Tag Archives: Israel

Two Interviews on Palestine

14 Nov

(Prefatory Note: Two recent interviews seek to assess the Palestinian national movement as it is unfolding at this critical time.)

 

 

Interview with R. Falk by Chronis Polychroniou, published Truth Out, Nov 6, 2014

 

  1. With the collapse of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April there is increasing doubts about the diplomatic approach to resolving the conflict that is associated with the Oslo Approach. What is the Oslo Approach? Do these doubts lead us to believe that the Oslo approach is dead?

 

The Oslo Approach was initiated in 1993 when both Israel and the PLO accepted the Oslo Declaration of Principles as the diplomatic basis of resolving the conflict between the two peoples. It was iconically endorsed by the famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House Lawn. It was a flawed approach from the Palestinian perspective for several main reasons: it never confirmed the existence of the Palestinian right of self-determination; it excluded the relevance of international law from what came to be known as ‘the peace process,’ it designated the United States despite its alignment with Israel as the exclusive intermediary, and it fragmented the Palestinian territory under occupation in ways that made the day to day life of Palestinians an ordeal.

 

From the Israeli perspective Oslo was highly advantageous: it gave Israel over 20 years to continue the unlawful settlement building and expansion process; by excluding international law, it produced a diplomacy based on bargaining and power disparities in which Israel possessed decisive advantages; it delegated to the Palestinian Authority responsibility for many of the security functions previously the responsibility of Israel; and it contained no commitment to respect Palestinian rights under international law; as time never neutral, it allowed Israel to create abundant ‘facts on the ground’ (better interpreted as a series of unlawful acts) that could be later validated by diplomatic ratification.

 

Doubts about the Oslo Approach have grown in recent years, and have been reflected in indications that even the patience of the Palestinian Authority has begun to be exhausted. The last effort at direct negotiations within the Oslo framework collapsed last April despite strong American efforts to seek some progress toward an agreement. Israel’s behavior indicated a disinterest in negotiations, and a disposition toward imposing a unilateral solution to the conflict. The PA has introduced the text of a propose Security Council resolution that calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank by November 2016, and although it is expected to be blocked by the United States, it suggests a new direction of Palestinian diplomacy. The flaws of the Oslo Approach are becoming more widely recognized in Europe and by world public opinion.

 

  1. After the 50 day Israel military operation in Gaza of this past summer, given           the name Protective Edge by the IDF, has anything changed in relation to the       underlying conflict?

 

The fundamentals on the ground remain the same, although some of the psycho-political dimensions have changed in important ways. On the Israeli side, there were contradictory indications of both incitements to genocide, destroying the civilian population of Gaza in the belief that this was the only way to overcome the resistance of Hamas, and a sense that Israel had lost its way in the world by engaging in such a military campaign that had devastating impacts upon both the civilian population and its infrastructure. The new Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, spoke of Israel ‘as a sick society’ that needed to recover a willingness to treat diverse ethnicities and religions with dignity.

 

From a Palestinian point of view, Protective Edge also had important effects. From the Palestinian activist public mounting pressure to join the International Criminal Court and press charges against Israel. Also, the effect of the military operation was the opposite of what was intended as it increased the popularity of Hamas, at least temporarily, especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser extent in Gaza. In effect, the resistance and resilience of Hamas was contrasted with the quasi-collaborationist postures so often struck by the Palestinian Authority. The casualties on both sides also destabilized the notion of ‘terrorism’ as solely attributable to Hamas: of the 70 Israelis killed, 65 were IDF soldiers, while of the more than 2100 Palestinians killed, more than 70% were civilians. It would seemthat ‘state terrorism’ is the main culprit in such a conflict.

 

At the same time more informed commentators recognized that Hamas wanted to perform as a political actor rather than to act as an armed resistance group treated by Israel and the United States as a terrorist entity excluded from diplomatic venues. Hamas has been making it clear ever since it won elections in 2006 that it was prepared to co-exist peacefully with Israel on a long-term basis, and has observed ceasefire agreements along its border, which were on each occasion broken by Israeli violent provocations. There was formed a few months ago a technocratic unity government that overcame the divisions between the Fatah and Hamas, and was bitterly opposed by Israel, perhaps the real explanation of the July attacks on Gaza as an expression of this opposition.

 

  1. There has been discussion as to whether the Palestinian Authority, now recognized as a state by the UN, should seek to join the International Criminal Court, and bring its grievances before this tribunal. Is this a good idea? What will it accomplish?

 

There is much discussion as to the pros and cons of seeking to adhere to the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court by Palestine now that its statehood has been confirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. Palestine now has the UN status of being ‘a non-member observer state.’ It has joined UNESCO as a member and adhered to several international treaties.

 

The ‘cons’ of recourse to the ICC can be summarized: provoking hostile reactions from Israel, and possibly the United States; threatening the fragile unity arrangements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, especially if the ICC chooses to focus on allegations of war crimes against Hamas; inability to secure Israeli cooperation with the proceedings, and hence an absence of any way to make those accused accountable due to the absence of enforcement capabilities.

 

The ‘pros’ of going to the ICC are the effects on world public opinion, raising the morale of the Palestinians seeking to make use of their soft power advantages in the conflict, and above all the opportunity to reinforce the Palestinian narrative that challenges Israel’s occupation policies (especially reliance on excessive force and the settlement phenomenon) as violations of international criminal law.

 

On balance, it would seem advantageous for Palestine to seek an investigation of allegations by recourse to the ICC, and the failure to do so would confirm those who attack the PA as lacking credibility to represent the Palestinian people in their quest for a just and sustainable peace.

 

  1. Recently Sweden pledged to recognize Palestinian statehood and the British House of Commons also urged the government to extend recognition. Are such diplomatic gestures of any importance and relevance to the Palestinian struggle?

 

It is too soon to assess the importance of these diplomatic gestures, which I would interpret as an indication of dissatisfaction with any further reliance on the Oslo Approach, especially its reliance on the role of the United States as exclusively entitled to serve as a diplomatic third party. The Swedish pledge to recognize Palestinian statehood is also important because it is accompanied by a call for resumed negotiations in accord with international law. To inject international law into the diplomatic process would be of utmost significance, offsetting Israeli hard power dominance, and allowing for Palestine to press forward in asserting their rights under international law.

 

If additional countries follow Sweden and the House of Commons, it will create a trend that might produce a greater role for Europe or the EU to act as a successor intermediary to the U.S. in the search for a solution. In this sense these European moves, which were greeted antagonistically in Tel Aviv and Washington, exhibit an impatience with the evident futility of pretending that Oslo still provided the best path to peace.

 

  1. If armed struggle has failed the Palestinians, international law has been ignored, and diplomacy has not worked, what is left for the Palestinians to do so as to carry on their struggle?

 

For several years, the Palestinian national movement has moved its center from the formal leadership provided by the PA and Hamas, to Palestinian civil society initiatives that seem to represent the real aspirations of the Palestinian people. The call for a BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society actors has been gaining momentum throughout the world, including the United States, in recent years. This civil society coalition also puts forward a three-part political program of greater relevance to a solution than anything that has emerged from the Oslo Approach: 1) withdrawal of Israel from all occupied Arab lands (including Golan Heights, fragment of Lebanon); 2) human rights based on full equality for the Palestinian minority living within Israel; 3) right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in accordance with international law as set forth in General Assembly Resolution 194 .

 

In this period of international relations, increasingly it is evident that states can no longer monopolize diplomacy. Not only are non-state actors such as the Taliban, Hamas, and others formidable participants indispensable to overcome conflict, but also civil society initiatives provide ways to achieve justice and peace with greater flexibility and legitimacy than state actors in a growing number of conflict situations.

 

  1. Some analysts have noted a change in public opinion on the conflict in the United States, but not reflected in Congress or U.S. policy of unconditional support. Why is this?

 

This mismatch between an American public that would welcome a more balanced approach to Israel and the conflict and the U.S. Congress that is uncritically and unconditionally supportive of Israel has become a dark shadow cast over the democratic process in the United States. It reflects in part the strength of the Israeli lobby and also the military prowess of Israel both as a strategic partner in the region but also as a valued arms supplier of an increasing number of countries. It also results from the inability of Palestinian constituencies in the United States to mobilize support sufficient to create countervailing influence in Washington. This one-sided political atmosphere makes members of Congress realize that any lessening of support for Israel will be disastrous for the political career and of no real policy significance in relation to the government approach. Despite this unfortunate mismatch, an upsurge of civil society activism, especially on university campuses and among mainstream religious organizations, is again an indication that politics is being made informally within civil society, and is more expressive of democratic sentiments and ethical principles, than are the activities of formal governmental institutions.

 

  1. In light of developments can Europe play a bigger role in shifting the balance of diplomatic forces bearing on the conflict?

 

Europe has an opportunity to play a much more active role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and has begun to do so by way of its recent moves to recognize Palestinian statehood and by governmental pronouncements that remind corporations and financial institutions that commercial dealings with Israeli settlements is ‘problematic under international law.’

 

Israel seems to be moving toward a unilateral resolution of the conflict by taking substantial control over the West Bank and Jerusalem, and leaving Gaza as a hostile alien territory, which may make international diplomacy useless at this stage. In any event, Israel and the United States will use all the leverage at their disposal to prevent any move away from the Oslo Approach that continues to serve their somewhat divergent purposes. The US Government is primarily interested in keeping ‘the game’ of Oslo going to uphold their claim that a viable peace process continues to exist. For Israel, retaining Oslo is also helpful as part of a favorable scenario of delay that serves expansionist purposes until Tel Aviv explicitly declares ‘game over,’ and converts the occupation of Palestine into a full-scale or partial annexation of what is called by Israeli law experts ‘disputed sovereignty.’

 

  1. Why did the Arab neighbors of Israel, especially Saudi Arabia, seem to support Israel during the recent attack on Gaza?

 

The regional situation in the Arab world has changed dramatically since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. The Iraqi occupation tactics of the United States rested on regime change with a sectarian orientation, shifting leadership of the country from its Sunni identity in the Saddam Hussein period to that of Shiite dominance. This shift, including the purge of the Iraqi armed forces of its Sunni corps, leading indirectly also to Islamic extremism in the region, especially the emergence in 2014 of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria that is partially staffed by former Iraqi military officers dismissed as a result of American occupation policy.

 

The Arab Spring upheavals had a second effect, which was to overthrow authoritarian leadership that had long suppressed political Islam as powerful domestic presences. Especially in Egypt, but also in several other countries, the anti-authoritarian movements, resulted in a political situation where in the new political setting, the strongest national political presence was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, were deeply threatened by these changes, and despite their own Islamic orientation, preferred secular leadership in the region to political Islam that emerged democratically. In this sense, Israel’s effort to crush Hamas, viewed by the threatened monarchies as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, corresponded with the priorities of most Arab governments in the region. Israel was the enemy of their primary enemy, and hence ‘a friend,’ at least temporarily.

 

Whether this situation persists is uncertain. What seems clear at present is that two separate strands of transnational tension exist in the region: first, the Sunni-Shiite divide; and secondly, the tensions between established governments and political Islam that is based on a societal movement. Surprisingly, the second concerns outweighs the first. Saudi Arabia supported strongly the 2013 coup led by General Sisi against the elected Sunni oriented leadership of Mohammed Morsi.

 

 

Süreç Analiz (Süreç Research Centter in Istanbul)

In Dubious Battle: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Interview Questions for R. Falk

 

  • How do you assess the essential dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Which forces of internal and external nature did make the conflict more problematic and enigmatic?

I think it is important to appreciate that the conflict has reached a new stage with two important developments. First, the Oslo Approach based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the United States as the exclusive intermediary, after more than 20 years of futile diplomacy has lost its relevance; secondly, both sides are taking unilateral steps to attain their goals, Israel by continuing to expand the settlements and consolidating control over the whole of Jerusalem, and the PA by moving toward establishing Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, with the symbolic endorsement of the international community.

