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What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

24 Dec

[Prefatory Note: This is a modified version of an earlier text published in TMS (Transcend Media Service) in the December 23-29, 2019 edition. For the sake of discouraging anti-Semitism and restoring freedom of expression in Western constitutional democracies denouncing the branding of those in solidarity with struggles for justice and rights on behalf of the Palestinian people should be high on the policy agenda of 2020, and yet we have so far heard only the silence of the lambs in the debates of Democrats seeking the presidential nomination.]

 

What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

Only the most regressive rendering of tribalist solidarity can explain labeling those

who oppose Israel’s abusive treatment of the Palestinian people as ‘anti-Semites.’

We look upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the Myanmar abuse

of the Rohingya as casting the darkest of clouds over her Nobel Peace Prize. It

is an insult to Jews and others to allow Zionists, Evangelical, and Trumpsters to brand solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, or even empathy with the Palestinian people long enduring the denial of their most basic rights as a new species of anti-Semitism.

 

There is little doubt that real anti-Semitism, in the sense of hatred of Jews, has increased

in Europe and North America in the last decade of so. But the nature of why this is happening, and what is its true nature, are especially obscure, and subject to manipulations. Part of this obscurity is deliberate, arising from orchestrated efforts to label criticism of Israel or Zionist tactics and ideology as anti-Semitic, or in some usages as expressive of the ‘New Anti-Semitism.’ This extension of the scope of anti-Semitism seems designed to inhibit responsible opposition to Israel’s conduct in defiance of international law and, further, to make European Jews feel insecure enough in their country of residence so that they would consider emigrating to Israel, which in recent years has experienced a net outflow of Jews.

 

The essence of the new anti-Semitism is rooted in the definition proposed by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (or IHRA), which blends strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews or the Jewish people. President Donald Trump incorporated this IHRA definition into his Executive Order issued on Dec. 11, 2019 that is coupled with lawfare assaults by the US Government and right-wing Zionist organizations on respected American campus initiatives that critically address the Israel/Palestine conflict, including having students and faculty actively engaged in such nonviolent solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian quest for basic rights as the BDS Campaign. One recent example of this government pushback are calls for an investigation of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University because some of its members are BDS supporters.

 

The IHRA definition is elaborated in terms of signs of anti-Semitism as supposedly manifested in criticism of Israel. One of these signs set forth to illustrate the scope of the IHRA definition is singling out of Israel for criticism or coercive acts when its behavior is not worse than that of other human rights violators. This is the basis for the alleged link between BDS and anti-Semitism. Yet in no other context is this kind of test administered, nor is the severity of Israeli wrongdoing ever mentioned or taken into account. Recalling the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa of 30 years ago, it should be remembered that apologists for apartheid then similarly contended that conditions for black Africans in South Africa were better than elsewhere in the sub-Saharan region. Such contentions were argumentative, but were never used to stifle anti-apartheid activism in foreign countries, including a robust anti-apartheid BDS Campaign in North America and Europe, which many observers believe contributed to the unexpected reversal of course by the Afrikaner leadership in Pretoria that opened gates to achieving transition to a peaceful post-apartheid South Africa, constitutionally premised on racial equality and human dignity for all.

 

In my experience, the worst overall effects of this effort to stigmatize anti-Israeli speech and activism as anti-Semitism is not its punitive dimensions that target programs and individuals in unfair and harmful ways, but the larger informal and mostly invisible atmosphere of intimidation and silent discrimination that is produced. Already timid academic and institutional administrators are alerted to avoid conference proposals, speaker invitations, and faculty appointments if there exists a plausible prospect of attack, or even criticism, by Zionist watchdog groups. I am sure others have tales along these lines to tell, but in my own case, I have experienced and heard about many such instances. Only a few attain visibility, which can happen when a previously arranged meeting space is cancelled due to backroom pressure or an event is called off because of alleged security concerns. This happened to me in relation to a London launch tour of my book on Israel/Palestine two years ago when stories were circulated, and threats made, of planned disruptions as a way of inducing cancellations, which did occur at two universities. Some of these planned events did go forward, including a somewhat stormy session at the London School of Economics where during the discussion period shouting and hostile behavior by supporters and critics of Israel in the audience were viewed as threatening public order, but the meeting went on to its end. I was told that later on, LSE reacted by adopting stricter regulations to ensure balance in presentations and an entirely neutral identity of the moderator, which is an institutional signal designed to discourage controversial subject-matter. This is bad enough, but I think the real effect of these experiences is to make faculty and administrators think twice before supporting events perceived as critical of Israel or in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. My impression is that the indirect effects of this Zionist pushback is having a more significant inhibiting impact on academic freedom and freedom of expression than the shockingly suppressive initiatives being adopted by legislative bodies in such leading countries as France, Germany, and soon Britain, as well as the United States.

 

One of the supposed anti-Semitic tropes has been the contention over the centuries that Jews exercise disproportionate influence on public policy in ways that are harmful to the general wellbeing of society. It hard to interpret the success of concerted Zionist and Israeli efforts to adopt the IHRA definition and approach as other than a confirmation of this charge, validating grounds for public concern about the excessive influence wielded by Jews. Two prominent centrist political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a very academic study a decade ago to show how the Israeli Lobby in the United States was influencing foreign policy undertakings in ways inimical to national interests. (The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007)) Whether true or not, and I believe it was true, the authors were unjustly vilified even in 2003 for daring to raise such questions about the extent, character, and policy effects of Jewish influence, and although leaders in their field, undoubtedly paid for ever more, subtle hidden career prices. It should be noted that targeting Muslims, which is more common and vicious in Europe and North America, than what has been experienced by Jews, has produced no comparable official condemnations of Islamophobia.

 

More to the point in any effort to penetrate the penumbra of confusion surrounding this subject-matter is the near fanatical support of certain right-wing political orientations for Israel, while simultaneously pursuing an anti-Semitic agenda. This is the widely known case for many Christian evangelical groups who read the Book of Revelations as promising a Second Coming of Jesus once Israel is reestablished and Jews return, then being given an option of converting or facing damnation. Actually, this seeming tension, almost the opposite of the supposed fusion of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attitudes in the IHRA approach, actually has deep roots in the pre-Israeli experience of the Zionist Movement. From the start of the British Mandate the Jewish minority in Palestine was under 10%, hardly the basis for a feasible basis to establish a Jewish state in an essentially Arab society in a historical period in which European colonialism was being widely discredited, and starting to collapses. Zionists appreciated the odds against realizing their goals, and resolved by all means to overcome thiis disabling demographic inferiority, especially as national legitimacy seemed connected in both their vision and wider international public opinion with democratic procedures of governance, which in this instance, presupposed a Jewish voting majority.

 

As a result, Zionists did everything in their power to induce diaspora Jews to move to Palestine, even resorting to striking Faustian Bargains with outrageously anti-Semitic regimes in Europe, including even the Nazi government in Germany. This dynamic of coerced and induced population transfer of Jews is documented on the basis of archival research in The State of Terror (2016) by Thomas Suarez. Against this background the anti-Semitic card has been played in contradictory ways by Zionist hardliners, earlier useful to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel and recently to inhibit criticism of Israel, with the common element being opportunism, entailing a disregard of principle.

 

There is another reinforcing dimension of such policies that further discredits the IHRA approach. Israeli foreign policy even in circumstances where a Jewish state of Israel exists, and has been given constitutional status by the 2018 Basic Law: “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” there continues to be an Israeli willingness to overlook overt anti-Semitism in a foreign leader provided diplomatic friendship is accorded to Israel, or economic gains can be achieved. Viktor Orban of Hungary is the example most often cited, but the pattern seems to explain the choice of Modi, Bolsonaro, and Trump as Israel’s preferred benefactors. Netanyahu’s Israel reciprocates this friendship with arms deals and military/policy training to governments on the far right, and its ambassador to Myanmar recently went so far as to lend psychological support to the Myanmar Government’s legal defense at the World Court against overwhelming evidence of genocide against the Muslim minority, Rohingya. While the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is justified as a check on forgetting the Holocaust, when non-Jews are the victims of genocide a quite different ethical calculus apparently applies. Forgetting genocides, while remembering the Holocaust, seems the tangled message that Israel and Zionist enforcers are sending to the world.

