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Apartheid and the Future of Israel/Palestine

20 Sep

 

[Prefatory Note: There has been lots of discussion prompted by the release of a report jointly authored with Prof. Virginia Tilley, a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), and given by us the title, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.” The interview, associated with my current visit to Belgium and France to speak on various aspects of the analysis and implications of the report, brings up to date the controversy generated at the UN by its release a few months ago, and by the willingness of the UN Secretary General to bow to U.S. pressure and order the removal of the report from ESCWA website. The interview questions were posed by veteran Middle East correspondent, Pierre Barbancey, and published in l’Humanité, Sept. 6, 2017.]

 

 

 

1 YOU HAVE PUBLISHED A REPORT: WHO ASKS FOR THAT AND WHY?

 

The Report was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia in 2016 at the request of its Council, which has a membership of 18 Arab states. Professor Virginia Tilley and I were offered a contract to prepare a report on the applicability of the crime of apartheid to the manner in which Israeli policies and practices affected the Palestinian people as a whole, and not as in previous discussions of the applicability of apartheid, only to those Palestinians living since 1967 under Israeli occupation. The originality of the Report is to extend the notion of apartheid beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and investigate its applicability to Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, to those Palestinians enduring involuntary exile abroad, and to those existing as a discriminated minority in Israel.

 

2) What are the conclusions of the ESCWA Report?

 

The most important conclusion of the Report was that by careful consideration of the relevant evidence, Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined in the 1976 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid with regard to the Palestinian PEOPLE AS A WHOLE, that is, Palestinians living under occupation as refugee and in involuntary exile, and as a minority in Israel are all victimized by the overriding crime. The Report also found that Jews and Palestinians both qualify as a ‘race’ as the term is used in the Convention, and that Israel to sustain a Jewish state established by ‘inhuman acts’ a structure of oppressive and discriminatory domination by which the Palestinians were victimized as a people.

 

A second conclusion of importance is that the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court considers apartheid to be one type of ‘crime against humanity,’ which does not necessarily exhibit the same features as pertained to the apartheid regime in South Africa, the origin of the concept and crime, but not a template for its subsequent commission.

 

A third conclusion is that given the existence of apartheid, sustained to maintain a Jewish state in Palestine, all sovereign states, the UN, and civil society all have a legally grounded responsibility to take all reasonable steps of a nonviolent character to bring the commission of the crime to an end.

 

A fourth conclusion is that the Report is an academic study that draws conclusions and offers recommendation on the basis of a legal analysis, but it is not a duly constituted legal body empowered to make formal findings with respect to the allegations that Israel is guilty of apartheid.

 

 

 

3) WHAT WAS THE REACTIONS?

 

We experienced two contradictory sets of reactions.

 

From ESCWA the report was received with enthusiasm. We were told it was the most important report that ESCWA had ever published, with by far the largest number of requests for copies.

 

At the UN, the report and its authors were strongly attacked by the diplomatic representatives of the United States and Israel, with the demand the UN acted to repudiate the report. The Secretary General instructed the Director of ESCWA to remove the report from its website, and when she refusing, she tendered her principled resignation explained in an Open Letter to the Secretary General. It should be appreciated that this was an academic report of international law experts, and never claimed to be an official reflection of UN views. A disclaimer at the outset of the Report made this clear.

 

4) WHAT HAPPENED NOW WITH THE REPORT?

 

The status of the report within ESCWA is not clear. As far as I know the report itself has not been repudiated by ESCWA. In fact, it has been endorsed in a formal decision of the 18 foreign ministers of the ESCWA countries, including a recommendation to other organs of the UN System that the findings and recommendations of the Report be respected. Beyond this, the report has altered the discourse in civil society and to some extent, in diplomatic settings, making the terminology of ‘apartheid’ increasingly displace the emphasis on ‘occupation.’

 

 

5) ISRAEL SAYS THAT THE BDS MOVEMENT IS ANTI-SEMITIC. WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER?

 

This is an inappropriate and even absurd allegation. The BDS Campaign is directed against Israeli policies and practices that violate international law and cause great suffering to be inflicted on the Palestinian people. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hostility to Jews as persons or as a people. The allegation is clearly designed to discredit BDS and to discourage persons from lending it support or participating in its activities. It is an unfortunate and irresponsible use of the ‘anti-Semitic’ label designed to manipulate public opinion and government policy, and inhibit activism.

 

6) IN FRANCE YOU CAN BE PUT IN COURT IF YOU ACT FOR BDS, LIKE A CRIME. DO YOU HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OF SIMILAR SITUTIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES?

 

I know there have been efforts in Europe and North America to criminalize support for BDS, but so far as I know, no formal laws have yet been brought into existence, and no indictments or prosecutions, outside of Israel and France, have taken place. I am not entire clear as to what has happened in Israel along these lines, although I know that Israel has been denying BDS supporters from abroad entry into the country.

 

7) WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS SPECIAL REPORTEUR OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AND IN ISRAEL?

 

My experience as UN Special Rapporteur in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council was both frustrating and fulfilling. It was frustrating because during my six years as SR the situation on the ground and diplomatically worsened for the Palestinian people despite the documented record of Israeli human rights abuses. It was fulfilling because it enabled a forthright presentation of Israeli violations of basic Palestinian rights, which had some influence on the discourse within the UN, building support for corporate responsibility in relation to commercial dealing with Israel’s unlawful settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as shifted some of the discourse within the UN from ‘occupation’ to ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘apartheid.’

 

It was also something of a personal ordeal as I was constantly subject to defamatory attacks by UN Watch and other ultra Zionist NGOs and their supporters, also organizing efforts to have me dismissed from my UN position and barred from lecturing on university campuses around the world. Fortunately, these efforts failed by and large, but they did have the intended effect of shifting the conversation from substance to auspices, from the message to messenger.

7) 70 YEARS AFTER THE DIVISION OF PALESTINE BY THE UNITED NATIONS  HOW DO YOU SEE THAT DECISION?

 

The1947 partition resolution [GA Res. 181] was part of the exit strategy of the British colonial administration in the mandate period that controlled Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of World War I. This approach was flawed in several basic respects: it neglected the will of the majority Arab and non-Jewish domestic population, and imposed a solution to the conflict without consulting the inhabitants; it also within its own terms failed to secure Palestinian rights or its sovereign political community, or even to uphold international humanitarian law. The UN never effectively implemented partition, and thus gave Israel the de facto discretion to impose its will on the entire territory of Palestine, including the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in the 1947 War, which overcame the demographic imbalance, and allowed itself to be branded to this day as ‘a democracy,’ even being hailed as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’ The US and Europe played a crucial geopolitical role in producing these developments, which rested on an Orientalist mentality lingering in the West.

8) IS THERE A SOLUTION FOR THE PALESTINIAN TO RECOVER THEIR RIGHTS AND TO LIVE IN THEIR OWN STATE?

 

It is difficult to envision the future at this stage, yet it is clear that the Palestinian national struggle is continuing both in the form of Palestinian resistance activities and by way of the international solidarity movement, of which the BDS Campaign is

by far the most important undertaking. In my judgment until there is exerted enough pressure on the Israeli government to change course drastically, signaled by a willingness to dismantle the laws and procedures associated with the current apartheid regime used to subjugate the Palestinian people, there is no genuine prospect for a political solution to the conflict. Such a change of course in South Africa occurred, against all expectations at home and abroad, and partly in response to pressures generated by this earlier version of an international BDS campaign. My hope is that as the Palestinian people continue to win the ongoing Legitimacy War, this pattern will eventually be repeated, leading after a prolonged struggle to a sustainable peace between these two peoples based on the cardinal principle of equality. This will not happen, tragically, until there is much suffering endured, especially by Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps and involuntary exile, and as a discriminated minority within Israel. This Palestinian ordeal has gone on far too long. Its origins can be traced back at least a century ago when in an undisguised colonial gesture of the British Foreign Office pledged its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine to the World Zionist Movement in the form of the Balfour Declaration (1917). The competing national narratives of what transpired over the subsequent century tell different stories, each with an authentic base of support in the relevant community, but only the Palestine narrative can gain present comfort from the guidelines of international law, above all, the inalienable right of self-determination

 

 

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THE PALESTINIAN HUNGER STRIKE: “Our chains will be broken before we are..”

16 May

 

 

On April 17th at least 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike of indefinite duration, responding to a call from Israel’s most famous Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti. It also happens to be that Barghouti is the most popular political leader, far more liked, trusted, and admired that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Barghouti is serving a series of lifetime terms for his alleged role in directing an operation during the Second Intifada in which five Israelis were killed.

 

Barghouti who has been in prison for fifteen years, gave his reasons for the strike as “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence,” as well as a failure to abide by international legal standards pertaining to prison conditions during a military occupation. Even the normally timid International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged prisoner demands by issuing a public statement asserting that the denial of family visits and moving Palestinian prisoners and detainees outside of the occupied territory to Israeli jails were violations of international treaty norms set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Because Barghouti expressed his grievances in an article somewhat surprisingly published by the NY Times on April 16th. Surprising because the Times, an influential media outlet, has over the years been reliably deferential to the Israeli rationalizations for Israeli contested policies and behavior. It turns out that the newspaper was nervous about this departure from its normal operating mode. Barghouti’s piece only appeared in its international edition, and had a qualifying editorial note appended: “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.” [italics in the original]

 

In retaliation for daring to publish this opinion piece Barghouti was severely punished. He was immediately placed in solitary confinement, has not been allowed to change his clothes for the past month, and is inspected by prison guards four times a day.