 

  • Do you think a great opportunity for the resolution of Palestinian- Israeli conflict was missed as the Oslo peace process remained inconclusive?

Israel for some years uses the Oslo peace process as a delaying tactic while it pursues the maximal version of the Zionist Project. As such, it harms the Palestinians, and helps the Israelis. Time is not neutral. Israel poses unrealistic demands that if accepted would leave the Palestinians with a Bantustan that would not satisfy even minimal claims for Palestinian self-determination, which depend on a viable sovereign state with 1967 borders and some acknowledgement the right of refugees to return to their homes.

 

  • After the end of Oslo peace process, we see greater influence of Hamas in Palestinian politics. How do you explain the growing influence of Hamas in the Palestinian political scene?

The surge of Hamas popularity is partly a reflection of the failures of PA quasi-collaborationist diplomacy and partly an expression of solidarity with Hamas because of their impressive posture of resistance during the Israeli attacks of July and August. In actuality, the leadership of the Palestinian national struggle has been moving toward recognition of Palestinian civil society, and building support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

 

  • This summer’s war between Israel and Hamas is the third violent conflict between them since 2008. How do you explain these frequent cycles of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas?

Israel has provoked tensions in relation to each of these three military operations, and has maintained for the past seven years a regime of sustained collective punishment that has cruelly locked the civilian population of Gaza into the combat zone. When the periodic massacres of the sort that occurred this past summer take place even women and children are denied the default option of becoming refugees or seeking a sanctuary outside the combat zone. When they took shelter in UN buildings these structures were attacked. Israeli justifications for such action purport to be ‘defensive,’ but such claims overlook the refusal of Israel to abide by ceasefire arrangements or to offer responses to Hamas proposals for long-term peaceful coexistence. Israel relies on keeping its own people in a constant state of fear and of projecting their force disproportionately as a deterrent to other political actors that might at some future time contemplate an attack.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Around 75% of the casualties of the latest conflict were civilians according to UN data. As Hamas blames Israel for directly targeting civilians, Israel blames Hamas for using civilians as human shields. What is your opinion about this issue?

The facts are difficult to obtain as there are conflicting contentions. As far as I can tell both sides made some use of human shields in combat situations, but Israel did so more frequently. The casualty ratio of civilians to military personnel is more objective, and illuminating. Not only were 75% of Palestinian casualties civilians, with over 500 children killed, but Israeli casualties of 70 killed were composed of 65 IDF soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians. If the essence of terrorism is violence against civilians, then it raises the question as to why Israeli state terrorism receives so little attention. In this recent military confrontation the terrorist tactics of Israel were far more lethal than those of Hamas.

 

  • After the ceasefire was achieved via the mediation of Egypt, both Israel and Hamas declared that they were ‘victorious’. Who do you think has won the war and what do you think the reason is behind both sides declaring victory?

Each side uses different measures to evaluate the outcome. Israel uses its capability to inflict death and destruction, and stop Hamas from firing rockets. Hamas uses more symbolic criteria such as world public opinion and its own political stature associated with refusing to give in and obtaining a ceasefire agreement that appears to be favorable to its claims, and avoids Israel’s demands for the demilitarization of Hamas.

 

  • How do you evaluate the ceasefire conditions?

Israel is supposed to lift the blockade and loosen restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast, as well as shrink the buffer zone on the Gazan side of the border. Whether it will comply is doubtful, given its failure to uphold similar commitments after the 2012 ceasefire. It seems that Israeli policy continues to be based on ‘mowing the lawn’ every couple of years, a grotesque metaphor to describe military massacres inflicted on a totally vulnerable population.

  • Do you think the unity government formed by Hamas and Fatah will be successful and sustainable? Why?

It is difficult to tell. It seemed to withstand Israeli pressure. One interpretation of the Protective Edge attack is as a reprisal for the PA defiance of Israel’s opposition to such a unity government and all moves to incorporate Hamas into the Palestinian governing process. At the same time, strains persist. Hamas leadership neither trust nor agree with the American oriented approach favored by Ramallah, and reject passivity in the face of Israeli provocations.

 

  • How do you evaluate the response of the international organizations and Arab and Muslim countries response towards the latest round of conflict?

This realignment of the Arab world is problematic from the Palestinian perspective. It expresses the political priority given by the Gulf monarchies and Egypt, in particular, to the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force. In this sense, Arab countries seem to make regime stability for themselves a higher policy priority than solidarity with the Palestinian struggle or the wellbeing of Muslim political entities. The monarchies, although Islamic in orientation, are deeply opposed to political Islam that bases its claims on grassroots or popular support. Only Islam from above is acceptable.

 

  • Do you think a just and peaceful solution can be achieved for the Palestinian- Israeli conflict in the future? What kind of a solution do you think can be accepted by the both sides?

A political solution is not presently apparent on the political horizon. Both sides are moving in unilateral and contradictory directions, especially in relation to territory, with Israel seeking to annex substantial portions of the West Bank and the PA seeking to expel Israel from the West Bank and establish a state of their own. It may be that the best solution will be fashioned by Palestinian civil society activism that is leaning toward the establishment of a bi-national secular state based on the equality of the two peoples. I have outlined my belief that the only solution that can be envisioned must be preceded by a recalculation of interests on the part of the Israeli leadership, a dynamic that took place unexpectedly in South Africa to make possible a peaceful transformation from apartheid to constitutional democracy. Each situation is different, but it would appear that Israel will not budge until the global solidarity movement together with Palestinian resilience imposes unacceptable costs on Zionist maximalism. In the end, the Zionist insistence on ‘a Jewish state’ will have to be abandoned, and replaced by homelands of equal receptivity to Jews and Palestinians wherever they may fine themselves.

***

 

 

After ‘Protective Edge’: What Future for Palestine and Israel

21 Sep

 

 

The 50-day Israeli military operation that killed over 2100 Palestinians, wounded another 11,000, and undoubtedly traumatized the entire Gazan population of 1.7 million also took the lives of 70 Israelis, of which 65 were soldiers. This last violent encounter has ended without a clear victory for either side. Despite this, Israel and Hamas are each insisting that ‘victory’ was achieved. Israel points to the material results, tunnels and rocket sites destroyed, targeted assassinations completed, and the overall weakening of Hamas capacity to launch an attack. Hamas, for its part, claims political gains, becoming far stronger politically and psychologically in both Gaza and the West Bank than before the fighting began, refusing to give in on the basic Israeli demand of the ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza, as well as further tarnishing Israel’s international reputation.

 

The UN Human Rights Commission has taken what for it is an exceptional step of appointing a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes. The fact that William Schabas, a renowned expert on international criminal law, especially on the crime of genocide, was selected to chair the investigation is of great symbolic significance, and potentially of major relevance to the ongoing legitimacy struggle being successfully waged by the Palestinian people. Some have referred to this new initiative as ‘Goldstone 2.0’ referring back to the earlier high visibility fact finding undertaking of the HRC prompted by the Israeli military operation against Gaza in 2008-09 that had shocked the world by its ferocity and disregard for the international laws of war. Unlike Richard Goldstone, who was an amateur in relation to international law and ideologically aligned with Zionism, Schabas is a leading academic expert without any known ideological inhibitions, and with the strength of character to abide by the expected findings and recommendations of the report that the inquiry produces.

 

As earlier, the United States will use its geopolitical muscle to shield Israel from censure, criticism, and above all, from accountability. This lamentable limitation on the implementation of international criminal law does not mean that the Schabas effort lacks significance. The political outcome of prior anti-colonial struggles have been controlled by the side that wins the legitimacy war for control of the commanding heights of international law and morality.

This symbolic terrain is so important as it strengthens the resilience of those seeking liberation to bear the burdens of struggle and it deepens the global solidarity movement that provides vital support. In this respect, the Goldstone Report exerted a major influence in delegitimizing Israel’s periodic ‘mowing of the lawn’ in Gaza, especially the grossly disproportionate uses of force against a totally vulnerable and essentially helpless and entrapped civilian population.

 

The most startling result of this latest onslaught by Israel, which seems less an instance of ‘warfare’ than of ‘orchestrated massacre,’ is strangely ironic from an Israeli perspective. Its ruthless pursuit of a military victory had the effect of making Hamas more popular and legitimate than it had ever been, not only in Gaza, but even more so in the West Bank. Israel’s military operation seriously undermined the already contested claims by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be the authentic representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The best explanation of this outcome is that Palestinians as a whole prefer the resistance of Hamas, however much suffering it produces, to the passive compliance of the PA with the will of the occupier and oppressor.

 

For its part, Israel has signaled a less disguised refusal to move toward a negotiated peace under present conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu has told the Palestinians once again that they must choose between ‘peace and Hamas,’ without mentioning that his use of the word ‘peace’ made it indistinguishable from ‘surrender.’ Netanyahu repeated his often proclaimed position–Israel will never negotiate with a terrorist organization that is committed to its destruction. Putting another nail in what appears to be the coffin of a two-state solution, Israel announced the largest confiscation of land for settlement expansion in more than 20 years, taking nearly 1000 acres of public land near Bethlehem to be added to the small settlement of Gvaot near the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem. Some ask, “Why now?” rather than the more perceptive “Why not now?”

 

From these perspectives, the real impact of the Gaza carnage may be less the physical devastation and humanitarian catastrophe, imminent dangers of disease epidemic and $12 billion in damage taking at least 20 years to overcome, than the political effects. It looks like the suspension of inter-governmental diplomacy as a means of conflict resolution. Even the PA, seeking its political rehabilitation, is now talking about demanding that the UN establish a three year timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. It is also threatening recourse to the International Criminal Court to empower an investigation of charges that the occupation of the West Bank itself involves the commission of crimes against humanity.

 

From these perspectives, the situation seems hopeless. The Palestinian prospects for their own state, which was the hope of moderates on both sides for many years, now seems irrelevant. Only the two-state template, however enacted, could reconcile the conflicting claims of Israeli Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. Of course, increasingly Palestinian critics questioned whether Zionism was consistent with the human rights of the Palestinian minority and its large refugee and exile communities, and tended to view the two state outcome as a triumph for the Zionist project and a sugar-coated defeat for Palestinian national aspirations. Now that it is ‘game over’ for the two-state solution, and the real struggle is more clearly being waged between competing versions of a one-state solution.

 

What can we expect? Even a sustainable ceasefire that allows the people of Gaza to recover somewhat from the dreadful ordeal of a cruel regime of collective punishment seems unlikely to persist very long in the present atmosphere. There is every reason to suppose that Israeli frustrations with the failure of its attack to subdue Hamas, and Hamas’ refusal to accept without acts of resistance the harsh realities of its continuing subjugation.

 

And yet there are flickers of light in the darkened skies. The stubbornness of Palestinian resistance combined with the robustness of a growing global solidarity movement is likely to exert intensifying pressure on the Israel public and some of its leaders to rethink their options for the future, and from an Israeli point of view, the sooner the better. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign is gaining political and moral traction by the day. The kind of nonviolent international movement that unexpectedly helped cause the abrupt collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa seems as though it might at some point push Israelis toward reconsidering whether an accommodation is not in Israel’s interest even if it requires a rethinking of what is the core reality of ‘a Jewish homeland,’ and even if it falls short of a complete reconciliation. As the experience in South Africa, and also Northern Ireland suggest, the side with the upper hand militarily does not acknowledge mounting political pressure until it is ready for a deal with its enemy that would have seemed inconceivable just shortly before it was made.

 

The outcome of the Israel-Palestine struggle is presently obscure. From the territorial perspective it appears that Israel is on the verge of victory, but from a legitimacy struggle perspective the Palestinians are gaining the upper hand. The flow of history since the end of World War II suggests a hopeful future for the Palestinians, yet the geopolitical strength of Israel may be able to withstand the intensifying pressure to acknowledge the fundamental Palestinian right of self-determination.