 

I think these various considerations make it plain that the current surge of emphasis on anti-Semitism is being driven by a combination of many crosscutting factors, some genuine, some fake. One of the more malignant developments in recent years is centered on this attempt to extend the scope of anti-Semitism beyond its core reference to hatred of and hostility toward Jews. In this broad sense, by classifying supporters of the human rights of the Palestinian peoples as anti-Semites there is both a loss of focus on hatred of Jews, combined with a deliberately misleading insistence that those who oppose Israeli apartheid and oppression are anti-Semitic. It seems evident that such distortions of the anti-Semitic discourse reflect the growth of civil society activism, critical of Israel, and reactive to Israel’s expansionism and pointedly defiant posture toward criticisms by the UN and human rights organizations. The disgraceful effort to brand Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party as anti-Semitic inserted an irrelevant toxic element into an electoral process in a leading democratic country, and is suggestive of the radiating implications of this irresponsible IHRA approach to anti-Semitism.

 

A final ground for suspicion about such tactics is the seemingly unconditional disregard of

Israel’s behavior. Without such an inquiry, to brand opposition to Israel or solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as anti-Semitic is to engage in a destructive form of anti-democratic polemics that has the perverse secondary effect of encouraging real anti-Semitic behavior that deserves condemnation. Even the notoriously cautious prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has just announced that an investigation of criminal allegations relating to Israel’s settlement activities on the West Bank and Gaza. Beyond this there is a growing consensus among those informed about the overall relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people (including those in refugee camps and exile) is accurately understood as based on apartheid structures of control. If this is a reasonable perception, then BDS and other solidarity initiatives are justifiable responses that deserve and need support and protection rather than being shamefully stigmatized as anti-Semitism, and compensate for the inability and unwillingness of established institutions to protect the basic rights of vulnerable people.

 

 

 

Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

27 Nov

[Preliminary Note: This post devoted to health and human rights in Gaza. It is based on a video presentation some weeks ago to a conference on this theme held in Gaza. It makes no effort to update by reference to the latest cycle of violence sparked by the targeted assassination of Baha Abu-Ata, an Islamic Jihad military commander, on November 12. I feel strongly about the issues raised by this post not only because I have witnessed living conditions in Gaza and have friends in Gaza who have endured hardship and injustice for so long without losing their warmth or even their hope. My contacts with Gaza and Gazans over the course of many years has been at once inspirational and deeply dispiriting, a deep insight into the deficiencies of the human condition coupled with an uplifting glimpse at the spiritual courage of those so severely victimized.

Reflecting on the terrifying destiny bestowed upon the people of Gaza I became ashamed of stultifying silences, especially of those governments and their leaders in the region and those countries with a historical responsibility (the UK) and with geopolitical leverage (the US). I also take alarmed note of the refusal of the mainstream media to accord attention to the misery so long endured by the people of Gaza. If ever the norm of ‘the responsibility to protect’ was applied according to humanitarian need, Gaza would be at the top of the list, but of course there is no list, and if ever there were one, given the present international atmosphere, Gaza would remain among the unlisted! This neglect of the people of Gaza is so acute as to extend the web of criminal complicity far beyond the borders of Israel.]

 

 

Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

 

I want to begin by offering my greetings to all those here today. I dearly wish that conditions in Gaza were different, enabling me to share the experience of the conference directly with you by taking part directly and actively. The theme of the conference touches the policies and practice of Israeli abuse that have been victimizing the people of Gaza for such a long time. The population of Gaza already faced a lamentable situation ever since the occupation began in 1967, but it has grown far worse since the Gaza elections of 2006, as reinforced by the changes in political administration that occurred in the following year. Israel’s policies have been systematically cruel and abusive, disregarding the legal standards and moral values applicable to the behavior of an Occupying Power. These standards and values are embodied in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).

 

Upholding the right to health is among the most fundamental of human rights, first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization: “The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” This right is further articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially in Article 25, and then put in a treaty form by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. The deliberate interference with the right to health is among the worst imaginable collective abuses of a people subject to belligerent occupation. Israel, which relies on an apartheid regime to maintain control over the Palestinian people in the face of their internationally protected right of resistance, has been particularly guilty of behavior that hasflagrantly, consistently, and intentionally encroached upon and violated the right to health of the entire civilian population of Gaza in a variety of ways.

 

The Great March of Return epitomizes the brutalities of Israeli occupation policy, which include a shocking disregard of the physical and mental health of the Palestinian civilian population taking part in the demonstrations. It also offers us a metaphor for the abuses of the right to health and other rights of the Gaza population regarded as a collective entity. This pattern of abuse occurs in the context of persistent and courageous Palestinian acts of resistance in support of their right of return to their homeland, a right affirmed at the UN and clearly established in international law, which Israel has refused to uphold for seven decades, that is, ever since the Nakba. In the face of such a failure of international procedures to uphold Palestinian rights, a recourse to a politics of self-reliance seems reasonable, and in fact the only path presently capable of yielding positive results. The people of Gaza have waited long enough, indeed too long, without having their most basic international rights protected by the organized world community.

 

A preliminary matter is whether, as Israel alleges, it is relieved of all international legal obligations to the people of Gaza as a result of its supposed ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005. From an international law perspective, the physical removal of IDF occupying troops from the territory of Gaza and the dismantlement of unlawful Israeli settlements did not affect the legal status of Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ Israel has maintained tight control over Gaza, which has included massive military attacks in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as frequent uses of excessive force, unlawful weapons and tactics, and disregard of the constraints of law. Despite ‘disengagement’ Israel maintains effective and comprehensive control over Gaza’s borders, air space, and offshore maritime waters. In fact, as a result of the blockade in existence since 2007, the occupation is more intense and abusive than was the oppressive form of occupation that existed in Gaza prior to disengagement. From the perspective of IHL and IHRL, Israel is fully obligated under international law in exercising its role as an occupying power, and its claims to the contrary are legally irrelevant. Unfortunately, due to geopolitical realities and the weakness of the UN, these Israeli claims continue to have a political relevance as Israel’s obligations are unenforced and mostly ignored, creating an unacceptable situation in which Israel enjoys de facto impunity and escapes from all procedures of accountability provided by recourse to international law and international judicial institutions.

 

It is also important, in our view, to understand the significance of the findings of the 2017 ESCWA report prepared by Virginia Tilley and myself. We concluded after examining the evidence that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people as a whole, which of course includes the population of Gaza. Our main point is that Israel uses a variety of means to subjugate and victimize the Palestinians so as to establish and sustain an exclusivist Jewish state in which, according to Israel’s Basic Law of 2018 gives only Jews authority to claim a right of self-determination. To circumscribe the right of self-determination by exclusionary racial criteria is a virtual acknowledgement of an apartheid ideology.

 

It needs to be more widely appreciated that apartheid is a Crime Against Humanity, according to Article 7(j) of the Rome Statute that governs the operations of the International Criminal Court. The criminal character of apartheid had been previously confirmed by the 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. If apartheid is indeed present then all governments have themselves legal and moral obligations to join the effort to suppress and punish. As with IHL and IHRL, the criminalization of apartheid is not acted upon by formal intergovernmental mechanisms due to roadblocks erected by geopolitics and the related weakness of the UN, but this does not mean that the designation is politically and morally insignificant. Since governments refuse to act, the responsibility and opportunity for law enforcement falls on the peoples of the world to do what the formal framework of world order is incapable of doing.

 

Such an anti-apartheid grassroots surge occurred with respect to the South African regime of apartheid, producing an entirely unexpected reversal of approach by the Afrikaner leadership of the country resulting in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years of captivity followed by the largely peaceful transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy with human rights promised to all regardless of race. Such an outcome was considered impossible across the entire political spectrum in South Africa until 1994 when it actually happened.

