Archive | January, 2019

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam         

23 Jan

[Prefatory note: This post if a modified and revised version of the previous post. I have rarely done this, but due to comments received, and further reflections on my part, I felt there was some aspects of the essay that should be clarified or elaborated. There are threemain points: what we learn about CNN from its treatment of Marc Lamont Hill; the special treatment accorded those that challenge that pillar of the bipartisan consensus that relates to unconditional support of Israel; the targeting of leading African Americans who dare speak out on mainstream controversial issues, a dynamic that goes back to Martin Luther King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War.]

 

 

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam          

 

In my last post I complained about the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as ‘a reality show.’ Beyond this obsession is inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode of Trump’s soap opera from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of developments throughout the world.

 

It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which seems the reverse side of the coin in a plutocracy. Keeping the public entertained and diverted allows the grossly unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and income almost to disappear from the radar of discontent.  Part of this post-political reality show is to reduce the operative sphere of American politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. Such a pattern of subtle indoctrination provides an apolitical certificate of permanent approval to global militarism, neoliberal capitalism, and unconditional support for Israel.

 

Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, by declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equity; a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured ‘bipartisan consensus’ that became the ideological sequel to the Cold War rivalry. It guides both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, which also underpins CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at least be managed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish.

 

The Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is somewhat surprisingly more rigidly enforced in public space than the seemingly thicker pillars of global militarism and neoliberal capitalism. CNN occasionally stumbles by allowing a progressive critic of the Pentagon or Wall Street to get some air time. Such occurrences are hard to avoid ever since Bernie Sanders opposed Hilary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and put these issues on the national agenda. Nothing much happens except maybe a backroom reprimand to the producers of the news programs. It is not the same if the Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is shaken even if only slightly. Then heads fall, and a visible reaffirmation of the consensus position is mandatory. CNN despite its wish to be trusted will not hesitate to treat any perception of sharp criticism of Israel as intolerable. The test of sharpness is whether it agitates militant Zionism as illustrated by the their malevolent reaction to the Hill speech.

   

The CNN dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was dismissed in deference to unidentified Zionist pressures. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at a UN conference. He did voice support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. Yet no fair reading of what Hill said at the UN or scrutiny of his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a reasoned call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contested territory.

 

Apparently, the closing line of his talk was enough to agitate Zionist militants, which led CNN immediately to dismiss Hill: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether tearing this phrase from the clear intention of the talk was a convenient pretext for outside forces to mount their attack on Hill. The alternative view is that this singled phrase was all that was read by those who indignantly ranted about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when my co-authored UN report was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This was enough of a red flag to make the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, adopt a hysterical tone when asserting her arrogant demand that the UN denounce the report, which as with CNN was dutifully done.

 

As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill points out both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various proposals of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational democratic one-state vision that Hill and many of us favor. To consider such a sentiment to be an anti-Semitic trope is a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and in opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly pro-Palestinian, and somehow vulnerable to being discrediting. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else!”

 

Of course, I am not suggesting that white critics of Israel, if seen as vulnerable, are not targeted for punitive treatment as was the unjustified treatment of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Salaita, Rahab Abdel Hadi, and many others illustrate. It is rather a matter of blocking African American supporters of Palestinian solidarity because they can speak with a special authenticity about ethnic victimization. In this regard, it is hardly accidental that post-apartheid South Africa is of all governments in the world the one most supportive of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

Surely, a rather grotesque irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual leading personalities are being implicitly instructed to limit their concerns and activism to their own  grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians, in effect, is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If as a Jew you speak too candidly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are not only an anti-Semite, but likely to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to remain silent when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.  

As Michelle Alexander reminded us in her breakthrough column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not a provocation by that stage in the war for white liberals to be publicly opposed to the Vietnam War, and certainly would not be an occasion for the appropriate use of words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ But for an African American to do so back then was existentially different. It was treated as tactically questionable and even impudent for a black man to act as if fully enfranchised and had the same right as white persons to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race. The chastening reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either intentionally or not served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and acknowledged, will be punished it they dare act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of universal rights as the rest of us.

 

For King to so enter the main lane of political controversy on Vietnam was to cast himself as an uppity black who offended even some mentally colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at least regretted, this supposed distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered by dog whistle to many liberals, black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.” A deeper irony here is that part of the reason that the Vietnamese prevailed in the war against all odds is partly because they derived strength from expressing solidarity with other liberation struggles and seeking as much support from non-Vietnamese peace oriented groups as possible.

 

We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the insidious expanded definition of anti-Semitism is itself malicious. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. CNN’s reflex reaction called for apology not dismissal. Thus, what CNN did fell even outside the contours of the recent Zionist insistence on an inflammatory definition of anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to walk the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill. Surely, an instance of self-censorship run amok.