 

 

 

ISIS, Militarism, and the Violent Imagination

18 Sep

 

 

 

 

Before ISIS

 

The beheading of American and British journalists who were being held hostage by ISIS creates a truly horrifying spectacle, and quite understandably mobilizes the political will to destroy the political actor who so shocks and frightens the Western sensibility, which is far from being free from responsibility for such lurid incidents. Never in modern times has there been a clearer example of violence begetting violence.

 

And we need to ask ‘to what end?’ Political leaders in the West are remarkably silent and dishonest about what it is that they wish to achieve in this region beset since 2011 by a quite terrifying outbreak of political extremism, whether from above as in the cases of Syria, Egypt, and Israel or from below as with ISIS and al-Nusra.

 

It is difficult to recall that at the start of 2011, just three years ago, progressive voices around the world were inspired by the Arab upheavals, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, that burst upon the political scene unexpectedly. These extraordinary events appeared to repudiate the prevailing patterns of authoritarian, exploitative, and corrupt collaboration between oppressive domestic elites, neoliberal economic forces, and the regional imperial juggernaut that had kept this humanly disastrous reality stable for so long. Yet even during that time of optimism about the Arab future, a closer scrutiny of what was happening disclosed many reasons to be worried. It is helpful to look to this recent past to have some comprehension of the perplexing present.

 

A Revolutionary Spirit Without Revolutionary Action

 

The goals of these upheavals were far too ambitious to be realized by such limited challenges directed at the established order. These movements were essentially confined to getting rid of a hated ruler. Associating single individuals such as Mubarak, Ben Ali, or Assad with the grievances of an exploited and oppressed people overlooks the degree to which class interests and entrenched bureaucracies constituted structures. The popular forces bravely challenging the status quo lacked leadership, program, and even a clear agenda, and naively expected the remnants of the old regime to disappear or go along with the anguished call of mass discontent that sought bread, freedom, and dignity as the effect of removing the hated leader.

 

This innocence of exaggerated expectations made what had seemed a remarkable achievement of doing the impossible more vulnerable to reversal than was generally understood at the time when the immediate results seemed so stunning. What particularly impressed thoughtful commentators was being described as ‘a new subjectivity’ of the Arab masses. It had long been presumed that these Arab publics were reconciled to their fate, and would remain passive victims of their sorry fate. That they rose up with such force and resolve surprised the world, and themselves, by these courageous displays of self-empowerment and political creativity. It was also impressive that these upheavals, each distinct, shared a vision of an inclusive democracy that when established, would henceforth govern society with respect for all classes, religious and ethnic identities, genders, and political persuasions.

 

The reluctance to challenge the old order more fundamentally and punitively became coupled with a paradoxical and perverse situation of dependence on the old regime to manage in good faith the transition to the promised new dawn of constitutional democracy and freely elected political leaders. There seemed to be no understanding that these old elites in each country had interests that had been generally served by the previously established order, and would inevitably be threatened by the longings of the people, including expectations of moves toward greater social and economic equity threatening the prior acceptance of predatory arrangements with neoliberal globalization.

 

Preconditions for Transformative Political Ambitions

 

In this sense, there seemed little awareness in these movements of Lenin’s insistence that a successful transformative politics necessarily depends on substantially destroying the prior state structures; (“you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”), that is, by rebuilding the new transformed state from the ground up and getting rid of the old bureaucracy. This generalization is especially true if the old order was managed by indigenous leadership, and not imposed from without as in the colonial era. Also, as Hannah Arendt argued in her book on revolution, if the overthrow of the former regime does not have a radical social agenda, as was the case with American Revolution, only then does the possibility of a smooth and peaceful transition exists. [See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1969). Excluding the prospects for improved material conditions, including jobs for youth, was a political impossibility in the Arab world, where conditions of mass misery were what partially explained the role of oppressive structures and the assignment of security forces to prevent workers from organizing effectively.

 

Revealingly, in contrast to the activists in Tahrir Square, Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran encouraged a kind of Islamic Leninism, rejecting all pleas to reach compromises with the Shah’s regime in exchange for social peace and shared political power. From the perspective of late 2014 we take note of contrasting realities: Iran’s Islamic Republic is celebrating its 35th anniversary without a serious threat to its governance, while the so-called Egyptian Revolution barely lasted two years before the old regime in a more extreme form was fully restored under the bloody military leadership of General Sisi.

 

 

 

Underestimating Political Islam

 

There were additional factors at work in Egypt and the region. Perhaps, most significantly, those who sought to liberalize the governance structures without shaking their foundations greatly underestimated the electoral strength of political Islam, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the ideals of the Tahrir movement affirmed inclusionary democracy, the assumption of many who initially championed a new political order was that the MB would participate as a minority presence that would not displace the old urban ruling classes or threaten its privileges. When this turned out to be wrong it immediately shifted the political balance in such a way as to promote counter-revolution. As Europe discovered after 1848, nothing is worse for progressive politics than revolutionary ambitions to exceed revolutionary means.

 

This situation was further stressed by the rich and influential Gulf oil dynasties that felt deeply threatened by the Arab upheavals, and cared far more about their own stability than they did about promoting Sunni politics in the region. These governments were disturbed by the fall of Mubarak, and hoped for a political reversal in Egypt, welcoming the counter-revolution led by Sisi with an avalanche of funding, without blinking when this new military leadership proceeded to commit major atrocities against members of the MB and to criminalize the organization. It should not be ignored that this counter-revolutionary violence also served the strategic interests of Israel and the United States, restoring stability, marginalizing Muslim and democratizing forces, and avoiding the emergence of governments much more inclined to support Palestinian aspirations and to challenge neoliberal links with global capitalism. Into this mix that emerged in Egypt, must also be added the political ineptness of the MB, neither appreciating its popular support nor recognizing that MB political hegemony would never be accepted by either the remnants of the old regime nor by secular liberals who wanted Mubarak overthrown, but not the system. In this sense, it appears in retrospect that it was a great mistake of the MB to withdraw their earlier pledge after the Tahrir success story to refrain from seeking either to dominate the parliamentary elections or compete for the presidency.

 

Not Forgetting Iraq or Syria

 

If we consider other developments in the region there is another disturbing ‘truth’: the region at this stage seems better off being governed in an authoritarian manner than by either the sort of ‘democracy promotion’ that was the theme song of the George W Bush presidency (2000-2008) or through the political responses to the kind of popular uprisings that erupted in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, elsewhere, but turned out to be unsustainable. The least bad outcomes as of now appear to be those countries where the old authoritarian regimes prevailed without much struggle (e.g. Morocco) and made a few gestures of reform averting both civil strife and a more brutal turn in authoritarian rule. The alternatives to authoritarian in the region now seem far worse: terrible civil warfare (as in Syria) or chaos without respite (as in Libya). Given the mess that unfolded in Iraq during a decade of American occupation, what Washington policymaker would not at this point secretly consider the second coming of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a gift of the gods?

 

Syria, as well, sent the wrong signal throughout the region. First, there occurred a popular challenge to the Assad regime that occasioned a bloody counterinsurgency campaign. Then outside forces, Turkey, the United States, Gulf countries teamed up as ‘Friends of Syria Group’ to help the insurgency prevail, badly underestimating the military capabilities and political support of the Damascus government, which enabled it to withstand these efforts to repeat the Mubarak/Qaddafi experience of overthrow either from below (by a mass movement) or from without (by a NATO air campaign). In Syria instead of regime change there occurred an ongoing civil war that has taken upwards of 200,000 lives, caused millions to flea the country as refugees and millions more to become internally displace.

 

Three negative political effects also followed: neighboring countries were destabilized, the unresolved Syrian struggle gave rise to various forms of Islamic extremism within Syria and in the region, and the atrocities of Assad gave license to others in the region (such as Sisi) to commit crimes against humanity with the prospect of impunity.

 

What lessons can we learn? Above all, beware of what is wished for. In effect, above all else, the last several decades should teach the West that the days of staging successful colonial interventions at acceptable costs are long past, and that premising post-colonial interventionist diplomacy on a moral crusade of human rights, democracy, and counter-terrorism fools almost no one except some of the people in the metropole, and wins few real friends in the target societies other than cynical opportunists or desperate insurgents. If intervention is followed by military occupation many of those who were initially willing to accept any and all outside help to get rid of the hated leader quickly get disillusioned and turn on their earlier benefactor, a process dubbed ‘blowback.’ [For identification of the phenomenon and its naming see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2004) If the intervention is not followed by an occupation the results are not much better. Piles of bodies and debris are left behind, but the new reality is likely to be, as in Libya, the kind of ungovernable chaos with armed militias substituting for the rule of law. Washington tends to call such situations ‘failed states’ as if it had nothing to do with the collapse of governance.

 

America’s and NATO’s Unlearned Lessons

 

America and NATO should have learned the limits of military superiority and the problematics of occupation from their failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military superiority and shock and awe tactics can generally overwhelm a Third World government and quickly destroy its military capability, but that is only initial and easy phase of an effort to control the political future of a targeted country. Notoriously, Bush didn’t understand this in relation to Iraq when he infamously announced ‘mission accomplished’ to the world immediately after Iraqi military resistance crumbled and Saddam Hussein was driven from power.

Phase two of the Iraq undertaking involved occupation and state-building neoliberal style, and the emergence of formidable political resistance. The early glow of victory soon fades away, and a variety of troubles start to overwhelm the intervening side. A movement of national resistance takes shape, and adopts insurgent tactics against the foreign invader that takes away many of the benefits of military superiority that earlier achieved an easy battlefield victory. Resistance consists of various acts of violent disruption that gradually turn a hostile and foreign occupation into a long nightmare. The high tech weaponry of the occupier remains an effective killing machine, but it increasingly kills the wrong people, alienates far more, and seems helpless to establish minimal order much less to deliver on the promise of democracy, economic prosperity, and human rights for all. The prime objective of the occupier becomes one of crafting a graceful exit that disguises the abandonment of the original enterprise, and if that fails, leaving in a humiliating manner without being able to disguise the defeat. It should have been evident from the outset in Iraq that the effort to embed democracy is in tension with the strategic goal of integrating the country in accord with Western ideas of security and political economy. The idea of turning over security to an indigenous and partisan army trained to make safeguard the government put in place by a military intervention is truly a ‘mission impossible.’

 

Strategic Failure

 

What was the real outcome of both of these major military interventions that cost many lives, generated mass refugee and internally displaced populations, and expended trillions of dollars on these futile ventures? In Afghanistan the results were a mixture of chaos, destabilization of Pakistan, and the reemergence of the Taliban as a formidable political force. In Iraq, the ironic outcome after a decade of occupation was a strategic victory for Iran and its pro-Shi’ite foreign policy, along with sectarian strife and widespread chaos, culminating during this past year with the eruption of ISIS occupying a significant expanses of territory in Iraq, and Syria. ISIS had the audacity to proclaim itself the Islamic State and to found a new caliphate without regard to international borders.

 

In both societies these results are exactly the opposite of the goals set by the intervening side. What were the real motivations of the intervenors? There are, I believe, three overlapping answers given varying weights by commentators: for oil, for arms sales and the political economy of militarism, and to ensure the desired strategic hegemony of the American/Israeli partnership throughout the Middle East.

 

The failure results from a basic disconnect. Securing the neoliberal priority of assuring access to Middle Eastern oil at stable prices bolstered by a maximum Western private sector investment depends upon maintaining good relations with stable governments and receptive societies. Stable political structures, given the American commitment to Israel, together with capitalist predatory behavior, produces a hostile cleavage between state and society throughout the region, making political order fully dependent on effective authoritarian governance. Under these conditions it is evident that any claimed commitment to human rights and democracy is hypocritical, and at best peripheral. Such claims serve as misleading rationalizations for intervention in a post-colonial era where naked imperial justifications are no longer credible. It puts the West in the position of inevitably collaborating with national elites that suppress the most fundamental human right of their own peoples—that of the right of national self-determination, which is highlighted as common Article I of both the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

 

Remembering Vietnam

 

There is a further disconnect. Relying on military intervention to achieve the goals of foreign policy is not a new recipe for political failure, and such an approach should have been discarded long ago for realist reasons. A repudiation of interventionary diplomacy should have been the crucial lesson learned from the Vietnam War. Remember America won all the big battles, controlled every combat zone, and yet lost the war. A Vietnamese military commander’s response is worth pondering made to an American official who insisted that despite the political outcome of the war, the United States was never defeated militarily by Vietnam: “Yes, that is true, but it is irrelevant.”