 

We cannot guarantee, of course, that history will repeat itself and liberate the Palestinian people from their century-long ordeal, but neither can we foreclose the possibility that the combination of Palestinian resistance and global solidarity will have an empowering, liberating effect. In part, the Palestinian national movement is the last great unfinished struggle against European settler colonialism. Looked at in this way, the Zionist Project through the establishment of Israel temporarily reversed the flow of history in Palestine for a series of complicated reasons, but the final fate of Palestine remains in doubt so long as Palestinian resistance is sustained and solidarity robust. In this regard, the Great March of Return is a powerful sign that Palestinian resistance here in Gaza continues to offer inspirational energy to those of us throughout the world who believe that this particular struggle for individual and collective justice by an oppressed people is what human rights are most fundamentally about.

 

The Great March is a perfect metaphor for both the theme of this conference and of the struggle that motivated the defenseless residents of Gaza to demand this most basic right to return to their homeland from which they have been wrongfully and forcibly displaced. This demand was impressively reasserted every Friday for more than a year in the face of Israel’s vindictive reliance on excessive force since its inception in March 2018. Israel from the very beginning of the protests adopted an approach of excessive force based on terrorizing the demonstrators by resorting to lethal violence in an harsh effort to punish and destroy this formidable creative challenge to Israeli apartheid/colonial control. Israel’s aim seems to be a vain and unlawful effort to undermine the Palestinian will to resist that has survived decades of confinement, discouragement, and unspeakable abuse.

 

At the same time, such a criminal response by Israel to this anguished claim of right by the people of Gaza was also the culminating expression of Israel’s assault on the physical and mental health of the civilian population of Gaza. It is hardly surprising that the burdens created by 20,000 injured Gazans have overwhelmed Gaza’s already stressed medical capabilities. Many of those injured received life and limb threatening gunshot wounds, causing serious infections and frequently requiring amputation. This crisis situation in health care was aggravated by shortages of needed antibiotic medicines, and by the dismal experiences of those injured Gazans requiring specialized attention that could be obtained only outside of Gaza. Those so desperately in need of medical treatment external to Gaza faced almost impossible difficulties obtaining required exit and entry permits that Israel often even withheld under normal circumstances. In relation to those wounded at Great March events the situation was far worse. Israel was more unwilling to grant exit permits to those wounded in the Great March, discriminating against any Palestinian who dared to protest peacefully against the denial of the rights to which every human being on earth is entitled. Such an abuse is criminally escalated in relation to Gazans who are supposed to be especially protected by virtue of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and IHL more generally. Instead of protection, the Israeli approach has been one of imposing prolonged collective punishment not only on Palestinian resistors but on the entire population of Gaza in direct violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and not for a short interval associated with special circumstances, but over the course of decades.

 

Beyond these exceptional conditions associated with the medical fallout from the Great March, Israel by failing to protect the civilian population of Gaza under conditions of rightless prolonged occupation is guilty of several additional forms of collective punishment each of which has an adverse impact of Gazan health. These adverse effects consequences result from its maintenance of a vindictive blockade, the periodic application of excessive force well beyond any reasonable security justifications, and the application of policies and practices reflective of the apartheid/colonial character of its approach to the Palestinian people, which has long assumed a sinister form in Gaza. The health results are disastrous as confirmed by reliable statistical measures of the physical and mental condition of the population, as exhibited by the unavailability of safe drinking water, the existence of untreated open sewage, the frequency of long power outages that interfere with the operation of hospitals and medical equipment, and by studies documenting the high incidence of severe trauma experienced by many residents of Gaza, including young and particularly vulnerable children. For those of us who have visited Gaza even under what could be described as ‘normal’ conditions, we came away wondering how anyone could endure such stress without experiencing a traumatic reaction.

 

This severe infringement on the right to health of the people of Gaza should be the occasion of outrage in the international community, and receive appropriate media attention, but Israel’s deliberate and massive violations of IHL and IHRL are shielded by geopolitics from censure and sanctions on the part of governments and at the UN, a reality further obscured by a compliant mainstream Western media that is misled and manipulated by a carefully orchestrated Israeli propaganda campaign that presents its criminally unlawful conduct as reasonable behavior undertaken to uphold the national security of a sovereign state, an aspect of its legal right to defend itself against what it labels as a terrorist enemy. Such Israeli propaganda falsifies the realities of the situation in multiple ways, but creates enough confusion outside of Gaza to divert attention from the suffering imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole, and the civilian population of Gaza in particular.

 

Against this background, it becomes clear that grassroots solidarity efforts to expose these truths and exert nonviolent pressures on Israel by means of the BDS Campaign and other initiatives are essential contributions to the ongoing resistance struggles of the Palestinian people. And unlike the South African response, Israel with its sophisticated global outreach has tried by every means to discredit such global solidarity work, even going to the extent of using its leverage overseas to criminalize participation in BDS activity by encouraging the passage of punitive laws and the adoption of restrictive administrative policies in Europe and North America.

 

Let me end these remarks by saying that despite the seeming imbalance of forces on the ground, history remains strongly on the side of the Palestinian struggle against this Israeli apartheid regime. Much of the world realizes that the brave people of Gaza have long been in the eye of a dreadful and seemingly endless storm. It is my honor to support as best I can your struggle for the realization of the right of self-determination. Despite present appearances to the contrary, I am confident that justice will prevail, that Palestinians will achieve their rights, and surprise the world as did the opponents of South African apartheid a generation ago. It is my hope that I will live long enough to visit Gaza in the future at a time of liberation and celebration.  In the meantime, I wish you a successful conference.

 

 

.A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

22 Nov

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone on the theme of ‘The Renewal of Violence—Gaza/Israel’ in Jacobin, Nov. 2019. This latest cycle of transborder violence initiated by a targeted assassination of a well-known military commander in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, leading to a rocket barrage directed at southern and central Israel, followed by many air strikes and artillery shells fired at Gaza targets. Whether this latest cycle of violence has ended as of now is difficult to assess, and it should not be confused with the violence at the Gaza Fence as a result of weekly demonstrations of Palestinians at the Gaza fence in the course of the Great March of Return, a civil society initiative (later joined by Hamas as unarmed demonstrators) that has continued since March 30, 2018, a remarkable exhibition of sumud on the Palestinian side and of excessive lethal force—where no imminent threat existed—on the Israel side.]

 

A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

 

 

Q: how has the mainstream press been treating this renewed violence?

 

Mainstream media, as well as even the UN, is treating this renewal of violence in a highly misleading way as if the only truly valid issue is whether a sovereign state, in this case Israel, has the right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism. The events unfolding between Israel and Gaza are misrepresented in two principal ways: by treating Israel as defending itself without taking account of the deliberate surrounding provocations on Israel’s part; and by using language in media coverage to weight perceptions of readers to believe that Israel as a state is fully entitled to use force to uphold security as opposed to its terrorist adversary that has no rights whatsoever except to be hunted down. This is a perversion of law and justice as the Palestinians are treated as interlopers in their own homeland while the Israeli settler colonial authority is being regarded as the sole legitimate political authority in the whole of Palestine. In the case of Gaza, to resist sustained, severe, collective, and comprehensive punitive deprivations and lawlessness inflicted on the helpless, occupied Gaza people seems an intrinsic right, or at the very least a highly relevant circumstance that deserves to be taken into account. In the background is more than twelve years of blockade, condemned by many world leaders, and even the prior UN Secretary General.