 

The notorious Canadian ultra Zionist media watchdog, Honest Reporting, explains on its website that its goal is “defending Israel from media bias.” Honest Reporting expressed its outrage by condemning the NY Times for opening its pages to a convicted Palestinian ‘terrorist.’ It is Orwellinan to so describe Barghouti, a political leader courageously defending his people against an unlawful and oppressive occupation that is approaching its 50th anniversary, and is now best understood as a crime against humanity taking the form of apartheid victimizing the Palestinian people as a whole, and not just those living under occupation. If the Honest Reporting was indeed honest it would expose the pronounced media bias in the West shielding Israel from international accountability and obscuring the severity of Palestinian grievances under international law and morality.

 

The world media treatment of this massive Palestinian strike is typical, although nevertheless disappointing. It gives meager attention to the dramatic character of such a prison protest that has continued for over a month, stimulating many solidarity demonstrations throughout occupied Palestine, a sympathy 24-hour hunger strike by South Africans including the prominent Deputy President Cyril Rhamaposa, and widespread shows of support throughout the Palestinian diaspora. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority has been evasive, with Abbas giving a token show of public support for prisoner goals, while letting it be known privately that he hopes the strike will end as soon as possible.

 

The behavior of the Israeli Prison Service is an indirect confirmation of prisoner discontent. In a sadistic taunt, Israeli settlers were allowed to have a barbecue in the parking lot in front of one of the prisons, apparently mocking the hunger strikers with the pungent aroma of meat being grilled. Worse than this, a fake video was distributed by prison official purporting to show Barghouti having a snack in his cell. This effort to discredit the strike and its leader has been angrily denied. Khader Shkirat, Barghouti’s lawyer, explained that there was no way food could be smuggled to someone in solitary, especially with frequent room searches. It was finally conceded by prison officials that food was delivered to Barghouti’s cell by prison guards trying unsuccessfully to tempt him to break the fast. Barghouti on his side responded via his lawyer, “I plan to escalate my hunger strike soon. There is no backtracking. We will continue until the end.” Barghouti, 58, has according to the last report has lost 29 pounds since the start of the strike, and now weighs 119, planning to refuse even water.

 

Even if this dire commitment is not carried through to a potentially grim finality it will not tarnish the significance of what has been undertaken, and the great reluctance of the world to focus its attention on such a display of nonviolent martyrdom. This is not the first Palestinian prison strike motivated by abusive prison conditions and instances of administrative detention, arresting and jailing without any formal charges. But it appears to be the most consequential due to the participation of Marwan Barghouti along with so many other Palestinian prisoners as well as producing many displays of solidarity beyond the prison walls.

 

As Ramzy Baroud has pointed out in an Al Jazeera article published on May 10, 2017, the strike, although putting forth demands relating to prison conditions, is really a reflection of the underlying ordeal, what he refers to as “the very reality of Palestinian life”; it is above all “a call for unity against factionalism and Israeli occupation.” The distractions created by the Trump presidency, Brexit and the rise of the European right-wing, and turmoil in the Middle East have given Israel’s leadership the political space to push their expansionist agenda toward an imposed outcome of one Jewish state imposing its will on two distinct peoples. Such an endgame for this version of colonialist displacement and subjugation of the indigenous majority population will extend Palestinian suffering in the short-run, but will over time undermine Israeli security and stability, and bring the long Palestine nightmare to an end.

 

The British leadership finally appreciated their own interests, forging a political compromise in Northern Ireland in the form of the Good Friday Agreement, which while fragile and imperfect, has mostly spared Catholics and Protestants further bloodshed. Will the Israeli and U.S. leadership grow responsive to the moral and legal imperatives that call for a sustainable and just peace between these two peoples before the political imperative of such an essential outcome assume more menacing forms?

 

Against all expectations, the South African leadership did eventually become so responsive, but only after enough pressure was exerted internally and internationally. The South African leadership produced a new dawn by releasing its prime ‘terrorist’ inmate, Nelson Mandela, from prison, and the rest is history. Marwan Barghouti is clearly available to play such an historical role in relation to Israel. It will be a tragedy if Zionist ambitions and American led geopolitics preclude this from happening! The road to peace for Israel is the similar to the road to peace for apartheid South Africa: dismantle the apartheid regime that now dominates and discriminates against the Palestinian people on a systematic and totalizing basis. Such a projected future may seem a dream, but dreams can be made to come true through the dynamics of a struggle for justice. If so, we may look back on Barghouti’s hunger strike as the beginning of a winning Palestinian endgame.

 

It is important that we appreciate that a hunger strike is not only a pure form of nonviolence, but is also a self-inflicted sacrifice by those who seek to exhibit their opposition to the existing state of affairs in this manner, hoping to create conditions that produce change. It is an extreme type of resistance that in its essence is an appeal to the conscience and compassion of its opponents and public opinion generally. As Gandhi found out in racist South Africa, if that conscience and compassion are not sufficiently present within a given society such tactics are futile, and violent resistance becomes the only alternative to submission and despair. Israel has been repeatedly challenged by the Palestinians to do the right thing, but responds increasingly by treating all of its adversaries as ‘terrorists’ regardless of their behavior, while itself continuing to defy international law thereby denying the most fundamental rights to the Palestinian people and repeatedly relying on excessive force to safeguard its dominance.

Irish Recollections: After the Cork Conference on ‘International Law and the State of Israel’

14 Apr

 

 

Having recently spent several days at a very intense academic conference held in seductive Cork gave me the opportunity to reflect upon earlier experiences in Ireland, admittedly an unabashedly self-indulgent diversion. I realize that this will probably disappoint most regular blog readers who subscribe either to vent their strong disagreement with my views, often accompanied by harsh assaults on my character or personality, or by those likeminded persons who share enough of a common understanding of what it means for our species to exist in biopolitical end time to find this website congenial enough to stay connected. On this occasion I am admittedly exploring the depths of autobiographical banality to take advantage of the relationship between Ireland and my own highly individual end time, as well as an earlier period of my life when dark cosmic thoughts rarely clouded my inner space.

This reflective mood was further stimulated a few days ago by an interview to be broadcast sometime soon on a Cork radio station. The interview was conducted by the kind of personable Irish young woman with dancing eyes that we dream about: She seems to dwell in realms of gleeful immediacy as imprudently as a wayward leprechaun. After a longish exchange about the visit and the visitor she poses questions of more current interest, in this instance, about the conference that brought me to the city of Cork for the first time ever. This academic event was indeed a rather unusual occurrence for this serene and magical place, one of the oldest, yet small scale, urban habitats in all of Europe. The conference [“International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Exceptionalism, and Repsponsibility”] that brought me to Cork was treated as sufficiently controversial to have been cancelled the two prior years in England, specifically at the University of Southampton whose administrators yielded to heavy pressures exerted by pro-Israeli Jewish groups. With exceptional perseverance, the Southampton conveners, determined not to be silenced, teamed up with colleagues at the University of Cork, and despite some minor friction with Irish university administrators, went ahead with the conference. It took place between March 31 and April 2 without a single disruptive glitch, three long days of serious discussion exemplifying the highest ideals and spirit of academic freedom. I will comment further about this happy outcome toward the end of this post, but in the meantime, I will without further wimpish evasion, walk softly upon the thin ice of my Irish past.

 

My earliest contact with Irish sensibility was undoubtedly my most profound. From the ages of two or three until eleven or twelve, my almost continuous companion was a young Irish woman, Bridie Horan, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from County Kerry, who became more of a mother to me than my biological mother who was supremely unmotherly, a quality undoubtedly accentuated by a strained marriage with my father that led to their separation, which was quickly followed by a Nevada divorce well before I was seven. During this period we moved twice, once to the countryside from mid-Manhattan, and then a year or two later back to an adjacent apartment building in New York City half a block away. Both buildings fronted Central Park, between 64th and 65th streets, and both had good views of the park. The earlier apartment building, 50 Central Park West, was the setting for the film “Four Men and a Baby.”

 

From this childhood experience, I remember particularly being taken quite often by Bridie to the neighborhood Catholic Church, absorbed by the ritual of the Mass, but performed in Latin, I didn’t grasp the religious symbolism. I did develop an appreciation of religious mystery and the power of communities of faith. In these years this was my only exposure to religious practice. My parents were totally assimilated Jews who never bothered to explain what that meant, nor did they exhibit any ethnic consciousness associated with Jewish tradition, Yiddish language, and a cultural understanding of what it meant to be a Jew in American society in the 1930s.

 

I was especially impressed by the devoutness of those devotees who daily approached the altar to receive communion. Bridie was among those who stood in line to receive a wafer and a sip of wine from a silver chalice, but she never explained why or what. It was clearly an organic part of her fragile identity, which was torn from its deep Irish roots. She retained strong nationalist feelings for Ireland, but I do not recall her speaking of her Irish life or family. She expressed hostility toward the British who terrorized her community, sending notorious colonial troops known as ‘the black and tans’ tasked with subduing the rebellious Irish.

 

I didn’t realize until now that this was my first exposure to anti-colonial struggle, but at the time it seemed to me something distant and unreal. As a somewhat loutish child I teased Bridie until tears came to her eyes by praising Winston Churchill, who as colonial overlord personified for her British cruelty to the Irish. Bridie also daily escorted me back and forth to the Ethical Cultural School a half block away where I was enrolled in pre-kindergarten from the age of three. She was very Irish in her temperament and way of speaking, and remains a vivid remembrance brought to life while in Cork.