 

Understanding why it is irrelevant is the great unlearned lesson in relation to the conflicts taking place the period since World War II. It should by now be clear even to the most dimwitted real politik analyst that every colonial war since World War II was won by the militarily inferior side. Perhaps, the most dramatic instance of people power triumphing over imperial power occurred in India’s defeat of the mighty British Empire without firing a shot. In Indochina and Algeria French colonialism finally gave way to national movements with far worse weaponry. National resilience in the end proves stronger than foreign military and police control.

 

The real untold story of this string of losses sustained by the West is the empowerment of people. This empowerment was eventually accorded moral and legal respect by a global diplomatic process that now seems a false gesture of imperial disempowerment. Acceptance of the moral claims of and legal right to self-determination was formally acknowledged, but the geopolitics of power and wealth went on as before, and continued at great costs to seek by force of arms what could not otherwise be justly acquired.

 

The recent Israeli military operation against the helpless people of Gaza is an extreme illustration of this dynamic. No people in the Middle East have endured as much cruelty and suffering during their long national movement for independence and sovereignty than have the Palestinians. And no state has been as determined as Israel to rely on its vastly superior military means to maintain control, expand, and ruthlessly suppress opposition. And yet after nearly 70 years of dispossession, occupation, militarist subjugation, and Western backing, the Palestinians are far from defeated. In the recent one-sided Protective Edge campaign over 2100 Palestinians were killed, 75% of whom were civilians, as compared to Israel reporting losses of 70 dead, of whom 66 were members of the IDF. It suggests that ‘state terrorism’ is far deadlier for the civilian population than is the violence of enemy resisters. But consider the political dynamics: the Israeli reasons for staging this horror show seemed to be mainly to convince the collaborationist leadership in Ramallah to stop cooperating with Israel and to weaken decisively the organization structure and political support of Hamas. As with the cases mentioned earlier, the military dominance produced great devastation combined with a political defeat: instead of weakening Hamas, the organization gained in popularity not only in Gaza, but even more so in the West Bank where new polls show that in any forthcoming election Hamas would easily win over the Palestinian Authority, which was unlikely before Israel launched its latest deadly attack to once more ‘mow the lawn’ in Gaza.

 

The next concern, following from what has been argued, is ‘why such a clear pattern of repeated failures should not lead to policy adjustments?’ There are two explanations: the political elites of the world are hard-wired to think within an anachronistic realist box in which military power is the controlling force of history. Such thinking is also part of the political culture of the United States where security is correlated with hard power, no matter the facts are. This defiance of reality is sadly reinforced by American political culture. When recent horrific crimes in movie theaters and schools where innocent persons are willfully slaughtered by a deranged heavily armed individual, the militarized mentality of the citizenry leads it not to demand the prohibition of assault weapons in private hands, but perversely to a surge in private arms sales.

 

The ISIS Challenge Revisited

 

This brings us back to ISIS, and what might be done that improves the situation rather than worsen it. Barack Obama has presided over shaping the regional response. He was confronted by a multifaceted dilemma. He had been elected president twice partly to end American engagement in overseas wars, especially in the Middle East, and here he was once more rallying the region and Europe for yet another war against an adversary that posed no discernable threat to the American people. To overcome this awkward fact, it was necessary to dramatize the barbarism of ISIS tactics, pointing to the

American victims of ISIS atrocities, and at the same time promise there would be no American casualties. Barbarous as were these atrocious acts, beheadings were unfortunately not new to the region, and were regularly used upon by the Saudi Arabian government in punishing convicted criminals. True, these incidents involved American and British nationals who were innocent of wrongdoing, but the emphasis was not so much placed on their innocence as on the horrifying technique used to carry out the executions.

 

Here is the core problem: America’s leadership in the region depends on actively protecting the authoritarian status quo, especially in the Gulf, and so doing nothing about ISIS was not an option. What Obama is proposing to do repeats the old formula of failure: air strikes; training, arming, and advising friendly forces (Iraqi Kurds, moderate Syrians, Iraqi military units), disrupting ISIS overseas recruiting and funding. Obama’s program is a pale version of post-Vietnam counter-insurgency doctrine where risks of American casualties must be minimized while air power, including drones, plus native ground forces with their own political agendas are relied upon to carry out the dirty work. Yet, as in earlier encounters, the likely result is to induce chaos and alienation arising from accidental targeting of innocent civilians arousing public resentment, and a no win/no lose standoff that causes great suffering to the society, including producing many refugees and internally displaced persons. It is illustrative of thinking within the old militarist box, and its prescriptions are almost certain to make any particular situation worse than if left alone.

 

Of course, there are far preferable options, but to adopt these requires looking below the surface. It would have to start with the admission that the American occupation of Iraq was the proximate cause of the emergence of ISIS, especially due to the purge of Bathist elements in the government and armed forces, and the encouragement of Shi’ite sectarianism. Abandoning sectarian maneuvers is one way to avoid some of the worst recent mistakes.

 

Another productive path presupposes an American diplomatic outlook oriented around wider ethical and world order concerns. Such an adjustment would require loosening the dependency ties to Israel, and follow a rational line of geo-strategic self-interest in the Middle East. Such a course of action, hardly ever mentioned because it seems too unrealistic, would involve taking three steps: bringing Iran into the effort to find a political solution for the Syrian civil war; proposing a nuclear free zone throughout the Middle East; exerting pressure on Israel to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. This is a distinctly political approach that contrasts with militarism that has produced destructive turbulence in the region in the period since the partial stabilities of the Cold War era collapsed along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

Militarist geopolitics seems destined to lead to yet another Western catastrophe in the tormented Middle East. There is no political will visible anywhere on the horizons of world politics that might pose a humane challenge to such disaster-prone policymaking. And so the murderous cycle of violence repeats itself yet again, the alien militarism of this Western led coalition is confronting the indigenous violence of ISIS that the mistakes of earlier interventions by the West have helped to nurture. And so dispiriting repetition occurs instead of uplifting innovation, and the wheels of violence turn with accelerating velocity.

An Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin

11 Sep

(Prefatory Note: Rabbi Youdovin has written a lengthy response in the form of a comment, which I now append here so that readers of the post can judge for themselves the nature of our disagreements, and reach their own conclusions.)

 

 

An Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin:

 

We have exchanged views frequently in the last few years, most often by way of adversary comments written in reaction to posts published on this website. I write now a post in the form of an ‘open letter’ because I think your most recent comment objecting to my support for Steven Salaita in his campaign to have his tenure faculty appointment reinstated in the American Indian Studies Department at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois. Phyllis Wise, the Chancellor, now with the formal approval of the Board of Trustees, refused to forward the appointment to Board, because of private tweets highly critical of Israel that she relied upon for making a unilateral decision that Salaita would be a disruptive presence on campus and that someone holding such strong views would likely make Jewish students in courses he offered uncomfortable. She later clarified her decision as prompted by the realization that the Board under pressure from university donors would have rejected the appointment in any event and admitted that she should have consulted further before reaching her decision. I indicated my view that not only should Salaita be reinstated, but also he deserved a formal apology from the chancellor and reimbursement for damages sustained, including to his academic reputation.

 

Our most fundamental disagreement is exhibited by the opening sentences of your comment responding to my earlier post suggesting that the dehiring of Salaita amounted to an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression. You start your comment this way: “The Salaita case is not about free speech. It’s about hate speech. The examples of Salaita’s comments cited by Prof. Falk constitute a carefully collected and unrepresentative sample of the dozens on record.” You go on to choose tweets that you find more offensive than those contained in my post:

 

“More typical of his “body of work” are:

“Fuck you, Israel. And while I’m at it, fuck you, too, PA, Sisi –

“The IDF spokesperson is a lying motherfucker.”

“If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”

“If Netanyahu appeared on TV wearing a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised?”

 

Actually, the last of your examples was among those that I included in my post, but this is a minor quibble. My real disagreement centers on your insistence that the Salaita case “is not about free speech. It’s about hate speech.” There is no doubt that these tweets are instances of extreme invective, making use of profane language, but are they properly construed as ‘hate speech’? I would hope not. These tweets, which were not expressed in the language of the dinner table or polite parlor conversation, are directed at Israel, not Jews as a people or Jews as individuals. Israel is a state. The state is an abstraction. You cannot hate an abstraction except as a language trope. If I shout “I hate the color brown” or “fuck all brown cars” it would be absurd to consider this kind of emotive language as hate speech. The same distinction should hold in speech on matters of political opinion.

 

It is here where the essential controversy between us lies. Israel’s first defenders seek to make everyone feel that Israel as a self-proclaimed Jewish state is, in effect, the personification of the Jewish people, and that using profane language of criticism about the state amounts to hate speech. Such efforts to personify the state are themselves destructive of democratic discourse, and do impact upon academic freedom as well as muddy the waters as to the character of anti-Semitism. To be angry at a state may reveal an intemperate personality, perhaps even extreme alienation, but by itself has not ventured into the forbidden domain of hate. And many of us, including Steven Salaita, draw a sharp line separating our attitudes toward Israel as a state and the Jewish people as a people.

 

Let us choose a clear example to highlight the point. To hate Nazi Germany became not only an accepted attitude, but surely the politically correct position during and after World War II. To extend that hate, however, to the German people crosses the dangerous line, and to treat a particular German as automatically of Nazi persuasion would similarly be hateful. There has been useful debate as to what extent the German people went along with Hitler’s Nazi program, especially occasioned by Daniel Goldhagen’s challenge directed at the claim that ordinary Germans were unawares of the fate befalling the Jewish people. [See his Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1997)].

 

I recall my own experience in North Vietnam in June 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War, when person after person, whether a peasant in the countryside or a high official in Hanoi, told me that they hated the American government but had positive feelings toward the American people. They attributed this sentiment to the teaching of Ho Chi Minh, the revered Communist leader of their national movement, but it was said with such heartfelt sincerity by the people I met in Vietnam as to make me aware of the deficiencies of American political culture that routinely conflates an enemy state with the citizenry of the country. Such a lethal confusion may reflect the survival of racialism, and be one of the continuing costs imposed by the terrible heritage of slavery, which was also accentuated by the genocidal treatment of the indigenous population of North America by the early generations of settler colonialists. The Zionist conflation works in the opposite direction, insisting that those who challenge Israel beyond a certain moderate point are racists, a species of anti-Semite, however much they protest against the derogatory label.

 

More to the point, expressing anger toward Israel seems well within the protected boundaries of free speech, and so the only reasonable question is one of tone, including the use of profanity to express such anger, and its relevance to academic performance. As Salaita himself explained, his tweets were mainly written in the context of the recent Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians, including over 500 children, during a period of acute frustration undoubtedly heightened by the sense that his own government here in the United States was mindlessly supportive of what Israel was doing to a vulnerable and entrapped civilian population.

 

It is also relevant to know whether the tweets should be taken as an ominous indicator of how Salaita would behave in the classroom and within the university community. On the basis of abundant testimony from colleagues and former students, as well as Salaita own very clearly articulated views, there is every reason to be confident that he would welcome and treat fairly diverse viewpoints with respect and sensitivity, including those supportive of Israel’s behavior. It is also is helpful to know that in the course of his six published books on a variety of topics involving the abuses experienced by marginalized peoples, including Palestinians, there is no hint of racism or indulgence in hate speech as an acceptable response. Quite the contrary, there is a rejection of all forms of profiling whether of the oppressor or the oppressed.

