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Contra Israeli Apartheid

1 Dec

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a modified version of remarks made at the opening plenary session of the “1st Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid: Dimensions, Repercussions and the Means to Combat It,” 29-30 November 2019, Istanbul. The conference was held under the joint auspices of the Global Organization against Racial Discrimination & Segregation and the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World, with opening statements by the respective presidents of the two organizations, Rima Khalaf (who was the director of ESCWA at the time the apartheid study, “Israeli Practices toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was commissioned by ESCWA in 2016, and written by Professor Virginia Tilley and myself) and by Ali Kurt. The conference was loosely structured around the theme of updating our report since its release on March 15, 2017. The Conference Program is appended at the end of my remarks. The undertaking of the conference was also to launch a new NGO as named above, and formally established in Geneva, headed by Rima Khalaf, and devoted to opposing racism worldwide, with priority given to opposing Israel/Palestine apartheid.]

 

Contra Israeli Apartheid

 

Introductory Observations

Our experience with the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) as authorts of the Report owes so much to the courage, dedication, and vision of Rima Khalaf, and this conference is itself a testimonial to the leadership she exhibited. She had the audacity to treat the UN as if it were what it was meant to be– an independent body representing the peoples of the world that seeks truth, respects law, and promotes peace and justice. In the age of Trump to act honorably in this manner is obviously ‘politically incorrect,’ that is, daring to act in the most admirable possible way from the perspective of human interests.

 

The firestorm that greeted the release of our report, what might be described as a ‘HalleyStorm’ exceeded the hostile pushback we expected after the report was formally released by ESCWA. I thought such an academic study would go largely unnoticed except by the most ardent Zionist watchdogs, especially since the text was preceded by a very visible disclaimer distancing the UN and ESCWA from our analysis and recommendations. By overreacting our high-profile attackers at the UN seemed to miscalculate, or maybe putting it better, contented themselves with scoring points in the short game, while giving away many more points in the long game that will ultimately determine the outcome of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

The attention given at UN Headquarters in New York City by the defamatory attacks launched by Ambassadors Halley & Danon greatly increased interest in our report, especially in civil society circles. What has happened in the two plus years since the ESCWA release in March 2017 has been to normalize the use of ‘apartheid’ to describe the Israeli/Palestine relationship, and governing structure, particularly in civil society circles. More than this, the apartheid discourse has influentially eroded, if not altogether superseded, the emphasis on ‘ending occupation’ as the clarion call of those seeking a sustainable and just peace for Israel and Palestine. In illuminating contrast, the report exerted little influence on the inter-governmental or formal UN discourse, which continued the zombie practice of dwelling on the occupation and placing hopes and bets on the two-state solution. I think there exists a growing consensus among pro-Palestinian activists that ending Israel apartheid as doctrine and practice now constitutes the one and only path to a sustainable peace. Of course, total ethnic cleansing or genocide is an outcome too distasteful to contemplate, leading to what should be termed an ‘unjust peace’ or ‘imposed peace’ and certainly not ‘a peaceful solution.’ Unfortunately, it has historical resonance whenever the context is one of settler colonialism. Resistance encountered in several settler colonial settings including the United States, Canada, and Australia resulted in the suppression, marginalization, and dispossession of the native people, and on occasion by genocidal means.

 

Conceptually and existentially our report revealed the links between allegations and findings relating to apartheid as a criminalized form of racism in international criminal law to a sinister politics of fragmentation and dispersal by which Israel has victimized and subjugated the Palestinian people in a variety of ways. What made this linkage of fragmentation and apartheid so important was that it was an inclusive way of understanding the scope of the distinctiveness of Israeli apartheid, embracing refugees, exiles, minority, and occupied Palestine in a single indivisible framework of victimization by way of racist domination of one ethnicity over another. This meant that if apartheid, as thus understood, were to be credibly dismantled, it would have to give equal status to Palestinians formerly marginalized or ignored by the long prevailing peace formula of expectations arising from an emphasis on the ‘land for peace’ slogan. In this manner our study privileges ‘people’ as distinguished from ‘territory’ as the core of the challenge of finding that elusive path leading to sustainable and just peace, as distinguished from the geopolitically manipulated Oslo peace process, which could never have achieved, even if an agreement had somehow emerged, more than a ceasefire disguised by being proclaimed by the negotiating parties as a permanent solution, or even worse, as ‘the deal of the century.’