 

Bridie would also take me to visit friends of hers, presenting me as if her own child, a feeling that I remember enjoying at the time without much thought about what this meant. After the divorce of my parents and my mother’s departure, first for NYC, and later California, I lived briefly with my father in Pound Ridge, NY, near Stamford, Connecticut, for a year or so, before we returned to New York. We lived in a rather modern house far from the nearest neighbor, representing it seemed a final effort to save a doomed marriage. What I remember most from this period of rural isolation was acute loneliness, a fear of snakes, affection for snowscapes, wiling away hours hitting a jai-lai ball against the garage wall, and an early minor talent in basement table tennis. I was so alone that I even listened to news broadcasts, recalling now the excited voice of network commentators describing the the onset of World War II, signaled by the attack of Germany and the Soviet Union on Poland, followed by the German attack on the Soviet Union. I had the most minimal comprehension of what was transpiring beyond a vague realization that something historically significant was unfolding. What this war meant was completely unreal to me at the time, and Bridie was probably as confused as I was, doing little to help me grasp this epochal turn of events. When the American entry into war occurred in 1941, I recall listening to a radio broadcast a few days after the war started that warned of an expected German air attack against New York reported as being only hours away. Before realizing that it was a false alarm, I felt no fear, and a kind of ill-defined disappointment that the attack never happened, disclosing my perverse ignorance of the horrors of warfare. At this time, maybe a result of wartime tensions, Bridie later ran afoul of my father for reasons that were never clear, and likely were connected with personal feelings gone astray. My father insisted that Bridie had built up an obsessive desire for a close relationship with him, but I never heard her version. His story was that it became impossible to juggle a responsible childrearing framework with an intimate connection that he denied wanting. I mourned the loss of this original Irish connection, and for weeks suffered from the loss of the only female that touched me deeply during those childhood years. It was a broken connection never to be restored.

 

Long before I went to Ireland or ever read a serious book I had a short adolescent acquaintance with Stephen Joyce, grandson of the great James Joyce, son of Helen Joyce married to the author’s son, and the sister of one of my father’s closest and most unconventional friends, Robert Kastor. I recall being told that Helen would read to the famous Irish writer as he was losing his eyesight. I remember Stephen as a congenial boy, but later lost touch with him. I was told by an Irish diplomat at Cork that Stephen grew to be a wily adult who pursued business interests linked to his grandfather’s legacy, which may or may not have been true. Perhaps, my visit to the Dublin home of Joyce twenty-five years ago and a devotional reading of Ullyses, as well as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, allowed me to see Ireland through the impassioned prose, flow of consciousness, and extraordinary literary rendering of the Irish imaginary by Joyce.

 

Then came Yeats and Sean MacBride, each imparting distinctive dimensions of the Irish experience, and linked through the mystery of Sean’s mother, Maud Gonne, who seemed to provide Yeats with romantic inspiration tempered by his impassioned rejection of her political alignments and aspirations. As a young adult I came to regard Yeats as the greatest poetic voice of our time, and the one that resonates most with my own somewhat pathetic strivings that persist to this day.

 

I had three significant contacts with Sean MacBride (winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1974; Lenin Peace Prize in 1975) each of which seemed peculiarly relevant to the substantive side of this recent visit to Ireland. The first of these occurred early in 1968 when Sean was Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists, a widely respected NGO with headquarters in Geneva. There was an impending trial of 35 political and cultural leaders of what was then called South West Africa, a territory held as a Mandate by South Africa, since independence known as Namibia. I had been asked by defense counsel to be an expert witness, an invitation that probably resulted from my role as part of the defense team that represented Liberia and Ethiopia in the International Court of Justice in a 1964-65 case focused on whether the extension of apartheid to South West Africa violated the trust relationship between South Africa as mandatory power and these two former members of the League of Nations who had the authority to raise such legal questions. The decision rendered in 1965 shocked the UN, actually supporting the basic claim of South Africa that it was acting in accord with its obligations under the mandate in good faith by doing in South West Africa what it did with respect to race relations in its own country under the heading of ‘separate development’ of distinct races. The General Assembly reacted to this decision that flaunted the moral and political anti-apartheid consensus by revoking the South African mandate, and granting independence to South West Aftrica, since known as Namibia.

 

The South African Government obviously didn’t want my participation in the trial in Pretoria as an expert witness, delaying indefinitely a decision on whether or not issue a visa. Assuming that the visa would not be issued, the defense shifted tactics, requesting that the International Commission of Jurists (a respected NGO supportive of the rule of law) designate me as an official observer of what was anticipated to be a political trial. Sean’s father, Major John MacBride, who fought on the Afrikaaner side in the Boer War, and later executed by the British due to his activist role in support of Irish revolutionary nationalism, used family connections with South African leaders to arrange my visa. It was a memorable experience, especially as the trial coincided with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam that reshaped the mainstream approach to the Vietnam War in the United States, but would be a diversion to discuss here. What was relevant to my time at Cork was this earlier exposure to apartheid as a system of discriminatory oppression in the South African context, as well as the recollection of Sean MacBride’s unlikely facilitative link that enabled me to observe and report upon the trial. My report to the International Commission of Jurists on the various horrors of the trial and the heroics of the defendants was condemned by a South African government spokesperson, observing that I wrote with ‘a poison pen’ making me subject to criminal prosecution if I dared to return to South Africa. I took this criticism as a compliment, some sense that my reportage was on target.

 

My second link to MacBride was associated with a fact-finding commission set up in Britain to investigate Israeli war crimes associated with the 1982 attack on Lebanon, including the siege of Beirut. I was invited to be Vice Chair of the Commission, and became acting Chair when Sean’s health made it impossible for him to make the trip to Lebanon and Israel to assess the evidence. The rest of us came to the Lebanese port of Jounieh by ship from Cyprus, and as we entered the harbor, there were young Lebanese women water skiing, while we could hear gunfire from the other side of the hills in the Beirut area. Again the experience was quite extraordinary as Beirut was under Israeli siege, the Maronite leader then President-elect of Lebanon, Bachir Geymayel, was assassinated, and several days later the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps occurred with guidance and support of Israeli invading forces headed by Ariel Sharon. Returning to London, Sean took charge of the discussions leading up to the submission of our report that found Israel responsible for a series of major violations of the laws of war. Our initiative came to be known as the MacBride Commission, the report was a collective effort, with the initial draft prepared by Kader Asmal, who was living in Dublin in exile from South Africa at the time, dean of the faculty at the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, a prominent figure in the Irish anti-apartheid campaign, and later a principal author of the South African Constitution. [published under title Report of the International Commission to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of the Lebanon (London: Ithaca Press, 1983)] Kader became the only Indian member of the cabinet formed by Nelson Mandela after his election at President of South Africa. I became a lifelong friend of Kader as a result of sharing this experience, and maintained close contact until his death a few years ago, a tragic loss on many levels of personal and public engagement.

 

The third and final link with MacBride was to serve under his chairmanship as a participant in a civil society initiative known as the London Nuclear War Tribunal held in London, 1985. In addition to Sean and myself, Dorothy Hodgkin (Nobel Prize, chemistry, 1964) and Maurice Wilkins (Nobel Prize, medicine, 1962). The proceedings involved a comprehensive inquiry into the status of nuclear weapons in relation to customary international law, and produced a declaration and series of findings and recommendations that remain relevant at present. [For the full account see Geoffrey Darnton, ed., Nuclear Weapons and International Law: From the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal (Bournesmouth, UK: Peace Analytics, 2nd ed. 2015)].

 

There are other recollections of Ireland based on several visits to Dublin. Perhaps, the most memorable was participation with the late Fred Halliday at a conference in 1996 on the sociology and politics of terrorism that was partly held under the auspices of the army of the Republic of Ireland. After the conference there was a dinner at the army headquarters, and I was greeted on my entry to the building by a full-length portrait of William Butler Yeats. Although an ardent cultural nationalist, Yeats was a relatively conservative figure in the Irish struggle for independence, and is celebrated around the world for the lyric universality of spirit embodied so enduringly in his poetry. I continue to feel that only in Ireland would that sense of nationalism and national security become merged with reverence for a poet of global stature so displayed by the country’s armed forces.

 

Actually, the most memorable part of the experience came during dinner. I was seated next to the commander-in-chief of the army of Ireland. Midway through the dinner a waiter handed the general a note, which reported the major IRA bomb exploded in the city center of Manchester, England. His only words at the time were “I guess I won’t be going home this weekend.” Apparently, military officers could normally spend weekends with their families.

 

All of this as background to my days in Cork, culminating in the conference partly held in the City Hall of Cork (due to a compromise with university officials under Zionist pro-Israeli pressures of the sort that had led to University of Southampton cancellations), with the third and final day held on the new campus of the University of Cork, one of Europe’s most venerable universities. The extraordinary perseverance and good will of Oren Ben-Dor, a historian on the faculty at Southampton, and the willingness of the Irish organizing team at Cork to withstand the usual pressures, allowed the conference to go forward without incident.

