Open Letter to Blog Faithful

31 Mar

To the Blog Faithful:

I have had a recurrent struggle to set boundaries on the comments section of this blog. At first, I was determined to have an open forum welcoming critical commentary on any issue, excluding only those comments that seemed struck me as clear instances of hate speech. This approach seemed to work okay except with respect to Israel/Palestine, which increasingly attracted either long argumentative comments posing a list of rhetorical questions or angry serial comment contributors that insulted me as well as others who had submitted comments that were interpreted by them as being pro-Palestinian or hostile to Israel and Zionism. There was no symmetry in the sense the blog received no serial or long provocative comments written by those who more or less supportive of the Palestinian struggle for justice. From blog readers I received mixed reactions, but I was most persuaded by those who expressed dismay about the tendency to fill the comments section with insults and counter-insults or with argumentative views that did not invite serious dialogue.

In reaction after some months, I reached the conclusion that it was preferable, on balance, to limit the comment space of my blog to likeminded views on Israel/Palestine. This meant excluding those annoying serial comments and those pro-Israeli comments that struck me as merely argumentative or dismissive of pro-Palestinian positions. In my view, this more restrictive approach did succeed in raising the quality of interaction between my posts and the authors of comments, as well as enhanced the dialogue among comment writers.

At the same time, as might have been predicted, such selective monitoring provoked angry reactions from those whose comments were being excluded.[see David Singer, “Palestine-UN Special Rapporteur Bans Free Speech,” Canada Free Press, http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/print-friendly/54172] It was claimed that I was violating canons of free speech, and that this was especially wrong, given my position as Special Rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council. I am not persuaded by these objections. A blog is not necessarily an arena that should observe standards that are respectful free speech or necessarily exhibit openness to all sincerely held viewpoints.

The media governs access to its arenas of expression by its editorial policies, and no one insists that it has no constitutional right to do this, although a newspaper or TV channel is more of a public entity than is a personal blog. If you do not like the editorial approach of say, the Wall Street Journal or Fox TV, you can in a democracy go elsewhere, or find ways to encourage the establishment of more congenial media. Public radio and TV makes a greater effort, partly because of tax policy and funding sources, to be ‘objective,’ that is, to present opposing responsible viewpoints without taking sides. Many of us, however, feel that what CNN views as impartial and objective, seems unduly reflective of the mainstream consensus, and is unreceptive to progressive critical viewpoints, especially those associated with the anti-militarist, anti-capitalist portions of the political spectrum.

As far as my UN role is concerned, it seems irrelevant in relation to a private blog that makes no claim to be associated with my formal position, which is essentially voluntary and unpaid. I retain my right as a private citizen to express personal views on a range of public issues, including those that pertain to Israel & Palestine. My reports to the UN are based, to the best of my ability, on an objective assessment of evidence and procedures of impartial interpretation. My efforts along these lines have been obstructed from the outset by Israel’s refusal to cooperate with this undertaking to gather facts even to the minimal extent of granting me access to the Occupied Palestine Territories; in fact, I was expelled from Israel on December 14, 2008 when I tried to carry out a UN mission to examine conditions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and was detained for some hours in a prison located near to the Ben Gurion Airport. Israel has been able to sustain this position throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur, despite numerous attempts to request reconsideration and Israel’s treaty obligation as a member of the UN to cooperate with its official undertakings. As in other sectors of Israel’s behavior, the realities of impunity shield its officials and government from accountability.

As before, I welcome, and have learned from, a wide range of thoughtful and gracious comments, some critical, some supportive, some inbetween. I have tried to be responsive to well intentioned criticism, learn from my mistakes, and express gratitude to all those who have used the comment section in a constructive spirit. I welcome further discussion on this theme, a continuing struggle to find the right balance for a blog with an avowedly emancipatory political agenda. I offer no apology for this posture of dedication to the pursuit of global justice.

I am most grateful to all those that have given me feedback and support, and made me feel that despite the overcrowded blogosphere, these posts of mine are not completely superfluous wilderness whimperings, and reach a community of co-believers that shares with me the vision that our lives on this planet are spiritual journeys, really pilgrimages.

You make a reasonable case against my blog policy that I have adopted reluctantly. My main disagreement with you is that I do not consider a blog to be a venue for free speech, but rather for civil discourse. I had many complaints about allowing recurrent email that took issue repeatedly and consistently with my views. This blog has nothing to do with my role as a UN Special Rapporteur, which in any event is a burdensome unpaid position that I do as conscientiously as possible. I consider the blog, a birthday gift from my daughter, to be a semi-private way of communicating with likeminded persons, not that all the comments, such as the one you refer to, are to my liking. I do not expect you to understand or accept my view on this issue, but at least I thought it worthwhile to offer this response, and it leads me to think that I should address the issue briefly in a future post.

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48 Responses to “Open Letter to Blog Faithful”

  1. Sergey March 31, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    I think it is a wise and well justified decision.
    A blog is a person’s private domain and the author of a blog has a legitimate right to regulate and monitor the comments of his/her readers.

  2. Georgianne Matthews March 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Dear, dear Richard: I am so sorry so many ignornant people just cannot understand your excellence and hold so much anger and hatred in their minds.

    You are a superb writer, superb thinking, a most honorable gentleman and just do not let those people hurt you and/or sadden you.