 

The immediate context of this latest cycle of violence was the targeted killing of Baha Abu-Ata along with his wife, on November 12th while they were sleeping in their home in a Gaza apartment building. Abu-Ata was a member of Islamic Jihad, a military commander, alleged to have been responsible for past rocket attacks on Israel, and supposedly engaged in planning further launches. After the assassination 200 rockets were fired from Gaza as a response, causing no serious casualties. Israel immediately responded to the rockets with several days of drone missile strikes, air and military assaults, killing 34 Palestinians, wounding more than 80. As far as is known, no Israelis have so far killed or injured by the Palestinian rockets, although that by itself does not make their use ‘legal.’ Israel’s response raises many international law questions of proportionality with respect to the use of force, collective punishment, and as significantly, issues of provocation, the timing of the assassination of Abu-Ata and associated violence quite possibly a Netanyahu a final failed gesture designed to break the Israeli electoral impasse in his favor. The media utterly failed to connect the outbreak of violence with the underlying desperation and vulnerability of the Gazan population of about two million, with the domestic pressures in Israel to break the impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government, and the months of frustration with the Israeli killings at the Gaza border to demoralize the demonstrators taking part in The Great March of Return. This truly heroic, almost totally nonviolent phenomenon of Palestinian is where the msm should be if they were doing their job.

 

Jonathan Ofir, well known as an Israeli activist and musician living in Denmark, gives a radically different, and more humanly sensitive rendering of this Gaza violence that contrasts with what continues to be disseminated by TV and print: “What Israel reserves for itself is the right to conduct seasonal massacres in the uninhabitable concentration camp called Gaza, when it sees fit.” This is admittedly strongly emotive language that could be as misleading as the msm approach unless better contextualized. What is more to the point from a legal/moral/humanitarian perspective is that Gaza is a territory ‘occupied’ by Israel since 1967, and not a foreign country. Hence, Israel’s behavior is subject to the Geneva Conventions, especially Convention IV governing belligerent occupation. Israel rejects these international law constraints altogether, unilaterally invoking its right to defend itself by periodically launching massive attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. Israel also completely avoids the primary duty under Geneva IV to protect a civilian population living under its occupation, which renders its reliance on self-defense under international law an absurdity when the adversary is the occupied society itself.

 

The blog writer and regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada, Maureen Claire Murphy, assesses Israel’s violence in the larger context of the relationship between Israel and Palestine: “Abu-Ata and Palestinian fighters in Gaza like him are resisting a cruel and illegal siege, a half-century of military occupation, and more than 70 years of forced displacement and dispossession.” There is no indication that Murphy is defending the Gaza rocket responses, but is she rather relying on the relevance of context in correctly grasping the respective behavior of these antagonists. Until we have some awareness of this broader context, our understanding of the isolated incident cannot be properly interpreted, and feeds hegemonic constructions of political reality that produced one-sided commentary at the expense of a victimized people. In this regard, msm in relation to the Palestinian national struggle seems to act as if its main function was quite the opposite–to ignore on principle the context of Palestinian violence no matter how relevant. By so doing, Israel can be portrayed as the hapless victim of primitive rockets that are mainly symbolic Palestinian efforts to exhibit their spirit of resistance in frustrated response to a wider pattern of oppressive and unlawful governance. There is no reason to deny that the threat, however remote, posed by these rockets does produce great anxiety in Israeli communities living near the Gaza border, and is unacceptable because of its inherent indiscriminateness. Without minimizing Israel security concerns, it should be recognized that far worse anxiety is the continual reality experienced by the entire population of Gaza, and for many years. Until this wider pattern of Israeli dereliction of its duties under international humanitarian law is brought into view, we are reading thinly disguised propaganda, sophisticated fake news, that confers impunity on the militarily strong side in this struggle, and excessive accountability on the weaker side. Such a pattern is an obvious perversion of justice.

 

These concerns about media coverage vary from issue to issue and even context to context. The Israel/Palestine context is distinctive in several respects with regard to slanting the news in Israel’s favor. It is respectable in America to be an outspokenly pro-Zionist journalist, while being even neutral is viewed as sufficiently discrediting to keep you off the air, and daring to be critical of Israel sends often results in an intense professional pushback. Marc Lamont Hill discovered this when a rather balanced speech given at the UN was distorted by Zionist groups in ways that managed to induce his abrupt dismissal as a CNN consultant without even the courtesy of a right of response. This enveloping reality of bias exerts pressure to present the news as shaped by the Israeli and American governments, and an entourage of think tank and ‘expert’ apologists. Even an irresponsible Zionist extremist like Alan Dershowitz is welcomed as a respectable network guest on talk shows while a media appearance by Noam Chomsky is a rarity, and if it occurs it is treated as giving space to a dissenter, normally offset by a second guest who adheres to the party line. This informal mode of censorship is reinforced by the powerful and feared AIPAC lobby that has a watchdog reputation as ending the political careers of those few in Congress who over the years are perceived as somewhat critical of Israel or even cautiously supportive of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

When well-funded lobbies, think tanks, websites, and wealthy donors exist on one side of a national policy debate and there are no comparable countervailing forces that effectively represent the other side create a dangerous atmosphere with respect to public discourse. The side with the power and funding—as they say, ‘follow the money’—controls, marginalizes, and discredits other viewpoints, and punishes for all to observe those who get too far out of line. In regard to Israel, this has been reinforced, at least since 1967, by the consensus that the US ‘special relationship’ with Israel is a strategic alliance that is vital for upholding American strategic interests in the Middle East. The corporatized media of this era is almost as responsive to Pentagon briefings as it is reflective of pro-Israeli access and influence when it comes to this central symbolic conflict of the post-Cold War, post-apartheid era.     

 

Q:  From where is it possible to get reliable information on issues such as the legal status of Gaza violence?

 

There is no mainstream answer to such a question in the West, which is itself a rather remarkable breakdown of journalistic standards. This unhealthy state of affairs is reflected also in the one-sided political debate now dominating the American media during battle for the Democratic Party nomination. Without exception, the candidates seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party become shy, or worse, when it comes to criticizing Trump’s unabashedly pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian record. As the recent Gaza incident illustrates, even the most progressive among the candidates are silent or mindlessly repeat the mantra about Israel’s right to defend itself. None dare say ‘end the blockade,’ ‘treat Hamas as the elected government of Gaza,’ and ‘uphold the obligations of international humanitarian law’ if what is at stake is ending this Gaza violence, and in the process, actually making Israelis more secure, not less. If one among the candidates dared speak plainly, a blacklisting pushback would assuredly quickly follow, particularly if viewed as someone with current popular support such as Sanders or Warren.

 

When it comes to finding the best media coverage available, I would suggest reading the digitized media widely and selectively, as well as what is written by Al Jazeera and other regional media outlets in the Middle East, including even the Israeli press, which is far more open than the American. I receive a far better sense of the unfolding struggle between Israel and Palestine can be found in Haaretz, or even The Jerusalem Post, than from the New York Times or the Washington Post, and this by itself says a lot. Is there anyone in the msm as critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people than Gideon Levy or Amira Hass? There are occasional progressive treatments of these issues to be found in more obscure publications such as The Nation, London Review of Books, and Le Monde Diplomatique. I suppose the most independent analysis, but it is in the form of periodic reports, and not event oriented or lively reading, is to be found in the biennial reports of the UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, currently Michael Lynk.  

 

A selective reading of online journalism that gives a more informed and balanced picture of the violent interactions between Israel and Palestinian resistance, especially refraining from automatically equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism in the struggle by the Palestinian people to secure their rights. In contrast, Israel’s reliance on excessive and often indiscriminte force, especially in seeking to intimidate and humiliate the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza should properly be considered as state terrorism. This Israeli violence has over the years been responsible for immeasurably more suffering, death, and anxiety that has the armed aspects of Palestinian resistance. Israel’s refusal to act humanely and to minimize political violence is nowhere more evident than in its responses to The Great March of Return since March 30, 2018 where weekly largely nonviolent protests demanding implementation of the long denied and unambiguous Palestinian right to return to their places of family residence and national homeland have not been met by any Israeli effort to achieve an accommodation, but rather have encountered unabasheds reliance on lethal force in the form of live sniper ammunition, causing Palestinian deaths and injuries almost every Friday for more than 80 weeks. Even ‘reliable’ journalism has not given this remarkable societal initiative in Gaza and Israel’s response the commentary and attention it deserves. This, too, is part of the context that thoughtful and balanced media coverage should be informing its readers about.    

 

Q: Is the political end game for Israel domestically in this latest surge in killing related to election squabbling?