 

The conference consisted of three long days of high quality academic presentations that were organized as panels with ample time for audience participation. It was a lively participatory audience whose member posed challenging and probing questions. I was the first of two keynote speakers (the other was Ugo Mattei, a very imaginative Italian legal scholar who insisted that there was no solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict without taking account of the broader context of neoliberal capitalism and geopolitical militarism, a position I regarded as extremely important). My talk focused on the significance of the recently released UN report, co-authored with Virginia Tilley, on Israel as an apartheid state. The basic policy contention derived from the report, which can be found on the website of this blog, is that 50 years after the 1967 War it is more appropriate to call for ‘ending apartheid’ rather than continue to mouth the slogan ‘end the occupation.’ This conceptual move is significant for at least two reasons: as signifying a shift from ‘territory’ to ‘people,’ and as a belated acknowledgement that the Palestinians as a whole (including those in refugee camps and exile, minority in Israel, and those residing in Jerusalem) are being subjugated by an Israel regime or structure of apartheid that fragments, discriminates, and dominates on the basis of race, and violates relevant international legal norms.

 

There is much more that could be said about this conference, rich in ideas and devoted to a search for a sustainable peace for both peoples on the basis of equality in form and substance. Although there was considerable attention paid to the illegitimacy of Israeli state formation, the emphasis of the conference was on finding a just peace for the future rather than dwelling upon the necessity to redress past grievances. At the same time, the past could and should not be ignored. Palestinian wounds will not heal until there a credible reconciliation process is established that includes Israeli official acknowledgements of historic wrongdoing centered on the nakba, conceived of as a process of dispossession, displacement, and domination.

 

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

26 Mar

[Prefatory Note: This post was originally published on March 22, 2017 by The Nation under the title “The Inside Story of Our UN Report Calling Israel an Apartheid State,” the text of which can be found at this link: https://www.thenation.com/article/the-inside-story-on-our-un-report-calling-israel-an-apartheid-state/ What is below is somewhat modified.]

 

 

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

 

Six months ago, the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) asked Virginia Tilley and me to write a study examining the applicability of the international criminal law concept of apartheid to Israel’s policies and practices toward the Palestinian people. We were glad to accept the assignment, and conceived of our role as engaging in an academic undertaking. ESCWA, one of several UN regional commissions, requested the study as a result of an uncontested motion adopted by its 18 Arab member governments.

Almost within hours of its release on March 15, our report [bearing the title “Israel’s Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”] was greeted by what can only be described as hysteria and derision. The newly appointed US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, denounced the report and demanded that the UN repudiate it. The newly elected Secretary General, Antonió Guterres, quickly and publicly called for ESCWA to withdraw the report from its website, and when Rima Khalaf, the head of the commission, resisted, Guterres insisted. Rather than comply, Khalaf resigned, explaining her reasons in a gracious, principled letter to the Secretary General, an eloquent expression of public conscience that is itself extremely rare in UN experience and worthy of the most favorable notice and commentary. [for text of letter see Soon thereafter, the report was withdrawn from the commission’s website, despite containing a very clear disclaimer at its outset noting that the report represents the views of its authors and not necessarily that of ESCWA or the UN.

 

What is striking about this pattern of action and reaction, which resembles in many respects the US government response to the Goldstone Report (the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2008-9), is the degree to which Israel’s officials and supporters, in response to criticism, have sought to discredit and wound the messenger rather than address the message by offering a detailed substantive explanation and defense. Each time such a technique succeeds in this mission of discrediting, wounding, and diverting attention the role of the UN as a promoter of the public good is weakened, and the Organization becomes rather an instrument by which dominant geopolitical forces assert their will at the expense of truth, reason, and human wellbeing.

 

Virginia Tilley, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a leading world expert on apartheid, and I, as well as ESCWA, would welcome substantive discussion and critical feedback, and we had hoped that our analysis and conclusions would provide the basis for debate, dialogue, and further consideration of the recommendations appended at the end. ESCWA, for its part, took steps to ensure that the report lived up to scholarly standards, submitting the draft text to three prominent international jurists, who had been anonymously solicited to offer objective vetting. Each submitted a strong positive appraisal along with suggestions for revision, which we gratefully incorporated before the final text was released. Against this background, it is irresponsible for government officials and others to dismiss our report as a biased polemic, and to do so damages the authority of the UN and respect for international law.

 

It is also misleading to do what the American and Israeli diplomats did, as well as the media– treating this study as if a report officially endorsed by the UN. Such treatment overlooks the disclaimer on the opening page of the report, which clearly states that the analysis and interpretations presented are those of the authors alone, and are not to be attributed to the UN. In effect, it is a document initiated by a UN agency, appraised for quality by reference to scholarly standards, but not adopted nor even endorsed at this point, although this might happen in the future, a step we as authors would welcome.

 

During my tenure as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (2008-14), I witnessed how defenders of Israel attempted to discredit critics. My reports in that post often included sharp criticisms of Israel and other actors, ranging across various topics including defiance of international law, unlawful expansion of settlements, excessive use of force, and complicity of international corporations and banks that do business for profit with the settlements, and others. To my surprise, I never received substantive pushback regarding these specific allegations, but I did have the unpleasant experience of having my words on completely unrelated issues torn out of context, and brought to the attention of UN high officials and important diplomats representing member states. Among my harshest critics were not only the usual ultra-Zionist NGOs, but also Barack Obama’s diplomats at the UN, including Susan Rice and Samantha Power, as well as then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I mention this personal experience only to note that it falls into a longstanding pattern of diversionary rebuttal that prefers to smear rather than engage in reasoned debate about the important issues of law and justice at stake.

 

The international crime of apartheid was authoritatively specified in the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The main elements of the crime consist of deliberate and systematic acts of racial discrimination with the purpose of maintaining unlawful structures of racial domination, that is, a dominant race subjugating another race. Our report also considered whether, in the context of inquiring into the presence of apartheid, it was appropriate to consider Jews and Palestinians as distinct races; we found that there were abundant grounds for doing so. As our report shows, “race” in this legal context is treated as a socially and politically constructed category developed to identify a distinct people. It has no necessary correlation with biogenetic realities, which in this case actually shows an overlap between Jews and Palestinians.

 

Even Palestinian citizens of Israel, who can vote and form political parties, are subject to many discriminatory laws that impair security and the quality of life. The report also proceeds from the proposition that whether apartheid exists or not depends on the overall treatment of the Palestinian people as a whole, and not by accepting the fragmentation that has been imposed by Israel. Adopting what we believe to be an innovative methodology, we approached this challenge by dividing the Palestinians into four domains that correspond to the manner in which Israel has exercises its authority over the course of many decades, although the specific tactics of control vary through time. In the past, a thorough study by international law scholars found that Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories are consistent with apartheid [See Virginia Tilley, ed., Beyond Occupation: apartheid, colonialism and international law in the occupied Palestinian territories [Pluto: London, 2012]. It called attention to the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians, who are subject to military administration as compared to the Jewish settler population, which enjoys the full benefit of the rule of law as it is observed in Israel in relation to Jewish nationals. That study found that “settler-only roads,” dual legal systems, and the draconian separation of the two populations into regions on the basis of race hallmarks of apartheid. Repressive practices that have made the lives of ordinary Palestinians a daily ordeal are a core dimension of this racially organized system of control. It should be also noted that according to preferred readings of international law, penalizing and criminalizing nonviolent forms of resistance to apartheid itself constitutes the crime of apartheid.

 

A second domain investigated in the report involves Palestinians who are residents of Jerusalem. Here the apartheid character of Israeli rule is exhibited in the way the government of Israel severely undermines the human security of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, manipulating their rights of residence as well as imposing a variety of discriminatory practices, ranging from fiscal measures, demolitions, to the arbitrary withholding of building permits.

 

The third domain deals with the Palestinian minority living in Israel, perhaps the most problematic component in terms of establishing a definition of apartheid that encompasses the entire Palestinian population. In this category are some 1.7 million citizens of Israel, who are allowed to form political parties and vote in elections. But this minority, which makes up about 20 percent of the overall Israeli population, is prohibited by law from challenging the proclaimed Jewish character of the state and is subject to a wide range of discriminatory nationality laws as well as administrative practices that severely restrict their rights, with effects on land acquisition, property, immigration, family reunification, and marital freedom.

International law has detached apartheid from its South African origins; it’s now a stand-alone crime against humanity that does not stand or fall by whether it contains similar features to those that constituted the apartheid regime in South Africa.

 

A fourth domain, and the one affecting the largest demographic segment, is made up of Palestinians registered as refugees by UN procedures or living under conditions of involuntary exile. In the background is Israel’s rejection of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), which confirms that Palestinians dispossessed or displaced by Israel in 1948 enjoy a right of return. General Assembly Resolution 3236 declares this right of return or repatriation to be an “inalienable right,” which thus presumably incorporates those additional several hundred thousand Palestinians later displaced by the 1967 war. As far as is known, no Palestinian displaced since the establishment of Israel in 1948 has been granted a right of return to resume residence.

 

The report argues that the crime of apartheid has been detached from its historical origins in South Africa. Neither the 1973 Convention nor the 1998 Rome Statute underlying the International Criminal Court ties apartheid to South Africa, but rather treats its practice as a stand-alone crime against humanity. Thus, there are important differences between the way apartheid operated in South Africa and the way it is currently being imposed on the Palestinians, but these differences are not relevant to the question of whether it fairly and accurately applies to Israel. One notable difference is that in South Africa the Afrikaner leadership forthrightly proclaimed apartheid as a reflection of its ideological belief in the separation of races, whereas for Israel such a structure of separation on the basis of race is denied and repudiated, and its attribution is treated as an inflammatory insult. There are other differences as well, relating to degrees of labor dependence and the demographic ratio between Jews and Palestinians.

 

This quasi-permanent structure of domination cannot be justified or explained by reference to Israel’s legitimate security needs.