 

Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill also serves as a warning to CNN to stay within the confines of its lane as lead propagandist of the bipartisan consensus. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they better watch their words or they should expect, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching.

 

The Hill case shows this to be hardly alarmist. The warning was gratuitously reinforced by the response of Hill’s academic employer. Instead of doing the right thing, giving a fair reading to the UN speech, and then supporting their faculty member, Hill was verbally lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. In the public press there were calls for dismissal from his tenured position. For what? Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.

 

Even now, anyone who cherishes the democratic spirit should insist that CNN reinstate Hill with an accompanying apology for the considerable damage done to his reputation and the psychic anguish inflicted. Also, I would hope that the academic senate at Temple, or some similar body does not imitate CNN by maintaining a stony silence. Even after the fact it would send a different message if the university community summoned the political will and commitment to academic freedom to censure their administrators for their outrageous remarks of condemnation directed at Hill, and along the way chide CNN for caving in, and then refusing to make amends. Hill deserves nothing less, and if this kind of punitive behavior is not repudiated by his university community it sends a chilling and obnoxious message—defamation works as a means to discredit Israeli critics, especially if African American, and the media and universities should blacklist such troublesome characters if they seek smooth sailing.

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine and Martin Luther King on Vietnam

21 Jan

A Talel of Two Speeches:  Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam

 

In my last post I criticized the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, that of the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN ever since 2016  helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as nothing more serious than ‘a reality show.’ Beyond the obsession itself, is the inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of major developments elsewhere in the world.

 

It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which is the reverse side of the plutocracy coin. An insidious part of this post-political reality show is to reduce politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. In effect, the consensus imparts an apolitical stamp of permanent approval to global militarism and neoliberal capitalism.

 

Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, the reverse effects occurred. By declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equality; proclaiming a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured post Cold War ‘bipartisan consensus’ that has guided American public policy since the early 1990s. It is endorsed by both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, and is the presumed underpinning of CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at worst be tamed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish as the authoritative depiction of America’s global political identity.

 

The dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was summarily dismissed as news consultant in deference to pressures mounted by Zionist organizations. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at the UN in support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. No fair reading of what Hill said or his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contest territory in forms of their own choosing. Apparently, his closing line was enough to provoke Zionist watchdog to call for  Hill’s dismissal: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

 

It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether ripping this phrase from Hill’s text was a pretext to discredit and intimidate pro-Palestinian sentiments or an illuminating misunderstanding of his speech. Any careful reading of Hill’s text would reveal that the clear intention of the talk was to condemn anti-Semitism and to promote peace and justice for both peoples.

 

The only alternative reading that is plausible suggests that this single phrase was all that was read by those who ranted in reaction about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when a UN report on Israel/Palestine of which I was co-author was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This word alone seemed enough of a red flag to cause Nikki Haley to become hysterical when voicing her demand that the UN denounce the report.

 

As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various forms of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational one-state vision that Hill and many of us affirm as alone viable and desirable. To consider such a sentiment as anti-Semitic is to accpet a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly and effectively pro-Palestinian. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else suffer the consequences!” 

Surely, an irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual figures are as a matter of racism told to limit their concerns and activism to their own grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If you speak in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are sure to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to be mum when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people. 

 

As Michelle Alexander recently reminded us in a forthright column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was rightly perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not considered a provocation by that stage in the war if white liberals publicly opposed the Vietnam War, and certainly did not warrant words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ For an African American leading figure, such as King, to do so was existentially different then, and now. It was rather widely viewed by liberal thought controllers as an imprudent and impudent assumption that a black man was fully enfranchised and had the same right to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race as did a white person. The ugly reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either directly or indirectly served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and prominent, will be punished it they act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of rights and concerns as the rest of us.

 

For King to comment on the Vietnam War was to enter the main lane of political controversy and thus cast himself as an uppity black who offended even the colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at regretted, his Vietnam stand as an unwelcome distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered as a dog whistle by liberals, both black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.”

 

We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal by their employer exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the new anti-Semitism without even assessing whether the call for dismissal was; this action by CNN in effect equated such alleged severe criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, which is a distinct malicious interference with freedom of expression. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. Thus, what CNN exceeded even the contours of Zionist definitions of ‘new anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to tread the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill.

 

Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill is a warning to CNN itself as to the backlash it would face if it should venture outside the confines of its lane in the future. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they had better watch their words and deeds, or be ready to receive, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching, which would have a variety of seen and unseen harmful career effects.