 

Of course, politicians never acknowledge political motivations for their military aggressiveness in election periods. The impasse in Israel at present is unprecedented, and accentuated by the seeming desperation of Netanyahu to retain the immunity of his office to avoid facing serious corruption and fraud charges. Against such a background, it seems reasonable to be suspicious of why Israel resorted to this high profile targeted killing at this time, knowing it would produce a violent response from the Palestinians, and that such a response would provide Israel with a political climate supportive of a more deadly and less focused Israeli assault on Gaza. This turn would lead to more Palestinian rockets being launched toward Israel from Gaza, and although most would likely be intercepted by the Iron Dome, and even when they get through,  without so far causing casualties, it would still be treated as an occasion on which to raise Israeli fears and swing public opinion in Netanyahu’s direction. After all, whatever else, Netanyahu is looked upon as the unwavering guardian of Israeli security interests over the last decade. His opponent in the rivalry to lead government, Benny Gantz, adds to the anti-Gaza frenzy by also invoking as a positive credential his own bloody past record as an IDF commander in earlier Gaza operations. It is an unfortunate reality that politicians in Israel regard such militarist reputations as adding to their qualifications for political leadership, and the public goes along. This also means that it is politically helpful to ignore international law and civilian innocence in the course of displaying Israeli ruthless dominance whenever dealing with Palestinian oppositional activities, even if they take a nonviolent form.  

 

 

Q: What is the political end game for Israel internationally and how does it relate to a simultaneous raid on Syria?

 

It is Israel’s apparent hope that with Trump in the White House, this is the time to push for an end to the conflict that achieves their main political goals. This means declaring an Israeli victory in the struggle, coupled ideally with an acknowledgement from the Palestinians of their decision to give up their struggle for rights. In exchange, an incentive of a better day to day life is given to the Palestinians, what is sometimes called ‘an economic peace.’ This is coupled with a warning of worse-to-come if the Palestinians refuse to bow down. As the Great March and robust global BDS Campaign demonstrate, such a wish for an Israeli one-state solution is highly unlikely to receive formal blessings even from the weak Palestinian international representation now provided by the Palestinian Authority. It is also evident that strenuous Zionist efforts to demonstrate  that criticism of Israel is ‘the new anti-Semitism’ exhibits a recognition in Israel and Zionist circles that such a moral/legal challenge from below (as compared to diplomacy from above) poses a threat to Israeli ambitions that has become more formidable in the last few. years than armed struggle or military confrontation.

 

What seems to be happening, although not widely noticed, is that the core of the struggle to achieve a political compromise based on the equality of Jews and Arabs will shift from intergovernmental diplomacy, including at the UN, to Palestinian resistance initiatives and global solidarity efforts, both political undertakings of people not governments or international institutions. The two-state solutions has surely died alongside Oslo diplomacy, except in the mouths of diplomats who need to keep saying something. And yet an authoritative one-state alternative that is reflective of Palestinian and Israeli rights has not been born. Until such a birth takes place there may be temporary ceasefires and pauses in the violence but nothing resembling genuine peace.

 

To establish peace, Israel will have to make a major decision to accept a coexistence of equals with the Palestinian people. This also means dismantling its apartheid matrix of control that has been fragmenting the Palestinian people (as occupied, as refugees and exiles, as discriminated minority in Israel) ever since 1948. This kind of solution can only occur if pressure from within and without mount to the point that Israelis recalculate their interests, coming to the unexpected conclusion that they are better off living in real peace with Palestinians rather than hoping to keep them permanently confined in a variety of iron cages. The South African managers of their apartheid regime came to such a startling conclusion 25 years ago. It has already taken Israeli leaders far longer, with no good end in sight. We should never foreclose a benign future achieved through resistance and solidarity. This more hopeful scenario might begin to unfold if more of the media began fulfilling its own claims of offering trustworthy and objective reportage, especially on controversial issues of war and peace. Not only would this help resolve the Israel/Palestine struggle, it would restore confidence that a responsibly informed society would more often take the side of peace and justice, and compel their leaders to do the same, or face short career horizons.

 

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

18 Aug

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

The decision to ban, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, disgraces the leaders of both the United States and Israel, confirms the illegitimacy of both political parties by their tepid responses, and confirms once more the unhealthy relationship that has evolved between Trump and Netanyahu, these two most reactionary of political figures, and badly reflects on the political atmosphere in the countries they represent.  For an American president to encourage a foreign government to deny entry to elected members of Congress is not only unprecedented, harmful to the quality of democratic life in America, and represents a wrongful and extremely distasteful use of his position to engage in nasty partisan reelection politics aimed at the 2020 elections. This outrageous display of further impeachable behavior by Trump is further accentuated by the defamatory, as well as maliciously and demonstrably false assertions in this notorious tweet that Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, hate Israel and all Jews, and nothing can alter their views.

 

For Netanyahu, the leader of Israel, to reverse an earlier decision to allow these U.S. officials to enter the country in response to Trump’s tweet has just the reverse effect of what is claimed. By seeming to forego Israel sovereign rights in response to an inappropriate interference in Israeli public policy by the American Head of State, Netanyahu reveals to the world Israel’s weakness, not its strength, and in the process casts a dark shadow over Israel own claims of political legitimacy. As well, to give way in this unseemly manner to Trump may also prove to be a tactical blunder in the Israeli context even if it contributes one more sordid chapter to their quid pro quo relationshiip. Such a craven move by Netanyahu miight turn off just enough Israeli voters to tip the balance against the Likud Party in the forthcoming September 17thelections. Not only was Trump’s tweet an effective assault on Israeli sovereign rights, but it also undermines the long absurd propaganda claims of Israel to be a democratic state that values and protects freedom of expression.

 

After further political turmoil, Israel appeared to relent, but by affixiing humiliating conditions, and then only with respect to Rashida Tlaib. The Israeli Minister of Interior, Aryeh Deri, agreeing to a ‘humanitarian’ visit provided the Congresswoman agreed not to promote boycotts of Israel while in the country, her visit restricted to the sole purpose of visiting her 90-year-old grandmother in a small Palestinian village not far from Ramallah. After initially accepting these constraints over the intense objections of her supporters and even her family back in Palestine, Rep. Tlaib reversed her own acceptance of the Israeli conditions, issuing a statement denouncing the constraints she earlier accepted, and refusing to restrict her time in her own Palestinian homeland to a personal visit. Of course, an Israeli rebuke followed from Deri, claiming that her rejection of Israel’s humanitarian gesture exhibits the Israeli-bashing intent that motivated the factfinding visit. Deri hammered one more nail in Tlaib’s already exposed flesh: “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for grandmother.” More understandably, Tlaib also was rebuked by many Palestinians for initially accepting Israel’s conditions intense objections to her face from supporters, alleging that she fell into Israel’s trap, “and accepted to demean herself and grovel.”

 

Seeking to thread this needle separating an ill-timed family ties from her high-profile political image, Tlaib chose these words, “Silencing me and treating me like a criminal is not what she [her grandmother] wants for me—it would kill a piece of me.” Although Tlaib used poor judgment by first agreeing to Israel’s acceptance, her statement explaining her reversal a short time later, had a redemptive effect. Perhaps, more disturbing, was Tlaib’s failure to sustain a posture of public solidarity with Ilhan Omar, whose relevance was ignored in Tlaib’s three-step dance movement.

 

The distractions caused by this secondary development involving Tlaib should not be allowed to divert attention from the primary outrage resulting from the Trump tweet and Israeli gag order imposed on nonviolent advocates of the BDS Campaign, which in this instance meant banning entry to elected U.S. government officials, supposedly a super-ally.

 

In my view Israel’s decision to ban these two members of Congress can at best be considered ‘an unfriendly act’ by Israel toward its unconditional ally. This alone should persuade a self-respecting U.S. Congress to react with much more than a few empty words of disapproval. At the very least, a message of censure should be formally endorsed by the House of Representatives, and delivered to the Israeli government, which strongly discourages further visits to Israel by members of Congress until Israel announces a policy of allowing entry any American official to visit Israel without restrictions. Perhaps, a more suitable alternative would be to urge banning members of the Knesset until Israel welcomes as visitors any and all members of the UN Congress without conditions. A further appropriate step would be to condition any approval of future military or economic assistance to Israel on lifting the ban on future visits by government officials, but also ideally by all American citizens regardless of political views; After all, American taxpayers have long paid their share of the annual aid package of at least $3.8 billion, the greatest per capita amount given to any country in the world.