 

We understand our task at this conference to be partly one of updating our ESCWA study in light of what has transpired since March 15, 2017 and partly to draw some interpretative perspectives and policy implications that derive from the study but were not contained in it. We have submitted separate updating papers that summarize our understanding of the changes relevant to the apartheid discourse as applied to Israel. In the papers we express somewhat differing understandings on some secondary issues, although in complete agreement on the core issue of the evidence support. Yet more significant is our shared acceptance of the basic apartheid framework as indispensable for useful analysis and policy formation, which is joined to our belief that dismantling apartheid, as we have conceptualized it, is the one and only gateway to sustainable peace between these two peoples. Underneath this conviction is my somewhat counterintuitive  view that Israeli Jews would also be beneficiaries of the ending apartheid in Israel just as the white South Africans were 25 years ago.

 

 

Problematics of Ethnocracy and Partition: Decoding the Zionist Project

Although not part of the original study, understanding the development of the dominant tendencies in the Zionist movement is crucial for the changing character of the relationship between Zionism and the relevance of the right of self-determination to the particular circumstances in Palestine. Of central relevance is the specific nature of Zionist opportunism when it comes to shaping policy. It changes through time, and is most basically expressed by grasping at what is available at each stage, without considering what was sought at prior stages or treating an acceptance of what was being offered in the present as the end of the road. From seeming to settle for a homeland, rather than a state in the Balfour/League formulations to the reluctant acceptance of the partition approach foisted on Palestine after World War II, to the current posture of, in effect, calling for Palestinian surrender in their own homeland, Zionism has kept raising its expectations ever closer to its underlying ambitions and its interpretation of the relevant balances of power and influence internally, regionally, and globally.

 

In many ways, and less often articulated, the Palestinian national movement for understandable reasons has taken what seems an opposite approach to that of the Zionist Project and later Israeli leadership. Palestinians quite reasonably rejected as unacceptable what was being offered to them at every stage of the conflict, which had they accepted it would have been seen as a political defeat. And somewhat ironically, the White House handshake between Rabin and Arafat symbolizing the mutual acceptance of the Oslo framework to resolve the conflict, which was portrayed at the time as a dramatic breakthrough leading to peace, turned out to be a disastrous tactical move by the Palestinian leadership. Oslo diplomacy allowed Israeli propagandists to portrays the Palestinian leadership as rejectionist as it seemed to be insisting on demands that were non-negotiable when what it was actually doing was trying to do was to avoid further encroachments on Palestinian land and rights, which were being continually diminished on the ground and by way of partisan brokered diplomacy. As Israelis consistently looked ahead on the basis of ever higher expectations, Palestinians looked backward in time ready to settle at a later stage for what they had rejected as a previous stage. Illustratively, when partition gave Palestinians 45% of the territory it seemed like and was treated as a totally unacceptable external fracturing of the unity of Palestine as a territorial polity and a disregard of the most elemental rights of its majority population, but later on the Palestinian leadership seemed ready to accept even 22% of Mandate Palestine as the boundaries of their greatly shrunken state. By then Israel, in contrast, was insisting on the total control of Jerusalem, a variety of security infringements on Palestinian sovereignty, including border control and permanent Palestinian demilitarization, as well, of course, as retention of the unlawful settlement blocs established on territory occupied in 1967. The Palestine Papers, document disclosing later secret direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, involve a portrayal of this clash between Palestinian expectations then lowered even below the 22% threshold as Israeli actions and demands were no longer content with a mere 78% of the land, positing demands in various devastating ways on the Palestinian territorial remnant, including even diverting the water aquifers of the West Bank. It is worth noting that what Israel seemed to be demanding in its pre-Trump diplomacy was the Gazaization of any future Palestine entity, that is, Gaza after the Sharon disengagement plan was put into operation in 2005 that did involve the withdrawal of IDF occupation force, really their redeployment and even the dismantling of Israel settlements.