 

Such an interpretation is not exaggerated. It was confirmed in relation to Hill by the response of his employer, an institution of higher learning supposedly dedicated to upholding academic freedom. Instead of doing the right thing, and supporting their faculty member, Hill was separately lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. Various calls were made in the days after the CNN that he be stripped of his tenured position at Temple. Hill’s offense: Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.  

 

What is striking here is that the backlash against Hill was so extreme under the circumstances, including the UN auspices. Freedom of expression and academic freedom should be available to those who are less humane and careful in articulating their opinions than was Hill.

 

As Michelle Alexander makes us consider the question of whether Martin Luther King would today, on this holiday celebrating his extraordinary life, speak on Palestine just as he did speak in 1967 on Vietnam. From personal experience that it was far easier for me, a white Jew, to speak and act against the Vietnam War (although there were taunts—‘America, love her or leave her’) than it is to depict

the apartheid policies and practices of Israel. Instead of being blacklisted in the Vietnam context, even in the earlier phases when it was widely supported, I was widely invited to provide a dissident voice.

What happens when a critic of Israel raises his voice, no matter who he or she is, or the accuracy of what is disclosed, the backlash takes the form of smears rather than arguments. Both Jimmy Carter and Richard Goldstone, two totally different, yet moderate political personalities, found out. There is no reason to think that Martin Luther King would not experience a defamatory tsunami should he be with us,

and dare raise his voice.

 

 

 

What’s Wrong with CNN?

16 Jan

What’s Wrong with CNN?

 

CNN presents itself as the most ‘trusted name in news’ available to the TV viewing public. Of course, this claim of integrity is to be greatly valued if the news channel lives up to such a standard when fairly scrutinized. Democracy, in the complex circumstances of modernity, depends on trust to remain viable. In an important sense CNN seems trustworthy. To the best of its ability it appears to search for and impart the truth with respect to its coverage. Unlike the American president, it does not lie or deliver ‘fake news.’ And for most issues it gives both sides of the story, and doesn’t keep shifting the goal posts to alter the narrative.

 

But is this record of honesty enough to make CNN trustworthy? I think not.

In recent months, and really ever since the 2016 presidential campaign, CNN, along with the rest of the mainstream media, has been Trump obsessed. At least, compared to Fox, CNN adopts a highly critical stance in evaluating the daily episodes in this ongoing cruel and dangerous Trump soap opera. Surely, such an irresponsible and unscrupulous leadership deserves probing criticism and extensive coverage, but not at the price of erasing the rest of the world as well as much of the news agenda on the home front. This is what CNN has done, at least on the coverage provided by its national channel. CNN International is more inclusive in its coverage, but for CNN in the United States, it has seemingly decided that this is ‘the Trump Century’ rather than ‘The American Century.’  Such an obsession is a travesty on the reality of our 21stcentury world, and a distorting service to its devoted watching audience.

 

It is quite astounding to tune into the nightly broadcasts on CNN featuring Anderson Cooper, Andrew Cuomo, and Don Lemon as successive anchors. They not only devote their entire coverage to the latest revelations of the Special Counsel regarding various aspects of the interaction between the Trump entourage and Russia, but they repeat one another, somewhat varying only the talking heads, most of whom are invited to make recurrent guest appearances. Not only this, but these news commentators seem in such an uncontainable self-congratulatory mood that they have initiated a new media trope. Instead of ending their program and proceeding to the next one, these familiar faces exchange lengthy and supportive comments with one another on the latest Trump maneuver, laughing with undisguised appreciation of each other’s ironic takes. I find this to be an increasingly tedious display of irrelevance. If this is what it means to be trusted, I might soon opt for some version of the untrustworthy. Indeed, allowing Trump to suck up all the oxygen is not so different over time than falling in line as Trumpsters would wish. This devotion to Trump may be the work of the market advisors that call the shots at CNN, which makes it both understandable, and in its way, even worse.

 

Erasure of all that is newsworthy but non-Trump is only part of the problem. Distortion and indoctrination are also present, especially when the Trump news touches on the Pentagon, CIA, Wall Street, and Israel. Here the celebrity anchors rely on experts who are loyalists of the ‘bipartisan consensus’ (what traditional Republicans and establishment Democrats agree about, except for tactical nuances) that has dominated American approach to the world ever since 1945. This has meant taking neoliberal post-Cold War capitalism, global militarism, and the special relationship with Israel off the table of responsible debate. Most of CNN’s experts are retirees from the upper echelons of the national security establishment, stalwarts of Washington think tanks, or senior advisors to recent presidents. Never do we hear from a single progressive voice, nor even from those that believe the crisis is structural, requiring thought and action outside the box. Alan Dershowitz is welcome to talk in defense of the Trump presidency or Israel, but never Noam Chomsky. It is this leaning to the right that most makes CNN untrustworthy in my eyes. It shuts out the light with respect to the most compelling issues facing the country and the world, and limits news coverage to fifty shades of gray.