    I am sorry I am behind replying to you excellence. Following Coral’s Memorial Service, hurting my one foot again, drinking mango fruit that for over a week has caused much discomfort and I cannot eat anything because of it, and I still have the itches that I think I got from my garden before going to attend the Memorial service. Goodness, small but very uncomfortable situation. Sorry to mention but they are reasons why I have been slowed down.

    I hold you in my prayers. Keep on giving to those seeking understanding. You are very important and you are the best of the best thinkers.

    Blesss you, I cherish you mind.

    Your friend, Georgianne

    ________________________________

    • Richard Falk April 1, 2013 at 12:10 am #

      Dearest Georgianne: What a sweet lovely message of instant response!

      I am so sorry about your foot, and about Coral.

      I have been a bad correspondent, but will do better.

      with love,

      Ricahrd

  3. John April 1, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    Richard you have been a witness to the plight of the colonised inhabitants of Palestine.
    Keep upholding the dignity of those oppressed human beings an exposé the cruelties of the Goliaths of the story.
    John

  4. Olga Stavrakis April 1, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    You are absolutely correct. In a free society you have the right to speak your mind without being insulted and attacked by extremists with an agenda. Israel is not a democracy and has no free speech, so they should not try to influence our internal national standards in any case. You have the right in the US to speak your mind and choose your audience. Why should the ideologue with an agenda have the right to insult you for exercising your constitutional US rights? It is a disturbing trend within our country and a danger to US democracy in the long run.

    I don’t see the white supremacists permitting criticism (even polite and courteous) criticism for their vitriolic and anti American positions. So why should you accept comments that are not courteous, arguments that are not logical, positions that are inaccurate, and insults that are meant as intimidation?

    Keep at it. Keep doing what you are doing. However, maybe there is a way to expose some of the more aggressive comments and show them up as ridiculous. Let’s face it, some are so stupid, that they backfire.

    Maybe blog a list of the most outlandish comments one after another. With good placement and editing, the exercise could be hilarious as well as informative.

    All the Best, Olga

    On Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 1:33 AM, WordPress.com

  5. JANFRIE WAKIM April 1, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Your blog is appreciated so much by so many of us in distant New Zealand where analysis of the Palestine/Israel conflict is very sparse in mainstream media. What is available rarely offers perspectives that centre on the human rights of all parties or are of any depth.
    I salute you not only for embarking on this blog in your 9th decade and providing inspiration for younger folk but also for the careful and respectful language selected for your blogs.
    To have access through the internet to your personal reactions to events after a life of academic scholarship in addition to your experience as UN Special Rapporteur, is remarkably enriching,informative and invaluable. Such a freedom to gain such insights is so precious. It seems to me far more important spend your energy commenting on issues with your extraordinary combination of intelligence and experience than responding to naysayers who are prefectly free establish their own blog and create their own readership.
    Sincerely,
    Janfrie Wakim

    • Richard Falk April 1, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks, Janfrie, such a supportive and gracious message that expresses my own sense of priorities in the
      most generous language.

      I have a special fondness fon NZ as my grandmother was born there, and I had a memorable visit circa 1986.

      With greetings,

      Richard

  6. David singer April 1, 2013 at 4:51 am #

    Professor Falk

    I had already responded to the last paragraph of the above post on Canada Free Press before its inclusion here and will not repeat It. I would however welcome your response as it takes issue with some of the statements you have made.

    However I refer to the following comment made by you in this post:

    “in fact, I was expelled from Israel on December 14, 2008 when I tried to carry out a UN mission to examine conditions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and was detained for some hours in a prison located near to the Ben Gurion Airport. Israel has been able to sustain this position throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur, despite numerous attempts to request reconsideration and Israel’s treaty obligation as a member of the UN to cooperate with its official undertakings. As in other sectors of Israel’s behavior, the realities of impunity shield its officials and government from accountability.”

    How do you reconcile this statement with the following statement made by you:

    “Jerusalem, 18 December 2011

    I would like to thank the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority for inviting me to visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and for their cooperation before and during the visit. I am grateful to all interlocutors who I met, including senior Government officials, representatives of civil society, lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nabi-Saleh, Gaza, West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and other surrounding villages in the Negev desert.”

    • Richard Falk April 1, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Mr. Singer:

      I never made the second statement, and have not been allowed to enter Israel since the incident in 2008. I have no idea what is the source of such a false assertion, but I can assure you that it is untrue.

      Richard Falk

      • David singer April 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

        Professor Falk

        The source for your reported comment which you now deny having made is:

        http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11727&LangID=E

      • Richard Falk April 1, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

        Mr. Sanger:

        If you will re-check the link you will notice that it refers to the SR for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue. I think you owe me an apology for implying that I was denying something falsely, but I am not holding my breath!

        Richard Falk

      • David singer April 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

        Professor Falk

        I do indeed apologise for having confused you as the Special Rapporteur referred to in the release.

        It seems Mr La Rue was given ready access to Israel and the West Bank.

        Is there any reason you know why you have not been granted the same access?

        I also apologise for wrongly attributing to you the following statement made by Mr La Rue in the same release:

        “Since all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, the right to freedom of expression only becomes a reality if everyone has equal opportunity to enjoy this right. Truly democratic societies are measured by their respect of human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of expression as a “facilitator” of all other rights.”

        Nevertheless does this statement accord with your views and if so how do reconcile this statement with your decision to deny equal opportunity to anyone who wishes to exercise his or her freedom of expression on your website?

  7. imleif April 1, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    The last section doesn’t seem coherent with the rest of the letter, am I missing something?