 

In addition to Zionist opportunism and this distorted picture of Palestinian rejectionism in relation to respective diplomatic postures, there are two other features of Zionist practice that have undermined the Palestinian pursuit of basic rights. First, the hegemonic political discourse used at any given time is calibrated by Israel to fit changing external circumstances of constraint and opportunity. In recent times, without Trump, and possibly lacking Saudi approval, for instance, it is doubtful that Israel would have moved to annex the Golan Heights or engaged in actions to treat the settlements as incorporated into Israel as a matter of law, although both moves were undoubtedly featured on the actual long-range Zionist agenda even if not  realizable under present conditions. Secondly, the disclosed changing Israeli policy agenda at each stage in the evolution of the struggle never corresponded with the actual, and relatively fixed, agenda. Perhaps, very recently this dual agenda is no longer part of the Zionist tactical approach as the Netanyahu/Kushner victory scenario is being quietly and misleadingly promoted as a. strategic endgame for the struggle. This coming into the open is coupled with an insidious suggestion that Israel tighten even further the apartheid screws to compel a Palestinian surrender, or as phrased by its advocates, the unfinished Zionist business being to convince the Palestinian leadership of the reality of their ‘lost cause.’

 

The apartheid discourse seems useful in demonstrating that this kind of Israeli endgame will not finish the struggle but merely prolong it, at most, generating yet another ceasefire that is almost certain to be followed by yet another intifada, or some other expression of resurgent Palestinian resistance. The world might is currently ignoring the significance of the sustained and innovative resistance under the most difficult circumstances of the Great March of Return. Palestinians and their supporters understand this dramatic form of resistance for what it is, a decisive repudiation of ‘the lost cause’ endgame, which is itself the more discreet form of describing the victory scenario. This scenario has been given its most forthright formulation by the Zionist extremist, Daniel Pipes, which can be viewed in all its crass ugliness on the pages of his website vehicle, Middle East Forum. The essential argument put forth by Pipes is that diplomacy has been tried and failed, and now is the time to end the conflict by its coercive resolution, which means making clear that Israel has won and Palestine has lost. All that remains to be done is to make the Palestinians see this reality, and since they stubbornly refuse to do, apply force and various types of soft power aggression until they finally give into the pain, and accept their defeat by a formal acknowledgement of surrender.

 

I believe this context makes the apartheid diagnosis and prescription more important than ever, first to grasp the full existential scope of the Palestinian ordeal, and then to envision that despite everything that has transpired, peaceful coexistence on the basis of realizing a regime of ethnic equality remains a possibility, and indeed it is the only positive alternative to permanent conflict or further ethnic cleansing.

 

We know that the present arrangement of forces, regionally and geopolitically will not last forever. It currently appears extremely favorable to Israel, but if the next phase of Arab awakening brings to power leaders more receptive to the views and values of their own people, the Arab politics of accommodation and appeasement would likely be quickly repudiated, and replaced overnight by a more confrontational approach. And even the current hyper-partisan support of the United States is not assured. If the Republicans are defeated in 2020 presidential elections, the policy toward Israel is likely to revert to its earlier posture of partisanship rather than its present absurd hyper-partisanship. This means, in more concrete terms, a revival of mainstream ‘liberal Zionist’ advocacy of a two-state solution and a diplomacy based on a supposed need for mutual political compromise. It was the approach most clearly articulated and promoted in the American presidencies of Clinton and Obama. Of course, without changes within Israel this revival of liberal Zionism as the basis of American foreign policy will not reverse or diminish Israeli expectations or end the Palestinian ordeal. For this reason, whether Trumpism persists or is replaced by a more moderate presidency, the responsibility for a sustainable peace will depend on the growth and deepening of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in all societal settings, which include governments, the UN, and above all, civil society.

 

Even if we achieve a civil society consensus on this apartheid analysis, it will not be enough to produce change. We need also to act on the basis that ending Israeli apartheid is the one and only path to peace. In the present setting, it is also evident that neither diplomacy nor the UN will endorse the apartheid analysis unless pushed very hard from below, and even many segments of the Palestinian leadership and movement are reluctant to do so. In this sense, work remains on the level of ideas organization as it is crucial to achieve a higher degree of doctrinal and organizational unity than presently exists.

