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Open Letter of California Scholar for Academic Freedom (Israel/Palestine)

22 Jul

[Prefatory Note: Below is an Open Letter prepared under the direction of Vida Samiian of State University of California at Fresno on behalf of California scholars defending against any effort to abridge academic freedom anywhere in the world, but particularly in California and the United States. The group has been recently sensitive to issues surrounding Israel/Palestine, Zionism, and alleged Anti-Semitism, but it also references attacks elsewhere in the world that encroach upon academic freedom.

The Open Letter references a defamatory article about me that recycles the by now familiar litany of mistakes, distortions, smears, and array of cherrypicking (mis)interpretations to create a false impression as to my actual views on controversial current issues. The evidentiary background of the article relies on the work of UN Watch, a supposed NGO that takes on all critics of Israel, especially at the UN, and made a habit of regularly launching harassing attacks on me during my six years as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. Their efforts included writing long derogatory letters to UN diplomats and public officials in goverments complaining about my views, and urging my dismissal by the UN Secretary General. On this occasion as discussed in the Open Letter the attacks on me were contained in an article in the current issue of the conservative magazine written by intern, National Review, and can be found at <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449164/un-anti-israel-bias-richard-falk-pro-iran-9-11-truther-investigates-jewish-state>

Such an attack is part of the concerted Zionist pushback against its critics, what I call ‘the Zionist War of Cultural Aggression,’ with the main current battlefields being university campus venues that host events or speakers critical of Israel or give aid and support to the BDS campaign. Unlike the South African anti-apartheid movement that relied on similar tactics to those relied upon by supporters of the Palestinian national struggle where apologists for apartheid were hostile to the movement, there was never an attempt as here, to take punitive action against those who expressed their hostility to apartheid by advocating various forms of militant nonviolence as expressive of global solidarity. Here the focus is on the role of the right-wing media in creating a climate of opinion that supports frantic Zionist efforts to intimidate and punish vocal critics of Israel, creating a crisis of confidence with regard to the exercise of academic freedom.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPEN LETTER

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

 

                     The Extremist Zionist Media Campaign Gone Too Far

 

As recently as five years ago Zionist extremists would engage campus speakers or events perceived as pro-Palestinian with substantive questions. Sometimes it was obvious that these questions were prepared in advance by some lobbying group as the student who spoke had a list of questions, was surrounded by several supporters, and usually left the conference hall without even waiting for a response. It was a disconcerting abuse of the discussion dimension of campus treatment of a controversial issue of great importance to the society as a whole.

 

This pattern of involvement has been abandoned in recent years by Zionist extremists. Instead a more insidious set of tactics has been adopted. Substantive engagement, even of a purely argumentative kind, is no longer even attempted, likely reflecting the reality that both the law and the moral dimensions of the Israel/Palestine relationship overwhelmingly support Palestinian grievances if fairly considered and give almost no aid and comfort to Israeli claims.

 

Instead of substantive engagement, the most ardent Israeli supporters smear critics of Israeli government policies, contending that criticism of Israel is ‘the new anti-Semitism,’ a position sadly endorsed by the Obama State Department and the Republican Congress, as well as several state legislatures. From such a standpoint, Palestinian supporters and their undertakings are demeaned and smeared while engaging in highly legitimate political discourse. Even the most qualified speakers are attacked before their scheduled appearances, often reinforced by back channel efforts. Usually stimulated and facilitated by more extremist national Zionist organizations, pressures are exerted on university administrations to cancel events. Additionally, local media is alerted so as to shift the focus of public interest as much as possible from message to messenger. The whole idea is to wound the messenger badly, and by so doing, create enough noise to drown out the message, a technique that often engages a compliant local media.

 

These tactics also seek a punitive backlash directed at Palestinian solidarity initiatives, especially the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign, a nonviolent approach to ending abuses of the Palestinian people, which organizes advocacy of economic disengagement from commercial relationships with unlawful Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as academic, economic, and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions that serve to prolong the occupation and otherwise defy international law. Such tactics resemble the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1980s that proved so effective in bringing about the collapse of the racist regime in South Africa. What is most relevant to notice is that even those who opposed the South African BDS campaign never sought to ban its demonstrations or degrade and punish its leaders, which is what opponents of the Israel BDS campaign are intent on doing.

 

What we are describing amounts to a Zionist cultural war of aggression against academic freedom in the United States, but also in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It targets professors, student activists, and campus activities, which has an overall chilling effect1. For every speaker or event that is cancelled, many more are not undertaken for fear of the backlash. These wider, largely invisible repercussions are rarely discussed, but their impact is significant. More junior colleagues are advised to avoid such zones of potentially toxic consequences that could cast a dark shadow over an entire career as has been the case with even such a notable established scholar as Norman Finkelstein, as well as disrupting the academic future of promising junior scholars such as Steven Salaita.

 

We also take note of the wider reach of these efforts to discredit scholars who undertake public service beyond the confines of the academic community. The National Review in its issue of July 1, 2017 devotes an entire article to showing what a bad organization the United Nations has become because it had appointed an allegedly notorious anti-Semite, Richard Falk, to assess the Israeli treatment of Palestinians living under occupation. In fact, Richard Falk is one of the most highly respected and recognized international scholars of human rights law. He is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton University and has been a Visiting Distinguished Professor and Research Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 2002. He taught international law and politics at Princeton University for forty years.  He has served the United Nations in several capacities, including acting as a formally designated advisor to the President of the General Assembly in 2009. He has been a vice president of the American Society of International Law and currently serves as Senior Vice President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The fact that an established conservative magazine would publish an article filled with smears, distortions, mistakes, and malicious cherry picking is of a piece with this concerted wider effort to discredit those who speak truth to power, while warning others to maintain silence or face the consequences.

 

Under these conditions two things seem imperative. First, calling attention to and seeking to counteract the alarming magnitude and insidiousness of this assault on academic freedom. Secondly, organizing support for and solidarity with those who are victimized, both directly and indirectly, by these Zionist tactics detrimental to academic freedom.

 

 

 

  1. http://mondoweiss.net/2016/10/california-scholars-academic/

 

 

Contact persons for Cs4af:

 

Sondra Hale, Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

 

Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History

CSU San Luis Obispo

manzarforoohar@gmail.com

 

Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor Italian Studies

University of California Santa Barbara

claudiofogu@ucsb.edu

 

Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor
Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara
gallagher@history.ucsb.edu

 

Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

 

Dennis Kortheuer

History, Emeritus

California State University Long Beach

 

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside

David.lloyd@ucf.edu

 

Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.edu

 

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics & Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

vidas@mail.fresnostate.edu

 

 

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

Blocking Comments: Toward a Constructive Compromise

6 Jul

 

 Almost since the blog was initiated in 2010 I have wrestled with the proper and desirable scope of my monitoring role. I wanted to avoid two things: dogmatic bickering between opposed viewpoints and hateful, hurtful comments directed at either me or comment contributors. Although I did avoid the worst instances of defamatory and insulting attacks it was difficult to draw the line when substance was intertwined with nasty innuendo, and for a long time I leaned in the direction of inclusion, tolerating a certain level of incivility, some righteous anger, some insidious efforts to undermine and discredit.

 

A further concern, not evident to me early on, was the submission of long rambling comments that bore no discernable relevance to either posts or earlier comments. I have come to view that these too should be blocked for the sake of making the blog community feel the published comments were worth their time and attention. And then there was another case of unacceptable comments, those submitted by commercial entities peddling a product or vacation package, and attempting to gain smidgeons of free advertising by piggybacking on blogs.

 

I thank especially Gene Schulman and Laura Knightly (and a few others who contacted me offline) for pushing me to be more exclusionary, especially toward the repetitive hasbara contributions of several of the more persistent comment authors. This whole issue of how and when to block was really confined to a single issue on this blog—the flurry of defamatory comments pushing back against any and all criticisms of Israel, conflating anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli practices and policies with anti-Semitism, as well as those equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism, disregarding Israel’s defiance of international law, and placing the burden of blame for the Palestinian ordeal primarily on the slumped shoulders of the oppressed. Along similar lines were comments exaggerating calls for the end of apartheid or the end of exclusivist ethnic claims to be a Jewish state by treating such critiques as advocating the destruction of Israel as a state, or even of the Jewish people. This tendency to refute a charge inflated far beyond its obvious intention is a common hasbara tactic, and unacceptable.