    I agree with your comment policy, which I think has already been clearly explained already. Which comments to censor will always be difficult to decide, but I know that your aim is not to stifle debate, on the contrary you want debate to thrive on fair terms.

    I think your policy (or a link to it) belongs in the “ABOUT” section and does not need to be debated further now.

  8. Arif Dirlik April 1, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Good idea, Richard, openness does not work with fanatics–especially on this medium. Arif

  9. deepaktripathi April 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    You have shown extraordinary patience, and I totally support your decision to manage your blog. Not before time. A few detractors like Mr. Singer have gone too far to test your patience and that of the vast majority of participants on this blog. No more, definitely no more–in the interest a decent conversation and control over disruptive child-like behavior.

    Deepak Tripathi

  10. Tom Parsons April 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    You have my absolute support for your comment-moderation decision. The real issues you deal with are too numerous and too serious for you to waste time or energy, much less this valuable communication resource, on the mindless hate that is so abundantly available (and even commercially provided) on the internet. No apologies or explanations needed. Just do it, please, and accept thanks for sparing us the aggravation.

  11. Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 1, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Prof. Falk:
    To repeat what I’ve already said several times in this space: I wholeheartedly agree with you that censorship on the blog does not raise freedom of speech issues. It’s your blog; you can run it any way you want. Full stop.

    On the other hand, your blaming those who disagree with your views for the unpleasantness that often permeates the blog is an allegation that warrants inspection.
    Yes, there have been posts that, frankly, were abusive to you, and thus have no place in civil discourse. But there haven’t been many. With all due respect, may I suggest that you not infrequently mistakenly regard criticism of your words and actions as being defamatory. To argue that someone is wrong is not accusing him of being evil.

    Much of the serial posting you mention stems from your refusal to answer, or even acknowledge, non-hostile, non-polemic legitimate questions asked by readers. For example, Margaret Kelso responded to your demand for an investigation into the death of Arafat Jadarat in an Israel jail by asking why shouldn’t there be an investigation into the death of another Palestinian prisoner in a Palestinian jail? Why isn’t this a fair question? After waiting for more than a week, she re-posted the question…and thus became a serial poster. The same happened to David Singer, Fred Skolnik and others.

    To be sure, among your critics one finds polemicists, extremists, malcontents and yes, possibly a wing nut or two. But in fact, the majority of abusive posts on this blog come for from your critics but from your defenders. Whoever posts criticism of your views, no matter how moderately and respectfully the criticism is phrased, is automatically subjected to a barrage of highly personal and insulting attack, some of it couched in the language of historic anti-Semitism. Somehow, this stuff manages surmount the barrier that protects civility on this blog, while far more benign criticism of your views is censored.

    Witness this recent gem from Walker Percy, which sits unmolested among the comments generated by your recent critique of President Obama’s Jerusalem speech:

    “[the] practice of Judaism as an organized belief system itself is what has caused many horrible events throughout history, and it is currently driving mankind toward its denoument, presumably in a giant spasm of violent death and economic catastrophe. This is the definition of anti-semitism, just so you know who you are dealing with.

    “The problem with Jewishness is not the fault of individuals, but probably the result of a socio-evolutionary process that has given rise to and preserved this fiendish, self-perpetuating form of brainwashing that starts as a baby. Brain plasticity kicks in after the intensive memorization of the Bar Mitzvah, and the individual becomes a co-conspirator, bound by a code of honor to utter any lies, and perpetrate any violence if it leads to results that are considered “good for the jews….”

    I rarely condemn people for behaving like Nazis. But Mr. Walker’s rant, complete with its faux-scientific reference to some fantasized socio-evolutionary process, could have come from the propaganda mills of the Third Reich,.

    It’s not the first time he’s done this. Nor is it the first time I’ve called attention to it…to no avail.

    To the contrary, Walker Percy, who proudly proclaims himself to be an anti-Semite, is welcomed on this blog and receives warm messages from the moderator.

    Prof. Falk, with all due respect, if you really want to establish civility on the blog, your housecleaning might start here.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Gene Schulman April 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Ira Youdovin: If you will return to Walker Percy’s anti-Semitic diatribe, you will see that I commented on it in a strongly negative way, and suggested that if this were my blog, Percy would be banned. But this is Richard’s blog, and he has to make the decisions. Perhaps he hasn’t had the opportunity to see it yet. I believe he may traveling to a conference.

      • Ira Youdovin April 3, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

        Gene,

        Thanks for confronting Walker Percy. It was an increasingly lonely experience being the only one on this blog to voice objection to his unveiled anti-Semitism. I appreciate your company!

        Regarding your thought that Prof. Falk’s non-action is no more than oversight: I hope you’re right but am not so sure. Percy and a few others have previously posted the same genre of slander without being censored. As you note, he’s the one who sets the criteria for what constitutes civility. Thus far, Judeophobia/anti-Semitism manage to pass the smell test.

        In January, 2011, Prof. Falk posted a response to those who label him a self-hating Jew/anti-Semite. Incredibly, he strengthened his critics’ case by calling Judaism “tribal”, and proceeded to “demonstrate” what transpires from religious tribalism by grossly distorting the Jewish sense of “choseness” and concluding:

        “As soon as exclusivity or superiority is claimed for any ethnic or religious fraction of the human whole, there is implicitly posited a belief in the inferiority of ‘the other,’ which unconsciously and indirectly gives rise to the murderous mentality of warfare and gives a moral and religious edge to many forms of persecution, culminating in a variety of inquisitions.”