 

Of course, an accusation of hate speech in the context of criticizing Israel has as its objecting the implication that the speaker is guilty of genuine anti-Semitism. As I have tried to argue in a recent post [Sept. 1, 2014], Zionist propaganda seeks to merge anti-Israelism, denominated as a form of racial bigotry, with anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews and the Jewish people. The widespread deliberate use of this technique by organized Zionist forces in the United States is convincingly documented in The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket, 2014), 125-225 by Ali Abunimah. It forms part of the wider Israeli effort to defend a rising tide of anti-Israeli student activism on American university campuses, and more broadly what Israeli think tanks call ‘the delegitimation project’ associated with such initiatives as the BDS campaign.

 

I found your gratuitous swipe at the Palestinian quest for national heroes particularly nasty and unjustified. You make this strange assertion: “The Palestinians and their supporters are woefully short on heroes. The five most often mentioned—Arafat, Saladin, Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King are dead. Moreover, three weren’t Arabs and only one was a Palestinian.”

 

I have been around Palestinians for a long time and I find this statement out of touch. Aside from Arafat, who is controversial even among Palestinians, and Mandela, who is invoked quite often as an inspirational figure, the other three are only rarely, if at all, mentioned. Much more appreciated as heroes by Palestinians is Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Jimmy Carter, both of whom are very much alive and remain engaged. Most surprisingly your list omits Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish, both Palestinians and by far the most influential members of the Palestinian pantheon of heroes, and among the most eloquent of anti-colonial resistance voices who have ever set foot on planet earth.

 

Yes, Steven Salaita is a casualty of the long struggle to achieve Palestinian rights, and a victim of what I have called Zionist McCarthyism, but hopefully never a martyr to the cause. When you mock his passion with the demeaning words, “what kind of honest discussion could emerge from his obscene adolescent ranting?” Rabbi Youdovin, Salaita was certainly not seeking ‘honest discussion’ by sending these tweets to friends and followers, but expressing his righteous disgust about what was happening to the people of a shared ethnicity, and what you dismiss as “obscene adolescent ranting” others, including myself, hear as screams of pain and anguish. There are times and places for honest discussion, and there are times and places for screams of pain and anguish.

 

If we yearn for a world more dedicated to peace and justice, and more focused on human survival, we all need to learn to listen with our hearts as well as our heads. I find that both modes of communication have their role, and we harm our civic life as a country if we reject the relevance of screams of discontent and insist that only reasoned discourse has value.

.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Richard Falk

 

 

*******************************

In his “Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin”, Prof Falk brands me as being among the viscous Zionists determined to ruin Steven Salaita’s career. As night follows day, the Blog Faithful pile on. One writes, “Rabbi Ira Youdovin’s views and behaviours are identical to some “mullahs” inside Iran, whose “morality” is: “The end justifies the means.” I feel sorry for Judaism.” Kata Fisher, in one of her “Reflections”, denounces me as being tunder the power of Satan and warns that I’ll be Judged, (In this and other matters, Ms. Fisher fancies herself as having a direct line to the mind of the Almighty.) But she also provides an unintentional dose of humor. Noting my frequent exchanges with Prof. Falk, she condemns me for inflicting “psychological abuse toward elderly person like that.” I’m not sure that the professor delights in being characterized as an emotionally fragile old geezer.
This is pretty scary stuff, being accused of trying to destroy a promising young scholar’s career, compared unfavorably to the Iranian mullahs and condemned to eternal damnation. The blogosphere is not always friendly place. But Prof. Falk’s blog is an especially rough neighborhood. So before I’m consumed in the fires of hell, please join me in talking a look (or second look) \at what I actually wrote.

I made a total of two posts regarding Prof. Salaita. They can be found in the two threads preceding this one. For those who don’t want to do the scrolling, here are the relevant
excerpts:
1/
“The Salaita case is not about free speech….This was not a one-time temper tantrum that might be dismissed as a momentary lapse. This is a university professor who repeatedly sounds like a potty-mouthed teenage punk. And unlike the teenager who likely is content to walk down the street muttering to himself until his anger subsides, Salaita wanted to share his animus with anybody within tweeting range.”

“I can’t make a judgment on the Salaita episode because I don’t know the inside story.”

2/
“As I posted yesterday, I won’t get into the controversy over whether Salaita’s firing is justified. I know little about the rules governing academic freedom. And, truth be told, I have more than a little sympathy for the plight of his family with neither income nor health insurance. Were it up to me, a simple apology—one that would focus on his tactics and not demanding that he renounce his underlying convictions—would have sufficed to merit reinstatement. “

“Please note that I take no position on the propriety of the university withdrawing its job offer. But although it has no relevance to the case, I am appalled by Salaita’s language. Standards on social media may not be the same as in the classroom. (Apparently, civility in their public statements is no longer expected from college teachers.) But to my mind, someone capable of an extended and profane rant of this nature directed at anything or anyone is a questionable candidate for any faculty.”

That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? My focus is on Prof. Salaita’s language, not his ideas. I plead guilty to being committed to linguistic civility. But so was Prof. Falk until he ran into an obscenity tweeting Palestinian and changed the rules governing civility on this blog. Moreover, I clearly state that my has no relevance to his dispute with the U of Illinois. In other words, I’m not advocating anything in regard to Prof. Salaita’s job, other than saying that he merits re-instatement , and expressing my regret over the mutual failure to work things out, which likely could have been done with a little flexibility on both sides. Prof. Falk and his cohorts got their martyr, and Prof. Salaita lost his job. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade, but that’s not my decision to make.

So how do I wind up in Prof. Falk’s doghouse? The answer entails a wild adventure in sophistry and demagoguery.

Prof. Falk begins by disputing my assessment of Prof. Salaita’s tweets as hate speech. Full disclosure: having served for several years on the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crime, I’m aware that there are a variety of legal definitions of what constitutes hate speech, and that Prof. Salaita’s tweets do not cross the threshold prescribed by some of them. Had this been Prof. Falks objection, I would have acknowledged the error and adjusted my statement accordingly.

But Prof. Falk had something else in mind. His thesis is that Prof. Salaita’s anger not is directed at human beings—Jewish, Israeli or otherwise—but at the State of Israel. States, he argues, are abstractions, like the color brown; and nobody would construe the statement “fuck the color brown” as hate speech. Consequently, Prof. Salaita’s tweeting obscenities like “fuck you” and calling someone a “motherfucker” cannot be hate speech because he’s addressing an abstraction, like the color brown. I suspect this arcane theory comes as a surprise to Prof. Salita who personalized his tweets by specifically calling out the IDF’s spokesman a “motherfucker”, and imaging Israel’s prime minister as appearing on television wearing a necklace of a Palestinian children’s teeth.

Not being a lawyer, I’ll accept Prof. Falk’s word that the state is regarded as an abstraction in the rarefied circles of international law faculties . But in the real world—the world in which Steven Salaita and the rest of us live—the state is not in the same category as the color brown . For one thing, the color brown is not engaged in an often violent conflict with Prof. Salaita’s people. His hatred may be understandable, but it is hatred nevertheless. As a non-lawyer, I base this conclusion on the prosaic, but familiar “Duck Test”: if it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and looks like a duck, etc…”

This is another of those inconvenient truths that rise up to bedevil Prof. Falk in his determination to delete, deny or explain away every Palestinian failing. Regrettably, the way he handles this one is pure, unadulterated sophistry.

I won’t deal with Prof. Falk’s allusion to Nazi Germany because, frankly, I don’t understand it. I agree that it was/is wrong to blame all Germans for the Nazi atrocities. But that’s not because Germany is an abstraction. It’s because the German wartime population encompassed a diversity of opinions on, and knowledge of what was happening. This is precisely what Prof. Falk demonstrates in citing Goldhagen’s book (although I don’t understand why he chose to cite a controversial book to prove a self-evident point, particularly at a time when Hannah Arendt’s theory about the ”banality of evil” is again under serious attack.)

But more importantly, at whom is Prof. Falk’s rebuke directed? All I did was criticize Prof. Salaita’s use of profanity. That’s one person, not a population. According to Prof. Falk’s theory, Prof. Salaita would be a more appropriate target. He’s cursing an abstraction called Israel, which includes many Israelis who dissent from the Likud government’s policies. But that can’t be. Hate speech hurled at a state cannot be hate speech, just as hate speech hurled at the color brown cannot be hare speech. So we go round and round. Prof. Falk often accuses me of misrepresenting or misconstruing his positions. So I’ll leave this one with a big question mark.

Now we come to a great leap of illogic which takes us from the realm of sophistry to the realm of demagoguery. Having (erroneously!) concluded that Prof. Salaita’s remarks could not constitute hate speech, Prof. Falk proceeds to roll out his theory of why I think it does: “Israel’s first defenders [that’s me!] seek to make everyone feel that Israel as a self-proclaimed Jewish state is, in effect, the personification of the Jewish people, and that using profane language of criticism about the state amounts to hate speech…Of course, an accusation of hate speech in the context of criticizing Israel has as its objecting the implication that the speaker is guilty of genuine anti-Semitism.”

Where does this come from? I make no mention of anti-Semitism. Nor do I imply that any is a factor. To the contrary, I’ve repeatedly stated on this blog and elsewhere that criticism of Israel, even harsh criticism, does not necessarily reflect anti-Semitism. I have no idea of Prof. Salaita’s attitudes toward Jews And I did say that he merits reinstatement. But Prof. Falk deliberately ignores these not incidental realities. In his view, all criticism of Israel’s critics implies an accusation of anti-Semitism. This is outrageous stereotyping. Indeed, it’s demagogic. Faced with a set of problematic tweets, Prof. Falk asserts an elaborate and totally inaccurate rendition of my beliefs as a ploy to deflect attention from the evidence at hand. As they say in (American) football: a good offense is the best defense.

But to those of us smeared by Prof. Falk’s evasive tactics, his offense is offensive.
The saddest part of this episode is that when the dust clears, it will become apparent that the melee was not over free speech, but over the propriety of a professor’s use of obscenity which added nothing to his message but cost him his job, while his cheerleaders returned to their secure jobs and comfortable homes. Yes, Prof. Falk, those undeleted expletive were screams of pain and anguish. But aren’t there better, indeed more effective ways of expressing these same emotions, ways that do not draw attention away from the thoughts and emotions being expressed by making the words, themselves, the main attraction…ways that do not drive people apart by demonizing one side or the other? And shouldn’t we look to our intellectuals, young and old, to lead the way in developing this more civilized language?

Rabbi Ira Youdovin

 

  

                       

Steven Salaita and Zionist McCarthyism

9 Sep

 

 

I have been following the controversy swirling around the dehiring of Steven Salaita by unilateral fiat of the Chancellor of the Urbana Champaign campus of the University of Illinois, Phyllis Wise. As is now widely known, Steven was a tenured professor at Virginia Tech until he resigned his position some months ago to accept a tenure offer in the Department of American Indian Studies from Illinois. By past practice and reasonable expectations, it seemed a done deal until the Chancellor shocked the community by invoking her rarely used prerogative to withhold formal approval before forwarding the appointment for rubber stamping by the Board of Trustees, but was it her prerogative? It would seem that she did have some ill-defined authority to act, yet university governance procedures assume that any initiative of this sort be exercised in a consultative manner. This would have required the Chancellor to discuss her misgivings about forwarding the appointment with relevant faculty committees and administrators, as well as with the appointee. She has more recently acknowledged that she acted unilaterally, contending that she was acting unilaterally to avoid the embarrassment of having the Board reject the appointment.

 

Steven’s sole offense was to use his Twitter account to send our numerous tweets highly critical of Israel, especially during its military operations Gaza in July and August that killed over 2100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including about 500 children. Steven is Palestinian-American born in the United States, but his grandparents were dispossessed by the nakba in 1948. According to unconfirmed reports his tweets angered some donors and alumni of the University of Illinois and several Jewish organizations to such an extent that they threatened to withhold funding if Salaita became a member of the faculty. Apparently, it was this kind of pressure that led the Board and the Chancellor to sacrifice Saleita, along with the principles of academic freedom and faculty participating in the hiring process.