 

The more common trope of the liberal wing of the mainstream is to do what Obama and J Street tend to do, which is to insist that both sides are responsible for the impasse and both must make ‘painful concessions’ if peace is to be achieved. Although I find such a diagnosis deeply misleading as it bypasses the structure of oppressor and oppressed, insisting on ‘balanced’ apportionment of blame and sacrifice in a situation of extreme imbalance, I consider dialogue possible, although rarely fruitful.

 

As I have made clear on several occasions, comments that support Israel’s positions and Zionist claims and activities will not be excluded so long as they are not fused with rhetoric that smears those who hold opposing views or not repeated dogmatically in redundant submissions. Likewise attacks on Israel’s policies and practices, Zionist ideology and tactics, and Jewish support for Israel have been and will be blocked if the comment includes demeaning and gratuitous personal insults.

 

In my view, the more restrictive approach is working. The quality of the comments section of this blog has recently in my judgment greatly improved, containing creative responses that engage with or go beyond the posts, and by and large avoid bickering and trivializing exchanges. I thank the participants for this enhanced quality, which was my hope from the beginning.

 

Finally, the blog domain is happily pluralistic in all its dimensions. There is no reason that a blog dealing with controversial issues needs to be neutral or non-partisan, including whether or not the blog manager wants to have a comments section at all. I felt that a dialogic format was the most valuable frame to adopt given my main concerns, especially in view of their often controversial character. On an intellectual level I draw a distinction between debate, which I have find rarely useful, and dialogue, which is a listening mode as much as a speaking mode, and if appropriately practiced is a lifelong learning experience.

 

Although it is somewhat more work for me, I think safeguarding this blog space for such dialogue is a better way to express my blog ambitions and goals, which implies a corollary willingness to limit access for those whose motivation is acrimonious debate. Without being too mechanical and dogmatic about it, and even acknowledging that a good debate can on occasion rise to the level of dialogue and that bad dialogue between narcissistic talkers can sink to the level of debate, the distinction justifies attentiveness if drawn with sensitivity.

 

I suppose in the end we who aspire to be good netizens all need a civics guidebook when it comes to enjoying a nomadic life in cyberspace.

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

23 Jun

 

 

[Prefatory Note: the following interview with Abdo Emara, an Arab journalist was published in Arabic; it is here republished in slightly modified form. The changes made are either stylistic or clarifying. There are no substantive changes from my earlier responses. I think it worthwhile to share this text because the questions asked by Abdo Emara are often directed at me in the discussion period after talks I have given recently.]

 

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

 

  1. Many believe that all Jews are completely biased in favor of Israel. Since you are Jewish this raises some questions. Why have you supported the grievances of the Palestinians? And why does not Israel welcome you on its territory since you are a Jew?

It is a rather well kept secret that from the very outset of the Zionist movement there were many Jews, including some who were prominent in their countries who opposed or strongly criticized Zionist ideology, as well as the way Israel was established and subsequently developed. After 1948, and even more so, after 1967, Israeli supporters, strongly encouraged by Zionist leaders and Israeli diplomats, have increasingly claimed that the Israeli government speaks for all Jews regardless of whether or not they reside in Israel. If this claim of universal representation is denied or resisted that person will be identified by Zionists/Israelis either as an anti-Semite or as bad, a self-hating Jew, or some combination of the two. I have increasingly supported the grievances of the Palestinian people from two perspectives, in my capacity as an international law specialist and as a human being opposed to the oppression and suffering of others regardless of whether or not I share the ethnic and religious background of such victims of abuse. I have taken these positions without any feelings of hatred toward Jews or alienation from the Jewish people, or toward any people due to their ethnicity or brand of faith. My understanding of identity is much more bound up with common humanity and action in solidarity with victims of abuse than with worrying about whether or not they happen to be Jewish. I have drawn wisdom and insight from Jewish traditions, especially by heeding Old Testament biblical prophets, but as well from contact with the great texts of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. At the same time I am appalled by some passages in the OT that appear to counsel and even celebrate genocidal onslaughts against the ancient enemies of the Jewish people.

 

  1. How is the pretext of anti-Semitism used to silence critical voices in Israel and throughout the Western world? And what are the most influential institutions that try to silence and discredit academic voices that reject Israel’s repressive policies?

With the support of Israeli lobbying groups and ultra Zionist pressure groups and activists, there is a concerted campaign in Europe and North America to defame critics of Israel by calling them ‘anti-Semites.’ Especially since the Nazi genocide, to be called an anti-Semite whether or not there is any responsible basis for such accusations has become one of the most effective ways to discredit and distract. Even when accusations do not silence a critic, as in my case, they have detrimental and hurtful effects. Above all, they shift the conversation from the validity of the message to the credibility of the messenger. In the Israel/Palestine context this takes attention away from the ordeal experience by the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Thus, allegations of anti-Semitism function as both sword (to wound the messenger) and shield (to deflect and inhibit criticism and opposition).

 

  1. How do you interpret the Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup? How can these policies be changed? What is their legal status?

I interpret Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup of 2013 as primarily an expression of renewed collaboration with Israel with respect to Gaza as intensified by the Cairo view that Hamas is inspired by and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is enemy number one of the current Egyptian government. I am not familiar with the details of the Egyptian policy toward Gaza, although I know it imposes arbitrary and hurtful restrictions on entry and exit. Egyptian policies toward Gaza seem clearly to involve complicity with Israel’s worst abuses in Gaza, and entail potential criminal responsibility for Egyptian leaders and implementing officials. Israel seems clearly guilty of inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and for aiding and abetting the implementation of the unlawful blockade of Gaza that has been maintained by the state of Israel since 2007 with many cruel consequences for the Palestinians, including those needing to leave Gaza for lifesaving medical treatments.

 

  1. How do you evaluate Hamas’ new policy document?

I believe the Hamas document moves toward the adoption of a political approach to its relations with both Israel and Egypt. By a political approach I mean a willingness to establish long-term interim arrangements for peaceful coexistence with Israel and normalization with Egypt. Hamas expresses this willingness by indicating a readiness to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory occupied by Israel since the end of the 1967 War. Such a shift by Hamas does not acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as a state nor does it involve a repudiation of the 1988 Hamas Charter, although it does abandon the anti-Semitic rhetoric and seems more disposed to pursue its goals diplomatically and politically rather than by reliance on armed struggle, without giving up in any way rights of resistance, including armed resistance.

 

5- Did it became impossible for Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights throughout international organizations in the light of the latest UN refusal of UN ESCWA report your good-self drafted?

The reaction to our ESCWA report, “The Practices of Israel Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” did reveal a lack of independence and objectivity within the UN when placed under severe geopolitical pressure by the United States Government. It seemed clear that when the UN Secretary General ordered ESCWA to remove our report from their website, he was succumbing to pressure exerted by the United States, whose ambassador to the UN denounced the report without giving reasons as soon as it was released, presumably without it ever being read, and demanded its repudiation. Of course, the outcome was mixed. On the positive side, Rima Khalaf, the highly respected head of ESCWA resigned on principle rather than follow the directives of the SG, and the firestorm generated by the release of the report resulted in the text being far more influential and widely read than it might otherwise have been if treated appropriately. On the negative side, was the strong evidence that the UN is often unable to act effectively in support of the Palestinian people and their long struggle for their basic rights. The UN is geopolitically neutralized as a political actor even when Israel acts in flagrant and persisting defiance of international law and its own Charter.

 

6-Talk about the Trump-sponsored Century Deal between Palestinians and Israelis is increasing now … what are your expectations for such a deal? Will include what is said to be a “resettlement” of the Palestinians in Gaza and Sinai ?