        This is more elegant than Walker Percy’s crude Bar Mitzvah brainwashing. But it conveys essentially the same message.

        Cordially,

        Ira

        P.S. I have some responses to the challenging points you raise in your e-mail to me, but have not sent them knowing that you had your hands full with Percy. If you’re interested, I can post them. Please let me know.

      • Gene Schulman April 4, 2013 at 2:00 am #

        Ira Youdovin: Thanks for your kind acknowledgment of my comment to Walker Percy. However, please don’t think that because we agree on him, the I agree with you about Richard Falk, or about how he runs his blog. You are highly critical of Richard for allowing a variety of opinions to appear with which you do not agree. Personally, I welcome diverse opinions so long as they are presented civilly. Your own, for example, even though I do not agree with your ideology. Frankly, I would place you in the same category that I place other Islamophobic Jews. To see what I mean, I recommend that you read Glenn Greenwald’s most recent column in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus. As an atheist myself, I am glad to see Greenwald clarify this debate.

        Re your P.S. about challenging points, do feel free to post them to me.

      • Richard Falk April 3, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

        Gene: Actually, I am at a conference in San Francisco for the rest of the week. I acknowledge that I may have made an error of judgment with respect to Walker Percy’s most recent blog. I do reject the idea that by excluding repetitive criticisms of my views or of those of other commentators I am somehow encroaching on freedom of expression. There is no moral or political or legal obligation to treat this space as if it were part of the public domain. With greetings, Richard

      • Gene Schulman April 4, 2013 at 1:05 am #

        Richard: Yes, I received an email from DW saying he saw you at the conference and that you sent regards. Thanks. Re Walker Percy, you have nothing to apologize for. As I said, it is your blog. Actually, though people like Percy are wrong, their comments are worthwhile if only to show what the other side is thinking. And it gives us a chance to criticize such. Best wishes.

    • David singer April 2, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

      Rabbi Youdovin

      I respectfully disagree with your viewpoint.

      To be sure Professor Falk can control whatever he wants to appear on his website. But in doing so he leaves himself open to denying free speech by imposing what amounts to nothing more than censorship according to the whim of his dictates.

      What is civility of discourse to you is not necessarily civility of discourse to others.

      Professor Falk maintains he wants to limit comments to those from “like minded people”.

      What does that mean?

      I doubt that any person reading what is appearing on this site would ever consider Walker Percy to be of a like mind to Professor Falk. The same goes for others who indulge in making Jew-hating comments or calling for the disappearance of the Jewish state.

      I do not believe Professor Falk shares these views. He has even said some of these comments are not to his liking – yet he prints them as I believe he should.

      There is a conflict between Jews and Arabs that has been raging for 130 years that needs to be resolved.

      There are difficult questions that arise that need to be discussed and aired if the conflict is to be resolved by negotiation and not by another war.

      It is not an issue of one person trying to change another person’s view.

      There is more than one way to try and resolve the conflict. The two- state solution has been proposed in 1922,1937,1938,1947, was available between 1948-1967, proposed again in 2000 and 2008 – yet has failed to materialise.

      Stifling debate on how to progress the two-state solution after the last 20 years of failed negotiations or proposing alternatives is being denied by Professor Falk – whilst at the same time vicious diatribes against the Jews are permitted.

      Sorry Rabbi – Banning people who have a different view to Professor Falk is his prerogative – but those being banned are being denied their inalienable human right to freedom of expression and are entitled to protest at their exclusion by him from commenting on his views.

  12. perkustooth April 2, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    It is more important to be able to read your thoughts, reflections, opinions and observations on this blog than have it be a sacrificial victim to the god of free speech. I certainly support free speech but I see no purpose in allowing otherwise interesting opinions be drowned by the free speech of fanatics. The personal nature of the blog form cannot by it’s nature perform the same function as a public medium which is run by many individuals.
    The attacks you receive so readily are unfortunately all too common in my experience. The conflation of the state of Israel with Judaism itself (just like the conflation of the United States with Christianity) are the tools of theocratic extremists, the same ones who will call me an anti-semite (which I certainly am not) when I say something unsupportive of the state of Israel. You are a more visible symbol and a more satisfying target for such extremists. As such you have a right to protect yourself (thought not in the second amendment sense).
    I value the opportunity to be able to read your uncensored thoughts and if that means the silencing of the all too abundant dissenting opinions then it is hardly a free speech issue. They can start their own blogs and be disappointed when you fail to find the time to comment on their trivial hate screeds.

    Long live freespeech,
    Allan J. Cronin

    • Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      Gene,

      I wholeheartedly agree with your view that a blog should “welcome diverse opinions so long as they are presented civilly.” My brief against Walker Percy and a few others is that their comments are not presented civilly. In fact, they constitute hate speech. Isn’t this how you characterized (“Whacko”—your word, not mine) Percy’s latest post while calling for his banishment from the blog.

      But now you’ve done a complete reversal—apparently to avoid being perceived as disagreeing with Prof. Falk— by finding some redeeming social importance in hate speech:

      “Actually, though people like Percy are wrong, their comments are worthwhile if only to show what the other side is thinking. And it gives us a chance to criticize such.”

      That smacks of the traditional justification for sin: it gives us an opportunity to better appreciate goodness.

      Ironically, it is Prof. Falk who limits diversity by limiting discussion on the blog to “like minded people.” That, my friend, is a very narrow definition of “diversity”.