 

For action, with the notable exception of South Africa and a few other governments, this burden of action principally falls on civil society at this stage. We can hope that with an expanding movement of people more governments and the UN may be gradually led to join the effort. What the South African precedent tells us is that what seemed impossible until it happened, became possible all of a sudden because sufficient pressure had been brought to bear over time by robust resistance within and militant solidarity efforts without. Over time this combination of pressures exerted sufficient pressures on the Afrikaner leadership to bring about its tactical transformation. There was no change of heart, but a recognition that the cost of maintaining apartheid were too high, and that many of the white privileges of apartheid could be retained by negotiating the replacement of political and legal apartheid by a multi-racial constitutional order. It goes without saying that Israel is not South Africa, and that Palestinians remain disunited with respect to representation and lack the sort of inspirational leadership that proved to be so valuable in the South African anti-apartheid movement. At the same time, we should never forget that the anti-colonial flow of history remains the dominant international trend of our time, and may yet bring the Israeli elite to their senses. A genuine post-apartheid peace will benefit Jews and Palestinians alike—this is the affirmation of peace and justice that follows from the negation of apartheid.

 

On the basis of present analysis and past experience we know what needs to be done, and so now the main challenge needs to be met in the doing, with a vigilant eye toward ever changing circumstances of struggle, constraints as well as opportunities.

 

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

1st Global Conference on Dimensions, Repercussions of Israeli Apartheid And the Means to Combat it

Istanbul, 29-30 November 2019

DAY 1: Friday 29 November 2019

3:00-3:45 (p.m.) Opening Session

4:00-6:00 Plenary session I: The Israeli Apartheid Regime and its Impact on our Understanding of the Conflict and the Paths to its Resolution.
Chair: Dr. Nadim Rouhana

  1. Israeli policies and practices and the question of apartheid (Apartheid Report launch).

Professor Richard Falk

  1. Implications of the apartheid paradigm: rethinking the conflict, its origins and its resolution. Professor Virginia Tilley
  2. Denial of Palestinian refugees’ and exiles’ the right to return: the most overtly racist policy. Professor Joseph Massad

Open discussion

1

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

DAY 2: Saturday 30 November 2019

09:00-11:00 Plenary session II: Dimensions, tools and repercussions of Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Dr. Kamel Hawwash, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, UK

  1. Palestinian citizens of Israel: institutionalized discrimination and the struggle for equality. Dr. Muhannad Mustafa, General Manager of Mada Al-Carmel
  2. Israeli Apartheid in the earlier years (1948-1966): its objectives and tools, and the Palestinian Struggle to survive it. Prof Adel Manna, Palestinian history Professor
  3. Palestinians in the territories occupied since 1967 in the face of direct military occupation and racial discrimination. Prof. Zekeriya Kursun
  4. Palestinians in Jerusalem and the overt displacement policies. Prof Rasem Khamaisi, CPS Center for Planning and Studies
  5. Policies of impoverishment and economic dependency for control and domination in Palestine. Mohammed Samhouri

Open discussion

11:00-11:30 BREAK

11:30 – 13:30 Plenary session III: Consequences of Apartheid and Implications for the region and the World

Chair: Dr. Elias Khoury

  1. Repercussions of Israeli apartheid on the value system in Palestine/Israel, and the region. EliaZureik,ProfessorEmeritusofSociologyatQueen’sUniversityinOntario, Canada
  2. Research and knowledge gaps on Israeli Apartheid. Haider Eid, Associate Professor at al-Aqsa University, Gaza, (will join through skype or send a recorded speech)
  3. Israel’s new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, and its implications on the peace treaties and agreements signed by Israel with Jordan, Egypt, and the PLO. Dr. Anis Kassim
  4. Racial discrimination and segregation in Palestine, from the perspective of international human rights law. Av. Suleyman Arslan – Lawyer, Turkey
  5. Apartheid is a Crime, Victims and Witnesses in Palestine. Mats Svensson

Open discussion

 

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Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