 

Nothing positive for the Palestinian people can emerge from the wave of speculation that Trump will soon broker the ultimate peace deal. Israel is content with managing the status quo while gradually increasing its territorial appropriations via settlements, wall, security claims, and various demographic manipulations. Palestine lacks credible leadership capable of representing the Palestinian people. This partly reflects the low credibility and poor record of the Palestinian Authority and partly the deep split between Hamas and Fatah. Palestinian unity and credible leadership is a precondition for the resumption of genuine diplomacy. Geopolitical pressure should not be confused with diplomacy, and will not produce a sustainable peace even if the PA is force fed a one-sided outcome favorable to Israel that is disguised as a solution.

 

7- How does Israel see the current Egyptian regime? and to what extent did it feel comfortable towards Mohamed Morsi?

 

Israel seems quite content with the current government in Egypt, and the policies that Cairo is pursuing at home and in the region. This contrasts with its thinly disguised dislike of and anxiety about the Morsi government, and worries that Morsi’s Egypt would increasingly challenge Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and possibly alter the balance of force in the region in ways contrary to Israel’s interests.

8- Does Israel hate the existence of a democratic regimes in the Arab region, especially the neighboring countries? And why?

 

Israel opposes the emergence of democracy in the Middle East for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that Arab governments to the extent democratic are more likely to reflect in their policies, the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their citizenry. As well, Arab governments that adhere to democratic values are more likely to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Also, it is easier for Israel to work out pragmatic arrangements with authoritarian leaders who have little accountability to their own people and have demonstrated a cynical readiness to sacrifice the Palestinians for the sake of their own national strategic interests. This has become most evident in the kind of diplomacy pursued by the Gulf monarchies in recent years, dramatically evident during the three massive attacks on Gaza by Israel during the past decade that have devastated a totally vulnerable civilian population.

  1. Why do the far right think tanks- like Gatestone Institute and Middle East Forum which is known by its absolute support of Israel praise President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Why do these centers deeply praise him?

My prior responses make it clear that the Israeli policy community is pleased with Egypt governed by an authoritarian leader who adopts an agenda giving priority to the suppression of political Islam, taking the form in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian governance under Sisi is precisely what Israel would like to see emerge throughout the region, and if not, then the second option, is prolonged chaos of the sort that exists in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. As well, the reinforced sectarianism of Saudi Arabia is consistent with Israel’s view that Iran poses the most dangerous threat, not so much to its security, but to its agenda of regional influence.

 

  1. In your opinion, what is the most Arab country supporting the Palestinian issue?

I would say that none of the Arab countries is genuinely supportive of the Palestinian struggle at the present time. With a note of irony the most supportive countries in the region are non-Arab: Turkey and Iran, and their support is extremely limited. It is a sad commentary on the drift of regional politics that the Palestinians are without governmental support in the Arab world, a reality magnified by the fact that if the publics of these countries were in a position to make policy, the Palestinians would be strongly supported. In this regard, including in the West, Palestinian hopes for the future are increasingly tied to the interaction of their own resistance in combination with a growing solidarity movement in Europe and North America. The UN and traditional diplomacy, as practiced within the Oslo framework for more than 20 years have proved to be dead ends when it comes to protecting Palestinian rights.

 

Fred Skolnik and The Politics of Vilification

6 Jun

[Prefatory Note: I feel somewhat apologetic to blog subscribers. In most respects I realize that I am wasting the time of readers by posting this response to one of my most habitual and vindictive detractors, Fred Skolnik.  I will try to make amends by posting  a more substantive text as soon as possible. I share my defensive response in this setting because it does illustrate the standard operating procedure of dedicated hasbarists, regardless of whether their work reflects personal passion or is done on assignment. Identifying the motivation is not the point. The intention of such tactics is a concerted effort to shift the conversation, to discredit critics and criticism, and to engage in a site of struggle by trying above all to draw attention away from the overriding reality–Israeli responsibility for the extension of the Palestinian ordeal of prolonged suffering.]

 

I would have assumed that someone with Fred Skolnik’s achievements, the principal editor of the widely praised 22-volume Encyclopaedia Judaica, and the author of several favorably reviewed novels, would put his spare time to better use than vilifying an academic critic of  Israel, and even engaging in dirty tricks to invoke market forces to diminish his adversary’s reputation and influence. How wrong I am!

 

It is appropriate that I acknowledge being his target of choice, perhaps his only target, but the recipient of sustained attention by Skolnik, especially in the comment section of my blog of world issues. For several years I tried to reason with Skolnik, virtually pleaded with him to refrain from insults directed at me and others whose views of Israel he found abhorrent, but to no avail. He continued to submit long and frequent comments on complex controversial issues as though he alone possessed the wisdom and knowledge to provide clear answers, which happened to coincide with alt-right Israeli official views. The arrogance and one-sidedness of his comments made it seem hardly worthwhile to respond. The gaps in interpreting the facts and applicable consideration of law and morality were too wide to make dialogue useful. In the end, after wavering and hesitating, I began to block those comments that were either virulently anti-Palestinian or weighed down with nasty personal insinuations that questioned the motives and moral equilibrium of those with whom he disagreed. Skolnik, as with many other ultra Zionists, was quick to play the anti-Semitic card, and even put it more crudely by insinuating that persons like myself harbored sentiments of ‘Jew-hatred.’ An outrageous smear!

 

Not content with mere insults, Skolnik recently took action. He, along with other known Zionist disrupters and enemies of academic freedom, submitted hostile commentary on the Amazon website in the form of a review of my recently published book, Palestine’s Horizon: Towards a Just Peace (Pluto, 2017), awarding the lowest possible rating of a single star. I paste the text of Skolnik’s review below:

 

 How not to create a Palestinian state, May 21, 2017

 

By 

Fred Skolnik

 

This review is from: Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (Paperback)  

“I feel almost inclined to congratulate Prof. Falk for producing a book that is, for him, fairly moderate, that is, does not, as far as I can see, accuse Israel of Nazism, fascism, genocide or apartheid – whether incipient or actual – as he occasionally does in his blog. What he focuses on is how the Palestinians can achieve the aim of self-determination. He judges that the two-state solution won’t work, because the current “moderate” Palestinian leadership is incapable of bringing it about and Israel, in his view, does not wish to. Therefore he is implicitly proposing a one-state solution, namely one in which the State of Israel will cease to exist but the Jews will be allowed to maintain a homeland in a bi-national state where millions of Arabs – descendants of refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep – will be permitted to settle in the country, thus assuring an Arab majority and turning the Jews into an “ethnic” minority with guaranteed rights.

 

The fact that this proposal, which can only be called crazy in the light of reality, cannot and will not ever bear fruit, and virtually assures the Palestinians another century of suffering if they seek such an outcome, does not daunt Prof. Falk in the least. Given the nearly 1500-year history of Jewish life under Arab rule, it hardly needs to be explained why this will never happen, nor does Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state have to be justified. The State of Israel, my friends, is not going to disappear. The only way the Palestinians will get a state of their own is by relinquishing the Big Dream of a great massacre on the shores of the Mediterranean, disavowing terrorism, reconciling themselves to the existence of a sovereign, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, and negotiating a settlement whose basis will be a fair trade-off of land leaving 75% of the settlements within Israel’s final border and involving around 5% of West Bank land – barren hilltops exchanged for barren hilltops from the Palestinian point of view – a limited return of refugees (something like 30-40,000, which coincidentally represents the number of original refugees still alive, but maybe as many as 100,000), and some imaginative solution for Jerusalem. These are the parameters and this is the reality. It’s up to the Palestinians to decide whether they wish to live in dignity or in misery. Prof. Falk is not giving them very good advice.”

 

Actually, the language of the review is more temperate than Skolnik’s typical style, notable for its degrading innuendo and invective, which is only deployed indirectly in this review. When Skolnik falsely writes that my blog posts accuse Israel of “Naziism, fascism, genocide, or apartheid” he is making use of a standard hasbara tactic—claiming that a critic is making far more extreme contentions than is the case so as to be as discrediting as possible. In the list is added “or apartheid,” which indeed has been alleged by me, and is the theme of my co-authored ESCWA report. But why would someone add naziism, fascism, genocide unless you were engaged in a professional hatchet job?  