Our report concludes that Israel has deliberately fragmented the Palestinian people in relation to these four demographic domains, relying on systematic discrimination, including “inhuman acts,” primarily to maintain its control and render resistance more difficult, while continuing to expand territorially at the expense of prospects for Palestinian self-determination. On the basis of these findings—backed up by detailed presentations of empirical data, including reliance on Israeli official sources—we conclude that the allegation of apartheid as applied to the Palestinian people is well founded and descriptive of the present situation, more so than the terminology of occupation.

 

As earlier suggested, we are keenly aware that our report is the work of academic investigators and does not represent an authoritative finding of apartheid by a formal judicial or governmental institution. As mentioned—contrary to media coverage and diplomatic denunciations—the report has never been endorsed or accepted by the UN, or even ESCWA. We do recommend such an endorsement, and we urge the UN, national governments, and civil society to take measures designed to encourage Israel to dismantle its apartheid regime and treat the Palestinian people in accord with the dictates of international law and human rights, as well as elementary morality.

 

The broader setting associated with our contention that Israel has become an apartheid state draws on the reality that there is no peaceful resolution to the conflict on the diplomatic horizon, and thus no foreseeable prospect for ending the discriminatory regime and the attendant suffering of the Palestinian people. This quasi-permanent structure of domination cannot be justified indefinitely by invoking Israeli security needs, which are themselves partly created by the unwillingness of Israel to respect Palestinian rights under international law. A people cannot be permanently repressed in by military force and administrative coercion ways without viewing the structure that has emerged as an apartheid regime. Indeed, part of the reason for not awaiting a more formal assessment of these charges of apartheid is our sense of urgency in ending a set of arrangements that have for so long been responsible for so much suffering and denial of basic rights, above all the right of self-determination.

 

It remains our central hope, one shared with ESCWA, that the widespread availability of this report will lead to a clearer understanding of the Palestinian plight and encourage more effective responses by the UN, by governments, and by civil society. Beyond this, it is our continuing wish that people of good will throughout the world, especially within Israel, will work toward a political solution that will finally allow Jews and Palestinians to live together in peace, with justice.

 

 

 

Is Genocide a Controversial International Crime?

30 Jul

Why ‘Genocide’ is still a Controversial Crime?

 

In this strikingly original, strange, and brilliant book, Philippe Sands raises a haunting question among a tangle of other intriguing issues discussed throughout East-West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity (New York: Knopf, 2016). It is at once a plural biography (with a bit of autobiography thrown in), a jurisprudential fairy tale, and a searing account of the horrifying impact that vicious Nazi policies had on the lives of the author’s family members as well on those of his human rights heroes. The haunting question is this: was it a wise and practical decision to keep the crime of genocide from being part of the international criminal law framework used to assess the individual accountability of surviving Nazi political and military leaders, and then subsequently in dealing with past and present mass atrocities?

 

Reflecting my own interest over the years in the use and misuse of the language of genocide, I found this to be the most provocative and enduring dimension of this multiply fascinating book in which Sands exhibits his versatility as jurist, legal practitioner, investigative journalist, and amateur historian of the Holocaust as it victimized one small region in contemporary Poland that happened to be the birthplace of his grandfather as well as two of the most renowned contributors to the development of international criminal law of the past century. The book’s title is obscure until we readers discover that East-West Street runs the length of the small town in contemporary Poland where these three families originated, and resided, until the momentous events of the 1930s forced them to seek refuge by moving Westwards.

 

East-West Street can be read from many different angles, divided into no less than 158 short chapters besides a prologue that explains how such an unusual literary/intellectual journey got its accidental start with a lecture invitation to the author and an epilogue that attempts to summarize the juridical interplay between the two prime architects of core international crimes (Sir Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) and the crimes themselves (crimes against humanity and genocide). What creates the dramatic tension in Sands’ treatment of this interplay is the contrast between a jurisprudential logic that focuses on crimes committed against individuals as contrasted with a competing logic that emphasizes crimes against groups. Also at play for Sands are the contrasting personalities and legal approaches of Lauterpacht, the cool, pragmatic, revered professorial insider, and Lemkin, the emotionally driven, obsessive outsider who dedicated his adult life to lobbying governments to support genocide as a crime, and somehow managed to get results.

 

In the background of this titanic struggle of ideas, were the personal stories of the individuals involved, which, in effect, provided the private motivations for such influential public acts. An extraordinary coincidence that Sands puts to excellent literary use arises from the simple fact that both Lauterpacht and Lemkin were connected in their early lives and studies with a small town, variously named, that changed hands eight times between 1914 and 1945, being governed at different times by Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Its most durable name during the period covered in the book is Lemberg, although it is today known by its Polish name, Lviv. What strains credibility almost to the breaking point is that Sands’ own grandfather, Leon Bucholz, also was born in Lemberg, and it is around the lives of these three men of the law that Sands weaves a complex narrative structure that is surprisingly readable. Much of the book is devoted, with passionate attention to the minutest detail, to how their personal lives and sensibilities were shaped by their departure from the Lemberg before it fell under Nazi occupation, and by the pain associated with the wrenching reality of losing contact with their families left behind. Only belatedly, years later did they each discover the ghastly experiences of lethal victimization experienced by family members after the Nazis took over what had then been Polish sovereign territory. It was striking that only silence could accord dignity to occurrences that were evidently experienced as unspeakable, paralyzing a sensitive moral imagination.

 

Against such a background it is to be expected that the book examines closely the person and behavior of Hans Frank, one of the 21 Nazis prosecuted at Nuremberg, who served as the cruel and devoted Governor General of Poland during the war years when the country fell under German occupation, and became the most notorious killing field of the Nazi era. It is also highly relevant that the three men whose lives and careers are the focal point of the narrative, given further reality by interspersed family pictures and documents, were Jewish, although none with any pronounced religious commitment. Yet their lives and careers were multiply determined by this Jewish identity, and what this meant during a period of unprecedented mass persecution and extermination. This interest in Frank is reinforced by Sands’ extraordinary collaboration with Franks’ son, Niklas, with whom he visits the Nuremberg courtroom where 68 years earlier a death sentence had been imposed on his father. Not to be content with the involvement of Niklas, Sands’ also persuades Horst, son of Otto von Wächter, who administered for Nazi rulers an area that included Lemberg, and had earlier been a classmate of Lauterpacht in the law school of the local university, to assist in the reconstruction of the events. These intergenerational connections led Sands to write the screenplay and perform in a documentary film, My Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did, which had its 2015 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and won recognition and awards.

 

Such an attempt at reliving of these historical events illustrates the contrasting adjustments to the present, with Niklas feeling that his father fully deserved the punishment he received at Nuremberg, while Horst exhibits a morbid pride, remembering his father’s prominence without any sign of shame or even regrets about his father’s role in carrying out the evil policies of the Nazi occupiers. Philippe Sands positions himself both within and without this apocalyptic past, trying to pull the pieces together in a coherent multi-dimensional account without losing contact with his own personal engagement in this overwhelming family tragedy.

 

Putting to one side the intriguing biographical and autobiographical levels of Sands’ construction of these various lives, I wish to concentrate my observations on the legal legacies associated with Lauterpacht and Lemkin,

depicted with such vividness throughout the book, reaching their climax at Nuremberg. As Sands observes, crimes against humanity (CAH) and genocide were both radical and innovative juridical ideas seeking to criminalize Nazi atrocities. CAH focused on protecting the individual against the criminality of any state including one’s own, while genocide was conceived to criminalize the mass killing of identifiably distinct ethnic or religious groups. Lauterpacht more or less invented CAH with the intention of repudiating the impunity that traditionally attached to wrongdoing by a sovereign government against individuals subject to its territorial jurisdiction and thus insulating those who acted on behalf of the state from any kind of personal accountability. CAH mounted a legal challenge directed at unconditional territorial sovereignty and the prevalence of absolute monarchy, which had long dominated the state-centric world order established in Europe by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Such impunity continued to be a feature of nationalist ideology despite the French Revolution and the emergence of democratic constitutionalism. The numerous subsequent efforts to make governments internally accountable for their acts through law and a variety of constitutional procedures, including elections, did not extend to external behavior. What made CAH such a radical step forward was this insistence on some measure of external or international accountability by means of law.

 

Lemkin, on his side, invented the crime of genocide, including even the word, almost all by himself. He was guided by the unwavering belief that criminalizing the kind of racialist policies put into practice by Nazi Germany was urgently necessary to save civilization from the recurrence of barbarism. It seems that Lemkin was initially disposed to criminalize such behavior by his shocked reaction to the mass killing in Turkey of Armenians in 1915, and the absence of any punitive international response embedded in international law. He believed fervently that the deadly political virus giving rise to such collective behavior was a distinct form of criminality that should never be conflated with a series of separate criminal acts, however severe, that were directed at individuals.

 

I would have thought that there was every reason to support both forms of criminality in reaction to the Nazi experience, and to a certain extent, so does Sands. The main technical obstacle, only superficially discussed by Sands, to the prosecution of these crimes at Nuremberg was the prohibition against retroactive applications of criminal laws. In fact, the Nuremberg Judgment devoted considerable energy to demonstrate its respect for the prohibition, endorsing CAH only if the acts in question could be connected with the onset of the war in 1939; in other words, from 1933 to 1939, the early years of the Nazi regime, the wrongdoing of those acting on behalf of the German government continued to be internationally shielded by impunity. Subsequently, the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Nuremberg Principles, ratified now by more than a half century of state practice gives CAH the status of obligatory norms under customary international law, no longer necessarily linked to aggressive war. More than this, these Principles have come to be regarded as ‘peremptory norms’ or simply jus cogens, that cannot be altered by governmental action, and can be changed only through their replacement by another peremptory norm.