      Regarding my personal orientation—about which you claim to have deep insight— I must say that having successfully fought, as president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, to admit leaders of the local Muslim community (over objections from several Christian colleagues), publicly opposing the Occupation since its inception, and openly advocating for an independent Palestine, I find your categorizing me as being an “Islamophobic Jew” somewhat puzzling. I followed your guidance by reading Glenn Greenwald’s article in The Guardian and agree 100% with his condemnation of Jews who distort traditional texts for immoral purposes. So do a lot of Jews and Jewish organizations in Israel and throughout the world whose identity is unknown to readers of this blog who prefer to regard Israel and Jews as being monolithically evil. (And, btw, doesn’t the charge of being an “Islamophobic Jew” fall into the category of character abuse Prof. Falk wants banned from this blog?)

      However, as one is not always conscious of the deeper implications of what
      he says, writes or does, may I invite you to cite instances of where I’ve manifest Islamophobia.

      Regarding my promised responses to your earlier comments, I’ll save these for a subsequent post as this one is already too lengthy.

      Ira

      • Gene Schulman April 4, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

        Ira, I think you may have misdirected your reply. A slip of the thumb, no doubt. In any case, I shall be happy to reply over the weekend, when I have a bit of free time. Let me just say for now that I appreciate your equanimity, and I shall try to be as gracious in my response, as you have been here.

  13. Ceylan April 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    If I did not know your utopian qualities and sincerely well meant intentions I would simply think you were a masochist!

    Please ignore and assign those blood thirsty vampires to which ever deity they choose to believe and keep on the good work as you wish and please.

    Thank you for being there!

    • Richard Falk April 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks, dear Ceylan, I feel I am walking a talkrope that seeks to balance
      useful civil discourse against that which wastes time and energy, and seeks mainly to discredit and defame. I often lose my balance! with love, Richard

  14. Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 7, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    Gene,

    Here are my responses to your post of several days ago. The facts I present can be verified by reference to leading resources.

    Your words are in quotes.

    “What I understand by a “Jewish State” is one that is beholden only to its Jewish population. By definition it cannot be democratic.”

    This is a classic case of circular reasoning. You define a “Jewish State” as being beholden only to its Jewish population, and go on to conclude that it cannot be democratic. But you base that conclusion solely on your own definition of a “Jewish State.”

    The only folks who know the definition of “Jewish State” are those who oppose it. Otherwise, Israelis are working to define and develop a state that is both Jewish and democratic…what is frequently called an “ethnic democracy.” It’s not an easy, especially as some want to emphasize the “Jewish” at the expense of “democratic” and others seek the opposite.

    The accusation that Israel is beholden to its Jewish population only fails to comport with the fact that non-Jewish Israelis, including its Palestinian citizens, have the right to vote in national and local elections on precisely the same basis as its Jewish citizens. Palestinians are under-represented in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) because while Palestinians comprise 20% of Israel’s population, many refuse to vote as a sign of protesting Israel’s existence. This is a tragic miscalculation. Even in the most mature democracies, “guaranteed” rights have to be won and protected by involvement in legislative and judicial process. Choosing to remain on the sidelines is a poor strategy.

    You are correct that Palestinian Israelis are, in many ways, second class citizens. In part, this reflects their own ambivalence about being Israelis, as well as the fact that while Israeli by citizenship, they are members of a Palestinian people, and also the Arab world, that wants to destroy Israel. The pace of their integration into a pluralistic Israeli society depends in large measure on ending the larger Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s a work in progress.

    “I agree that the ultra-Orthodox do not make up the majority of the population in Israel, but they do wield a very strong political influence. The current government depends highly on their votes to remain in power. In order to garner those votes, their demands must be heeded, ergo the strong settler movement.”

    There are no Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) in the current Israeli government.

    “Imagine if the American constitution referred to the U.S. as a Christian state (which actually might not be far off), how would you react to that? The beauty of America is the separation of religion and state, which permits not only freedom to believe, but also freedom from religion.”

    This would be true if “Jewish” were a religious category (i.e. a commitment to a faith or religious doctrine). It’s not. Being Jewish connotes an ethnic or national identity of which religion (i.e. Judaism) may or may not be a factor. Were Israel a theocracy ruled by the Rabbinate, your critique would be valid. But it’s not, and all signs point to its never becoming one.

    In fact, non-Jewish Israelis enjoy complete religious freedom, including freedom from religion.

    “As for the Palestinian Israelis, it is not that they might be less downtrodden and oppressed than their brethren in the occupied territories. The question should not be comparative with those, but rather their co-citizens in Israel. They do not have the same rights as Jewish citizens; in where they can live, in education, in freedom to marry and bring their families to live with them, less access to jobs, etc., etc.”

    It is assuredly true that Palestinian citizens of Israel do not enjoy the same advantages as Jewish citizens. Prejudice is certainly a factor, but by no means the only one. Palestinians are a part of the woefully under-achieving Arab world and reflect a heritage that is far different than its Jewish counterpart. This observation will likely be denounced as racism by some readers of this blog. But this is precisely what some younger Arabs (and Iranian Muslims) are saying about their own societies.

    The gap between Palestinian and Israel citizens is a matter of concern that should not be swept under the rug. Many Jewish and Jewish-Palestinian agencies are working hard to close the gap through legislative and judicial initiatives. Inequalities of this nature are found in most other nations throughout the world. But no-one is demanding that they be dismantled, as some of Israel’s critics are demanding. It’s a terrible double standard.