 

What is also objectionable about the review is that ignores the main arguments of the book, which barely touch on the premature topic of attaining a proper solution, although it does suggest in passing that Israel has deliberately rendered a fair two-state compromise unobtainable due to the settlements and assorted other irreversible encroachments on the Palestinian territorial remnant, which if freed of settlements would still only amount to 22% of the land encompassed by the British mandate. I also believe that the insistence on being ‘a Jewish state,’ so acknowledged by the Palestinian governmental representatives is a claim inconsistent with international human rights standards, with the modern secularist consensus, and with the equality of citizens and nationals subject to sovereign governmental authority. In this sense, to give up that claim of Jewish exclusiveness is a vital precondition with respect to the search for a sustainable and just peace. Unlike what Skolnik contends it is not a call for the destruction of Israel as a state, but for its abandonment of an unacceptable set of practices and policies. When South African dismantled its apartheid structures of control it did not cease to exist as a state. On the contrary, it became a legitimate state! Again Skolnik obscures the real issue by implying that my criticism of Zionist overreaching is a call for the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state.

 

Returning to the review, giving my book the lowest possible rating on the Amazon website is a callous attempt to be hurtful. I have a long list of books published by the most selective of university presses and mainstream publishers. Of course, no one is obliged to agree with the analysis or admire the scholarship, but to translate disagreement into this sort of unfair assessment illustrates what I mean by complaining about ‘the politics of vilification.’

 

Skolnik is active on other fronts as well. After years of seeking to maintain a degree of civility on my blog with respect to commentary on Israel/Palestine by blocking comments that either nurture hate or question the character and motives of those with whom someone disagree. I decided to block Skolnik’s submitted comments altogether having failed to persuade his to accept the guidelines for submission that I have established and seem to have gained the approval of most of those most engaged in discussion. He long abused the comment section by submitting frequent, repetitive dogmatic harangues laced with vitriolic attacks on those he dislikes.  Incidentally, my blog deals with a range of contemporary issues, and only encounters these issues in relation to Israel/Palestine. Also, I should add that I have blocked many submitted comments that strike me as truly anti-Semitic or hateful toward Israel and Zionism.

 

What seems of some interest is that Mr. Skolnik has gone to the trouble of collecting all of his blocked comments, publishing them in a presumably sympathetic Israeli newspaper (Arutz Sheva or Israel National News). I would have expected Skolnik to be ashamed of these comments, but apparently he is sufficiently proud of them to arrange publication. I have not checked to see whether he omitted some of the more inflammatory blocked comments or edited them to create the impression that I am censoring views of pro-Israeli subscribers to the blog, which I am not. I reprint from the newspaper the list, allowing readers, with the degree of fortitude to assess for themselves, whether I am being too restrictive in response to Skolnik’s attempts to have his views presented on this blog site. I would welcome feedback.

 

Below are the comments Skolnik submitted, which were blocked either because of tone, substance, or repetitive character, as published in the Israeli newspaper. I apologize for the formatting that cuts off some words of the text. If someone can help me format in a better way I will adjust the text here as now published. I would call attention to the headline and the lead paragraph that conveys the aggressive sentiments that Skolnik reins in to some extent when he submits his comments. Calling me an Israel-hater and an anti-Semite is defamatory besides being false. 

 

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

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

An anti-Semite’s true colors are shown as he refuses to post answers to his posts unless they villify Israel even more than he does. This writer kept a record of the the Israel-hater who was, unbelievably, a UN representative to the Middle East.

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Fred Skolnik, 01/06/17 18:33

 

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Fred Skolnik

The writer is Editor-in-Chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal and author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history.

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The following is the “dialogue” that developed between Richard Falk, former UN Human Rights Council Rapporter for Palestine and recent author of a UN report accusing Israel of apartheid, and myself after he published an entry on his blogsite called “Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression” complaining about the cancelation of his book launches in England because of “strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption.”

Note: Please notice the repeated response to my remarks is: “Your comment is awaiting moderation,”  which is his excuse for not posting them, as indeed he did not, ever.

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 9:14 am # 

Israel’s efforts to undermine the anti-Israel activities of its declared enemies are no less legitimate than the effort of its enemies to undermine Israel’s economic and academic life, not to mention efforts to bring about its extinction.

Richard FalkMay 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm # 

     

These are not equivalent activities:

–I am expressing views on the basis of academic study, which is in the mainstream of discourse in a democratic society, even if the views are controversial;–BDS activists are protesting by nonviolent [means] what they and most of the world consider to be unlawful and unjust policies and practices.

 

Israel, the US Government, and its militant supporters, are interfering with academic freedom and nonviolent protest activities, by engaging in smear tactics, and even by threatening violent disruption. These two sets of behaviors are in no sense equivalent, and to treat them as if they are, is to be ‘heartless’ and ‘ignorant.’

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm # 

I beg to differ. You are not acting as an academic but as a polemicist publically active in discrediting and delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel has every reason to regard you as a hostile individual bent on harming it and acting accordingly. As for militant supporters of Israel, they are no more militant than Israel’s detractors. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:05 am # 

May I ask you, Prof. Falk, if you are still wondering why you are attacked personally, and if you have the courage to reply, what your response would be if one of these barbaric Hamas terrorists whom you call freedom fighters entered a Jewish home and murdered an entire family, including infants, and then declared: “I had been reading Professor Falk’s blog where he compared us to French and Dutch partisans and asked rhetorically, ‘Can you blame them?’ and ‘What do you expect?’ so I felt fully justified on the highest moral grounds as elucidated by Professor Falk, to murder these miserable Jews.”

What would you say then, Prof, Falk? Or would you just run away if you couldn’t scrape up a winning reply? Yes, I’m challenging you, even if you lack the courage to confront these questions, so that it will be just a little bit harder for you to pretend that you are something other than what you actually are.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Richard FalkMay 7, 2017 at 9:00 am # 

Mr. Skolnik:

I have no intention taking the bait of responding to a horrendous terrorist hypothetical, which avoids any considerationof the ethics of resistance. I could pose 100 analogous hypotheticals about the brutalization of the Palestinian people,which would in no way cast light on the ethics of Israel’s security claims. You play games designed to personalize our differences rather than confront the discriminatory and oppressive realities of Israel-Palestine relations. I will not take this bait.

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 9:38 am # 

You are not “taking the bait” because you lack the courage to face the implications of your rhetoric or even to post the comment you are responding to,

I, for my part, would take any “bait” you wish to toss into the arena, even “100 analogous hypotheticals,” because I am not afraid to have my views challenged.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 11:21 am # 

 

Any way you cut it. Prof Falk, the fact remains that you are afraid of me and I am not afraid of you. You are afraid of me because there are so many holes in your thinking, knowledge and understanding and I expose them and you don’t know how to defend them other than by pleading personal insult or going into your empty rhetorical mode. I am not afraid of you because I am prepared to address any issue or allegation on a factual basis. 

To be honest with you, I even think that all these protestations and outcries of yours about the suffering of the Palestinians is just a little bit bogus. It is not really the Palestinians as victims that interests you but Israel (and America) as culprits. I am quite sure that if Israel was an Arab country and the Palestinians were indigenous non-Muslim Sudanese, let us say, and you had the same conflict and the same occupation and the same “ethnic cleansing,” we’d hardly be hearing a peep from you. Isn’t that so?

 

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 11:42 am # 

I am convinced, Mr. Skolnik, that you refuse to get my point, and thus respond by your usual tactic of insult. It is time that you stopped worrying about my integrity and motives, and started giving genuine attention to the reality of Israeli responsibility for Palestinian suffering.So long as you brush aside or photoshop this core reality by rationalizing Israeli cruelty as a response to ‘the barbarism’ of the Palestinians or their alleged refusal to make peace, you are engaging in the standard hasbara practice of shifting the conversation to the messengerand avoiding the message. And when you do pause to address the message it is done in such a dogmatic and one-sided manner as to lackany credibility. You seem to be looking in the mirror without seeing yourself.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm # 

This is precisely what I mean about empty rhetoric. You are just throwing phrases into the air like “Palestinian suffering” and “Israeli responsibility,” which is no different in actual fact from saying “German suffering” and “Allied responsibility.” The Arabs initiated a war against Israel in 1967 and Israel defended itself as any other country would have. And insofar as the West Bank is concerned the specific and undeniably guilty party was Jordan, by Hussein’s own admission. The consequence of this war was the occupation of the West Bank and the consequences of refusing to make peace and choosing terrorism were Israel’s perfectly legitimate security measures, which continue to be in force to this day to the extent that the terrorism continues.