I believe that by singling these two members of Congress, who happen to be the first two Muslim women ever elected to the House of Representatives, in the manner of Trump’s tweet is a clear instance of racism and hate speech, especially considered in light of his past hostile statements directed at prominent women of color who dare enter political life and oppose his presidency, including his past slanders of these two brave individuals. The language of Trump’s tweet also sought successfully to interfere with their effort to engage in a legitimate legislative undertaking in a discriminatory manner, and included this inflammatory and false allegation: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” The tweet ends with this shocking expression of hostility that demeans Trump and the Office of the Presidency rather than its intended targets, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Trump’s final tweeted words– “They are a disgrace!” It is best understood as “You are disgraced.”

 

The media at least gave major attention to this unfolding political drama, although more in the spirit of narrating a human interest story than offering a damning commentary on the anti-democratic moves of these two ‘illiberal democrats.’ Tom Friedman, never foregoing a chance to deliver fence-setting know-it-all lectures to whomever would listen, managed staked out some liberal territory by condemning the tactical damage to their own countries and especially to the ‘special relationship’ between them as a result of making the Republicans the true friends of Israel, and the Democrats not so clear, hence fraying the edges of bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel. Friedman also took the opportunity to make it clear that in his view Tlaib and Omar were not better due to their ill-considered support for BDS, which he argued dooms to two-state liberalism, and implies that by their criticism of Israel, the excluded officials are widening Jewish/Islamic cleavages rather than building bridges. [See Friedman, “If You Think Trump is Helping Israel, You’re a Fool,” Aug. 16, 2019]

Such misleading pontificating, which we should know is the standard offering of Friedman in his opinion pieces that reek of vanity and pro-establishment moralizing. It is part and parcel of the overall Zionist strategy of diverting attention from Israeli wrongdoing and criminality by discrediting the victim while airbrushing the oppressor. Here, those in genuine solidarity with sustained peace for the two peoples will not be distracted by such prevarications from the underlying encroachments on freedom of expression and the rights of an ethnically cleansed people to return to their homeland as a matter of right.

.

 

 

Context Matters Except for the Palestinians

2 Aug

Context Matters Except for the Palestinians

 

Just imagine the Israeli reaction to a peace plan put forth by a future U.S. president elected to pursue the agenda of ‘the squad,’*[*]appointing Noam Chomsky, the head of CAIR, and Medea Benjamin on assuming office to lead its moves toward peace in the Middle East. Imagine further that prior to disclosing President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revolutionary peace initiative, Washington’s new leadership took the following unilateral steps: tabling a Security Council Resolution calling for the dismantling of the Israeli separation wall in accord with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the World Court, insisting on Israeli adherence to Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Conventions while calling for the prompt re-settlement of all Israeli settlers behind the 1967 Green Line, and informing Congress of its intention to discontinue further annual economic and military assistance to Israel. In addition to these ‘provocations,’ the U.S. energetically pursued a regional diplomacy with Arab neighbors designed to exert the greatest possible pressure on Israel to go along with whatever Washington proposes or suffer severe adverse consequences.

 

I know this would strike even most pro-Palestinians as an absurd way to seek sustainable and just peace arrangements, but this is precisely the road taken by the White House in its multiple acrobatic moves designed to build leverage for the Trump/Kushner ‘deal of the century.’ Even Obama’s feeble attempts to balance the scales ever so slightly brought fury to the lips of most Israelis, including its leaders. We can hardly imagine the Israeli response to a peace initiative launched by the squad along the above lines, which for all of its seeming radical character would actually be reasonable from the perspective of international law and morality even as it was causing collective apoplexy in Tel Aviv. The absurdity of this inverted ‘peace’ scenario should help us understand how extreme has been the pro-Israeli brand of extremism of the Trump White House. The fact that this has to be demonstrated rather than taken for granted underscores how victimized the Palestinian national struggle has become in the eyes of many of us in the West.

 

Equally worth observing is the discourse on the Trump diplomacy adopted by Zionist apologists, and even some anti-Trump liberals and Israeli peace activists such as Gershon Baskin. Their bad faith message to the Palestinians is along three parallel lines: “Don’t repeat past mistakes by simply rejecting Trump’s peace proposals,” “Under the circumstances, what Trump offers is the best Palestine can hope for given altered conditions on the ground and in the region,” and “Don’t reject in advance, participate, listen attentively, responding favorably to any positive elements, and project an image of constructive engagement.” Revealingly, this advice to the Palestinians is set forth without any consideration of the extreme anti-Palestinian contextcreated by a series of deliberate moves by Trump from the moment he was elected. Can you even imagine giving Israeli leadership this kind of advice if the political realities were ever to be reversed?

 

It hardly requires a vivid imagination to conjure up the expletives that would undoubtedly lend color to the most probable Israeli responses to being told what to do in comparable circumstances. The Palestinians, in contrast, are being chastised for not being receptive and refusing to come to the table with an open mind. True, the Palestinian Authority has not shown much finesse in handling the situation, relying on the sufficiency of its skeptical mumbling and an ambivalent public ‘NO.’ Better would have been an explanation along these lines, “Given the hostility toward Palestinian concerns that have been a trademark of the Trump presidency since its beginning, how can anyone in their right mind expect us to be so foolish as to pretend that there exists any basis for exploring the Trump/Kushner proposals as if they might offer a fair resolution of our long struggle for the most basic rights of the Palestinian people?” Sitting down in such a tilted diplomatic atmosphere would be the height of folly for the Palestinians, making them seem without dignity or understanding, mere puppets assembled so that their enemies could manipulate the strings.

 

Palestinians could and should have done better in setting forth their own vision of peace.  The extreme one-sidedness of the Trump approach handed Palestinians a golden opportunity to declare as convincingly as possible the urgent and immediate need for a new peace intermediary that was a facilitator, and not a partisan as past American presidents, or worse, an imposer as this one seems to be. The United States had long overplayed its hand as ‘honest broker,’ but now it had gone so far as to make any further Palestinian acceptance of the American role a source of humiliation, if not a sign of political senility.

 

It is worth noticing always, how the background of pro-Israeli objectionable behavior is treated by international commentary. When the context of justification is overlooked or repressed it usually signals an intention to persuade the audience by excluding complicating considerations, in this instance, the multiple signs that the United States has destroyed all reasonable expectations on the part of the Palestinians of fairness or objectivity in a proposed peace process. The Oslo framework as set forth in 1993 was deficient from these points of view but the deal of the century/peace from prosperity framework is so much worse, and yet it stands unrepudiated. When the context is put forward, it represents a genuine attempt to discover whether there are reasonable grounds for moving forward, and in this case there are none.

 

In the end, there is an underlying misinterpretation that has further distorted most commentary. What is being sought by Trump’s ‘peace diplomacy’ is not a political compromise that takes accounts of the basic rights of the two peoples, but a victory of one side over the other. It is an approach lightly theorized by Daniel Pipes and his confederates at the Middle East Forum, seeking to justify and advocate an increase of coercive U.S. and Israeli moves that will induce the Palestinians to acknowledge political defeat and submit to conditions at the behest of the Israeli victor. Thus, the success of the Trump/Netanyahu approach is not a matter of finding common ground between the two sides to form an agreement, but turning the screws of oppression so tight that the Palestinians will surrender. The approach has relied upon unilateral punitive actions supplemented by regional and global geopolitical leverage, but little direct violence beyond the endorsement of Israeli excessive force in dealing with the Great March of Return over the course of the last 68 Fridays.