 

In many respects, theNew York Timesshares this deference to this anarchronistic bipartisan consensus. It is more useful than CNN because it realizes that ‘all the news fit to print’ includes happenings in the world other than the Trump escapades. The Timeseven occasionally gives space sometimes to left-leaning critics, and its own opinion writers include Michelle Goldberg and Paul Krugman, both of whom are ready to challenge some of those fixed orthodoxies that have imposed their discipline on American policy regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control of the White House. Of course, the right is also amply represented by the generally thoughtful conservative musings of David Brooks and the more abrasive forays of Bret Stephens. Yet when it comes to Brexit, Syria, Yemen, and Latin America the news coverage of the Times is invaluably comprehensive and generally reliable except if it touches on such no-go zones as Venezuela or the BDS Campaign.

 

Also, CNN in America is treated as the poster child of the mainstream media. MSNBC, its main supposedly liberal competitor, is only marginally better. MSNBC also drones on and on while doing its version of ‘the daily Trump show,’ and invites the same sort of dreary guests who make their living inside the Beltway, and hence burn few bridges to the portals of power in Washington. We might have hoped that dissident TV as provided by Vice or Al Jazeera would fill the void, but somehow they have not so far risen to the challenge of offering a different slant on what transpires day by day.

 

What is at stake goes beyond trust. It concerns what we need to know if we are to act responsibly and effectively as engaged citizens. What we need to know goes to the roots who we are collectively as a people, and what are the real threats to our security, and even our civilizational and biological survival. We should all know by now, or should know, that we live in a political system that is more accurately identified  as a ‘plutocracy’ than a ‘democracy,’ especially when it comes to political parties and the electoral process. Many have long been aware that the TV and print media, along with publishing, is market driven, and corporatized. As a consequence, political discourse is limited to center/right dialogues.

 

The main trouble is that we need center/left thinking to challenge the bipartisan consensus that has always been center/right, incorporating market and ‘deep state’ bureaucratic forces. In part, the left has lost its voice after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was persuasively (mis)interpreted in the West in ways that designed to wipe socialism off the political map of societal option. At present, climate change, global inequality, emerging technologies of war, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and nuclear weaponry are posing unprecedented challenges that are global in scope and bioethical in depth. In view of this there exists a need for an untethered political, moral, and cultural imagination as never before. We find imaginative innovative responses in pockets of resistance scattered around the country and the world. The recent midterm American elections produced a few women winners with radical messages, which suggests that the national body politic is not yet readied.

 

Yet until CNN listens, most of the rest of us will not hear or heed what needs to be known and done. At best, we will take refuge in struggling for feasible change unaware that what is necessary is not feasible within existing political and economic structures. At worst, we will be herded by demagogues into death camps or maybe stay alive by some mixture of escapism and denialism.

 

What we urgently need is a politics freed from the constraints of the feasible,and energized by an awareness of the necessaryand desirable.

 

 

Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

13 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below was published in Middle East Eye on 30 December 2018, and is here reproduced with some modification. Humility in assessment is necessary as what we see tends to be partial and incomplete. Radical uncertainty is the appropriate interpretative outlook, which means that the future could break either bad or good. For a region that has endured so much suffering and abuse, I offer fervent wishes that we will be surprised by hopeful developments during coming months. Altready the shakeup of regional politics and perceptions due to the Trump withdrawal move is ambiguous in its implications, but seemingly leading in the positive direction of U.S. political disengagement, and an end to the delusions of being ‘a force for good.’

 

 

Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

 

Ever since the World War I travesties of Sykes/Picot and the Balfour Declaration, the Middle East has been the scene of geopolitical rivalries and unfolding nationalist narratives that veered uneasily between extremes of tyranny and chaos. A second post-Ottoman milestone was crossed in 1956 when the United States displaced its main European allies, the UK and France as the principal manager of Western interests in the region, which at the time centered on the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union, safeguarding Western access to Gulf oil and trade routes, and sustaining Israeli security. A further phase emerged after the ending of Cold War geopolitical bipolarity. This was soon followed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which supplied the pretext for a series of disastrous interventions in the name of counterterrorism.

 

Post-colonial Turmoil

 

Then came the uprisings of 2011 consisting of a series of popular movements displacing several authoritarian regimes, followed by an array of foreign interventions, proxy wars, prolonged strife, and massive civilian suffering throughout the region. One result of these anti-authoritarian uprisings has been a surge of counterrevolutionary violence and intensified repressive tendencies. Beyond this, U.S./Saudi/Israeli extreme hostility toward Iran has threatened for years to explode into a regional war of great ferocity.