 

Genocide has had a somewhat similar intellectual voyage after being sidelined at Nuremberg to Lemkin’s great disappointment. His personal crusade to achieve the inclusion of genocide among the crimes charged against the Nazis failed. Undeterred by this setback, Lemkin’s unwavering perseverance after Nuremberg was soon rewarded. The Genocide Convention came into force in 1950, and as Sands observes, almost instantly genocide became the ‘crime of crimes,’ the most stigmatizing form of criminality whose commission results in a permanent tainting of the national character of a sovereign state found to have been guilty of genocide. There have been various allegations of genocide over the decades, with Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda being among the most notorious instances.

 

Sands situates himself not quite equidistant in relation to these two jurisprudential giants. His own academic life and personal associations disposed him to side with Lauterpacht, celebrating his success in introducing CAH into the fabric of the Nuremberg experience and from there, to become a critical norm in the emergence of international criminal law, and a featured crime embedded in the Rome Statute that creates the legal framework for the International Criminal Court. Sands is unabashedly appreciative, even awed, believinging that Lauterpacht was recognized as “the outstanding legal mind of the twentieth century, and a father of the modern human rights movement.” [loc. 254] Lauterpacht, as an influential Cambridge professor later elected to the International Court of Justice became a member of the British establishment, and was professionally admired for his prodigious output as a scholar that showcased his committed, yet cautious approach to the development of international law. For Lauterpacht this development to be authentic had to arise from the practice of sovereign states. He had a keen appreciation of the limits of what was politically feasible and legally appropriate, and was respectful toward patterns of statecraft, possibly reflecting his exposure while a student to the great Austrian formalist and positivist, Hans Kelsen. In a book built around the organic links between the personal and public, it is hardly surprising that Sands turns out to have been a student at Cambridge and that Eli Lauterpacht, the jurist son of Hersch, was his teacher and a collaborating source of information about his famous father. This contributes one more instance of Sands’ interest in fathers and sons. Unfortunately, for his scheme of things, Lemkin never married and had no sons.

 

The older Lauterpacht was openly skeptical of genocide, viewing it as ‘impractical,’ even an impediment to the realistic development of international law. Sands is never fully clear as to why a crime that seemed to depict the very essence of the Nazi victimization of Jews and others, should have been put aside on grounds of practicality in the lead up to the Nuremberg proceedings. He does mention in passing American and British reluctance to put such a crime into the indictment at Nuremberg was related to the rattle of skeletons in their respective historical closets: the systematic decimation of native Americans and a variety of British colonial practices. According to Sands, “Lauterpacht never embraced the idea of genocide. To the end of his life, he was dismissive, both of the subject, and more politely, of the man who concocted it, even if he recognized the aspirational quality.” [loc.6700] Sands does refer to the problematic aspects of genocide in various places—especially a lawyer’s difficulty of finding strong enough evidence of the appropriate criminal intent to convince a court of law, considering that those engaged in genocide rarely leave a paper trail that satisfies those sitting in judgment and aware that to obtain a guilty verdict in responses to genocide is an indirect punishment of a nation and its people as well as of the individuals charged.

 

In this regard, despite the crime of genocide not being part of the formal proceedings at Nuremberg, Germany has been convicted of ‘genocide’ in the court of public opinion, and Germans whatever their relationship to the Nazi experience seem destined to live perpetually under this dark cloud. As many have observed, and I have experienced, this deep German consciousness of historic guilt explains an excessive deference to the policies of the state of Israel and the related fear that any criticism of Israeli behavior, however justified, will be perceived as anti-Semitism. In this respect, there is a real objection to the formal and informal allegations of genocide because it imposes guilt not only on individuals who acted for the state but on the nation as a whole. There is a related issue, not raised by Sands, of the degree of complicity with Nazism that it is fair to attribute to the German people as a whole, and whether this complicity should cast its shadow over future generations.

 

I have had an interest in the embittered standoff between the Armenian diaspora and Turkey over the redress of historic grievances relating to the tragic events of 2015. To resolve this standoff depends exclusively on the willingness of Turkey to issue a formal acknowledgement that the wrongs endured more than a century ago by the Armenian people constituted genocide. No lesser form of apology by Turkey even if accompanied by initiatives that keep historical memories alive via a museum, educational materials, and commemorative events will overcome this Armenian insistence, supported by many Western governments, that Turkey admit genocide. Sands appears sympathetic with the difficulty posed by this apparent fetishization of genocide, writing, “[i]t was no surprise that an editorial in a leading newspaper, on the occasion of the centenary against Armenians, suggested that the word ‘genocide’ may be unhelpful, because it ‘stirs up national outrage rather than the sort of ruthless examination of the record the country needs.’” [loc. 6618]

 

Questioning the Armenian insistence on genocide has become political incorrect even though the crime was unknown in 1915 when the offending behavior took place and the modern state of Turkey did not then exist as it only came into existence in 1923. Of course, such legalistic considerations will never resolve the controversy as what is deeply at stake is the way historical memories should be inscribed on political consciousness of both victim and perpetrator societies, as well as in authoritative public accounts. It is plausible to admit that what happened a hundred years would have qualified as the crime of genocide if it took place after 1950. The case is further complicated because many Turks continue to subscribe to a historical narrative that claims that the massacres resulted from excessive uses of force in a wartime situation in which Armenians were seen to be a subversive presence siding with the Russian adversaries of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and included occasions on which Turks were also slaughtered. This counter-narrative complicates any acknowledgement by the Turkish government of genocide as it would agitate the volatile ultra-nationalist sentiments that dominate the extreme right in the country.  

 

It is understandable from Armenian perspectives that only an admission of ‘genocide’ is capable of encompassing the magnitude of the wrongs suffered by the Armenian people. There is no other word with comparable stigmatizing power. It was this stigmatizing power that led to Bill Clinton in 1994, while president of the United States, to issue his notorious order that the word ‘genocide’ should not be used by government employees with reference to the massive killing taking place in Rwanda. Clinton evidently feared that the mobilizing effect of labeling these events as genocide would exert unwanted pressure on the United States to intervene to stop the killing.

 

This is the meeting point of the genius of Lemkin, and the worldliness of Lautherpacht, with Sands sensitive to the virtues and limitations of both viewpoints although leaning toward the Lauterpacht approach. Of course, the German guilt is quite different in its essentials from the Turkish reality. A Turkish admission of genocide, should it ever be made, would not be internalized in the manner forced upon Germany by the denazification program implemented by the victors after World War II. It is relevant to realize that Armenian genocide did not emanate from an extremist racialism that was so closely connected with Hitler’s rise to power based on virulent anti-Semitism.

 

In one sense Lemkin has been too successful. In his insistence that what the Nazis were doing to Jews, and other peoples, was a crime against the group, he unwittingly succeeded in elevating genocide above crimes against humanity, and thereby weakened Lauterpacht’s interest in promoting international accountability for crimes without undermining peace among states. There are other concerns. If genocide if read backward into history, as in the Armenian case, it opens a Pandora’s Box that intensifies numerous bitter memories of the past, reopens wounds, and seems to unduly burden present generations with a legacy of criminality that was the work of those no longer alive. What is worse, the Holocaust as the context in which the crime was formalized operates as a standard of comparison, the crime of crimes that lies behind the legal conceptualization, which discourages its acknowledgement by political entities that might be ready to issue an apology but not to suggest that in their national past is an experience that deserves to be treated as comparably reprehensible to what Jews, and not only Jews, suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

 

Given a world of states, maybe Lauterpacht after all adopted the more tenable position. Perhaps the most that can be hoped for is an international criminal law framework that prosecutes, as appropriate, individuals, and leaves the chronicling of group crime to historians, novelists, and filmmakers. Even here there are problems not faced by Lauterpacht or Sands that relate to the hierarchical character of world order that makes any serious application of international criminal law more a creature of geopolitics than an expression of the rule of law or a tenet of global justice.

 

Sands while right to be proud of his own role as revered litigator of international crimes adopts a more questionable position by downplaying the relevance of geopolitics. In a notable passage about the objection to Nuremberg as ‘victors’ justice’ he writes, “[y]es, there was a strong whiff of ‘victor’s [sic] justice,’ [at Nuremberg] but there was no doubting that the case was catalytic, opening the possibility that the leaders of a country could be put on trial before an international court, something that had never happened before. [loc. 288] A whiff! [for those unfamiliar with ‘whiff’ its dictionary definition is this: “a brief passing odor in the air as in ‘a whiff of perfume’ or “a very small trace as in ‘a whiff of self-pity in her remarks’] Looking at the impunity conferred by the Nuremberg framework on the indiscriminate, terror bombing of German cities [recall Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five], not to mention the fire bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the victors’ dimension could not be convincingly marginalized from the overall legal proceedings. It was certainly more consequential than even ‘a strong whiff’! Even the American prosecutor, Robert Jackson, who is portrayed by Sands quite reasonably as the most influential presence at Nuremberg, understood that the moral validity of the decision rendered was precarious, and needed future vindication by being integrated into an international law framework that bound all states, winners and losers, strong and weak. That this never happened deserves commentary that Sands fails to provide.

