- A leading figure at the Institute for Policy Studies
- Helped establish the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
- Former member of the Students for a Democratic Society
- Sought to help the North Vietnamese and Cambodian Communists defeat America and its allies in the Vietnam War
- Views Israel as an oppressor nation that violates Palestinian human rights
- Opposed U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq throughout the 1990s
- Opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq
See also: Students for a Democratic Society Peace Action
Institute for Policy Studies National Lawyers Guild
United for Peace and Justice
Born in Los Angeles on January 19, 1951, Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at both the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She also serves on the advisory board of Peace Action. To view a list of her fellow Peace Action board members, click here.
Raised in a Jewish family in West Los Angeles, Bennis as a girl was active in the Zionist youth movement. In 1968 she enrolled at UC Santa Barbara, where she joined the Students for a Democratic Society and was instrumental in bringing Angela Davis and the Chicago Seven to speak on campus.
After college, Bennis worked for two years with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden in the Indochina Peace Campaign, which sought to cut American aid to the governments in Saigon and Phnom Penh, and to help the North Vietnamese and Cambodian Communists overthrow them.
In the mid-1970s Bennis spent a year working with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in New York City. During her tenure there, she and Yasser Arafat's PLO delegation at the United Nations co-organized an NLG team to investigate Israeli “violations of international law” in the West Bank. Bennis also joined an organization called Jews and Arabs Against Zionism. Thenceforth, the dominant theme of her activism would be her contempt for both Israel and the United States.
During the 1980s Bennis became involved with Line of March, a Maoist group based in Oakland, California. In September 1990 she participated in a Socialist Scholars Conference in New York City.
In the 1980s and early '90s, Bennis spent ten years as a journalist at the United Nations. She condemned the U.S. prosecution of the first Gulf War in 1991, asserting that America's deliberate destruction of Iraqi infrastructure targets subsequently led to countless postwar casualties in that country.
Throughout the 1990s, Bennis opposed the U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iraq. She also criticized America for its alleged domination of the UN and defended the scandal-plagued Oil for Food program which supported Saddam Hussein. In 1999 Bennis accompanied a group of congressional aides on a fact-finding trip to Iraq, to study the impact that the sanctions were having on the population there. That same year, she joined former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday on a speaking tour denouncing the sanctions.
In January 2002 Bennis endorsed War Times—a new anti-war newspaper established by a coterie of San Francisco leftists, most of whom were affiliated with STORM or the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Bennis said the attack “threatens our Constitution” and “stands in violation of the UN Charter and international law.” Moreover, she described America as “an empire lording over the rest of the world” and trampling on “human rights” across the globe.
Citing “the reckless foreign policy that has characterized this [Bush] administration,” Bennis in 2004 denounced unilateral military action and suggested that the best vehicle for settling international disputes would be an alliance of countries under the supervision of the United Nations. “The real threats to the peace,” she added, were “the vast disparities of income within countries and between [the] North and South [Hemispheres], [and] the disempowerment of peoples around the world whose repressive governments rely on U.S. financial, political, and military backing.”
Bennis's low regard for America is mirrored by her loathing of Israel, which she considers an oppressor nation with an “apartheid character” that routinely violates the human rights of Palestinians. In 2001 Bennis helped found the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, where she remains an advisory board member. She has referred to the 1948 creation of the Jewish state as “the Palestinian catastrophe … al Nakba.” In 2004 she characterized Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin as a cold-blooded “murder” that stood in “in clear violation of international law.” She contends that the Palestinian “right of return”—which, if implemented, would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish entity—“is absolute, and cannot be compromised away.” And she avidly supports the imposition of “boycotts, sanctions, and divestment” against Israel.
According to Bennis, “the Israeli goal has always been to maximize the amount of land that they control”—as evidenced by “how the Israeli military has gone after Palestinians in their own homes, sometimes for no reason.” The Arab world's “antagonism toward the U.S.,” she expands, “is grounded in very real U.S. policies” like “supporting the occupation of Arab lands.”
In December 2008, when Israel responded militarily to Hamas's protracted campaign of rocket attacks, Bennis said that Israel had no “right” to exact the type of “vengeance” that “is the very essence of 'collective punishment' and is therefore unequivocally prohibited by the Geneva conventions.” “The disproportionate nature of the [Israeli] military attack,” she added, “… far outweighs any claim of self-defense or protection of Israeli civilians.” By Bennis's reckoning, even “Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip”—which had been initiated as a means of preventing Hamas from importing weaponry from Iran and elsewhere—was an illegal act that had created a “humanitarian crisis” of “catastrophic proportions.”
Also in December 2008, the United for Peace and Justice antiwar coalition, which was led by the pro-Castro communist Leslie Cagan, named Bennis to its steering committee.
In 2011, Bennis praised the Arab Spring as a positive phenomenon that “directly rejects al Qaeda-style small-group violence in favor of mass-based, society-wide mobilization and non-violent protest to challenge dictatorship and corruption.” For example, she supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak—Egypt's longtime president and a dependable partner of the U.S. and Israel alike—which resulted in the ascension of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi as the country's new president.
In a January 2015 interview regarding the recent rise of the barbaric Islamic terror group ISIS, Bennis counseled against an American military response to ISIS's genocidal campaigns: “It should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb Islamic extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supports.”
For additional information on Phyllis Bennis, click here.