolina, USA
Derek Laney: Co-Executive Director, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Missouri, USA
Sigrid Langhaeuser: Historian, Anglicist, translator, Germany
Wilhelm Langthaler: Author and anti-globalization activist (Autor und Anti-Globalisierungsaktivist), Vienna, Austria
Renee Leavy, PhD (biochemistry): Rebbetzin, New York, USA
Dianne Lee: Professor, St. Louis Community College, Missouri, USA
Martin Lejeune: Journalist; in Gaza during the 2014 assault and later gave testimony at the Special Session of the Russell Tribunal, Berlin, Germany
Dr. Kurt Leitner: Vienna, Austria
Gunther Lorbeer: Vienna, Austria
Dr. Michael Lüders: Political scientist and scholar in Islamic studies, author, political and economic advisor, Germany
Miriam Margolyes, OBE: Actress and voice artist, UK/Australia
Lubna Masarwa: Political activist, Palestine 48, Jerusalem
Mohammed Matter: Journalist from Gaza, Berlin, Germany
Gabriele Matzner: Retired Austrian diplomat, Vienna, Austria
Rudolf Mayerhofer-Sebera: Manager und Zivilgesellschafts-Netzwerker, Berndorf, Austria
Raymond L. McGovern: Founder, Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Security (VIPS), USA
Cynthia McKinney, PhD: Politician and activist, Georgia, USA
Dr. Janice McLaughlin: MM, Zimbabwe, former President of Maryknoll Sisters, (imprisoned by colonial regime in Rhodesia), New York, USA
Joe Meadors: USS Liberty Survivor, Freedom Flotillas I, II and III Participant
Prof. Dr. Georg Meggle: Universität Leipzig - Dir. Institut für Philosophie (emerit.), AUC, American University in Cairo, Germany
Elizabeth Murray: former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (retired), USA
Carol Murry, DrPH: University of Hawai'i Professor, passenger US Boat to Gaza, international health consultant, USA
Dorothy Naor: Anti-occupation activist, Israel
Ofer Neiman: Boycott from Within, Israel
Oded Netivi: Painter and author, Heidelberg, Germany
Henry Norr: Technology journalist and activist, USA
Jonathan Ofir: Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark
Cindy Osborne: North Carolina, USA
Prof. Dr. Norman Paech: Hamburg, Germany
Maxine Peake: Stage, radio, film and television actress, England
Nurit Peled-Elhanan, PhD: Sakharov prize laureate for human rights 2001, Jerusalem
William T. Quick: Attorney at law, member Missouri Board of Directors of National Lawyers Guild, Missouri, USA
Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D.: Professor, Bethlehem University, Palestine
William Ramsey: Human rights and peace activist, North Carolina, USA
Prof. Dr. Fanny-Michaela Reisin: Former President of the International League for Human Rights; Board Member of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in Germany
Lillian Rosengarten: Writer and poet, activist to end the occupation, USA
Coleen Rowley: retired FBI agent and former Division Legal Counsel, one of Time Magazine's 2002 Persons of the Year
Dr. Norbert Rozsenich: Chairman of IFAC-Austria, Vienna, Austria
Kali Rubaii: PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University of California, USA
Waltraud Schauer: Peace activist, served as a human shield in Iraq, Austria
Guenter Schenk: grenzenloser Friedensaktivist / Peace activist beyond borders, Strasbourg
Herzl Schubert: High school teacher, Ort Ebin, Ramat Gan
Dr. Tariq Shadid (Doc Jazz): Surgeon and musician
Uri Shani: Israeli theater director, author and lecturer, Israel
Tali Shapiro: Human rights activist and translator (Menschenrechtsaktivistin, Übersetzerin)
David Schermerhorn: Retired film producer, has joined seven attempts to reach Gaza by ship and succeeded three times; he was captured by Israeli Naval Forces during the 2010 Flotilla, Washington, USA
Amir Schnitman: Missouri, USA
Konrad Schön: Styrian Peace Platform (Steirische Friedensplattform), Graz, Austria
Georg Schönfeld: Architekt, Vienna, Austria
Dr. Albrecht Schröter: Mayor of Jena, Germany
Haim Schwarczenberg: Photographer, Jaffa, Israel
Gigi Segall: Vienna, Austria
David Sheen: Journalist; in Gaza during the 2014 assault and later gave testimony at the Special Session of the Russell Tribunal, Dimona, Israel
Yael Shomroni: Missouri, USA
Clare Short: British politician and former MP, UK
Rich Siegel: Musician/activist, New Jersey, USA
Dr. Salman Abu Sitta: Palestinian historian, UK
Dr. Peter Smutny: Journalist, Biedermannsdorf, Austria
Franz Sölkner: Chairperson Styrian Peace Platform (Obmann, Steierische Friedensplattform) Graz, Austria
St. Louis Women in Black: Missouri, USA
Lia Tarachansky: Israeli-Russian journalist, Israel
Prof. Dr. Jack Thiessen: New Bothwell, Manitoba, Canada
Mary Hughes Thompson: Co-founder Free Gaza Movement Writer/Freedom Sailor
Baroness Dr Jenny Tonge: Former MP House of Lords, Westminster, England
Phillip F. Tourney: Liberty Survivor, USA
Joan Unterweger: Retired IT specialist, Vienna, Austria
Peter Unterweger: Retired member of the Secretariat of the Int'l Metalworkers' Federation, Vienna, Austria
Brigitta Vavken: Austria
Mariana Vazquez: Vienna, Austria
Prof. Dr. Rolf Verleger: Psychologist, member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany 2005-09 (Psychologe, Mitglied im Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland 2005-09)
Dr. Angela Waldegg: Artist, Vienna, Austria
Naomi Wallace: Playwright/screenwriter, USA
Darlene Wallach: Anti-zionist activist; social justice/human rights activist
Alison Weir: Alison Weir B.A. Founder and executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, author, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the US Was Used to Create Israel, USA
Dr. Elian Weizman: Israeli citizen
Nina Werzhbinskaja-Rabinowich: Artist, Vienna, Austria
Ing. Samuel Welber: Critical Jewish Voice (Kritische Jüdische Stimme), Vienna, Austria
Dr. Charlotte Wiktorsson: Gothenburg, Sweden
Helmut Wintersberger: Social scientist, Vienna, Austria
Walter Wipp: Former Head of Division of the Education Ministry (Ministerialrat i.R., ehem. Präsidialbeamter im Unterrichtsministerium), Austria
Em. Professor Ruth Wodak, FAcSS: Distinguished Professor and Chair in Discourse Studies, Lancaster University/University Vienna
Heather Wokusch: Founder of the 'In Grandmothers' Words' project, Austria
Colonel Ann Wright: US Army Colonel (retired) and former US Diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth: Journalist and writer, Israel
Rudolf O. Zucha: Psychologist, publisher, Vienna, Austria