 

Into this maelstrom of violence and disorder, the ascent of Trump to U.S. leadership two years ago seemed a huge dump of oil on these already raging fires in the Arab world. Such apprehensions were quickly realized: giving the green light to the Saudi/UAE ultimatum directed at Qatar, going all out to help Israel impose an apartheid state on the Palestinian people, and building a war mongering alliance with Riyadh and Tel Aviv to produce some sort of final showdown with Iran. And worst of all, remaining complicit in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, a humanitarian catastrophe that has pushed over 17 millions Yemenis to the brink of starvation.

 

 

Syrian Withdrawal

 

As the world has learned, often painfully, Trump is the least predictable  and most irresponsible political figure ever to govern in the United States. On the home front, his policies have been ideologically coherent, leaning far to the right on such varied matters as immigration, trade, taxes, law enforcement policies, and respect for constitutional guidelines. On foreign policy, there has been Trumpist bluster and erratic behavior, but nothing very disruptive other than perhaps the Jerusalem embassy move, that is, until the sudden announcement of the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria a few days ago, to be followed by reducing by 50% the combat presence of American forces in Afghanistan.

 

This Syrian move has shaken the national security establishment in Washington, and supposedly further undermined confidence in America’s global role among NATO allies and, above all, upset Israel and Saudi Arabia. In this case, Trump overrode the unanimous advice of his hawkish advisors and ministers, failed to consult with allies, and justified the withdrawal by misleadingly claiming the defeat of ISIS.  The magnitude of the government crisis was signaled by the announced resignation of General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and underscored by his letter condemning the president’s approach in all but name. This letter of resignation was immediately treated as scripture by Democrats, as well by such stalwarts of liberalism as CNN and the NY Times. It even led several Republicans to at last step forward to denounce Trump’s new Syria policy, contending that it betrays the Kurds, rewards the Russians and the Assad regime, and is red meat for the undefeated ISIS legions.

 

Assuming that Trump does not pull the rug out from under his own initiative, it certainly merits deserve a more balanced consideration, and quite likely a favorable assessment. The American military presence in Syria was always problematic, too modest to be a game changer, but significant enough to prolong the Syrian agony. With respect to ISIS, it may not be defeated, but the main players in Syria at this point—the Syrian government, Russia, and Iran all have strong immediate incentives to carry the fight against ISIS to a successful conclusion. We cannot know what Turkey will do with respect to the Kurds operating close to its border in northern Syria and supposedly linked to the armed struggle movement of the PKK centered in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. We can hope that Erdogan gave Trump some assurances when they talked of foregoing an escalation of anti-Kurdish military efforts and the Syrian Kurds and their allies among the Turkish Kurds will on their side explore deescalating options.

What we can be encouraged by, especially if account is also taken of the withdrawal of half of the American combat contingents in Afghanistan, announced just one day later, is that Trump seems to be giving substance to his long deferred campaign promise to end foreign interventions and give emphasis to restoring the quality of life in the United States. If this is indeed the case then it is bad news for the Saudi and Israeli hawks. They expected Trump to lead this most unholy of alliances to the gates of Tehran, maybe not by military means, but at least by intensified forms of coercive diplomacy and a variety of destabilizing tactics. Trump has deservedly earned a reputation for habitual inconsistency, or for staying the course once a policy comes under fire. At least for the moment, it would seem that the Syrian withdrawal, even if slowed down by deep state pushback, is best understood as part of a larger political disengagement from failed military adventures in distant countries at great cost and almost no political results. If this happens, it will be a major defeat for the ‘bipartisan consensus’ that promoted U.S. global militarism ever since the end of World War II as the twin sibling of neoliberal globalization.

 

All and all, what emerges is certainly not a pretty picture yet there are grounds to be more positive than the strongly negative reactions of the political elites in America and Western Europe. The disavowing of foreign military intervention by the United States is long overdue, given the record of political failure and the trail of suffering left behind. Yet more important, and undoubtedly not part of any coherent revision of grand strategy by Trump, is the possibility that a reduced political engagement by the United States in the Middle East will encourage regional moves toward moderation, self-determination, and co-existence. Such disengagement would allow the realities of a post-colonial Middle East to break freer of the shackles of geopolitics. Even the Israeli leadership might feel encouraged over time to reconsider their approach to the Palestinian national movement, and shift their focus from seeking an apartheid victory to envisioning a political compromise that presupposes the true equality of both peoples with a single secular democratic state.