13:30-3:00

Lunch break

3:00-5:30 Plenary session IV: Strategies and Paths for the Struggle Against Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Prof Refik Korkusuz, Dean of Humanities Faculty, Turkey

  1. Apartheid, occupation, and settler colonialism: Palestinian strategies for liberation and attaining justice. Ali Abu Nimah, co-founder and executive director of The Electronic Intifada
  2. Countering Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Receb Songul
  3. Role of civil society organizations and youth movements around the world in combating the Israeli apartheid regime. Marie Crawley, Chair of the Ireland Palestine Alliance, Sadaka
  4. Role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in dismantling the Israeli apartheid regime. Hani Al-Masri, director general of Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies.
  5. BDS and the role of advocacy in the struggle to combat apartheid. Tisetso Magama, BDS SA Board Member.
  6. Dismantling the Israeli Apartheid Regime as a precondition for justice, equality, and peace for all. Haneen Zoabi, former Arab member of the Israeli Knesset.

Open discussion

5:30-6:30 Concluding Session and Press Conference

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

 

3

 

Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, Congress, and the Future of American Democracy

15 Mar

The Ilhan Omar Incident: A Zionist Witch Hunt?

[Prefatory Note: the post below is somewhat modified text of my responses to a series of questions posed by Daniel Falcone with whom I have done several prior online interview. This interview was published under a different title by CounterPunch on March 14, 2019. It addresses the attack upon the Somali born Ilhan Omar, elected from the 5thCongressional District to the U.S. House of Representative in the November 2018 midterm electios. Omar was sharply attacked, defamed, and threatened for making comments about Israeli influence on American lawmaking that were alleged to be anti-Semitic, or more precisely, ‘anti-Semitic tropes.’ The issues raised are important both to suggest continuing. Reliance by pro-Israeli militants on these kinds of tactics, and for the fact that there was an encouraging willingness of some mainstream refusal to acquiesce. The attack on Omar has been so far blunted in Congress, but the real test will come in 2020 when Omar runs for reelection. Falcone’s questions raise issues about the nature of anti-Semitism, the relevance of Islamophobia to this incident, and the complex and confusing relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism.]

1) Daniel Falcone: Going back to when this all started about a month ago, can you briefly remind readers of what your initial reactions were to Ilhan Omar’s tweets and to the course of events that quickly followed soon after? Did she misspeak? Isn’t the Lobby small potatoes compared to official US policy in the first place? 

 

Richard Falk: When I first heard these comments by Ilhan Omar I was glad that there was a new voice in Congress that would speak up on behalf of the Palestinian people so long subjected to a daily ordeal whether they are living under occupation, as a discriminated minority in Israel, or in refugee camps in occupied Palestine and neighboring countries, or existing in involuntary exile. My core reaction was to welcome such an expression of solidarity from a member of Congress that the Palestinian people need and deserve.

 

Although I agreed with her critical remarks on AIPAC, and later on the dual loyalty of some Americans when it comes to Israel, they struck me as familiar and so accurately descriptive as to have become almost innocuous truisms. How wrong I was!  On further consideration, it became clear to me that her remarks (of course, exaggerated in their intended meaning by being torn from the wider context of her full statements and then twisted to give the anti-Semitic spin plausibility) were treated as inflammatory not so much because of their content, but because of their source, a black-Muslim-American woman, and her statusas a newly elected member of Congress. The essence of what she had to say was unremarkable, hardly the stuff of fiery radicalism. Omar tried herself to quiet things down, quickly apologizing for what she was made to feel might have unintentionally been hurtful to Jews. Such a move convincingly distanced her from the charge of real anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews). Her offending message was true yet obvious, attaining importance only because she was a newly elected congressperson willing to so declare her concerns about the way Washington works in high visibility settings: “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.” And “I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

 

 

 