    “And they are constantly under the threat of having their citizenship taken away and being “transferred” out of the country. Just ask Avigdor Lieberman and others of his ilk, who are actually proposing such a measure.”

    Extremists throughout the world propose draconian measures. It’s unfair to judge a society by the rants of its extremists. The key is not what they say but what the government does.

    All racist proposals have been soundly defeated in the Knesset.

    “And I would add, it is not only the Palestinian Israelis that suffer this discrimination, but many of the oriental Jewish citizens It is well known that Israel is a European, Ashkenazi Jewish creation and is governed by such to the degradation of its black (Ethiopian) and other darker skinned oriental indigenous Jewish population (current Miss Israel notwithstanding).”

    Accusing Israel of degrading its Ethiopians immigrants reflects either ignorance or prejudice. Israel is the first country to bring in large numbers of black-skinned people not to enslave them but to give them a new life of freedom and security. Over the years, it has spent enormous amounts of time, person power and treasure to rescue approximately 100,000 Ethiopian Jews.

    Your information about Ashkenazi-Sephardi tensions is a generation or two obsolete. That conflict—a typical one between a settled population and a wave of newcomers— largely resolved itself years ago. The mild tensions that do remain are the kind endemic to every population (for example, red state vs. blue state).

    ” Speaking of being disingenuous, Iraq and Syria and Libya were stable states with thriving economies, and although there was dissent among the religious sects – Sunni, Shia, etc. a certain modus vivendi applied until the Western powers decided to break these states up in order to exploit their natural resources, thus bringing chaos to the region. Though Messrs Hussein, Khadaffi, et al. may have been authoritarian in their governance, these states and their populations thrived. Indeed, it is not now a pretty picture”.

    Gene, please re-read this last sentence and consider that you are endorsing and even championing authoritarian rule. Do you really think that Egypt would be better had the Arab Spring not happened?

    Cordially,

    Ira

    I

    • Gene Schulman April 8, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Ira, thanks for your lengthy reply. I should hope, though, that you have better things to do with your time than spending it arguing with me. You are a practicing Rabbi, and your flock probably has more need of you than this aging, retired self who has spent years following the Palestine/Israel agony since its inception. I don’t know how old you are, but I was eighteen years old when a would-be brother-in-law gave up his U.S. citizenship to go off and fight for the founding of the Israeli state. I remember how his family, secular Jews, and I argued with him. Not only because we feared for his life, but we all believed that the creation of an Israeli state and the eviction of the Arab indigenous population from their ancestral lands was not a moral thing to do. On our side of the argument were no less than such personalities as Martin Buber and Albert Einstein. As fate would have it, I have no idea whether that young man survived or not (his sister and I broke up soon after), but Israel certainly has. How different it is today, even from what most Jewish people had hoped and conceived of it at the time.

      I owe you an apology for accusing you of being an “Islamophobic Jew”, not because you may not be one, but because it is true you have never indicated such in previous posts. However, after reading this latest, I wonder if I don’t detect a bit Arabophobia peeking through?

      I am not going to respond to all the points you attempt to make in this essay, because I fundamentally disagree with all of them. I have wasted too many hours arguing the same with others of your ideology, and have realized that you have all been so thoroughly indoctrinated from a young age, that no matter how ingenious and powerful my arguments, you would never budge from your prejudices. Instead, I would like to suggest you read Shlomo Sand’s latest essay, “Comment j’al cessé d’être Juif” (How I ceased to be Jewish). Unfortunately, it is only published in French, but I am sure it will soon be translated into English. In it, he answers every question you pose, and I agree with every word he writes. If I can get you to read this book, it will save me a lot of time, and you will learn much.

      And finally, yes I do think Egypt would be better off. This is not an endorsement of authoritarian rule, but just look what has happened to the Arab Spring. It has been co-opted by Western and Israeli powers and turned into chaos to the detriment of those who had hoped for change. Sorry, Ira, you strike out in my score card.

      Amicably,

      Gene

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 9, 2013 at 10:31 am #

        Gene,

        I regret that you refuse to respond to the points I raise, saying only that you “fundamentally disagree with all of them.” ALL of them? And without giving a hint of why you disagree with ANY of them. This is sad, because humankind moves for when people are willing to discuss their differences with civility, even if they can’t come to agreement. But Prof. Falk applauds your refusal, so I guess that it’s in accord with what’s appropriate on this blog.

        However, as a personal matter, I would appreciate your telling me what specifically I wrote that made you think that I’m an Arabophobe or Islamophobic Jew.

        Also, I hope you will not be offended by my pointing out that neither Martin Buber nor Albert Einstein were opposed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Buber lived in Jerusalem from 1938 until his death in 1965, holding a professorship at the Hebrew University. His death occasioned a national day of mourning, and the house he occupied has become a national shrine.

        Einstein was an outspoken Zionist. Among his contributions to the building Israel was sponsoring a dinner in New York that raised enough money to launch the Israel Philharmonic. He was widely discussed as a possible candidate to be Israel’s first president.

        And as long as I’m at it, I would appreciate your referring me to information to support your allegation that the “Arab Spring has been co-opted by Western and Israeli powers and turned into chaos to the detriment of those who had hoped for change.”

        Ira

      • Gene Schulman April 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

        Ira,

        I have no desire to get into a long, dragged out discussion with you for the very reason that I gave you, i.e., I am tired of wasting my breath in arguments with people who have their minds already made up, and only wish to engage in sophistry.