 

The context of the Syrian withdrawal is also consistent with the drift of several recent regional developments. First of all, the grotesque murder of Kamal Khoshoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has made it less feasible than before to join hands with the leadership in Riyadh, and solidify the anti-Iran alliance with Israel and the United States. As well, the dreadful Saudi  intervention in Yemen, undertaken with American support, has already caused massive suffering, and threatens to produce what is already being called the worst famine in the last hundred years. Moves at a Stockholm Conference of the parties agreed on the establishment of a UN presence to open the main Yemeni port at Hudaydah, handling 80% of food imports. If this initiative holds it would be a hopeful step back from the brink of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. If this de-escalation gains momentum it would  likely reinforce the sense of geopolitical disengagement that is now associated with removing American troops from Syria, but might also encourage ending US complicity in the Yemen War.

 

These conjectures about a possibly better future for the Middle East in 2019 are beset by profound uncertainties. Aside from Trump further giving way to militarist counter-pressures, there is the possibility that he has at last crossed the red line of reluctant acceptance by the Republican Party facing its own lose/lose future. Such a dilemma could translate into a determined effort to force Trump from presidential power one way or another. He would then be replaced by the current vice president, Mike Pence, seemingly an ideological colleague on the home front, but unlikely to buck the national security establishment on its core global posture, namely, an unshakable belief in the benevolence and efficacy of American military power. Pence would be freed to produce a foreign policy that was both independent of Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency and not twisted to such an extent to satisfy Israel’s ambitions.

 

There are also disturbing alternative futures for the Middle East in the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal. These include a surge of ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, a bloodbath in Syria as Damascus consolidates its victory in the civil war, and a major Turkish offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. None of these developments can be ruled out, and if occurring, would alter for the worse what we can reasonably hope for in the region as 2019 unfolds.

 

Yet for the first time in the 21stCentury it is possible to envision positive developments in the region as reducing the level of violence and turbulence. Even if these moderating developments occur, the situation throughout the region still has a long way to go to achieve peace, stability,

humane governance, and justice.

 

As well, prospects are bleaker than ever for a sustainable peace for Israel and Palestine. Hardliners are in firm control in Israel, with a seeming resolve to carry the Zionist project in its most expansive form to a victorious finish. Although such an outcome is implausible, what is likely is a hardening of the apartheid structures oppressing the Palestinian people as a whole and an even more embittered resistance and increasingly militant global solidarity movement.

Palestinian Aspirations versus Zombie Geopolitics

8 Jan

Palestinian Aspirations versus Zombie Geopolitics

 

The mental processes that infuse zombie geopolitics with political vitality long after their viability has vanished is partly mysterious, and partly a calculated effort to deny a changed reality.  More concretely, I have in mind the afterlife of ‘the two-state solution’ to the long Israel-Palestine confrontation. It retained its status as the only practical solution for years after it became crystal clear to even semi-informed observers that it would never happen.

 

I remember being disturbed by Barack Obama’s frequent statements along these lines (for example, his 2013 Jerusalem speech). He asserted that everyone knew that the two-state solution was the only path to peace, but just didn’t know to make it happen. This was misleading then as the leading party, Israel, made it clear by its deeds (settlement building and expansion; Jerusalem annexation) and later its words (Netanyahu’s 2014 election promise never to allow a Palestinian state to come into being as long as was prime minister). Recall that even back in 1995, when the true goals of the Zionist Project were more obscure and the golden haze surrounding the Oslo diplomacy had not lifted, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for even hinting that such a possibility might become a reality.

 

How then can we explain the durability of the two-state mantra in the domain of geopolitics? To be fairer to Trump than he deserves, Trump has moved beyond the peace discourse such anachronistic language, and if his ‘deal of the century’ ever sees the light of day, it will be a one-state proposal, although possibly slightly disguised with some two-state window dressing. Yet we are still left to wonder why Scandinavian governments, UN officials, J-Street, and even the Palestinian Authority cleave to the two-state framing of a future diplomatic process supposedly seeking peace.

 

A superficial response is that two-statism remains the only game in town, or more accurately, the only officially acknowledgedgame. A more sensitive answer suggests that the increasingly likely alternative to the two-state consensus is an apartheid Israel  one-state solution that seems worse in liberal eyes for Palestine, and in the longer run, even for Israel, than allowing a demilitarized Palestine state to be established.  

 

The most credible response would be to admit the incompatibility of a democratically constituted one-state solution with the reality of a Jewish state, which effectively means the end of the Zionist Project as it has developed since 1947, that is, full participatory equality for Palestinians.