The overblown response to these Omar tweets and public comments had the effect of mobilizing the liberal and Christian Zionist establishments in and out of Congress. These groups pressed Democrats in Congress to give concreteness to their allegations of anti-Semitism by their angry calls for apologies, retractions, and censure. Those outraged insisted that the home truths Rep. Ilhan Omar dared speak were nothing less than ‘familiar anti-Semitic tropes.’ This expansion of anti-Semitism from its base meaning, the hatred of Jews, is a tactic being used to spread the net of anti-Semitism much wider. This referral to ‘tropes’ is an insidious way of substituting ‘political correctness’ for the transparencies of truthfulness. Once this enlarged anti-Semitic card is on the table, the accuracy or inaccuracy of Omar’s statements becomes irrelevant, and any attempt by the person so accused to justify their assertions by pointing to the facts only aggravates the sin, and reinforces the allegation. In effect, freedom of expression takes a back seat when an irresponsible so-called ‘anti-Semitic trope’ is invoked by defaming critics.

 

There is a historical basis for this extension of Jew hatred to various allegations about Jewish power or conspiracies of which ‘Holocaust denial’ and ‘a Jewish conspiracy to run the world’ are prominent. Such allegations are usually made in bad faith with intention to frighten and anger the non-Jewish world, and are not supported by respectable evidence. The Holocaust did take place, although the exact number of Jews and others who lost their lives remains in some doubt, and could be responsibly discussed. Such allegations are different than suggesting issues of lobbying influence and dual loyalty where the evidence overwhelmingly supports the contention, and is fair comment in a democratic society that honors freedom of expression.

 

Discrediting a person by invoking the abstraction of anti-Semitic tropes is even more problematic when the speaker has a status that bestows prestige and is capable of wielding influence. It has been extremely helpful to Israel over the decades to have virtual unanimity in the U.S. Congress on any agenda item that touches its interests or assesses its behavior. It puts critics of Israel in the larger society on the defensive, and makes support for Israel seemed so entrenched and bipartisan as to become virtually untouchable. This makes opposition to any important pro-Israel initiative, for instance annual appropriations for military assistance, politically untenable, although there are many reasons to question such a commitment given Israel’s behavior and capabilities. This condition of unanimity in Congress has been highly effective in the past in suppressing doubts and criticisms. It has made anyone politically foolish enough to defy this disciplinary consensus exceedingly vulnerable to defeat in the next scheduled election. Such persons have been effectively targeted in the past, and yes, by AIPAC, rich Zionist donors, and pro-Israeli Christian lobbies. As well, the likely lucky opponent of such a candidate has trouble spending all the money pouring into his or her campaign coffers.

 

This pattern of ‘enforcing’ unanimity can be traced back at least as far as the experience of Paul Findley, a courageous, moderate, and humanly decent Congressman from Illinois, who was blacklisted and politically defeated after serving ten terms in the House of Representatives. He was targeted after raising his voice to decry the unbalanced approach relied on by the U.S. Government to manage the Israel/Palestine relationship. Ever since he lost his House seat in 1982 Findley has devoted himself to exposing and criticizing the role that AIPAC plays in national political life. His conclusions are similar to those reached by Omar. For Findley’s account of this pattern see his important book They Dare Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby (1985, 2003).

It is not only Findley that has been targeted over the years, but several others who fall afoul of AIPAC’s disciplinary code, including such distinguished figures as Charles Percy, Adlai Stevenson III, Pete McCloskey, and above all, Cynthia McKinney, the only woman and African American on this honor roll. To deny or obscure such a cause and effect relationship is tantamount to swallowing the Kool Aid of Zionist thought control. I can only wonder whether Congresswoman Omar was aware of this background when she decided to speak out forcefully, and if she did, it reinforces the impression that she is a fearless warrior for social and political justice.

 

Status matters in these campaigns to defame critics of Israel. When someone as globally prominent as Richard Goldstone associated his name with a UN factfinding inquiry into Israeli wrongdoing arising from its 2008-09 attack on Gaza he suffered mightily from the backlash. The Report reached conclusions critical of Israel that were fact-based, yet rather restrained given the incriminating evidence, and carefully documented. Impressions of fairness were further strengthened by coupling the accusations against Israel with harsh denunciations of Hamas’ unlawful acts of retaliation. Such characteristics of the Report did nothing to tone down the fury of Israeli reactions, which singled out Goldstone with vituperative rage. Although Goldstone was at the time a widely admired international figure who had won international acclaim for his anti-apartheid role in South Africa, neither his eminence nor his legal professionalism protected him from the slash-and-burn tactics of his detractors. Quite the contrary.