This is admittedly a one-sided representation of events, and that is because there was only one guilty party, but even if my “one-sidedness” were unjustified, you would hardly be the one to complain about it, given your own one-sidedness, so there is a bit of hypocrisy here too,

   

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm # 

Until you are able to acknowledge at least that ambiguity surrounds responsibility for the 1967 warwe have no basis for dialogue or conversation. See such knowledgeable accounts as Peeled, Quigley, andmany others. To pretend that it was a simple case of Arab attack and Israeli defense is a falsification of historical complexity. I do not use the sort of dogmatic, either/or language that you rely upon. I can even appreciate your partisanship, but you link it to discrediting what you perceive to be the partisanship of your adversary, and in the process the reality of historical complexity is completely obscured.

   

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm # 

You seem to be saying that unless someone agrees with your version of events, you have no wish to speak to him. That is of course your right but we are not engaged in negotiations here but in a debate that should be founded on facts and not on opinions. I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. There is nothing ambiguous about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out.

 

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm # 

Whether you wish to reply or not, your holding back my last comment, made in the same spirit as the previous comments, both yours and mine, leads me to think that you are acting in extremely bad faith.

   

Richard Falk May 8, 2017 at 7:54 am # 

I you would stop concentrating on my motives, and start addressing my assessments–for example, historical complexity surrounding the 1967 War making your kind of analysis without credibility, given the scholarly literature that you ignore, merely restating your dogmatic one-sided views.

 

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 8:37 am # 

But that is precisely what I am doing: I am not talking about your motives above but precisely about your assessment. Why are you pretending otherwise? Here is my assessment:

I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. Again, there is nothing “complex” or “ambiguous” about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out. 

“Peled, Quigley” are not scholarly sources. Quigley is a legal expert who is qualified to discuss the issue of preemptive strikes from a legal point of view but not the sequence of events that led to the war.

It seems to me that you are determined to lead the discussion away from demonstrable fact toward the freewheeling realm of “interpretation” and opinion, which is to say from history to polemics. When you try to shift the blame for the 1967 war onto Israel’s shoulders, you disregard the actual sequence of events that led to it. When you try to turn Israel into the aggressor in its war against terrorism, you disregard the specific circumstances of each clash or simply and arbitrarily reverse the actual sequence of events in order to underpin your interpretation of them.

It seems to me that what you really wish to say, though never too explicitly, is that since the creation of the State of Israel was unjust vis-à-vis the Arabs, all-out attacks on it and acts of terrorism are fully justified or understandable or whatever word you wish to use, and that the “solution” to the problem is to eliminate the State of Israel entirely, by flooding it with the descendants of the original refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep.

But that is not the history and that is not the justification and that is not the solution. At a certain point, even in polemics, reality should intercede, and the simple reality is that Israel is not going to disappear and the Palestinians are not going to get a state until they disavow terrorism and negotiate a settlement. 

Once again, I invite you to present your assessment of events. Start with Jordan, as the occupation of the West Bank is the crux of the matter today. Assess Hussein’s book on the war. That is a primary document. Assess the protocols of Israel’s deliberations before the war. I have given you a link more than once and you have ignored it. That is where you will find the history.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation. 

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 10:01 am # 

I see that this is going to remain between ourselves. Nothing like a little logic to send you scurrying to the panic button. 

You are again being naive to the point of stupidity. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

John  May 8, 2017 at 6:50 am # 

Richard,I sat behind you at the Cork Conference and mentioned that I had lived in South Africa during the apartheid era for several years.I said then – and I say again now – that what is happening in Palestine is nothing like what happened in apartheid South Africa. The nationalists there were just as racist and just as supremacist as the Zionists in Palestine but there were far fewer of them.In Israel, we now have a regime largely like the Nazis, with their global thugs engaging in global thuggery at events such as your book launch.Nazi rabble were deployed to shut everyone else up just like the Zionist rabble are now.The means and the methods may have charged but their essential thuggish has not.

How to defeat such thuggery?Well, it may take what it did to defeat the Nazis.That may well be the only way to gain Palestinian freedom.That or a real Civil War in Israel among Israelis – hard as that is to imagine.Even then, it is impossible to predict the outcome as being favourable or otherwise.

Fred SkolnikMay 8, 2017 at 10:47 pm # 

“Largely like the Nazis” means gassing and incinerating millions of people. Is that what you wish to say? And where were you when Arab terrorists were blowing apart Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants?

 

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 9:01 am # 

Stop lecturing me on how to administer this blog. You are participating of your own free will. If you so strongly disapprove, why bother? And I must say your approach to ‘historical complexity’ associatedwith the 1967 is, at best, simplistic, as is your dismissal of Quigley, whose archival research is very convincing on the various ambiguities associated with the various phases of that encounter. It is not amatter of avoiding your arguments because they are so well-evidenced and well reasoned, it is a sense that there is no point engaging with such extremist and self-serving constructions of the facts, relevant law,allocation of responsibility, and so forth.

John May 9, 2017 at 6:52 pm # 

What I was referring to was the thuggish behaviour of both the nazis and zionists.Where were you when the zionist thugs murdered thousands of largely innocent Gazans, including hundreds of children?No doubt lounging on a sofa overlooking Gaza and cheering on the bombers.Hasbara thugs like you have no place in decent civilised society.Just crawl back under the sewer cover you normally live under.

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 11:42 pm # 

I normally would block this comment as it steps across the civility line by mounting such an intense personal attack, but because you are clarifying an important point and responding to an attack I am making exception. I ask you in the future to limit comments to substantive disagreements.

   

Fred Skolnik May 10, 2017 at 4:08 am # 

Bravo! Yes, that is a clarification all right!

“Largely” like the Nazis means a little more than thuggish behavior.

To tell you the truth, John, I was in a shelter.

Gazans were killed because Hamas fired 4,500 rockets at Israel’s civilian population from in and around schools, playgrounds, hospitals, clinics, mosques and residential buildings and did not even allow its own civilian population to evacuate these areas when Israel warned them of impending attacks via flyers, emails and phone calls..

That is my clarification, Prof. Falk, without John’s sewer covers.

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm # 

This is a perfect example, Prof. Falk, of the kind of people you attract. Why aren’t you censoring this comment for its “dogmatism” and “one-sidedness,” not to mention its viciousness?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 9, 2017 at 9:51 am # 

The ploy of replying to my comments without posting the comments themselves is underhanded to say the least and certainly unworthy of someone who professes academic integrity. Are you really that afraid even to have the comments seen by your readers?

You challenged me and I responded. Calling a view that relies on Hussein’s own explanation of why he attacked Israel simplistic, extreme and self-serving is next to absurd. Your argument in this case, as in the case of Nasser’s actions and declarations, is not with me but with him, so by all means ignore me but do address the following statements made by Hussein:

-Jordan attacked Israel because Egypt misled Hussein by telling him that it had destroyed 75% of the Israeli air force and was advancing toward Tel Aviv and inviting him to join the final war (see Hussein’s book on the war, p. 60ff.).

-Jordan was further deceived when it picked up planes on its radar moving toward Israel and believed they were Egyptian planes, confirming Nasser’s assertions.

-Jordan received Israel’s pledge, communicated via Gen Odd Bull of the UN and the US State Dept., that it would not act against Jordan if Jordan did not act against Israel — “too late” to stop the Jordanian attack.

-And again, tt is absurd to suggest that the idea of grabbing land motivated Israel’s response in a Mapai-dominated political culture in which Begin was thought of as an irrelevant blowhard. The idea of territorial “expansion” was not part of political or public discourse at the time. Published protocols of internal discussions at the military and political level and even the most superficial knowledge of the atmosphere in Israel before the war will give anyone who is interested a clear idea of Israeli thinking at the time.

A writer like Quigley who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew or Arabic is not doing the “archival research” that is necessary to understand the Arab-Israel conflict

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with any extremist or simplistic views or even with me but with historical evidence that you should be prepared to address before advancing your own one-sided and dogmatic views.