 

Against this background, there exists an opportunity for responsible Palestinian leaders to do more than sit sullenly on their hands. In addition to explaining why Trump’s moves makes the traditional U.S. role unacceptable for purposes of negotiation, the Palestinians of all factions should do their utmost to set aside their disagreements, and achieve a unity of purpose, at least for the duration of their national struggle. Even more important might be, seizing the diplomatic initiative by making public a document that develops a comprehensive peace proposal that stakes out in general terms the contours of a political compromise on Jerusalem, settlements, statehood, borders, refugees, water, offshore resources, economic cooperation, security, and whatever else seems relevant. Even if only in the form of a declaration of principles, with explanatory commentary, it would manifest an intention to do more than refuse the paltry offerings that Kushner, Inc. is peddling throughout the region.  Such a positive initiative articulated by the Palestinian side is long overdue, would be of help to the Palestinians in the continuous ‘public relations war’ that may in the end be as relevant to the political struggle as the diplomatic tug of war or even resistance struggles. At this stage, nothing would give greater weight to Palestinian demands than its backing of an approach to peace that would seem so much reasonable and responsible than what is now being promoted by the Trump White House.

 

The basic point lingers. Context matters, and when it is eliminated, assessments of behavioral reasonableness are bound to be distorted and extremely misleading, especially if what is at stake is highly contested. This is particularly true for the Trump/Kushner unabashedly cruel approach to peace that can only be properly understood as placing a thin veil of deception over a concerted push to achieve an Israeli ‘victory’ while pretending to seek peace on the basis of political compromise. This emperor has no clothes! Those who care about justice must not let this happen!  

 

 

[*]‘The Squad’ is the name given to a group of four progressive Congress persons elected in 2016, and challenging the bipartisan precepts of American foreign policy. Their names are Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and best known, Alexandria Ortiz-Cortiz.

Required Reading: Noura Erakat on Palestine and Law

17 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The following review was also published today by Mondoweiss, an outstanding online news and opinion service addressing important international and domestic issues, with special attention to the following: the Palestinian national struggle; Israeli denial of basic Palestinian rights; U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East; and various efforts by Palestinians to promote global solidarity initiatives, and militant Zionists and the Israeli government to discredit, and even impose punitive policies on initiatives and even advocacy critical of Israeli policies and practices.]

 

Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. By Noura Erakat. Stanford University Press, 2019.

 

I make no claim to approach this book with an open mind. Making a fuller disclosure, I acknowledge with some pride that I have endorsed Justice for Some even before it was published, and my blurb appears on its back cover. Beyond this, two months ago I took part in a book launch at George Mason University where Noura Erakat is on the faculty. My effort in this review is not to make a calm appraisal of the book’s strengths and weaknesses, but rather to celebrate it as a major scholarly contribution to the critical literature devoted to resolving the Israel/Palestine struggle in line with the dictates of justice rather than by a continuing reliance on muscular weight of subjugation as augmented by geopolitics. And accordingly, to seize this opportunity to urge a careful reading of Justice for Some by all those interested in the Palestinian struggle as well as those curious about the way law works for and against human wellbeing as revealed by its use in a sequence of historical and societal circumstances.

 

Erakat focuses on the deformations of militarism and geopolitics that have been inflicted on the Palestinian people as a whole, making readers aware of how ‘law’ and injustice have all too often collaborated through the decades. Erakat brilliantly offers readers this illuminating critical jurisprudential exposition, but she does not stop there. Justice for Somealso partakes of a constructivist methodology in the following sense. While Israel has cleverly deployed law to oppress the Palestinian people, Erakat’s text also explains to readers how law can and is being used on behalf of justice, serving the cause of Palestinian empowerment as integral to the ongoing emancipatory struggle of the Palestinian people.

 

In a sense my own partisanship on behalf of the Palestinian struggle parallels that of Erakat who makes evident from the Preface that her intention is to depict Palestinian territorial and national victimization as transparently as possible through the optic of law and human rights and to deplore the Israeli use of legal regimes, procedures, and tactics to carry forward the Zionist project at the. cruel expense of the Palestinians.

 

Justice for Somerepresents an important trend in scholarship, which seeks to combinge academic objectivity with undisguised ethical and political engagement. Such a combination of goals might seem appropriate when dealing with a struggle as poignant as Israel/Palestine, but it has not been so treated. In mainstream scholarship. The academic canon on scholarly writing continues to favor the posture of neutrality or supposed objectivity as to policy implications, which is but a professional mask worn by naïve or cynical academicians unwilling to own up to their own subjectivities of perspective. Worse than this, the Zionist influence over scholarly and media discourse on this subject-matter is so great that forthright writing of the sort contained in Erakat’s book is censored, self-censored, and attacked as ‘biased.’ For the mainstream, Erakat’s originality and the persuasiveness of her analysis is ignored if she is lucky, and if not, demeaned. Such authors are often attacked as representatives of the so-called ‘New Anti-Semitism,’ that is, a label used to discredit writing and writers critical of Israel’s policies and practices by maliciously merging criticism with hatred of Jews. This deformed equation offers us a definition of hate speech that amounts to a death sentence for freedom of expression. It is a national disgrace that American legislative bodies at the state and federal level are swallowing this kool aid!

 

It is difficult to convey Erakat’s jurisprudential originality without extensive discussion, but I will try. Much springs from her bold assertion “I argue that law is politics.” (4) By this she means, put crudely, ‘the force of law’ depends on ‘the law of force,’ that is legal rights without the capability to implement the law to some degree is without effect or its insidious effect is to give legal cover to inhumane behavior.  Or as Erakat puts it metaphorically, politics provides the wind that a sail needs for the boat to move forward. At the same time Erakat when discussing Palestinian rights and tactics is insistent that the advocacy of ‘force’ does not imply a reliance on or a call for violence. Her tactical affirmation of nonviolence becomes explicit when she discusses approvingly the political relevance of the BDS campaign as well as in her emdorsement of various efforts to discredit Israel at the United Nations and elsewhere. Overall, Erakat reasons persuasively that Israel has been more adept than the Palestinians in making effective use of law, partly because the wind is at their back due to their linkages to geopolitics, especially the United States, but also because Israeli legal experts have done their ‘legal work’ better than have the Palestinians. Erakat’s book can be read as a stimulus to Palestinians to make better use of what she calls ‘principled legal opportunism.’ (19) In a larger sense, Israel due to geopolitical backing and discourse control has succeeded in having its most flagrant international crimes including the excessive use of force, collective punishment, and state terror ‘legalized’ under rubrics of ‘security’ and ‘self-defense,’ open ended legal prerogatives inherent in the very notion of a sovereign state. In contrast, Palestinians exercising an entirely justifiable right of resistance even if exercised against military targets is internationally criminalized and Palestinian behavior is characterized as ‘acts of terror.’ Israel’s most sinister ‘legal’ trick has been to defy  international law repeatedly and flagrantly without suffering any adverse consequences. This dynamic of defying the law can be illustrated by Israel’s dismissal of the World Court Advisory Opinion of 2004 despite the agreement of 14 of the 15 judges (does it surprise anyone, that the lone dissenter was the American judge?) that building the separation wall on occupied Palestinian territory violated the basic norms of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions (1977).

 

Erakat also deserves praise by maintaining a scholarly tone while not mincing her words or becoming entrapped in the often fuzzy language of law. The question of language is crucial to her understanding of the disjunctions between law and justice that have deprived the Palestinian people, and their nation, of the basic rights for more than a century. Erakat is straightforward in a manner of very few international law scholars that the issues at stake arise can be only properly evaluated if fully contextualized historically and ideologically.  Following Anthony Anghie, and several others, Erakat deems it essential to expose the roots of modern international law as reflective of a legal framing that served to legitimate European colonialism and its practices. She provocatively extends this generalization to Israel, identifying it as the last ‘settler colonial’ state to be established. I would add that Israel was established despite the powerful anti-colonial current of history that has flowed in one direction since 1945.