 

We should not even one hundred years later forget that the colonialist Balfour Declaration in 1917 pledged to the international Zionist movement support for ‘a national home for the Jewish people,’ deliberately avoiding the terminology of ‘a state,’ although not foreclosing such a possibility. The British Cabinet and leadership were deeply divided on this question during the mandate period, and eventually floated the two-state approach as a political compromise to an untenable situation of ethnic tension in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration also promised to protect the rights and circumstances of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, an empty gesture ignored even before the ink was dry. Of course, the Balfour Declaration is a discredited historical document that has long since been superseded by later developments, but how and with what relevance remains a matter of controversy.

 

So what does this present situation mean for those seeking to sort out the desired and likely destinies of these two peoples? There seem to be two salient possibilities: either the indefinite prolongation of the existing apartheid ordeal of domination/victimization or some kind of embrace of a one-state outcome. If the latter, there is a second fork in the road: either an apartheid Jewish state or a one secular ethnically neutral state based on human rights and the full equality of its various distinct peoples and religions. The enactment of the Basic Law of the Jewish People in 2018 and the subsequent rejection by the Knesset of a bill affirming the equality of all peoples living within Israel make clear that the political leadership in Israel unequivocally supports the first option. It would appear that the Israeli government is no in the midst of a somewhat covert transition from the uncertainties of indefinite occupation of the Palestinian territories to their territorial incorporation into the sovereign Jewish state of Israel. There remains the possibility of leaving Gaza out in the cold to avoid Gazan resistance activity along with the awkwardness of risking a Palestinian majority population in an enlarged Jewish state. Besides, Gaza is not considered by Zionists to be part of the biblical entitlement claimed as ‘the promised land.’

 

It seems crucial to recognize an assured result of such a coercive and one-sided Israel ‘solution,’ the real essence of Trump’s approach and Daniel Pipes’ ‘Victory Caucus.’ If actualized such thinking would not bring peace, but at best, yet another oppressive ceasefire. As night follows day such an outcome would sooner or later produce new spirals of armed and nonviolent Palestinian resistance. In this post-colonial world atmosphere a repressed people will continue to resist no matter what the costs, and the Palestinian people have done so for more than 70 years. The Great March of Return showed the world in recent months that the Palestinian political will to resist has not weakened despite the cruel costs imposed by Israeli vindictive and deliberately disproportionate violence at the Gaza fence week after week. Beyond this, the BDS Campaign and other expressions of global solidarity have added to the international weight of Palestinian claims while overseas Zionist unconditional support of Israel throughout the Jewish diaspora, and especially in the United States, is weakening, including dramatically among younger American Jews.

 

In the end the only question worth pondering is this: what kind of one-state will exist in the territory of Palestine administered between the two world wars by the United Kingdom as the mandate holder?  Will it be a Jewish state that fulfills the Zionist Project? Or will it be a secular state based on human rights and a governing spirit of equality? At least posing the choice in this manner lifts the cloud cover provided by the Zombie maneuvers of the past 20 or more years associated with continued advocacy of long moribund, and never promising, two-state negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. It would clarify the diplomatic impasse if Mahmoud Abbas and the Ramallah leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza leadership of Hamas could be persuaded to affirm this new realism. It might restore for the Palestinian people respect for the PA and Hamas as legitimate representatives of Palestinian national aspirations, and provide strong incentives for achieving a unified diplomatic Palestinian presence in international venues, including the United Nations.

 

Jerusalem and Foreign Embassies: Legal, Political, and Diplomatic Implications

6 Jan

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a modified interview with Rodrigo Craveiro, CORREIO BRAZILIENSE, January, 2019]

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem and Foreign Embassies: Legal, Political, and Diplomatic Implications

 

Q1—A few days ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with president of Honduras and with Mike Pompeo in Brasilia to discuss establishing of an Israel embassy  in Tegucigalpa and the transfer of Hondurean embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pompeo then travelled to Colombia to try to convince the government in Bogota to relocate its embassy in Jerusalem. How do you interpret these efforts and their implications?

 

A: It seems obvious that Israel is trying to induce enough governments to move their embassy to Jerusalem so as to weaken the legal, political, and diplomatic weight of the General Assembly Resolution of 22 December 2017 [Res. ES-10/L.22] that declared such an initiative by the United States to be ‘null and void’ by a vote of 128-9 (with 35 abstentions), finding the proposed move unlawful and lacking any political effect. Such a one-sided pushback by the UN was undertaken as an angry reaction to the announced decision of the U.S. Government to make such a move in defiance of the international consensus that had for 50 years overwhelmingly supported the consensus of governments that the future of Jerusalem would be determined by diplomatic negotiations between the parties, and any premature recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be inappropriate and disruptive. This challenge to this UN consensus has definitely become a high priority for Israel’s foreign policy, at least so long as Netanyahu remains Prime Minister.