 

The heaviest available defamatory artillery was deployed by Israel’s top leaders to mount an intense attack on his person and reputation. Despite his lifelong Zionist connections, Goldstone was denounced, censured at the highest levels of government in Israel with the negative chorus joined by several leading political figures in the U.S. He was even accused of authoring ‘a blood libel’ against the Jewish people. It turned out that Goldstone couldn’t withstand these pressures and backed down in humiliating fashion without the support of any of the three other distinguished members of the UN commission team. With this retraction, Goldstone totally lost the respect of the human rights community without regaining respectability among Zionists. Goldstone’s turnaround demonstrates how effective these Israeli tactics can be in silencing much more vulnerable critics than Goldstone, evading truth, and shifting the policy conversation from the message (in his instance, the Report) to the messenger.

 

My own analogous experience at a much lower level of international visibility was rather similar. As long as I was a dissenting professor on Israel/Palestine, I was more or less ignored, but when I was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine all hell broke loose. I received death threats and hate mail calling me many names, but concentrating on depicting me as ‘a notorious anti-Semite’ and ‘a self-hating Jew.’ This campaign of defamation continued unabated during my six years holding this UN position, yet immediately after my term ended in 2014 the attacks subsided, although they were revived in 2017 when a UN report that I jointly authored was released. The report contained a carefully constructed argument that available evidence established that Israel was an apartheid state according to the criteria of international criminal law. Unlike Goldstone, I refused to back down or shut up, and for this stubbornness I paid a different kind of price.

 

The experience of Ilhan Omar is, of course, more extreme and revealing than mine. It is a grim reminder that whenever African Americans are allowed on the plantation, they are slapped down harshly if they become ‘uppity.’ Although born and raised in Somalia, Omar was nevertheless perceived as uppity in this homegrown American sense. There is a Jim Crow element present that has been extended, especially since 9/11, to Muslims as well as to African Americans. A large part of what is operating here is to portray Ilhan Omer as an anti-Semite because it is not politically correct to be overtly Islamophobic, but it is quite all right to be indirectly so beneath the banner of solidarity with Israel.

 

In effect, it is bad enough if Muslims are seen, and worse, if they are heard, and still worse if they somehow obtain an official platform from which to speak, and worst of all, if they use this platform to speak out in ways that expose truths long swept under the rug. To some degree the racist mentality directed previously at African Americans has shifted its center of gravity to Muslims, and reaches fever levels, when the perceived offender is not only Muslim but also African American, and not only a political dissenter, but a female critic of Israel.

 

Recent events confirm that the orchestrated backlash becomes more vicious if the criticism of Israel issues forth from the mouth of a person of color who enjoys a high intellectual or cultural status. The Temple professor, Marc Lamont Hill, was almost instantly dismissed from his role as a commentator and consultant to CNN merely because he used the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ to describe Palestinian rights in the course of a judicious and humane speech on the conditions of a true peace between Israel and Palestine delivered at the UN a few months ago. Like Omar, Hill responded to the upsurge of hostile pressures by offering an explanatory apology for any misunderstanding he might have unintentionally caused. He eventually managed to survive demands that he be dismissed from his tenured professorship at Temple. Even so, the public pounding Hill endured surely sent a chilling message to others throughout the country who might be tempted to speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights. One suspects that even though his name has been formally cleared, Hill is likely to experience a sharp decline in the number of invitations he receives to speak at academic conferences at least for five years or so.

 

In other words, whether knowingly or not, Illhan Omar poked her head into this lion’s den, and it has had consequences that are probably beyond her imagining at the time she spoke out. Omar definitely touched a raw nerve by so defiantly challenging this bipartisan consensus and the Congressional ethos to refrain from public criticisms of Israel and its support system. Particularly when her comments seemed to be saying that it is impossible to reconcile such displays of loyalty to a foreign country with the obligations of an elected American official to give priority to national interests.