 

Erakat is equally prepared to identify the Israeli prolonged occupation of Palestine following the 1967 War as having become ‘annexation.’ She also affirms the view that Israel’s manner of controlling the Palestinian people through political fragmentation and the instrumentalities of law is a form of ‘apartheid.’ In critical and constructivist approaches the avoidance of legal euphemisms is central to the central undertaking of liberating legal mechanisms from the machinations of states. What truth-telling language does is to see through the legal masquerade so as to illuminate the moral issues at stake. This linguistic surgery is a prerequisite to elucidating the relationship of law to justice and injustice not only with respect to Palestine, but in relation to particular issues, whether involving international migrants, abused minorities, or peoples denied self-determination.

 

Justice for Somehelped me realize that this core sense of law as an inevitably politicized instrument of control and resistance can be at odds with the idea that I emphasized earlier in my own legal writing, that the true meaning of legal norms can only be discerned by their proper interpretation. I argued against the Vietnam War on this basis, contending that the American role entailed uses of force in violation of the UN Charter and international law governing uses of force, and that this argument was legallysuperior to the justifications being set forth by the U.S. Government and its apologists. This regulative (or hermeneutic) paradigm reflects the rhetoric of international law and the way lawyers habitually address controversy, including the modes of legal reasoning used by judges in tribunals, whether domestic or international, to explain and justify their decisions. It is especially applicable to the use of international law in statecraft to validate or invalidate contested behavior, indirectly reflecting both the intensity of the political winds filling the sails of the ship of state, but also the sophistication and motivations of whoever is doing the lawyering, and for whom.

 

Against the background of this understanding, what Erakat seeks and achieves is less about the emancipatory interpretation of legal norms and more about allowing us to grasp the manipulative nexus that underlies international legal discourse, and shapes political patterns of control and resistance. The regulative paradigm is complementary and backgrounded as Erakat’s overriding purpose is to develop a comprehensive rationale for a political and normative paradigm that fits the reality of the Palestinian and similar struggles for basic rights, especially that of self-determination, better than do traditional approaches. These paradigms do not necessarily contradict one another, but rest on differing functions of law and lawyers in various contexts, and from a jurisprudential perspective can be looked upon as complementary. Erakat’s undertaking is less concerned with understanding the way the world is, than how it ought to be. governed, and how law and lawyering can (on cannot) make this happen. In this sense, the defining spirit of Noura Erakat’s book calls to mind that famous remark of Karl Marx: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” [Theses on Feuerbach.

Remembering the World Court Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Wall After 15 Years

10 Jul

Remembering the World Court Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Wall After 15 Years

 

On July 9, 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague issued an Advisory Opinion by a vote of 14-1, with the American judge the lone dissenter, as if there would have been any doubt about such identity even if not disclosed. The decision rendered in response to a question put to it by a General Assembly resolution declared the separation wall unlawful, and that compliance with international law would require it to be dismantled and Palestinian communities and individuals compensated for harm incurred. As with the identity of the dissenting judge, the failure of Israel to comply with the decision was as predictable as the time of tomorrow’s sunrise.

 

Only slightly less anticipated was the American government response, which adopted its customary hegemonic tone, to instruct the parties that such issues should be resolved by politicalnegotiation, which even if heeded would end up as Israel wished, given the hierarchical relationship between Israel as occupier and Palestine as occupied. It doesn’t require a legal education to dismiss the American argument as fatuous at best, cynical at worst. The question put to the ICJ was quintessentially legal, that is, whether the construction of the separation wall on occupied Palestinian territory was or was not consistent with the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Although the decision is labeled as an ‘advisory opinion’ it has the authoritative backing of a fully reasoned and documented consensus of the world’s most distinguished jurists as to the requirements of international law in relation to the construction of this 700km wall, 85% of which is situated on occupied Palestinian territory. The degree of authoritativeness of the legal analysis is enhanced by the one-sidedness of the decision. It is rare for a legal controversy before the ICJ to produce such near unanimity given the diversity of legal systems of the 15 judges and considering the civilizational and ideological differences that haunt world order generally.

 

This legaloutcome in The Hague was overwhelmingly endorsed politicallyby the General Assembly mandating Israeli compliance. It is disappointing that Israeli defiance of both the ICJ, the world’s highest judicial tribunal, and the General Assembly, the organ of the UN most representative of the peoples of the world, should have occasioned so little adverse commentary over the years. It is not only a further confirmation that the UN System and international law lacks the capacity to deliver even minimal justice to the Palestinian people but that such institutional authority is subject to a geopolitical veto, that is, international law without the backing of relevant power becomes paralyzed with respect to implementation.

 

When considering the constitutional right of veto given to the five permanent members of the Security Council as augmented by the informal geopolitical veto enabling dominant states to shield their friends as well as themselves from the constraints of international law, the dependence of law on the priorities of power becomes obvious, painfully so. It helps us grasp the perverse ways the world is currently organized.  It is truly pathetic that only the weak and vulnerable are subject to the constraints of law, while the strong and those shielded by the strong are the lawless overlords of this unruly planet.

 

The wall a notorious international symbol of coercive and exploitative separation, as epitomized by the apartheid security structures imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole has a grotesque pattern of implementation. Its ugly structures slice through and fragment Palestinian communities and neighborhoods, separating farmers from their farms, and creating a constant and an inescapable reminder of the nature of Israeli oppression.

 

It may put the issue of the separation wall in historical perspective to recall features of the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War it came to epitomize oppression in East Germany, and more generally in Eastern Europe. If the East German government had dared extend the wall even a few feet into West Berlin it would have meant war, and quite possibly World War III. And finally, when the wall came down it was an occasion of joyous celebration and a decisive moment in the historical dynamic that let the world know that the Cold War was over. It is helpful to appreciate that the Berlin Wall was designed to keep people in, while the Israeli Wall is supposed to keep people out.

 

There is also the question of motivation. As many have pointed out, the wall remains unfinished more than 15 years after it was declared necessary for Israeli security, which tends to support those critics that pointed out that if security was the true motive, it would have been finished long ago. Even if the claim is sincerely, in part, motivated by

security, it illustrates the unjust impacts of ‘the security dilemma’: small increments of Israeli security are achieved by creating much larger increments of insecurity for the Palestinians. Beyond security, it is obvious that this is one more land-grabbing tactic of the Israelis that is part of the wider Israeli strategy of treating ‘occupation,’ especially of the West Bank, as an occasion for ‘annexation.’ Even more insidiously, is the apparent Israeli intention to make Palestinian life near the wall so unendurable, that Palestinians relinquish their place of residence, ‘ethnic cleansing’ by any other name.  

 

What messages does this anniversary occasion deliver to the Palestinian people and the world? It is a grim reminder that the Palestinian people cannot hope to achieve justice or realize their rights by peaceful means. Such a reminder is particularly instructive as it comes at a time when intergovernmental efforts to find a political compromise between Israeli expectations and Palestinian aspirations has been pronounced a failure. This failure, again not surprisingly, has meant a dramatic shift in approaching ‘peace’ and ‘a solution’ from diplomacy to geopolitics, from the Oslo flawed diplomatic framework to the Trump ‘deal of the century’ or as Kushner has rephrased it, ‘peace to prosperity.’ Or more transparently phrased, it is ‘the victory caucus’ that Daniel Pipes and the Middle East Forum that he presides over has promoted so successfully in recent months, in effect, advocating a final betrayal of the rights of the Palestinian people, an approach that has evidently found a receptive audience in both the U.S. Congress/White House and the Israeli Knesset.

 

This geopolitical strategy is a thinly disguised attempt to satisfy Israel’s expectations as to borders, refugees, settlements, water, and Jerusalem while repudiating Palestinian rights under international law, including their most fundamental right of self-determination, supposedly a legal entitlement of all peoples in the post-colonial era.

The question that remains is ‘how much longer can the Zionist Project swim against the strong historical current of anti-colonialism?’

 

The answer in my view depends on whether the global solidarity movement, together with Palestinian resistance, can reach a tipping point that leads Israeli leadership to reconsider its ‘security’ and its future. Such a point was reached in South Africa, admittedly under quite different conditions, but with an analogous sense that the Afrikaner leadership would never give up control without being defeated in a bloody struggle for power.