 

Instead, Sands reminds us that there has been much follow up to Nuremberg that supports his assessment of its catalytic impact. He cites his own extensive experience with both categories of criminality in cases involving Serbia, Croatia, Libya, United States, Rwanda, Argentina, Chile, Israel and Palestine, United Kingdom, Yemen, Iran, Iran, Iran, Iraq, and Syria as if the mere listing proves his point. [loc. 6607] I believe Sands’ impressive legal activism only shifts the focus. True, there has been a robust development of human rights and international criminal law, especially after the end of the Cold War, but this has obscured rather than overcome this fundamental flaw. The integrity of the rule of law as an operative global system, depends crucially on treating equals equally, and this has never happened, nor will it happen without a sea change in world politics. As African countries have been pointing out with plausibility, criminal accountability for both CAH and genocide is limited to weak states and losing sides in wars, and impunity remains for the strong and winners. We will long be waiting for the likes of George W. Bush or Tony Blair being called to account for their role in embarking on a disastrous aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.

 

True, introducing these categories of criminality into the legal vocabulary gave a valuable normative tool to civil society, first effectively utilized by the much maligned Russell Tribunal in the midst of the Vietnam War and more recently by the Iraq War Tribunal of 2005 that addressed crimes associated with the Iraq War. Yet civil society has only public opinion at its disposal, and even here, is hampered by the statist orientation of most media outlets that demean such civil society initiatives as illegitimate intrusions on the public sphere reserved exclusively for governments representing sovereign states. At best, these civil society tribunals that pass judgment on the behavior of geopolitical actors are expressions of a moral consciousness that acts as if these norms of international criminal law should be universally regulative rather than selectively applied.

 

Sands, along with Lauterpacht and Lemkin, share the liberal conviction that law is an autonomous force for the good in human affairs (unless deformed in its application as by the Nazis). Their sense of practicalities appears to be a willingness to overlook geopolitical constraints, and to take what incremental steps are made available by circumstances with the hope and expectation that over time the growth of law and legal institutions will overcome the present arbitrariness of practice. In the meantime, the liberal test of validity is a matter of procedural assurances that trials are fair and that those who are convicted are guilty of heinous acts that deserve to be punished. The related fact that some are too powerful to be accountable is a fact of life that it is best not to think too much about. Along with far more notable public intellectuals (e.g. Russell, Sartre, Chomsky, Edward Said) I dissent from this liberal optimism/opportunism, believing that the conscience of engaged citizens is an indispensable challenge to all political systems, (talking truth to power) rather than limiting constructive contributions by acting within it. At the same time, I would not judge liberal icons, such as Sands and Lauterpacht, who have made a political choice opposite to mine.

 

In the course of this essay I have ignored other significant publications by Sands, most particularly his prior relevant and important book, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules (2005), a well-reasoned and documented critique of the approach to international law taken by the neoconservative presidency of George W. Bush, especially with respect to the Iraq War, but also in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Although valuing this contribution to the policy debate that occurred during that period, it is fully consistent with the liberal orientation, which is often to oppose American and British foreign policy undertakings, especially if they happen to be unsuccessful and are peripheral to national or strategic interests, and depend upon unilateral aggressive uses of force not authorized by the UN Security Council. In this vein the recently released massive Chilcot Report evaluating British involvement in the Iraq War follows a parallel liberal line, condemning any decision to go to war except on the basis of adequate advance planning and the buildup of public support, but sidestepping the question of whether it was also mandatory on Britain to comply with international law and the UN Charter. Despite the 2.3 million words of the report there is no where a hint about Blair’s potential personal responsibility if international criminal law were to be properly applied.

 

As expressed at the beginning, despite these differences, I greatly admire the author, and applaud Sands’ dazzling performance. Among other qualities, Sands displays an incredible willingness to go to great lengths to get the details correct. He tracks down addresses, relatives, obscure documents and pictures to piece together a riveting narrative of these three lives, and their families, coping with one of the most extreme collective traumas of all time. As said, this book can and should be widely read from many perspectives, and the psycho-politics of the jurisprudence it imparts is the one that happens to interest me most, but it is only one of several strands in this exceptionally rich tapestry, and each one deserves similar detailed commentary.

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

21 May

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

 

There is an irony that would be amusing if it was not depressing about news that Donald Trump has been courting the 92-year old foreign policy sorcerer Henry Kissinger. Of course, the irony is that earlier in the presidential campaign Hilary Clinton proudly claimed Kissinger as ‘a friend,’ and acknowledged that he “relied on his counsel” while she served as Obama’s Secretary of State between 2009-2013. It is indeed strange that the only point of public convergence between free-swinging Trump and war-mongering Clinton should be these ritual shows of deference to the most scandalous foreign policy figure of the past century.

 

Kissinger should not be underestimated as an international personality with a sorcerer’s dark gifts. After all, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his perverse role in Vietnam diplomacy. Kissinger had supported the war from its inception and was known as a strong proponent of the despicable ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam. He had earlier joined with Nixon in secretly extending the Vietnam War to Cambodia, incidentally without Congressional knowledge, much less authorization. This led to the total destabilization and devastation of a country that had successfully maintained its neutrality for the prior decade. It also generated the genocidal takeover by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s resulting in the death of a third of the Cambodian population. It was notable that the Nobel had been jointly awarded to Luc Duc Tho, Kissinger’s counterpart in the negotiations, who exhibited his dignity by declining the prize, while Kissinger as shameless as ever, accepted and had an assistant deliver his acceptance speech because he was too busy to attend. Significantly, for the first time, two members of the Nobel Selection Committee resigned their position in disgust.

 

The more familiar, and more damning allegation against Kissinger, is his association with criminal violations of international law. These are convincingly set forth in Christopher Hitchens The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). Hitchens informed readers that he “confined himself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment.” He omitted others. Hitchens lists six major crimes of Kissinger:

            “1. The deliberate mass killing of civilian population in Indochina.

  1. Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination in         Bangla Desh.
  2. The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation—Chile—with which the United States was not at war.
  3. Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
  4. The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.
  5. Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, DC.”

Whether the evidence available would support a conviction in an international tribunal is far from certain, but Kissinger’s association and approval of these unlawful and inhumane policies, and many others, is clear beyond reasonable doubt.

 

In some respects as damaging as these allegations of complicity in war crimes is, it is not the only reason to question Kissinger’s credentials as guru par excellence. Kissinger shares with Hilary Clinton a record of bad judgments, supporting some foreign policy initiatives that would be disastrous if enacted

and others that failed while inflicting great suffering on a foreign civilian population. In his most recent book, World Order published in 2014, Kissinger makes a point of defending his support of George W. Bush’s foreign policy with specific reference to the war of aggression undertaken in 2003. In his words, “I supported the decision to undertake regime change in Iraq..I want to express here my continuing respect and personal affection for President George W. Bush, who guided America with courage, dignity, and conviction in an unsteady time. His objectives and dedication honored his country even when in some cases they proved unattainable within the American political cycle.” [pp. 324-325] One would have hoped that such an encomium to the internationally least successful U.S. president would be a red flag for those presidential candidates turning to Kissinger for guidance, but such is his lofty reputation, that no amount of crimes or errors of judgment can diminish his public stature.

 

Kissinger first attracted widespread public attention with a book that encouraged relying on nuclear weapons in a limited war scenario in Europe, insisting that the United States could prudently confront the Soviet Union without inviting an attack on its homeland. [Nucelar Weapons and Foreign Policy (1967). As already indirectly suggested, he supported the Vietnam War, the anti-Allende coup in Chile, Indonesian genocidal efforts to deny independence to East Timor, and many other dubious foreign policy undertakings that turned out badly, even from his own professed realist perspective.

 

It is true that Kissinger has a grasp of the history of diplomacy that impresses ordinary politicians such as Trump and Clinton. True, also, he rode the crest of the wave with respect to the diplomatic opening to China in 1972 and pursued with impressive energy the negotiation of ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As well, TIME magazine had a cover featuring Kissinger dressed as superman, dubbing their hero as ‘super-K.’ There is, in this sense, no doubt that Kissinger has been a master as refurbishing his tarnished reputation over the course of decades.

 

Yet fairly considered, whether from a normative or strategic outlook, I would have hoped that Kissinger should be viewed as ‘discredited’ rather than as the most revered repository of foreign policy wisdom in this nation. Bernie Sanders struck the proper note when he said “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend.” And when queried by Clinton as to who he would heed, Sanders responded, “I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” In contrast, the words of Hilary Clinton confirm her affinity for the man: “He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.” In fairness she did qualify this show of deference with these words: “[t]hough we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past….” This was the only saving grace in her otherwise gushing review of Kissinger’s World Order (2014) published in the Washington Post.

 

Let me offer a final comment on this shared adulation of Kissinger as the éminence grise of American foreign policy by the two likely candidates for the presidency. It epitomizes and helps explain the banality of the political discourse that has dominated the primary phases of the presidential campaign. It is hardly surprising that during this time dark clouds of despair hang heavy in the skies above the American body politic. Before either presidential hopeful even walks into the Oval Office both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by over half of all Americans, and regarded with a mixture of dismay, fear, and shock by political leaders and their publics around the world. To show obeisance to Kissinger’s wisdom and wizardry is thus emblematic of the paucity of mainstream American political imagination, and should worry all who care about the future of the country and the world.

 

 

An Anecdote About Fascism

19 Apr

 

 

Recently I participated in a conference on global inequality and human rights held at the University of Texas in Austin, a lively quite cosmopolitan city. During the lunch break I was talking with a young PhD student from Israel who had just presented an informative paper on inequality in the Philippines. I asked her about her career plans and how it was like to be living in Israel these days. She told me that she was married to an Israeli and planned to return to finish her studies in Tel Aviv after a fellowship year at UT.