 

Steven’s tweets were not gentle, and did express his abhorrence over Israel’s behavior in the strongest language at his disposal. Among the most frequently quoted of these tweets are the following:

 

By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionist are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.

 

Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible to something honorable since 1948.

 

If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian child, would anybody be surprised

 

I should make several assertions to explain my view of the issues at stake: 1) I would never adopt this kind of language even in the venue of social media, although I share the sentiments and the accompanying moral passion that prompted such tweets; 2) it is highly inappropriate to take tweets into account in appraising the appropriateness and wisdom of an academic appointment; 3) I share Steven Salaita’s outrage over Israel’s unchecked violence toward Palestinians, and identify especially with what he calls the conflation of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewishness’ so as to treat people who criticize Israel as if they are by this alone ‘anti-Semites,’ and made to pay a heavy price in career and reputation; 4) I believe that Salaita’s appointment should be reinstated, and that Chancellor Wise should make a public apology, offer compensatory damages, and provide an assurance that his performance at Illinois will not be adversely affected by this incident; 5) my own examination of Salaita’s record as a classroom teacher and scholar confirms the judgment of the University of Illinois’ faculty process that his appointment was highly deserved, and that his presence in the Department of American Indian Studies would be a positive development for both students and the university community. 

 

Steven is a productive and talented scholar and a charismatic teacher, and any university should be thrilled to have him on their faculty. It is a sad commentary on the times that such an appointment should even be viewed as ‘controversial.’ It is also a regrettable indication that pro-Israeli forces are playing the anti-Semitic card to shield Israel from critics. This not only punishes a citizen’s right to speak freely but it tends to send a chilling message of intimidation throughout the academic community that it is better to be silent about Israel’s crimes than face the calumny and punitive effects of a Zionist backlash.

 

The main rationale for questioning the Salaita appointment was hidden beneath the umbrella of ‘civility.’ The recently notorious anti-boycott activist, former AAUP President, Cary Nelson, who happens to be a professor of English at the University of Illinois, unsurprisingly applauded the Chancellor’s move on these grounds. Somehow someone who sends around tweets that would likely be viewed as offensive by some Jewish students and might make them feel uncomfortable in his classes provides ample ground for the university to reverse what had the appearance of being a consummated appointment. In other words, the typical ‘bait and switch’ tactic of hiding the real grievance of anti-Israel fervor behind the pseudo neutral rationale of civility was relied upon. More than a decade ago Ward Churchill was similarly disciplined by the University of Colorado for the text of an undelivered speech (“On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”) that seemed to provide a justification for the 9/11 attacks, yet he was actually sacked not for the offending remarks that were clearly protected speech but for faulty footnotes in scholarly articles conveniently uncovered after more than a decade of distinguished service at the university (also ironically enough in a program devoted to ethnic studies and indigenous peoples that he headed).

 

This theme has now been echoed by a sudden outpouring of enthusiasm for civility on the part of university administrators, most prominently by University of California at Berkeley Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, who had the audacity to applaud the 50th anniversary on his campus of the Free Speech Movement, one of the enduring glories of the 1960s, with a concern about the anti-Semitic overtones of criticism directed at Israel. Granted for the sake of discussion that Salaita’s social media tweets can be reasonable regarded as uncivil, should that provide grounds for banishment, or even censure? Of course, not. If a lack of civility is severe, and exhibited in relation to staff, colleagues, and students, it would raise relevant concerns. In Salaita’s case, his experience at Virginia Tech reveals an opposite profile, one of popularity and respect among students and an admirable reputation as a promising young and engaged teacher/scholar among colleagues. At this stage the final disposition of the case is up to the Board of Trustees, which has already swung strongly to the side of the Chancellor’s decision to stop the appointment.The Chair of the Board is Christopher Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy and born on the 4th of July. This adds an Americana dimension to the ongoing battle of values. So far, this particular Kennedy offspring seems to be determined to bolster the illiberal side of the family legacy.

 

The battle lines have been drawn, and the war goes on. For the first time since the Chancellor’s decision became known, Steven Salaita is speaking today in public, holding a press conference in Champlain, Illinois where the university is located. There are rumors that he has been offered a settlement by the university, presumably in the hope that the storm unleashed by his rescinded appointment will abate. There are uncertainties as to whether he will be offered a comparable academic post elsewhere, which will show us how wide the net of Zionist influence is cast. It is not encouraging to recalling the case of Norman Finkelstein, who despite scholarly excellence and productivity, has not been offered an academic job elsewhere after being denied a permanent position at DePaul University. This denial was supposedly due to the administration being persuaded by defamatory ‘anti-Semitic’ allegations evidently contained in a letter and media blitz by that redoubtable Zionist stalwart, Alan Dershowitz.

 

Under these circumstances, then, it seems likely that the outcome of the Salaita case will clearly exhibit the current balance of influence as between Zionist McCarthyism and academic freedom in American universities. That such a struggle should be taking place is itself a national disgrace that suggests the worrisome fragility of academic freedom in relation to the potency of money and the baneful impact of  well-funded and unscrupulous pressure groups. Steven Salaita’s own public statement at the start of a press conference admirably sets forth his own response to the crisis, is definitely worth reading:  <http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/commitment-teaching-american&gt;

Two Types of Anti-Semitism

1 Sep

 

Contrary to much conventional thinking that treats ‘anti-Semitism’ as exclusively a form of ethnic hatred, there is a second kind of attitude that is alleged to be ‘anti-Semitism’ because it is critical, often justifiably so, of Zionism and Israel’s policies and practices. This second type of supposed anti-Semitism is a tactic deployed to discredit critics of Israel by insisting that criticism of Israel and hatred of the Jewish people should not be distinguished. These two distinct types of anti-Semitism actually work at cross purposes, and although there may be situations of overlap, it is a dangerous confusion to lump them together.

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It is rather unusual for even the harshest critics of the behavior of the U.S. Government to be castigated as anti-American except sometimes in the midst of international security crises, but even then such accusations usually reflect the outlook of red neck patriots or extremists who identify with the right wing of American politics. Also, such accusations, although unpleasant, lack the sting of anti-Semitism, which carries with it an implicit secondary allegation of indifference to the Holocaust, to the Nazi genocide, and to the long history of persecution directed at the Jewish people. In my view this labeling of Israel’s critics as ‘anti-Semites’ is a short-sighted form of unsavory state propaganda, generally implemented overseas by hard core Zionist groups, and partly responsible for an emergent backlash that is being expressed by hatred and hostility toward Jews. This is a highly sensitive subject matter that is almost certain to be treated emotionally in a manner shaped by strong ideological alignments for or against the way in which Israel has behaved since its contested establishment in 1948 and in relation to attitudes toward close connections between the Zionist movement and the Jewish people.

 

Type I anti-Semitism is a form of virulent racism, which is characterized by hatred and envy, and leads to manifold forms of hostility toward Jews. It has been often accompanied by strong governmental and societal support for a punitive response to Jews so as to safeguard the dominant religion and ethnicity, and to uphold the values and traditions of the non-Jewish political community that are supposedly under threat as a result of Jewish activities; historically, Type I anti-Semitism traces its historic roots back to the origins and rise of Christianity, reinforced in later centuries by European restrictions on Jewish ownership of land and permissible habitats that led Jews to focus on money and banking, creating a close relationship between Jews and the rise of capitalism, especially finance capital.

 

Extreme cases of Type I anti-Semitism involve the capture of state power by an anti-Semitic outlook as exemplified by Hitler’s Germany. It is also relevant to observe that anti-Semitism was relatively rare in the Islamic world, which upheld freedom of worship by religious minorities although claiming a hegemonic role for Islam, especially in the era of the Ottoman caliphate. Until the problems generated by Zionism, anti-Semitism was not a serious issue in the Middle East where Jews in most Arab countries were mostly treated as an authentic religion and a respected minority. Throughout modern history Jews suffered mostly from European anti-Semitism with Russia considered part of Europe.

 

In Germany the Nazi seizure and abuse of state power led by stages to death camps, genocide on a massive scale, given its distinctive historical status by becoming known as the Holocaust. This genocidal implementation of anti-Semitism was prepared by Nazi ideology and its ruthless and overtly discriminatory practices, which demonized Jews along with the Roma people and others deemed unfit to propagate Aryans, put forward as the master race. Type I anti-Semitism in post-Nazi Christian societies has generally disappeared beneath a thick cloud of guilt and denial related to the past, although mild patterns of societal prejudice persist. These patterns involve a variety of exclusions and discriminations, ranging from informal and unspoken patterns of discrimination in employment and social life to ethnic profiling that calls public attention to unfavorable aspects of physical appearance or behavior attributed to Jews, and includes jokes that perpetuate stereotypic views of ‘the Jew.’ Such societal attitudes are to some extent offset by the widespread recognition of Jewish achievements and influence disproportionate to their small numbers, and the remarkable resilience of the Jewish people over the centuries despite facing many daunting challenges.

 

Christian Zionism, so-called, is best viewed as an indirect endorsement of Type I anti-Semitism that hides beneath the veil of ardent support for Israel as a state and Zionism as a movement. Its anti-Semitic animus is directed against Diaspora Jewry, deriving from a reading of the Book of Revelations that anticipates that the Second Coming of Jesus will only occur once all Jews have returned to the Jewish state of Israel. To foster this prophetic claim, Christian Zionist favor taking steps to encourage Jews to emigrate to Israel, and in this respect are in accord with the most influential tendency in Zionist thinking. The further anti-Semitic character of Christian Zionism is directed at a subsequent stage of the Last Judgment, a time of reckoning at which all those who have not embraced the Christian faith would be consigned to permanent damnation. Despite these anti-Semitic underpinnings, Israel has officially and existentially bonded with Christian Zionism, giving its organization a diplomatic status and welcoming its unconditional support within the American political scene. This connection between Israel and Christian Zionism typifies a Faustian Bargain, and functions to tip the political balance within the United States even further in an Israeli direction than might otherwise have been the case.

Type II anti-Semitism comes in two very diverse variants. The first variant is what might be called ‘an Arab branding of anti-Semitism,’ taking the form of condemning Jews and the Jewish people for the implanting of a Jewish state in Israel. Anger is also directed at Israel for granting a right of return to all Jews throughout the world while denying every Palestinian any right of return, withholding such a right even from those Palestinians and their descendants who either fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948. This kind of conflation of a state project with the ethnicity of the people involved is unacceptable, and is a form of anti-state propaganda that assumes a hateful form by targeting an ethnicity in addition to a political entity. Most Arabs do not subscribe to such an outlook are careful to draw the distinction between Israel as an illegitimate political phenomenon and Jews as a distinct and geographically dispersed ethnicity. It is important, as well, not to brand Arabs as ‘anti-Semitic’ because some do cross this line of ethnic hatred.

 

The second expression of Type !! anti-Semitism oddly enough indirectly endorses Arab anti-Semitism by saying that hostility to the state of Israel cannot be distinguished from hostility to the Jewish people. The central contention is that strong criticisms of Israel as a Jewish state or directed at the Zionist Project or expressing sharp disapproval of the policies and practices of Israel are thinly disguised expressions of hatred toward Jews as a people and Judaism as a religion. Proponents of what might be called ‘the Zionist branding of anti-Semitism’ do their best to make people believe that the two types of concern are not properly distinguishable. In this way critics of Israel are denigrated as ‘anti-Semites’ in its authentic sense of hatred of Jews. If Jews themselves become strong and visible critics of Israel they are branded as ‘self-hating Jews’ or simply lumped together with Type I anti-Semites. This is not to deny that some Jews may actually as a matter of deep psychological outlook hate their Jewish identity, and try hard to escape from it, but criticizing Israel and rejecting Zionism should not be used as evidence of such self-hatred. In fact, some anti-Zionists rest their views on strong convictions that Zionism is a betrayal of Jewish values and tradition, and exhibit great pride in their Jewish heritage.

