The latest victim of cancel culture wave is MintPress News founder and editor-in-chief Mnar Adley. Adley had been booked to host and moderate an event discussing anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws in the United States, and how Palestinians are under increasing pressure to silence themselves, when she was herself, ironically, removed from the panel at the behest of a shady advisor.
The event was hosted by Voices From the Holy Land, an organization that hosts documentary films and group discussions in order to give voice to those ignored by the mainstream press and to educate the public about the realities of living under the Israeli occupation.
It was scheduled for October 9th online and featured a screening of the documentary “Boycott”, followed by a discussion. Other panelists included editor-at-large of Jewish Currents magazine Peter Beinart; “Boycott” producer Suhad Babaa; and Texas speech therapist Bahia Amawi.
While Voices From The Holy Land coordinator Deepak Kenkeremath had expressed excitement to have her host the panel, just hours before the event, he informed Adley that Beinart and others had objected to sharing a stage with her. In fact, he shared with Adley that Beinart had been calling him daily, putting pressure on him to remove Mnar from the event.
Beinart had been contacted by a Mr. Stanley Heller, who insisted that Adley was anti-Semitic, and that MintPress News was a discredited pro-Putin, pro-Assad, pro-Iran outlet. As proof, Heller reportedly shared MintPress’ (heavily defaced) Wikipedia entry.
These charges are, of course, false. MintPress is an expressly anti-racist platform and does not support any government, let alone specifically those of Russia, Syria or Iran. Instead, MintPress focuses on exposing the permanent war state and those who benefit from it. For this, we have been targeted by NATO-funded think tanks, the Israel lobby, U.S. and U.K. intelligence outfits, foreign governments and lobbying groups. We have also had our Wikipedia page attacked, been demoted and deranked by algorithms, and had our financial accounts frozen.
Adley, who previously lived under Israeli occupation and apartheid, witnessed grave human rights abuses and crimes, has advocated for Palestinian human rights for decades. She has used her career as a journalist and antiwar activist to oppose U.S. weapons from reaching human rights abusers. For a Palestinian woman who defends the rights of Palestinians to resist occupation to be called anti-Semitic is another example of the tried-and-tested smear tactic used by the Israeli lobby to target and silence Palestinian dissent.
As part of his investigation, Kenkeremath spoke with his confidant, Israeli-American author and activist Miko Peled. Peled, who frequently contributes to MintPress, was adamant that Adley is an exemplary figure. “What I told Deepak is that it’s Peter Beinart who should be grateful that he gets to sit on a panel with Mnar, not the other way around!” he said, adding,
I’m absolutely appalled at the fact that somebody thinks they have the right to cancel Mnar. I am appalled, I’m disappointed, I’m angry. I think it is indicative of where we are today, politically – a privileged white guy who considers himself progressive can just feel comfortable enough to cancel a Palestinian woman from speaking about her country?”
MintPress contacted Beinart for comment, but received no response.
Kenkeremath came to a similar conclusion, telling MintPress,
Mnar was the right choice [to moderate the panel]. I think Mnar is great. As a committee, we like her. We would like to find a way or time to bring her to participate with us, a time when we wouldn’t be blackmailed or held hostage by somebody [Heller].”
Kenkeremath would have held the event with Adley moderating. But then others on the panel, who Heller had also contacted, demanded she be cancelled as well, citing the Wikipedia article. This put Kenkeremath in a situation he had never been in before, having already sold the tickets and been pressed into a corner, he apologetically disinvited Adley.
“We’ve been doing this for nine years, and we’ve had hundreds of events and many hundreds of panelists. This is the first time ever that we’ve had to change a panelist proactively. And we really regretted taking that action, but felt we really didn’t have a choice, given how close to the event this decision surfaced,” Kenkeremath told MintPress.
For Voices From the Holy Land, the problem was the time crunch they were put under and the consequences of cancelling such a high-profile event at the eleventh hour. As Kenkeremath explained,
This was our biggest event in our 9-year history. And we had, by the time we made the decision, over 1400 people already registered. And we had many, maybe on the order of about 15 or 16 other groups that were tied in with us that were promoting this event. So it was a choice of either cancelling the event or making this change to keep the panel together. The film that we screened – “Boycott” – is about First Amendment rights. It’s about freedom of speech. And for us to take this action is a little more than ironic.”