        Where does Prof. Falk applaud my refusal to respond to you? Your animosity toward him is so exaggerated that you are now starting to make things up. It wouldn’t surprise me if he began to remove your comments along with Fred’s.

        Palestinians are a part of the woefully under-achieving Arab world and reflect a heritage that is far different than its Jewish counterpart. This observation will likely be denounced as racism by some readers of this blog. (Your words).

        If the above sentence is not Arabophobia, I don’t know what is. Indeed, it should be considered, and denounced as racism.

        Neither Buber nor Einstein were Zionists, and neither approved of a separate Jewish state. They both expressed a desire that it would be one state for both peoples. Please don’t make statements that are not true.

        This all I have to say to you. We are taking up too much space on Richard’s very valuable blog, where there are more important things to discuss. I beg you to read Sand’s book when it comes out. Perhaps then, we might have something to discuss.

        Adieu

    • Fred Skolnik April 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      Dear Rabbi Youdovin

      Since Prof. Falk does not consider Mr. Schulman’s determination that you and whoever else supports Israel have been “indoctrinated from a young age” to be insulting, I hope he will permit me to respond in kind about people who hate Israel.

      Jews and non-Jews who hate (as opposed to criticizing) Israel hate it for different reasons, but neither of them would hate it if it wasn’t Jewish, just as they didn’t hate Sudan and Rwanda even after the genocides there, not to mention dozens of other countries whose crimes dwarf whatever accusations are leveled against Israel. But while antisemitism is understood for what it is, Jewish hatred of Jews, or Israel, is so unnatural a phenomenon that it belongs to a special branch of abnormal psychology. I wouldn’t presume to speculate about the hatred and resentment that you find in individual Jews but generally speaking it is easy to see that the fact of Israel’s existence threatens and intimidates such people because it challenges something very insecure in them, and that is their identity, tied to a child’s will to assert themselves against all forms of authority. John Dos Passos expressed it very shrewdly with reference to “the impacted resentment of the established order” among the Old Left: “Can those men have hated their fathers that much?” Don’t think that hatred comes from anyplace other than the belly.

      Generally, in the American (and European) left, hatred of Israel goes hand in hand with hatred of America, meaning that animosity toward Jews as such is compounded by the perception of Israel as a client of America. Hatred of America among non-Jews derives from the same pathology as Jewish hatred of Israel. Ironically, Arab or Muslim hatred of Israel, however fanatical, at least has the virtue of being the by-product of a national conflict and is therefore comprehensible in conventional historic terms, unlike such hatred among Israel haters in the West, which is the outgrowth of a scarred and twisted psyche. One need only look at the anti-Israel blogs on the Internet to see what kind of people they attract.

      In any case, I find it amazing that the teenage Mr. Schulman had the scholarly wherewithal to determine categorically that the Land of Israel was the ancestral land of an indigenous Arab population. At his age I was playing baseball.

      • Gene Schulman April 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        Fred: Rather than respond to your pathetic psychiatric analysis, I’ll just repeat what I said to Ira:

        I am not going to respond to all the points you attempt to make in this essay, because I fundamentally disagree with all of them. I have wasted too many hours arguing the same
        with others of your ideology, and have realized that you have all been so thoroughly indoctrinated from a young age, that no matter how ingenious and powerful my arguments, you would never budge from your prejudices. Instead, I would like to suggest you read Shlomo Sand’s latest essay, “Comment j’al cessé d’être Juif” (How I ceased to be Jewish).

        Your problem is that you’re still trying to play baseball. And like Ira, you strike out in my score card.

      • Richard Falk April 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

        Mr. Skolnik:

        I am not removing your comment, but it proceeds on just the basis that I am trying to avoid: raising argumentive issues that have no response that could possibly satisfy you or Rabbi Youdovin; personal innuendo; and blurring the boundary between criticism of Israel and so-called ‘hate,’ a red herring in this context. I know you have deep convictions that deserve to be heard, but you put them in a such aggressive language as to make your interlocutors either to ignore what you write or engage in a similar spirit. I am trying
        to avoid this kind of angry interaction and personal invective on this blog site.

        Richard Falk

      • Gene Schulman April 9, 2013 at 9:37 am #

        For Fred and Ira,

        You might wish to have a gander at this:

        http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/09/deir-yassin-massacre-remembered/print

        and perhaps you might better understand criticism of Zionist Israel and its policies by Jews and non-Jews, alike. Anti-Semitism has nothing to with it.

  15. Gene Schulman April 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    If Dier Yassen was an aberration, how do you account for Khan Younis (see Joe Sacco “Footnotes in Gaza”)? Or Shatilla, or Cast Lead, or any other of the massacres committed by Israel?

    Please, Fred, you’ve already struck more than three times. Time to retire.

  16. Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Gene,

    You accuse me of harboring “exaggerated animosity” (aka hatred) toward Prof. Falk. I find that accusation odious, deny its validity and challenge you to cite substantiating evidence. If you can’t, an apology will be in order.

    Indeed, the entire episode is bizarre. Your accusation was prompted by my saying that your refusal to substantiate allegations made in an earlier post is endorsed by Prof. Falk’s. You wrote, “Where does Prof. Falk applaud my refusal to respond to you? Your animosity toward him is so exaggerated that you are now starting to make things up.(April 9)…”

    Gene, why in the world would you take umbrage at my saying that Prof. Falk agrees with you? But as you did, here’s the relevant quote from Prof. Falk’s response to Fred Skolnik on the issue of your non-response to me:

    “[My aim] is to avoid raising argumentive issues that have no response that could possibly satisfy you or Rabbi Youdovin; (April 8)”

    Isn’t that precisely what you said in declaring that you’re ending our exchange because you’re tired of dealing with people holding my ideology (Åpril 9). But this is also strange because a few days earlier, you posted, “I welcome diverse opinions so long as they are presented civilly. Your own, for example, even though I do not agree with your ideology… (April 4).” I believe I’ve presented my opinions with civility. Your stated commitment to ideological diversity was perhaps a mite insincere.