When you allow the word Nazi to appear in your blog with reference to Jews and/or Israel and censor a simple clarification of what “largely like the Nazis” really means, you deserve to be lectured. 

I persist in responding to you because you are a public figure publishing in a public forum some of the vilest filth on the Internet with refernce to Jews and Israel

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Zbigniew Brzezinski: Geopolitical Mastermind, Realist Practitioner

3 Jun

Personal Prelude

 

I never knew Zbigniew Brzezinski well, and was certainly not a friend, hardly an acquaintance, but we interacted on several occasions, directly and indirectly. We were both members of the Editorial Board of Foreign Policy magazine founded in 1970 during its early years, which featured lively meetings every few months at the home of the founding co-Chair, a liberal banker named Warren Damien Manshel (the other founding co-Chair was his Harvard friend from graduate school, Samuel Huntington). I was a kind of outlier at these meetings, which featured several editors who made no secret of their ambition to be soon chosen by political leaders to serve at the highest levels of government. Other than Zbig the editor who flaunted his ambition most unabashedly was Richard Holbrook; Joseph Nye should be included among the Washington aspirants, although he was far more discreet about displaying such goals.

 

In these years, Zbig was a Cold War hawk. I came to a lecture he gave at Princeton, and to my surprise while sitting quietly near the front of the lecture hall, Zbig started his talk by saying words to the effect, “I notice that Professor Falk is in the audience, and know that he regards me as a war criminal.” This was a gratuitous remark as I had never made such an accusation, although I also never hid my disagreements with Brzezinski’s anti-Soviet militancy that seemed unduly confrontational and dangerous. Indicative of this outlook, I recall a joke told by Zbig at the time: a general in Poland was asked by the political leader when the country came under attack from both Germany in the East and the Soviet Union in the West, which front he preferred to be assigned. He responded “Germany—duty before pleasure.”

 

In these years Zbig rose to prominence as the intellectual architect and Executive Director who together with David Rockefeller established The Trilateral Commission in 1973. The Trilateral Commission (North America, Western Europe, and Japan) was best understood as a global capitalist response to the Third World challenge being mounted in the early 1970s with the principal goal of establishing a new international economic order. Brzezinski promoted the idea that it was important to aggregate the capitalist democracies in Europe along with Japan in a trilateral arrangement that could develop a common front on questions of political economy. On the Commission was an obscure Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, who seemed handpicked by this elite constellation of forces to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1976. It was natural for Brzezinski to be a foreign policy advisor to Carter during his campaign and then to be chosen as National Security Advisor (1977-1981) by President Carter.

 

My most significant contact with Brzezinski related to Iran Revolution during its last phases. In January of 1979 I accompanied Ramsey Clark and Philip Luce on what can best be described as a fact-finding visit in the last phases of the revolutionary ferment in the country. Toward the end of our time in Iran we paid a visit to the American Embassy to meet with Ambassador William Sullivan who understood that revolution was on the cusp of success and the Shah’s government was on the verge of collapse. What he told us was that the White House rejected his efforts to convey this unfolding reality, blaming Brzezinski for being stubbornly committed to saving the Shah’s regime, suggesting that Brzezinski’s friendship with the influential Iranian ambassador in Washington, Ardeshir Zahedi, apparently blinded him to the realities unfolding in Iran. It should be noted that Sullivan was no shrinking violent. Sullivan had a deserved reputation as an unrepentant counterinsurgency diplomat, who General Westmoreland once characterized as more of a field marshal than a diplomat, given his belligerent use of the American embassy in Laos to carry out bombing attacks in the so-called ‘secret war.’

 

Less than a year later I was asked to accompany Andrew Young to Iran with the hope of securing the release of the Americans being held hostage in the embassy in Tehran. The mission was planned in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s hint that he would favor negotiating the release of the hostages if the U.S. Government sent an African American to conduct the negotiations. Young, former ambassador to the UN, was the natural choice for such an assignment, but was only willing to go if the White House gave a green light, which was never given, and the mission cancelled. At the time, the head of the Iran desk in the State Department told me privately that “Brzezinski would rather see the hostages held forever than see Andy Young get credit for their release.” Of course, I have no way of knowing whether this was a fair statement or not, although this career bureaucrat spoke of his frustrating relationship with Brzezinski. Of course, there was never an assurance that if such a mission had been allowed to go forward, it would have been successful, but even in retrospect it seemed to warrant a try, and might have led to an entirely different U.S./Iran relationship than what has ensued over the past 38 years.

 

While attending a conference on human rights at the Carter Center a decade later, I had the good fortune to sit next to President Carter at dinner, and seized the opportunity to ask him about his Iran policy, and specifically why he accepted the resignation of Cyrus Vance who sought a more moderate response to Iran than was favored by Brzezinski. Carter responded by explaining that “Zbig was loyal, while Vance was not,” which evaded the question as to which approach might have proved more effective and in the end beneficial. It should be remembered, as was very much known in Tehran, that Brzezinski was instrumental in persuading Carter to call the Shah to congratulate him on his show of toughness when Iranian forces shot and killed unarmed demonstrators in Jaleh Square in an atrocity labeled ‘bloody Friday,” and seen by many in Iran as epitomizing the Shah’s approach to security and the Iranian citizenry.

 

Brzezinski versus Kissinger

 

It is against this background that I take note of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s death at the age of 89 by finding myself much more favorable to his role as foreign policy and world order commentator in recent years than to my earlier experiences during the Cold War and Iranian Revolution. It is natural to compare Brzezinski with Henry Kissinger, the other foreign-born academic who rose to the top of the foreign policy pyramid in the United States by way of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American establishment. Kissinger was less eager than Brzezinski to defeat the Soviet Union than to create a stable balance, and even went so far as to anger the precursors of the alt-right by supporting détente and arms control during the Nixon years. Somehow, Kissinger managed to transcend all the ideological confusion in the United States to be still in 2017 to be courted and lionized by Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, and Republicans, including Trump. Despite being frequently wrong on key foreign policy issues Kissinger is treated as an iconic figure who was astonishingly able to impart nonpartisan wisdom on the American role in the world despite the highly polarized national scene. Brzezinski never attained this status, and maybe never tried. Despite this unique position of eminence, Kissinger’s extensive writings on global trends in recent years never managed to grasp the emerging complexity and originality of world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His line of vision was confined to what could be observed by looking through a neo-Westphalian prism. From this perspective Kissinger has been obsessed with China’s rise and how to reach a geopolitical accommodation with this new superpower so that a new statist balance of power with a global scope takes hold.

 

Post-Cold War Geopolitics: A Eurasian Scenario 

In my view, late Brzezinski developed a more sophisticated and illuminating understanding of the post-Cold War world than did Kissinger. While being sensitive to the importance of incorporating China in ways that were mutually beneficial, Brzezinski was also centrally focused on the non-geopolitical features of world affairs in the 21st century, as well as on the non-statist dimensions of geopolitics. In this regard, Brzezinski was convinced that the future world order would be determined by the outcome of competition among states for the control Eurasia, and that it was crucial for American political efforts to be calibrated to sustain its leadership role in this central arena of great power rivalry.

 

Brzezinski also appreciated that economic globalization was giving market forces a heightened significance that could not be adequately represented by continuing to rely on a state-centric frame of reference in crafting foreign policy. Brzezinski also recognized that a new political consciousness had arisen in the world that he associated with a global awakening that followed the collapse of European colonialism, and made the projection of hard power by the West much more problematic than in the past. This meant that the West must accept the need for consensual relations with the non-West, greater attentiveness to the interests of humanity, and an abandonment of hegemonic patterns of interaction, especially associated with military intervention. He also recognized the importance of emerging challenges of global scope, including climate change and global poverty, which could only be addressed by cooperative arrangements and collective action.