Beinart’s clout as one of the most high-profile individuals in highbrow American life likely weighed heavily on the organization’s decision. A liberal hawk who championed the Iraq Invasion and became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Beinart was also a passionate defender of the state of Israel. In 2020, however, after decades of support, he switched sides and advocated for a democratic bi-national state. His metamorphosis from apologist to critic of Israel shocked many, and is widely seen as a sign of how uncomfortable many liberal American Jews are with Israel. He has also publicly spoken out against Palestinian voices being suppressed and excluded from conversations on Israel/Palestine, making this incident all the more ironic.
Kenkeremath was more understanding of Beinart’s position, telling MintPress that,
I think Peter just felt uncomfortable in going forward with this… I’m pretty sure he had not heard of Stanley either, but just felt a little uncomfortable about a controversy that Heller had raised. And the feeling was, ‘we don’t have enough time to vet the situation, and we’re not sure that it makes sense at this time for us to be associated with the controversy.’”
Peled, on the other hand, was far more condemnatory, asserting that Voices of the Holy Land should have cancelled the event rather than disinviting a speaker on spurious grounds. “It was absolutely shameful…that should not have been allowed to happen. This on every possible level, human level, dignity level or respectful level, a political level, it was wrong,” he said.
To be fair to Beinart, Babaa, and the others, MintPress has been the subject of constant and unending attacks on Wikipedia, the entry describing us as in league with the Kremlin and as Assadist conspiracy theorists who routinely peddle fake news. Thus, anybody unfamiliar with the site and hearing this might justifiably feel uncomfortable with associating with its editor-in-chief.
Yet on many issues, Wikipedia is not an unbiased source of information, but the site of a bitter political struggle to discredit anti-war voices. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Israel/Palestine. For more than a decade, well-organized and well-funded Israeli groups have infiltrated Wikipedia and attempted to rewrite the dictionary to defend Israeli crimes and demonize voices who speak out against them.
One of the most well-known of these is the Yesha Council, which claimed to have 12,000 active members as far back as 2010. Yesha members painstakingly police Wikipedia, removing bothersome facts and framing articles in a manner more favorable to Israel.
Those Yesha considers the “Best Zionist Editors” receive rewards such as hot air balloon trips and other prizes. Between 2010 and 2012, this project was personally overseen and co-ordinated by future prime minister, Naftali Bennett.
Yesha and other pro-Israel groups have ceaselessly targeted MintPress’ Wikipedia page, filling it with demonstrable falsehoods and misinformation. (Another primary editor of our page is the infamous Philip Cross.) Wikipedia is aware of this problem, but has refused to address it adequately, perhaps in part because of its co-founder Jimmy Wales’ unabashedly pro-Israel partisanship.
Thus, yet another layer of irony to this story is that Heller, Beinart and co. are citing misinformation written in part by Israeli settlers and pro-Israel organizations, all in order to block a Palestinian speaking with them.
Heller the Gadfly
Why Beinart, Babaa and others paid attention to Heller is unclear. Stanley Heller is a Jewish American writer with a strong interest in Israel/Palestine. However, judging by his output, one of his primary passions is attacking left-wing or anti-war voices. In recent times, he has bitterly denounced Noam Chomsky for not being sufficiently anti-Russia, counter-protested an ANSWER Coalition peace demonstration, condemned Seymour Hersh and the U.S. Green Party for their stances on Syria, and labeled Rania Khalek a “liar”. Heller has also announced himself “repulsed” by much of the anti-war left and called on the “peace movement” to demand the U.S. impose a no-fly zone on Syria. In his haste to denounce anyone expressing doubts about the U.S. role in Syria, Heller has even presented intelligence front group Bellingcat as a reliable source.
Heller appears to be associated with Trotskyism, an obscure sect of Marxism that broke away in the 1930s after Russian leader Leon Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union. Following Trotsky’s line, his supporters bitterly denounced the U.S.S.R., and many left-wing movements since, often putting themselves in the same camp as the U.S. government in many of its wars and coups.
Describing them as puritanical trust fund kids and comparing them to Scientologists, Counterpunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair explained,
Their political thinking, such as it is, remains lodged like a fossil in the strata of the early 1930s. Humiliated by their own political impotence, the Trots have lashed out at nearly every popular uprising of the last 50 years for being doctrinally impure, from the Cuban Revolution to the Zapatistas, from the street protests at the WTO to the Bolivarian Revolution.”
St. Clair’s comments were in response to a Trotskyist group attempting to organize a boycott of Counterpunch magazine after a (female) author had used the word “tit” in an article about film star Angelina Jolie.