    Ira

  17. Gene Schulman April 10, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    An apology to Richard Falk.

    Dear Richard, I wish to apologize to you, and other readers of this blog, for having taken up so much space with my disputes with certain commentors who insist in engaging in futile discussions in order to spread their biases about the Palestine/Israel conflict. I should know better than to respond to their taunts, as it only encourages them. I shall henceforth ignore them, and limit any future comments for the subject you decide to post.

    Please continue your good works.

    Gene

    • Richard Falk April 10, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Thanks, Gene. I believe that Rabbi Youdovin is sincere, and yet is entrapped
      by a set of genuine beliefs that precludes the perception of the severity of the wrongs done to the Palestinian people day by day. For this reason, dialogue is futile as each participant writes from his or her own vantage point. We all do this to some extent, but when it is linked to an ideology that indirectly vindicates oppression and dispossession then to keep up such
      a discussion, in my view, is not constructive, and tends to normalize our
      acceptance of the status quo. That is why in the end, against my instincts to some extent, I have become a sort of blog censor.

  18. apoorvagarwal April 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Professor Falk, Greetings!
    I completely support you. Mr David Singer has the same article published on another website, to which my reply was the same, “It is Professor Falk’s personal blog and he has the right to approve/disapprove at will” but I realized that such is the bias against Palestine and people pointing out Israeli mistakes, that some people will try their level best to discredit any person who opposes Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Mr Singer reply states “Censorship needs to be condemned wherever it rears its ugly head…” but if that is the rule that should be followed, why hasn’t he petitioned the Israeli government to allow you to freely visit the OPT as per your mandate and Israel’s obligations under International Law?
    Professor, you must not worry about such issues, it is your personal blog and you are objective when it comes to the reports submitted to UN. There will be people who will always be unhappy but then that is what democracy and freedom entail. And we must remember that it is this democracy and freedom that they are holding back from the Palestinians even though League of Nations had already recognized Palestine as a state under Article 22(4) of League of Nations Covenant when it classified Palestine as Class A Mandate.
    People supporting Palestinians right to exist and self determination must not be bothered or silenced by only a handful of people because the law is on our side.

    Apoorv Agarwal

  19. monika loibner April 11, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    Dear Richard,

    during my life I had some painful experiences with indoctrinated people and came to the point to recognize that it is not possible to have open, honest and earnest discussions with indoctrinated individuals.
    Indoctrinated persons/groups have been either politically motivated agendas (see the mainstream media how they report and how facts are disregarded, manipulated etc. and therefore the question for whom and/or in which interest lies are spread, widely and covering whole countries), monetary driven or religious brainwashed.
    Furthermore, unfortunately large groups of people in different countries, especially in the West, have been brainwashed by mainstream media and due to lack of information and not having enough time and money to search for truth and facts they believe just what is written or spoken in mainstream media.

    Throughout my whole life (being seventy this year) I found only very few persons which whom I could have open discussions whereby having had different opinions expressed and each side having taken carefully and extremely honest the other opinion into account.

    Here, in your blog, you are entitled whether to allow or not some individuals expressing their opinion. However, when individuals like Fred Skolnik don’t mind to put your writings into other mainstream media papers and comment it there the RED LINE in an honest discurs has been crossed – in my opinion.
    Such behaviour is the behaviour of dishonesty in its gravest form.

    However, please keep your faith open that sooner or later all those Freds and clergies will see their own downfall. It is just a matter of time. Too many countries are already aware what is going on and voices maybe can be silenced in Western countries through mainstream media owned by certain oligarchs or groups (wearing the cover of religion) but as a whole our globe is still big enough that not the majority can be silenced anymore.

    Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of the oppressed in Israel and Gaza (which includes not only Moslems, there are also other Christian believers and other religious groups).

    Take care of yourself
    monalisa

  20. Michael Wolf April 24, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I wanted to offer a reply in support of your policy.

    I myself maintain a video diary, which often serves as a “blog.” I completely restrict all comments, all interaction by the public whatsoever. My reasoning is that I have yet to meet anyone out there with whom I can maintain dialog.

    Most Americans are of significantly lower levels of moral reasoning than myself, especially considering I have achieved universal ethics. I cannot debate with those who are not post-conventional in their moral reasoning (see Kohlberg’s Moral Development on Wikipedia for a good explanation of moral reasoning) and thus must exclude them. The frequency of post-conventional moral reasoning within the American population is so small that I cannot possibly happen upon one in comments on my diary, especially considering I have yet to meet anyone else of post-conventional reasoning. I must therefore exclude everyone from commenting as not qualifying to debate with me.

    You are in the same position. And you have had to do so with the Whitehouse blog; a blog run by, effectively children.

    I certainly understand your policy position and encourage you to retain your policy. Remember the ultimate purpose of this forum: to discuss policy and issues in a manner conducive to moving the human species forward in our understanding of ourselves and our fundamental rights and behaviors.

    You are the authority here, you set the rules.

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