 

Late Brzezinski Foreign Policy Positions

 

What impressed me the most about the late Brzezinski was his clarity about three central issues of American foreign policy. I will mention them only briefly as a serious discussion would extend this essay well beyond a normal reader’s patience. (1) Perhaps, most importantly, Brzezinski’s refusal to embrace the war paradigm adopted by George W. Bush after 9/11 terrorism, regarding ‘the war on terror’ as a dysfunctional over-reaction; in this regard he weighted more highly the geopolitical dimensions of grand strategy, and refused to regard ‘terrorism’ as a strategic threat to American security. He summed up his dissenting view in a conversation on March 17, 2017 with Rachel Maddow as follows, “Yes, ISIS is a threat. It’s more than a nuisance. It’s also in many respects criminal violence. But it isn’t in my view, a central strategic issue facing humanity.” Elsewhere, he make clear that the American over-reaction to 9/11 handed Osama Bin Laden a major tactical victory, and diverted U.S. attention from other more pressing security and political challenges and opportunities.

 

(2) Brzezinski was perceptively opposed to the Iraq attack of 2003, defying the Beltway consensus at the time. He along with Brent Scowcroft, and a few others, were deemed ‘courageous’ for their stand at the time, although to many of us of outside of Washington it seemed common sense not to repeat the counterinsurgency and state building failures oaf Vietnam in Iraq. I have long felt that this kind of assertion gives a strange and unfortunate meaning to the idea of courage, making it seem as if one is taking a dangerous risk in the Washington policy community if espousing a view that goes against the consensus of the moment. The implication is that it takes courage to stand up for beliefs and values, a sorry conclusion for a democracy, and indicative of the pressure on those with government ambitions to suppress dissident views.

 

(3) Unlike so many foreign policy wonks, Brzezinski pressed for a balanced solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, acknowledging, what so many advocates of the special relationship deny, that the continuation of the conflict is harmful to American wider interests in the region and is a major, perhaps a decisive, source of instability in the Middle East. In his words, “This conflict poisons the atmosphere of the Middle East, contributes to Muslim extremism, and is directly damaging to American interests.” [Strategic Vision, 124] As Jeremy Hammond and Rashid Khalidi, among others, have demonstrated is that the U.S. Government has actually facilitated the Israeli reluctance to achieve a sustainable peace, and at the same time denied linkage between the persistence of the conflict and American national interests.[See analysis of Nathan Thrall (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/the-real-reason-the-israel-palestine-peace-process-always-fails)].

 

 

I had not been very familiar with Brzezinski later views as expounded in several books: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geopolitical Imperatives (1997, reprinted with epilogue, 2012); (with Brent Scowcroft, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (2009); Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012).

 

When it comes to Brzezinski’s legacy, I believe it to be mixed. He was a brilliant practitioner, always able to present his views lucidly, forcefully, and with a catchy quality of coherence. In my view, his Cold War outlook was driven toward unacceptable extremes by his anti-Soviet preoccupations. I believe he served President Carter poorly when it came to Iran, especially in fashioning a response to the anti-Shah revolutionary movement. After the Cold War he seemed more prudent and sensible, especially in the last twenty years, when his perceptions of world order were far more illuminating than those of Kissinger, his geopolitical other.

 

Two Sides of the Palestinian Coin: Hunger Strike/Gaza

28 May

 

 

The Palestinian hunger strike protesting Israeli prison conditions was suspended on May 27th after 40 days, at a time when many of the 1000 or so strikers were experiencing serious deteriorations of health, most were by then hospitalized, and the holy period of Ramadan about to commence creating continuity between the daytime fasting of the faithful and the prior desperate protest of the strikers. What was perhaps most notable about this extraordinary gesture of a mass prolonged hunger strike was that it was treated as hardly worthy of notice by the world media or even by the United Nations, which ironically is regularly attacked by diplomats and the media in the West for being overly preoccupied with Israeli wrongdoing.

 

It needs appreciating that recourse to a collective hunger strike is a most demanding form of political resistance, invariably provoked by prolonged outrage, requiring courage and a willingness to endure hardship by participants, as well subjecting their will to as harsh a test as life offers. To continue foregoing food for 40 days is a life-threatening and heroic, a commitment never lightly undertaken.

 

With Bobby Sands as their leader ten IRA imprisoned hunger strikers starved themselves unto their death in 1981. The world watched in rapt attention as this extraordinary spectacle of self-inflicted death unfolded day by day. Without openly acknowledging what was happening before their eyes, hardened political leaders in London silently took notice of the moral challenge they confronted, shifting tactics abruptly, and began working toward a political compromise for Northern Ireland in a manner that would have been unthinkable without the strike.

 

The Palestinians can harbor no such hopes, at least in the near term. Israel deliberately clouds the moral and political embedded challenges by releasing videotapes supposedly showing ‘snacks’ secretly being eaten by the strike leader, Marwan Barghouti. This fact that this accusation was vigorously denied by his immediate family and lawyer is occasionally noted in the world media, but only as a detail that does not diminish the impact of discrediting the authenticity of the strike. Whether true or not, Israel succeeded in shifting attention away from the strike and avoids doing anything significant to improve prison conditions, much less take steps to end the severe abuses of the Palestinian people over the course of an incredible period of 70 years with no end in sight. Prison authorities immediately resorted to punitive measures to torment those prisoners who were on strike. Such a response underscores ‘democratic’ Israel’s refusal to treat with respect nonviolent forms of resistance by the Palestinian people.

 

At this same time as the prison drama was unfolding, Gaza was experiencing a deepening of its prolonged crisis that has been cruelly manipulated by Israel to keep the civilian population of almost two million on the brink of starvation and in constant fear of military onslaught. Supposedly the caloric intake for subsistence has been used as a benchmark by Israeli authorities for restricting the flow of food to Gaza. And since that seems insufficient to impose the level of draconian control sought by Israel, three massive military attacks and countless incursions since the end of 2008 have inflicted heavy casualties on the civilian population of Gaza and caused much devastation, a cumulative catastrophe for this utterly vulnerable, impoverished, captive population. In such a context, the fact that Hamas has retaliated with what weaponry it possessed, even if indiscriminate, is to be expected even if not in accord with international humanitarian law.

 

A leading intellectual resident of Gaza, Haider Eid, has recently written a poignant dispatch from the front lines of continuous flagrant Israelu criminality, “On Gaza and the horror of the siege,” [<http://mondoweiss.net/2017/gaza-horror-siege/&gt;, May 25, 2017]. Eid ends his essay with these disturbing lines:

“We fully understand that the deliberate withholding of food or the means to grow food in whatever form is yet another strategy of Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid in Palestine, and, therefore, should be viewed as an abnormality, even a pogrom!

 But what we in Gaza cannot fathom is: Why it is allowed to happen?”

 

At the start of Ramadan, Haider Eid appeals to the world to stand up against what he calls ‘incremental genocide’ “ by heeding the BDS call made by Palestinian Civil Society.”

 

It is significant that Eid’s appeal is to civil society rather than to the Palestinian Authority entrusted with representing the Palestinian people on the global stage or for a revival of ‘the peace process’ that went on for twenty years within the Oslo Framework or to the UN that accepted responsibility after Britain gave up its Palestine mandate at the end of World War II. These conventional modes of conflict resolution have all failed, while steadily worsening the situation of the Palestinian people and nurturing the ambition of the Zionist movement to reach its goal of territorial expansion.

 

Beyond this, Eid notes that the authority of BDS is a result of an authoritative Palestinian call to which the peoples of the world are implored to respond. This shift away from intergovernmental empowerment from above to a reliance on empowerment by a victimized people and their authentic representatives embodies Palestinian hopes for a more humane future, and for an eventual realization of long denied rights.

 

It is appropriate to merge in our moral imagination the ordeals of the prisoners in Israeli jails with that of the people of Gaza without forgetting the encompassing fundamental reality—the Palestinian people as a whole, regardless of their specific circumstances, are being victimized by an Israeli structure of domination and discrimination in a form that constitutes apartheid and different forms of captivity.

 

It seems that the hunger strike failed to induce Israel to satisfy many of the demands of the strikers for improved conditions. What it did achieve was to remind Palestinians and the world of the leadership gifts of Marwan Barghouti, and it awakened the Palestinian population to the moral and political imperative of sustaining and manifesting resistance as an alternative to despair, passivity, and submission. Israelis and some of their most ardent supporters speak openly of declaring victory for themselves, defeat for the Palestinians. Regardless of our religious or ethnic identity we who live outside the circle of Israeli oppression should be doing our utmost to prevent any outcome that prolongs Palestinian unjust suffering or accepts it as inevitable.