 

I tried to engage her in conversation about evolving Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians and the related failed diplomacy, but she seemed rather uninformed and perhaps even disinterested as if the peace agenda was not really present in her active consciousness. Then all at once she said something that surprised me. “I am not looking forward to returning to Israel, it is becoming a fascist state.”

 

What made this strong statement surprising was that it contrasted with the blandness of everything that had preceded it. I asked inquisitively, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, “What makes you say that?”

 

She pondered the question as if it had come to her from the wild blue yonder. It seemed as if she had never thought about it before, and maybe it was just a spontaneous assertion that she was articulating for the first time. After a pause, she answered somewhat hesitantly: “Because the army is the most powerful and admired institution in Israel, and the government controls everything, it is acting as a totalizing force.” I suppose that gets you to Franco style fascism that prevailed for so long in Spain, but not the more virulent forms of fascism associated with Mussolini’s Italy and especially Hitler’s Germany.

 

I agreed with the young woman about the hegemony of the armed forces, both institutionally and psychologically, but I was less sure about the totalizing reach of the government. After all, Haaretz continues to publish Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, and they are both outspoken critics of Israeli policies and leaders, but then again there seems to be mounting pressure in Israel against human rights NGOs and peaceful protests, and an official tone of belligerence toward the BDS movement that even South African apartheid racists never exhibited.

 

The Israeli young woman in Texas never mentioned the oppression of the Palestinians as one dimension of this Israeli drift from democracy to fascism, although many progressive Israelis believe that it is the prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory that has pushed the country toward or over the precipice of fascism. Jeff Halper, author of War Against the People: Israel, Palestinians, and Global Pacification (2015), a leading Israeli activist scholar who emigrated from the U.S. decades ago and has fearlessly placed his body in front of bulldozers to block the demolitions of Palestinian homes, has a different way of putting his concerns about what is happening to the Israeli governing process. “Israel is a vibrant democracy if you are Jewish.” But even for Jews there is pushback, according to Halper, making it “harder and harder to protest.”

 

What of others living in Israel, especially the Palestinians? Those living in Israel or under occupation are given a fugitive identity by being called ‘Arabs,’  a designation that functions as a way of denying nationalist claims based on a ‘Palestinian’ primary identity. As is well known, Israel uses the legalities of citizenship strategically. It has been recently offering the 25,000 Druze residents of the Golan Heights Israeli citizenship, apparently to neutralize their antagonism toward Netanyahu’s land grab, which defies international law by insisting on permanent Israeli sovereignty over conquered and occupied Syrian territory. So far few Druze have accepted this offer of Israeli citizenship, but this could change if Israel is able to sustain its claim.

 

As Palestinians know from bitter experience, the privileged societal status of Jews within and without Israel is mostly achieved by way of nationality laws that are ethnically framed to favor Jews, while Israeli citizens, whether or not Jewish, enjoy formal equality that doesn’t count for much when it comes to rights and legal protection. The most notorious of the many ethnographic discriminations in Israeli law is between Jews who are granted an unlimited right of return wherever they live in the world and however tenuous their links to Israel, while Palestinians and other minorities do not have any right of return even if the Palestinian roots of their families go back many generations. Israeli apologists contend that as a Jewish state Israel can do what many other states do, and be selective about its policies toward immigration, and privilege whoever it wishes, and further that the historical context of Zionist was shaped by the aspiration to create a sanctuary for Jews so long targeted for persecution. What this rationale leaves out is that this sanctuary was created by the displacement of the majority of the indigenous population of Palestine, and surely those Palestinians who remain in Israel should not be disadvantaged in their own homeland.

 

There are other ways in which the fascist tendency toward racism and purification are manifest. The apartheid structures of occupation, differently maintained in the West Bank and Gaza impose systematic and severe discrimination and a miserable status of stateless rightlessness on the Palestinians while according internationally unlawful Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem the full panoply of rights associated with ‘the rule of law’ as bestowed by most constitutional democracies. Also, Israel’s consistent reliance on excessive force against Palestinian protests and resistance activities is also a sign of fascist disrespect for adversary ethnic and religious identities, and even of the right to dissent and display a posture of opposition to the state.

 

Of course, whether Israel is or is becoming fascist or not in the end is a matter of interpretation, but sadly, it is no longer an extremist assertion or a sign of anti-Semitism to regard Israel as a fascist state. And by way of contrast, it is extreme whitewashing to keep insisting that Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’

 

Some years ago, Henry Seigman, seemed to imply a similar set of circumstances when he argued that Israel had become an ‘ethnocracy,’ that is, a Jewish state in which non-Jews were at best subordinated, and at worst scapegoated in such a way as to make involuntary population transfers an increasingly popular option with the public. Seigman, former head of the American Jewish Congress, also wrote that instead of being the only democracy Israel has become the ‘only apartheid regime in the Western world.”

 

Of course, the question of the American drift toward fascism has also been noted for several decades. To some extent, the awareness that ‘perpetual war’ is incompatible with the maintenance of real democracy was part of this concern. Peter Dale Scott’s explorations of ‘the deep state’ with its unaccountable dark forces of secrecy that pulled the strings of the national security was an indictment of the merger of covert intelligence and special ops with the underworld of crime and drugs that have intensified fears of the erosion of democratic governance. And we not must overlook Edward Snowden’s brave disclosures of the webs spun by the surveillance state that potentially entangle every person on the face of the earth or the special bonds connections the hedge fund moguls of Wall Street with the bureaucratic elites in Washington that are doing their assigned job of keeping the citizenry on an extremely short leash. This may help explain the anger in America bubbling to the surface during a time when profits continue to rise geometrically while wages remain either flat or keep declining in constant dollars.

 

And then came Trump, unleashing the dormant underbelly of populist fascism in America, surfacing in various virulent forms: Islamophobia and xenophobia being the most obvious. Just as some understanding of white racism was finally seeping into liberal consciousness by the much belated recognition that ‘black lives matter,’ it was also becoming clear that Muslim lives don’t matter, or matter even less, and Latino lives were becoming problematized by the sudden passion for upholding the law that was sweeping across the American plains, lending strident support to those calling for the punishment, and the massive deportation of those categorized as ‘the illegals.’

 

The caustic cultural critic and ardent American Zionist, Leon Wieseltier, recently commented on Trump: “Someone asked me if I thought he was a fascist, and I said, ‘he says fascistic things, but to call him a fascist imputes too great a degree of intellectual coherence to him.” And then condescendingly added, “There is no belief system there. I mean he is not wrong. He’s pre-wrong.” He went on to say that Clinton also worried him as a candidate, not because of her hawkish views and record, but people might not vote for her because she was unlovable. As Wieseltier caustically put it, “I’m getting exceedingly nervous about her ability to beat that monster Trump. She’s not very nimble and nobody loves her.” Of course, no mention of Sanders as a glimmer of light, at least on the American horizon.

 

Instead Wieseltier instructs his 13-year old son “that presidential elections are lesser of evil exercises. I have never once voted happily.” Of course, this is not such an outlandish assessment, although as a candidate eight years ago, I still feel that Barack Obama was not the lesser of evils, but his candidacy represented an extraordinary breakthrough. Although often deeply disappointing later, as president, especially in the domains of security, neoliberalism, and the Middle East, the Republican extreme antipathy toward the man and his policies has fascist, as well as racist, undertones. And why wouldn’t even Wieseltier want to cheer his son up a bit by mentioning Bernie Sanders, who may not be the revolutionary he claims to be, but he is authentically talking some truth to power in ways that defy the mores of the American plutocracy? The American media and liberal mainstream, especially among older folks, is understandably preoccupied with the rightest surge, and is unabashedly counting on a Clinton victory. It is not nearly ready to ditch Democrats linked to Wall Street, Pentagon, and Israel in the manner of Clinton. In fact, most Clinton supporters see little, if any, substantive problem with her, but if critical at all, lament her lack of charm or go ‘tut, tut’ if anyone brings up her past support for the Iraq War, the Libyan intervention, and various authoritarian moves in Central America, most notably Honduras.

 

Robert Paxton, the author of one of the best books on fascism, The Anatomy of Fascism (2004), is reluctant to give a definition of fascism, both because there are many varieties and because it tends to essentialize fascism, which is better comprehended, he believes, as a process that evolves rather than as a system with certain defining attributes. Paxton at the very end of his book relents, offering a list of characteristics that he believes are shared by historical instances of fascism. I believe it is worth reproducing Paxton’s list [219-220], although its application to the U.S. and Israel depends on nuanced interpretation:

 

–“a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solution;”

–“the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;;”

–“the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;”

–“dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;”

–“the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, by exclusionary violence if necessary;”

–“the need for authority by natural chiefs (always male(, culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny;”

–“the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;”

–“the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;”

–“the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterior of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.”

 

It makes little difference as to whether we explain this militarist drift observed in Israel and the United States as the outcome of decades of high alert geopolitics or the impoverishment of tens of millions due to the cruel dynamics of neoliberal capitalism or primarily as a response to the changing paradigm of global conflict with its borderless battlefields and extremist non-state, transnational political actors. Widespread violent discontent and highly coercive security structures of state power seem here to stay, and so it becomes prudent to fear resurgent forms of fascism reconfigured to correspond with the parameters of the digital age. Reading through Paxton’s list is a chilling reminder of how fascist regimes destroy the fabric of humane societies, but the list also may be read as a cautionary reminder that what exists in Israel and the United States is best understood as pre-fascist, and that there remain anti-fascist political spaces to turn the tide of events in more progressive directions.