 

It may also be relevant that the upcoming Israeli elections on April 9th, and Netanyahu’s troubles at home with corruption charges directed at him and his wife, provide an added incentive to show that he has achieved positive results from the perspective of the Zionist Project to extend Israel’s national sovereignty to Jerusalem, as well as to most of the remaining portions of ‘the promised land’ supposedly belonging to Israel by biblical entitlement and historic tradition. Such Israeli expansionist ambitions and actions are encroachments on the inalienable right of self-determination belonging to the Palestinian people.

 

The U.S. motivations are related, but somewhat different. Of course, during the Trump presidency Israel can do no wrong, and what Israel wants, the U.S. does despite political opposition and moral opprobrium. The embassy move is a prime example of American unilateralism with respect to Jerusalem. Additionally, the U.S. Government wants to be less diplomatically isolated on a global level, and thus appear less disruptive when it so acts. This issue also provides the Trump leadership with an opportunity to create alternative alliance networks to outmaneuver the kind of regional groupings that have existed in the past. Independent of this issue, American foreign policy seeks to substitute a network of likeminded autocratic leaders for such traditional solidarities as NATO or the OAS, or for that matter, the UN. In this connection it is notable that such traditional American allies as Britain, France, Germany, and Japan voted for the UN resolution condemning the U.S. proposed action with respect to Jerusalem, and this reciprocated by acting independently of Washington’s strongly declared preferences.

 

 

 

Q2– What would be real symbolism of transfering embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Why such maneuvers are being considered so polemical? 

 

A: In my view, the real significance of the embassy move, aside from it being consistent with other steps viewed as displaying the extreme nature of Trump’s support for Israel’s approach to resolving decades of tension with the Palestinian people and their national movement, is to demonstrate that U.S. foreign policy will not be constrained by multilateral diplomacy or the positions prevailing in international institutions, and especially the UN. This ultra-nationalist approach to policymaking and problem solving is an overt rejection of cooperative approaches to difficult collective challenges in international relations that had previolusly enjoyed Washington’s support ever since the end of World War II.

 

On another level, the embassy move is supportive of Israel’s rejection of a political compromise with Palestine, and Tel Aviv’s current strategy that seems to hover between allowing the present unresolved future to go on indefinitely, while the settlements expand in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and taking advantage of its present position to achieve, or at least declare, an Israeli victory and Palestinian defeat. In this regard, the status of Jerusalem is part of a broader context of settlement expansion, excessive force in responding to Palestinian resistance, Knesset legislation in which Israel is proclaimed to be a state belonging exclusively to the Jewish people, who alone are entitled to national self-determination, and a denial of refugee status to descendants of Nakba refugees.

 

These moves are treated as so controversial because they are seen as imposing an ordeal without an end in sight upon the Palestinian people as a whole, including those languishing in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, in exile, and as a discriminated minority in Israel itself. Israel as an apartheid state cannot maintain such structures of racial domination without relying on these oppressive and discriminatory patterns of governance. In this regard Israel has moved in the eyes of the world from being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to being ‘the only apartheid state in the Middle East.’ Erasing this perception is part of what is at stake by such efforts to confer legitimacy on its territorial expansionism and its ethnic hegemony.

 

 

Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer

2 Jan

Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer

 

Taking time out from the trials and tribulations afflicting the world, I watch with admiring fascination the first competitive meeting of my two favorite athletes, who are inspirational and iconic as much for their exemplary personal footprints as for their sustained magic on the tennis courts. Their glowing words of mutual appreciation and recognition were far more memorable that their mixed doubles match in Perth on New Year’s Day. [For rapturous detail see NY Times, Jan. 2, 2019]

 

Serena Williams has long been a heroine of mine, partly because of her fighting spirit while competing, but also her charm, humility, and sense of wonderment as who she is and has become. She also is endearing toward her opponents, especially those who are young, Despite what she has achieved, she stands strong as an African American who has never forgotten her Compton past and her family that nurtured her to greatness in sport and personhood. Whether as sibling of her great sister, Venus, or mother of her daughter, Olympia, her love of life casts a radiant glow.

 

Of course, it is an indulgent sign of privilege to be able to put aside the torments of our world to celebrate these two supreme athletic presences. Those in Yemen or Gaza or countless parts of Africa or Rankine (Myanmar) do not have this luxury of looking away as their daily ordeal weighs too heavily. While pausing to celebrate at the start of the new year we should remind ourselves, while acknowledging our good fortune, not to look away from the fires ravaging the planet, physically, politically, and spiritually. While it is healthy to balance our engagements with the world with the pleasures it offers, we should be alive and responsive to the opportunities for struggle, resistance, and transformation in this time of bioethical crisis.