 

I recall an encounter in Cyprus more than a decade ago with hasbara specialist, Professor Gerald Steinberg of UN Monitor and the Israeli ambassador to Greek Cyprus at a meeting of the Inter-Action Council devoted to conflict resolution in the Middle East. The Inter-Action Council is composed of former heads of state, and I was invited as ‘a resource person.’ This session was on Israel-Palestine was chaired by Helmut Schmidt, the former German Chancellor. In the discussion, the Israeli participants argued strongly that Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity were a unity, and any criticism directed at one of three perspectives was an attack on the other two. I intervened to say that I strongly dissented from such a view, and felt as a Jew a critical attitude toward both Israel’s behavior and Zionist claims. Afterwards, several participants, including Mr. Schmidt, thanked me for saying what they believed, but told me they were unable to say because they feared that it would be treated as proof of their anti-Semitism. In contrast, Mr. Steinberg was quite hostile after the meeting, informing me in a peremptory manner that my comments were ‘most unhelpful.’

 

In my view it is most unfortunate to consider criticism of Israel, even if strongly worded unless amounting to hate speech, as tantamount to anti-Semitism. Type II anti-Semitism has several serious undesirable consequences: it conflates a valid repudiation of ethnic hatred with invalid efforts to ethnicize or discredit criticism of Israel and Zionism; It makes many non-Jews believe that if they are critical of Israel they will be unfairly discredited as anti-Semites and Jews are made to fear that they will be regarded as self-hating, thereby inhibiting criticism of Israel and Zionism. For this reason it allows Israel to hide its criminal policies and practices toward the Palestinian people by invoking the memory of the Holocaust and the long history of Jewish victimization, and thereby inhibit criticism. Also, it leads many people to believe that there is no difference between Jewish identity and Zionist solidarity. This fosters a tendency by some non-Jews to regard Jews as an ethno-religious-political category, even if they have no connection with the state of Israel, and hence responsible as a people for the victimization of the Palestinian people. This insistence that Type II anti-Semitism is a genuine form of anti-Semitism actually encourages Type I anti-Semitic behavior. When Arab youth in the banlieux of Paris throw stones at any Jew they can find on the streets of the city the hateful act is based in most instances on their bitter hostility to Israel. It is clear in such behavior that a symbiotic relationship exists between the equally invalid Arab and Zionist efforts to link Israel/Zionism with hatred of Jews.

 

American popular culture inscribes this confusion. For instance in an early episode of the TV series House of Cards a U.S. senator is completely discredited as a viable candidate for elected office because his opposition found that he was the author of an unsigned editorial in a student newspaper while an undergraduate that criticized building of settlements in the West Bank. Once his authorship was publicized, it was treated as ‘a no brainer’ that his political career was over without any consideration of his age, of the reasonableness of what he had written, and of the supposed openness in a constitutional democracy of diverse views. During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza this same atmosphere in Washington produced a resolution with 100% backing expressing unreserved support for Israel’s right to defend itself. In polarized America to find such unanimity confirms above all the undeniable success of pro-Israel forces to treat Type II anti-Semitism as synonymous with hatred of Jews. As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have convincingly argued, with ample documentation, this skewing of the political atmosphere has interfered with the rational pursuit of American national interests in the Middle East.

 

A recent example of such the manipulation of such anti-Semitic allegations has been raised by the case of Steven Salaita recently denied a tenure track appointment at the University of Illinois because he sent several ‘uncivil’ tweets during the July/August military onslaughts on Gaza. The university chancellor, Phyllis Wise, wrongly treated these tweets as evidence of Type I anti-Semitism, although she slyly claims to have acted to protect an atmosphere of civility on the campus, and not because Salaita exhibited anti-Israeli views. Chancellor Wise used this (mis)perception, strongly encouraged by off-campus Zionist pressures and threats relating to funding, to justify denying Salaita an academic appointment that he had accepted and relied upon in good faith. He had rented a house near what he reasonably thought would be his new campus in Urbana-Champlain, and had already resigned his position on the faculty at Virginia Tech University. Salaita had outstanding teaching evaluations at Virginia Tech that included student appreciations of a classroom environment that welcomed all points of view. His scholarship in American Indian Studies had been thoroughly vetted by a lengthy recruiting process at Illinois. The lame justification given by Chancellor Wise and her supporters is that Salaita’s tweets were evidence of a lack of civility in relation to sensitive issues that might make his Jewish students uncomfortable or inhibited. The evidence suggests, on the contrary that Steven Saiaita personally rejected and intensely disapproved of Type I anti-Semitism, although as a Palestinian-American, he was understandably deeply disturbed by Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinian people, and responded emotionally in the midst of the crisis.

 

I do not claim neutrality on these issues. During the past six years, while serving as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council, I have been the continuous target of a sustained defamation campaign spearheaded by a Zionist-oriented NGO, UN Watch, based in Geneva. I was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, and my views on other issues were likewise distorted to create an impression of bizarre judgment. I was called a supporter of terrorism, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and the like. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles listed me in 2013 as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, ranking just below the Supreme Leader of Iran and the Turkish Prime Minister. Also on their top ten list were such notable authors as Max Blumenthal and Alice Walker. Interestingly, Wiesenthal made no effort to distinguish criticisms of Israel from hatred of Jews by entitling their list “Anti-Semitic, Anti-Israel Slurs,’ mixing the two types of orientation on their list.

 

Because of the atmosphere in North America where demonstrating 100%+ support for Israel has become an indispensable ingredient of political credibility, these defamatory attacks were accepted as valid by several public officials who never bothered to check with me or examine my actual views on such controversial topics. As a result I was attacked by such luminaries as the UN Secretary General, two U.S. ambassadors to the UN (Susan Rice, Samantha Powers), Foreign Minister of Canada, among others, and a favorite target for Fox TV and the Murdock media empire. Additionally, efforts were made to have my lectures cancelled at universities in various places around the world (including McGill and McMaster in Canada, AUB in Beirut, ANU, Melbourne, and Sydney in Australia, Norfolk in the UK, and Princeton, University of Texas, University of Iowa and others in the USA) These universities were warned that unless my campus appearance was cancelled, funding would suffer. On at least one occasion I was informed that a previous offer of a visiting appointment at an overseas university, Kings College London, was reduced from year-to-year to a single year due to my alleged anti-Semitism. Even my wife was defamed by such Zionist zealots who tried to defeat her candidacy in the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 to become Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food. She was accused of writing inflammatory anti-Israeli tracts in collaboration with me, a complete lie as we had never collaborated on this subject-matter, and it was further alleged that she shared my anti-Semitic views, which is a double lie.

 

            This use of anti-Semitism as an ideological weapon, what is being called here Type II anti-Semitism, is having paradoxical effects, including contributing to new outbreaks of Type I anit-Semitism, the real thing. The logic of this development goes like this—if Jews are expected to be supportive of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians to avoid the label of anti-Semitism, then it becomes reasonable to believe that Jews, and not just the government of Israel, are responsible for the crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian people. If opponents of anti-Semitism are not allowed to be critical of Israel, despite its drastic departures from morality and law, then there is created a deep confusion between the rejection of ethnic hatred and stereotyping that is an unconditional wrong and the repudiation of immoral and unlawful behavior by a government that is subject to challenge as to the facts and its interpretation of law and morality. More pointedly, if Israel invokes the Holocaust to validate its historic claims of victimhood, and then turns around and victimizes another people in an extreme form first by expelling most of them from their homeland and then coercively occupying the land that remains in Palestinian hands and gradually confiscating the territorial remnant, it does seem to implicate the people as well as the state if opposition is silenced or marginalized. To overlook Israel’s crimes against humanity and genocidal conduct or else stand accused of being an anti-Semite compounds the confusion. It is further compounded by Arab and Islamic extremism that insists that Israel’s wrongdoing is a direct result of its claim to be a Jewish state, and not a normal state.

 

In conclusion, I believe it is in the interest of both Jews and Palestinians that Type II anti-Semitism be unmasked as a toxic propaganda tool that should be repudiated by people of good will regardless of their ethnicity and political persuasion. Speaking from experience, it is hurtful personally, and generates anger among all those who insist that criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people must be opposed in a vigorous manner. Israel has long devoted major funding and great effort to deflecting blame for its policies and practices by raising the black flag of anti-Semitism to discredit responsible and deserved criticism. As the Palestinian solidarity movement grows across the world, it is obvious that this form of hasbara is failing.

Israel as An Outlaw State and U.S. Complicity

26 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The following post, was previously published as a co-authored two-part article by Akbar Ganji and myself  in AlJazeera English on August 20-21, 2014; its basic premise is that the persistent defiance of international law by a sovereign state should carry delegitimizing consequences; the geopolitical grant of impunity to Israel evident throughout the aggressive military operation being carried out against an essentially helpless civilian population in Gaza suggests that neither the UN, nor governments in the region, nor leading governments in the world possess the political will to challenge such a frontal assault upon the authority of international law. We write from two very distinct backgrounds as members of civil society devoted to human rights and the global rule of law, and invite others to join in reflecting upon how civil society can bring law to bear more effectively on the behavior of the Israeli government, and in the process, help empower the people of Palestine in their quest for national self-determination and the fulfillment of their rights under international law so long denied. We try to make this central argument by positing the idea of 'Outlaw State' as a descriptive designation that might have some influence in civil society mobilizations of the sort associated with the global solidarity movement backing the Palestinian struggle and supporting such militant nonviolence as animating the BDS Campaign.]

 

 

 

The United State and the Outlaw State of Israel

Richard Falk and Akbar Ganji

Israel has become an outlaw state. In his book, The Law of Peoples, John Rawls defines (pp. 5 and 90) an outlaw state as one that systematically violates the universal principles of human rights, and commits aggression against other nations. Israel is guilty of repeated such violations as well as several massive acts of aggression, making it reasonable and responsible to identify it as an outlaw state. Such a pattern of behavior also contradicts the most basic principles of international law as embodied in the UN Charter pertaining to the use of international force, and obstructs the fundamental promise in the Preamble of the Charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

It has become appropriate for the international community and global civil society to act accordingly

Israel’s military aggressions against other countries

Israel was born in 1948. Resolution 181 of the United Nations General Assembly is widely regarded as the most convincing legal basis for founding the State of Israel. We should recall that the Palestinians were awarded 45% of the historic Palestine, while 54% was allocated to Israel, and 1% was set aside as a special zone to be used for the internationalized city of Jerusalem. After the 1948 War with the neighboring Arab nations, Israel’s territorial gains reduced the Palestinian share to only 22%. In the 1967 War Israel proceeded to occupy the Palestinian territorial remnant that had been temporarily administered since 1948 by Jordan and Egypt, and since that time has encroached on Occupied Palestine in several unlawful ways—by establishing and expanding large and numerous Israeli settlements, constructing a network of settlers-only roads, building a separation wall deep in Occupied Palestine declared illegal by a 14-1 majority of the International Court of Justice in 2004, keeping the 1.8 million people of Gaza under siege since mid-2007 in ways that constitute collective punishment, and annexing and enlarging the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. These actions called ‘facts on the ground’ have been accepted as new “realities” by the U.S. Government and by several European governments, making the establishment of a viable Palestinian State virtually impossibility. Present trends in Israel make permanent the denial of fundamental Palestinian rights, above all, the right of self-determination, and accompany this with a unilateral “validation” of Israeli expansionism. Furthermore, Israel has attacked Gaza three times in the last six years (2008-09, 2012, 2014) in a manner that constitutes aggression under international law and the UN Charter and involves numerous violations of the law of war

This denial of Palestinian rights and deviation from the rules of international law and norms of global justice should not be interpreted in isolation from a wider pattern of unacceptable Israeli behavior. In this regard, it is highly relevant to take note of various acts of aggressions committed by Israel against several other sovereign states as well:

Military attacks on Iraq in June 1981 that destroyed Osirak nuclear reactor that was under construction, with the apparent purpose of disrupting an Iraqi program to develop nuclear weapons and to preserve Israel’s undeclared, yet clearly existent, regional monopoly over nuclear weaponry

Invasions of Lebanon in 1978, and 1982, coupled with the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon until 2000. In September 1982 Israel was charged with complicity in the Sabra and Shatila massacre carried out by Maronite Phalangist militia units in which between 1500 and 3000 Palestinian civilians were murdered in cold blood. The Kahan commission, established by the government of Israel to investigate allegations involving Israeli complicity associated with the 1982 Lebanon War, found that then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon “bears personal responsibility” as the military commander on the scene who facilitated Phalangist entry into the camps and watched the massacres unfold.