 

What is unspeakable must become undoable.

 

 

Trumped Up Diplomacy in the Middle East

20 May

 

In his first overseas trip since moving into the White House, Donald Trump is leaving behind the frustrations, allegations, rumors, and an increasing sense of implosion that seems to be dooming his presidency during its second hundred days. At the same time, a mixture of curiosity and apprehension awaits this new leader wherever he goes making his visit to the Middle East and Europe momentous occasions for the host governments, wide eyed public, and rapacious media. We need to remember that in this era of popular autocrats and surging right-wing populists, Trump is a ‘hero of our time.’

 

Even if all had gone smoothly for the new president in his home country, there should be expressions of deep concern about his travel itinerary. He visits first the two countries with which the United States has ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel. What has long made them ‘special’ are a series of pre-Trump departures from realist and normative foreign policy orientations by successive American presidencies. These departures were motivated by oil geopolitics, arms sales and strategic alliances, hostility to Iran, and a disguised American sweet spot for foreign royalty. It is has long been obvious that uncritical deference to Israeli priorities has seriously undermined U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which would have benefitted much more from policies designed to encourage peace and stability by refraining from regime-changing interventions, massive arms sales, and a diplomacy of respect for the politics of national self-determination.

 

Most remarkably, the U.S. Government has for decades winked at the billions of support given by Saudi members of the royal family to Wahabism, that is, to promote fundamentalist Islam, throughout the Muslim world. The first words uttered by Trump on his arrival in Riyadh were that it ‘an honor’ to be visiting.

Then came signed deals adding up to $110 billions in arms sales and the declaration of a common strategic vision, that is, a super-alliance, called an ‘Arab NATO’ in some circles, a dagger aimed at Iran’s heart. Why turn a blind eye toward the Saudi role in fanning the flames of jihadism while ramping up a military threat to relatively passive Iran that reelected Hassan Rouhani as its president, who has consistently championed moderation at home and normalization abroad.

 

How can we explain this? Trump has been critical of most aspects of the foreign policy agenda of his predecessors, but on the promotion of the special relationships he seems intent on doubling down on the most misguided aspects of earlier approaches to the region. The shape of his travel itinerary during his days confirms this impression. In this regard, Trump repudiates Obama’s hesitant, but in the end successful, efforts to bring Iran in from the cold, while trying to please Saudi Arabia by ignoring its extreme denial of human rights to its own people as well as its contributions to anti-Western terrorism.

 

If Trump was truly intent on putting America first, as he insistently asserts, then he could do so very directly and effectively by taking three major steps toward the protection of national interests: first, demand a firm commitment from the Saudi government to cease using private funds and public diplomacy to spread Wahabism beyond its borders. Any credible public statement along these lines would weaken ISIS and other terrorist movements throughout the world far more than cascades of Tomahawk missiles dumped on a Syrian airfield. Such a challenge to Saudi policies also raises the possibility, however remote, of an endgame in the ‘war on terror.’ If such a reset of Saudi relations could be coupled with an indefinite freeze on arms sales to the Gulf countries that would have been even better, sending a signal throughout the region that America will no longer engage with the bloody conflicts that have brought so much suffering and devastation to the Middle East. This might give some belated meaning to ‘America first.’

 

The second step would have been even harder for an American president to take. It would require Trump to tell Mr. Netanyahu that no further military assistance for Israel would be authorized until an unconditional freeze on settlement expansion was in place and enforced, and the blockade of Gaza lifted once and for all.

 

It does not require a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies to appreciate that the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the region and the adoption of effective steps to minimize the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Islam would improve future prospects for this horrendously disrupted political realities, at last reducing tensions and risks of wars. Nor does it require special knowledge to identify the obstacles such actions—the one government that already possesses nuclear weapons and the government that feels threatened by a challenge to its regional preeminence. Saudi Arabia and Israel both regard Iran as enemy number one, although it poses no existential threat to either one, and Israel will not even discuss giving up its nuclear arsenal despite being assured by Washington that its qualitative edge in conventional weaponry relative to its neighbors will be upheld.

 

The special relationships block even the consideration of enlightened initiatives, take them entirely off the table. This contrasts with the American proclivity for coercive diplomacy, which always assertively leaves the military option on the table. Without tension-reducing measures, a few false moves could easily give rise to a major war with Iran, which might bring smiles to leaders in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, but would be disastrous for the societies involved and for the United States, as well as for the region.

 

Given the leverage and militancy of pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States, more realistically pursuing American national interests toward Israel and the Middle East, seems tantamount to issuing invitations to Trump’s beheading, and despite his wildly gyrations of policy and mood, he has shown no disposition whatsoever to take on AIPAC, inc.. Quite the contrary.

 

Of course, I am not so naïve to think that the advocacy of rationality in foreign policy will have the slightest echo in Washington in the course of Trump’s current diplomatic foray into uncharted territories. What I wish to point out is that this kind of foreign policy fantasy, however desirable if it were to be enacted, has become a species of political suicide. Any political leader who moved in more rational directions would be risking his own life, at least politically. The proposals mentioned above tells us what an American president should do if a rational and humane political system was in place and organized in such ways as to allow the pursuit of national interests, the realization of values associated with peace and human rights, and to attain the benefits of just and sustainable Isreali/Palestinian peace arrangements.

 

As long as these dysfunctional special relationships are relied upon to define American national interests in the Middle East, violent extremism and turmoil will persist, the authority of the United Nations and international law will suffer, and the credibility of American regional and global leadership will further erode. And maybe worst of all, the mounting ecological and nuclear challenges of global scope and apocalyptical risk will be remain unattended in what has become the greatest display of species indifference to its own survival throughout human history.

 

Mainstream advice on the Middle East being proffered to the Trump presidency by Beltway sharpshooters takes for granted the geopolitical status quo questioned above. The problems presented by the two special relationships are not even mentioned. Given these perspectives there are three broad kinds of approaches recommended for the region: (1) don’t aim too high, lower expectations, and don’t touch raw nerves in Israel or the Arab world (e.g. moving the American embassy to Jerusalem or telling Israel to dismantle the separation wall, stop expanding settlements, or handle the ongoing hunger strike humanely)[See Aaron David Miller, “From My Twenty Years of Failing at Middle East Peace,” Foreign Policy online, May 19, 2017]; (2) gang up on Iran, which will please both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and will have some positive resonance back in the United States [e.g. Michael Doran, “A Trump Plan for the Middle East,” NY Times, May 19, 2017]; (3) adopt the Israeli hard right view, now pushed within the United States, that the best road to ‘peace’ is to give Israel a green light to exert even greater pressure on the Palestinians to the point of their surrender. [a position repeatedly advocated by Daniel Pipes on the online listserv Middle East Forum and elsewhere, see Pipes, “The Way to Peace: Israeli Victory and Palestinian Defeat,” Commentary, Jan. 2017; Pipes boasts of his work with the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus that wants the U.S. Government to stop talking about ‘the two state solution,’ and support an Israeli shift from managing the status quo to launching a campaign to defeat Palestinians so decisively as to end the conflict.]

 

The first of these approaches is a cautionary warning to Trump the maker of grand deals not to exceed the boundaries of the feasible. The Israel/Palestine conflict is not ripe for resolution, Israel has no incentive or inclination to reach a fair compromise and even if it were, the Palestinians are currently too fragmented and poorly led to provide a reliable negotiating partner. The second geopolitically oriented approach makes matters worse, pushing the sectarian and secular divides in the direction of a regional confrontation, even combat. The third is geopolitically triumphalist, assuming that the Palestinians can be induced to give up their century old struggle, and go the way of other indigenous lost causes that have succumbed to predatory settler movements.

 

As Trump dominates the news by his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel we should not be tricked into thinking that his ‘achievements’ are hopeful developments. The only true beacons of hope for the peoples of the Middle East are the contrarian affirmations of the Palestinian hunger strike, the Rouhani electoral victory, and the BDS Campaign. The fact that such developments are ignored or condemned by the dominant political forces in the West should at least alert us to gathering storm clouds in that tormented region and elsewhere.