There is no evidence that Heller was involved in the campaign against Counterpunch. However, he certainly is a repeat offender in the cancellation business. In 2019, he attempted to pressure journalist and speaker Chris Hedges into refusing to platform Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone. Hedges curtly told Heller that he should mind his own business.
Kenkeremath originally ignored Heller’s email, dismissing him as a “gadfly you can’t take seriously.” Unfortunately, the other panelists did not come to the same conclusion, worrying about any potential negative consequences of appearing. “We are angered and frustrated that one person basically blackmailed an entire group into going his way,” Kenkeremath said, adding,
Over the years, this is the type of pressure moves we have seen by pro-Israeli groups in trying to silence pro-Palestinian voices. It is unfortunate to see that this came from a self-professed pro-Palestinian activist.”
Peled was particularly disappointed that these figures failed to do their own research, telling us,
Mnar is brilliant and progressive and not to their liking. And again, what is funny is that none of the people who wanted to cancel her spoke to her, had even heard of her, and did not know anything about her work..” “Before cancelling her, they didn’t even have the courtesy to call her. And we’re talking about people who are supposedly on the side of justice in Palestine! It is a very sad situation.”
Blumenthal was even more scathing on the whole situation, telling MintPress that, “Manipulating media figures into cancelling opponents of America’s regime change wars seems to be the only source of influence for a demented Trotskyist like Stanley Heller.”
Palestinians? No. Israeli officials? A-OK
The BDS panel took place on October 9th without Adley, with Babaa showing her documentary, “Boycott” and the panel later discussing it and answering questions. Disappointingly, Babaa refused to share a platform with Adley, despite only recently promoting her movie alongside former senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Daniel Levy.
Levy is also a founder of explicitly Zionist, explicitly anti-BDS organization J Street. As it notes on its website,
J Street very clearly opposes the global BDS movement and believes that actions that target the state of Israel or its people are incompatible with our vision of Israel and incompatible with a two-state resolution of the conflict.”
Thus, it is strange indeed that the producer of a film about boycotts would share a platform with advisors to Israeli war criminals, but not with a Palestinian journalist. MintPress asked Babaa for her views on the affair, but did not receive a response.
“This is not the kind of thing that happens so much in Palestine; it is an American thing,” Peled noted, adding,
In Palestine, I know people who have a brother with Hamas, a brother with Fatah, another brother with whomever. And people talk, communicate and disagree. This [American] fear of cancellation, what are they afraid of? The fact that somebody’s going to say that you sat in the same room as somebody else?”
A long history of cancelled Palestinians
Unfortunately, for Palestinians or people who support the cause of a free Palestine, cancellation is a common occurrence. Last week, Shaima Dallali, the U.K. president of the National Union of Students, was forced out after a smear campaign from the Israel Lobby. In August, Palestinian-American athletic trainer Natalie Abulhawa was removed from her job at a girls’ school over years-old social media posts criticizing Israel. And in February, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) fired seven Arab journalists – four of them Palestinian – because of their support for a Palestinian homeland. DW Journalists speaking anonymously said the message had been sent loud and clear: do not criticize Israel.
There has also been a crackdown on Palestine solidarity on campus. Quite apart from the BDS bans enacted in dozens of American states, academics such as Valentina Azarova, Norman Finkelstein and Steven Sailata have been fired or had employment offers rescinded because of their activism.
Meanwhile, child language specialist Bahia Amawi lost her job at a school in Texas after she refused to sign a state-mandated loyalty oath, pledging never to boycott Israel. Ironically, Amawi still spoke at the Voices From the Holy Land event, even after Adley was blacklisted.
Therefore, while Palestinians have come to expect negative consequences for holding their heads up high, it is disappointing to see explicitly pro-Palestine organizations succumb to cancel culture. That two white Jewish American men managed to stop a Palestinian woman from speaking about her country and BDS at a pro-Palestine event is especially ironic, and is, in many ways, a new low.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Mnar Adley is founder, CEO and editor in chief of MintPress News, and is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups. She started her career as an independent multimedia journalist covering Midwest and national politics while focusing on civil liberties and social justice issues posting her reporting and exclusive interviews on her blog MintPress, which she later turned MintPress into the global news source it is today. In 2009, Adley also became the first American woman to wear the hijab to anchor/report the news in American media. Contact Mnar at [email protected] Follow Mnar on Twitter at @mnarmuh
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.