Military attack on the PLO Headquarters in Hamman, Tunisia in October 1985, killing 60, which was condemned by the UN Security Council.

Invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006 that resulted in the 33 days warfare directed at Hezbollah, the destruction of residential sections in the southern Beirut associated with the formulation of the ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ rationalizing and justifying Israeli reliance on disproportionate uses of military power.

Attacks on October 2, 2007 on Syria destroyed its nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor region.

The attack of May 2010 in international waters on the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara that was part of the Freedom Flotilla bringing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza in defiance of the international blockade, killing nine Turkish nonviolent peace activists.

At least three additional military attacks on Syria during 2013 and 2014 that involved bombing of targets to stop weapons from going through the country to reach Hezbollah in Lebanon, targets associated with location of Syrian Army units to lend assistance to the anti-Assad insurgent forces, and in retaliation for causing the death of an Israeli Arab in the Golan Heights.

Repeated military attacks in Sudan in 2009, 2011, and 2012, supposedly to disrupt the supply of weapons to Hamas in Gaza, causing many deaths.

In addition, Israel has occupied Syria’s Golan Heights since 1967, built unlawful settlements, and established a permanent presence. Israel has refused to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as called for by unanimous Security Council Resolution 242.

Add to these infringements on the sovereignty of Arab states the destabilizing fact that Israel secretly and illegitimately acquired and has continued to develop an arsenal of an estimated 300 nuclear warheads, the only state in the Middle East that has a nuclear arsenal, and the only country in the world that refuses to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons.

Systematic violations of human rights and the apartheid regime

Israel has always declared that it is the only democratic state in the Middle East. As pointed out by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, Israel’s occupation regime in the West Bank has systematic discriminatory features of an apartheid regime. Further, the Palestinian minority resident in Israel is subject to as many fifty discriminatory laws that greatly restrict their individual and collective rights.

Recall that the South African regime also had a nominally “democratic” government, but it served only the white minority. The African black majority population was governed by a different set of laws, a cruel and exploitative apartheid regime in which the majority’s human rights were violated systematically. Palestinians in the West Bank have been living without the protection of law or the possession of rights since 1967, being subject to military administration and the oppressive practices of the Palestinian Authority, while the unlawful settler population enjoys the full protection of Israel’s rule of law.

As Gideon Levy, the progressive Israeli journalist writes Israel is “really only a democracy for its Jewish citizens who are quick to fall in line with the mainstream every time Israeli tanks roll across the border,” because even Israeli citizens that are opposed to their country’s aggression are attacked and threatened. A large number of Israelis are relatively recent immigrants, particularly from the former Soviet Union and Easter Europe, who enjoy a far more protected status than the several millions of Palestinians live under an apartheid regime in which they cannot vote in Israeli elections, do not have passports, cannot own property in many parts of Israel, and do not enjoy the social mobility that every human being is entitled to possess. The Palestinian people are also denied the right of self-determination, do not have any prospect of having an independent sovereign state of their own, or to join with the Israelis in the shared existence of a bi-national state in which the two peoples seek to live together on the basis of balanced unity, equality, with distinct spheres of autonomous administration and governance that is organized within the framework of a single sovereign state.

Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians

Not only does UN Security Council 465 speak twice of “Palestinian or Arab territories occupied since 1967,” but also declare and affirm that the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories represent a violation of 4th Geneva Convention. Grave violations of this Convention – as for example the defiant refusal to dismantle the settlements as unlawful under Article 49(6), or to dismantle the separation wall as mandated by the International Court of Justice – appear to be war crimes of great severity.

Israel removed its military forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip in its ‘disengagement’ initiative in 2005, but in actuality kept effective control of Gaza, and remained bound by the obligations contained in international humanitarian law as applicable to an Occupying Power. In effect, Israel transformed the conditions of life in Gaza from direct military administration to life imprisonment of the population in the largest open-air jail on earth. Israel retained its total control of Gaza’s entrances and exits, of its airspace and offshore waters, disrupting life within the prison walls by lethal periodic violent incursions Most Palestinian people living in Gaza have effectively been locked in there ever since 1967, and more unconditionally since 2007. At the same time, Israel has periodically launched massive military operations against Gaza, imposed and maintained an illegal blockade, committed frequent acts of cross-border violence, and committed numerous grave war crimes there over a period of many years:

Israel attacked Gaza in 2008-2009, killing 1417 Palestinians, injuring 5303, creating 51,000 internal refugees, destroying 4000 homes, inflicting $2 billion economic damage, and disallowing the delivery of materials needed for reconstruction efforts.

Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2012 killed 105 and injured 971, provoked by the Israeli targeted assassination of the Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, as he was delivering a signed truce document.

Israel’s 2014 aggression against Gaza launched on July 8 has so far killed 2130 Palestinians , injured nearly 11,000, with 75-80% of the casualties being civilians. This massive Israeli military operation has caused more than 660,000 Gazans to be internally displaced, highlighting the denial of any right of Palestinians to leave the combat area throughout the military onslaught that has terrorized the entire population of Gaza. 577 Palestinian children are estimated to have been killed and as many as 3300 injured. In contrast, Israel’s losses in this attack have led to 68 Israeli deaths, of whom 65 were soldiers. The casualty disparity and the ration of both sides as between military and civilian deaths are both very significant indicators of relative moral responsibility of the carnage caused.

Israel has carried out 59,000 attacks on Gaza, dropping 15,000 tons of explosives on Gaza, which amounts to about 30% of the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The United States as Israel’s servant

The United States has supported Israel without reservations since its founding in 1948. According to an agreement between the two countries, that has become a law in the U.S., The United States has committed itself to preserve Israel’s strategic and military superiority in relation to other countries in the Middle East. From 1949-2014 the U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $122 billion in aid, calculated by reference to fixed dollars. Counting the aid to Israel in 2003 dollars, from 1949 – 2003 the U.S. has provided Israel with $140 billion worth of military assistance, which has been increasing since 2003. The basic annual commitment to Israel is $3.1 billion, which is far more than military aid that has been given to any other country in the world, and this figure is an understatement, hiding a variety of supplemental appropriations and other benefits accorded uniquely to Israel. In effect, the United States has been subsidizing Israel’s aggressions, and ignoring American military assistance legislation that seeks to withhold such aid to countries that are not acting defensively and in accordance with international law.

 

The Obama administration has even increased the aid to Israel through its reliance on various special appropriations. Most recently Congress appropriated an additional $225 million for further development of the Iron Dome defensive weapons system.

The U.S. Senate has even approved a resolution according to which if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites in the future defying international law, the U.S. is obligated to help Israel. It reads in part, “If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.” Of course, the language as written of ‘legitimate self-defense’ is understood to mean any action taken by Israel that is alleged to be ‘defensive,’ whether or not in conformity to international law, which limits such claims to situations of response to prior armed attacks. (See Article 51, UN Charter).

Among the many UNSC resolutions that seek to criticize or condemn Israel for its actions against the Palestinians, almost all have been vetoed by the United States. In fact, the U.S. government opposes virtually every resolution approved by any UN organ, including UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), if it is deemed to be critical of Israel, and this includes even initiatives to establish fact-finding commissions of inquiry to determine whether charges of war crimes are well-founded. When Israel attacks the defenseless and completely vulnerable Palestinian people, the U.S. justifies such high-intensity and disproportionate violence as ”self-defense,” obstructs the issuance of a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, and gives diplomatic and material aid and comfort to Israeli aggression from start to finish.

After a fact-finding report on Israel war crimes in Gaza in 2008-2009 was approved by UNHRC, the U.S. and Israel successfully intervened with the Secretary General to prompt him to urge the non-implementation of the report in relation to Israeli accountability for war crimes. The US Government also used its leverage to prevent even the discussion of this important report, generally known as ‘the Goldstone Report,’ in the UNSC. When recently, the UN HRC approved a resolution to investigate Israel’s possible was crimes in Gaza, the U.S. cast the only negative vote.

Amnesty International has reported that the evidence of systematic attacks by Israel’s military forces on schools and hospitals in Gaza during the current warfare is overwhelming. It includes targeting those civilians seeking to escape the worst ravages of the Israeli attack by seeking shelter in United Nations schools and other buildings marked with the UN logo.

Human Rights Watch has reported on evidence of intentional shooting of Palestinians who were fleeing their homes, even after they had been ordered to do so by Israel’s military, and has declared such behavior to be a war crime.

We can only comprehend this partisan pattern of U.S. policy toward Israel by taking account of the leverage exerted on the government by the formidable lobby working on behalf of Israel known as AIPAC. Former President Jimmy Carter and the former President of Ireland and prior head of the UN HRC Mary Robinson have condemned this one-sidedness of American policy toward Israel and Hamas, insisting that as a first step Israel immediately ends without conditions the blockade of Gaza, allowing the long suffering people of Gaza to have finally some semblance of a normal life.

Consequences

The U.S. policy toward Israel has had dire consequences:

It has completely discredited the claim of United States to act as an impartial arbitrator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hatred and resentment toward the United States has been increasing throughout the region, not only because of the blind support of Israel by the U.S., but also due to the military onslaughts directed against Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, and by drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

According to a poll right before the current war, 85% of Egyptians and Jordanian, 73% of the Turks, and 66% of the Palestinians view the U.S. unfavorably, while 84% of Israelis have a positive view of the U.S.

What Israel has done in the region with the support of the U.S. has contributed greatly to the growth of extremism and discord throughout the Middle East. If such policies are not reversed even more chaos, extremist violence, bloodshed, and devastation are likely to emerge in the future.

The Middle East and North Africa have been unstable for decades, and the consequences of the intensifying instability are spreading to other regions and endangering world peace.

These policies of unconditional support for Israel have long been against the national interests of the United States. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is the mother of all problems in the Middle East. Israel has undermined all efforts to find a peaceful solution by way of diplomacy. It has rejected both the Arab Initiative of 2002 and ‘the roadmap proposed by the Quartet – the U.S., Russia, the European Union, and the UN – which require that Israel to withdraw to its pre-war green line borders of 1967 with the expectation that a sovereign and independent Palestinian state would emerge. This view of what is required of Israel as a precondition for peace have been consistently endorsed by the United Nations and enjoy wide support of world public opinion, already set forth in Security Council Resolution 242 that has been frequently reaffirmed since its unanimous adoption in 1967. It should be understood that ending the occupation of Palestinian territories is not by itself sufficient to achieve a sustainable peace. Of paramount relevance is also some arrangement that acknowledges the rights of several million Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled over the course of many years from Israel, most dramatically in 1948, as part of the catastrophe of national dispossession known to Palestinians as the nakba.

There are also serious questions at this time as to whether the two-state solution is any longer a viable and desirable goal, if it ever was. The question of Palestinian self-determination as the proper foundation for a sustained just peace is more open to debate and reflection in 2014 than ever before. Israel’s expansionism has put the international two-state consensus under a dark storm cloud, and the international community, along with representatives of the Palestinian people must now consider new ways to achieve a just peace for both peoples, which cannot be realized without upholding Palestinian rights.

We believe that a crucial step in this direction is the widespread acknowledgement by civil society, by governmments, and by the UN that Israel has become an outlaw state, and that appropriate adjustments to this reality must be made.

 

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