 

 

2) Daniel Falcone: On December 13, 2011 Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in reference to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to US Congress that the “ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” He received some criticism for it, but no liberal called it an “anti-Semitic trope” either literally or in proportion to the reaction of Omar’s word choice. Can you unpack the difference between Friedman saying this and Omar, for I noticed a real difference in the reactions as did others.

 

Richard Falk: My prior remarks sets the stage for my response to this question. Friedman’s stature and generally supportive role for Israeli policies, although acutely critical of Netanyahu, led even most militant supporters of Israel to construe his comments as narrowly confined to the controversy surrounding the international agreement reached during the Obama presidency to regulate Iran’s nuclear program. The strong Israeli objections to the nuclear deal so scrupulously negotiated with Iran bothered many Jews, even including many Zionists. As suggested, Friedman although prominent and influential, did not have an official position in government or an international institution, and the defiant Netanyahu speech in the U.S. Congress on a question not primarily directly related to Israel was widely perceived as offensive, and viewed as a test of the outer limits of bipartisanship with respect to Israel. The whole episode seemed primarily intended by Netanyahu’s Republican hosts as a slap at the Obama presidency, and his nuclear diplomacy.

 

On the occasion of the Ilhan Omar controversy, Friedman was characteristically careful to couple his criticisms of the Israeli approach to security issues under Netanyahu with affirmations of a continuing belief in the sanctity of the Jewish state and an avowal of a two-state solution as still the only solution that could be feasible and might at some point be negotiable. [See his “Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, and me,” with the super-revealing and self-serving sub-head, “The congresswoman and I have a lot in common — but not her stance on Israel,”NY Times, March 6, 2019,] This continues to be the liberal Zionist line, but it is rather self-contradictory. Any close observer should realize that the broad spectrum of Israeli public opinion now is definitely opposed to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions.  The Likud has by way of legitimating and accelerating the settlement movement has acted to foreclose a two-state solution as a feasible political option. Friedman is neither a fool nor uninformed. He too must be aware of this. It prompts raising a question parallel to that suggested by the title of a Murakami work of fiction, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.My question: What is Friedman really talking about when he talks about the two-state solution?

 

Friedman’s earlier remarks were framed around the particular event of Netanyahu’s speech, and were not formulated to be heard as a general indictment of AIPAC or to call attention of his readers to the disproportionate influence exerted by pro-Israeli viewpoints on foreign policy. Some years ago when John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt published The Israel Lobbytheir book was sharply attacked as anti-Semitic because it mounted a general argument about the distortion of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The central contention of the book was that American foreign policy quite often was bent to accommodate Israel’s national interests at the expense of American regional interests in the Middle East. The authors were, of course, not members of Congress and the anti-Semitic slur of their accusers never became a matter of public debate. Mearsheimer and Walt possessed impeccable academic credentials backed up by senior appointments at leading universities. In their case, the Zionist pushback was not very severe or sustained, although it was serious enough to tarnish their mainstream media acceptability to some extent. Objectively, it was absurd to attack these academic experts, both known to me personally, who are above all prominent in the field of international relations as ‘political realists.’ As such, it should be evident that they were not motivated by any particular empathy for the Palestinians or hostility to Jews, but were acting on their consistently expressed belief that a rational foreign policy must be based on interests of the nationand not be shaped by pressures mounted by special interests of an ethnic minority, private sector actors, or a foreign government.

 

What is paramount to observe when comparing Friedman to Omar is the reality of double standards. Ilhan Omar became especially vulnerable because she is Muslim, African, and an immigrant, as well as being a newly elected member of Congress. If as a private citizen she had made these comments back in Minnesota with tweets or at a community meeting in her neighborhood, it might have produced some angry reactions from local Zionist activists, but no wider ripples. If she held a still higher public office in Washington than at present the attack on her would likely have been even more intense, as Jimmy Carter discovered when he titled his unwaveringly moderate book on Israel/Palestine ‘Peace or Apartheid’ The book was essentially a plea for peace and a prudent warning about the consequences of kicking the can further and further down the road.

 

 

3) Daniel Falcone: In this entire conversation, not many people are mentioning how anti-Semitic Zionism is, and it’s something sadly under discussed in educated US opinion. Can you unpack this for me?

 

Richard Falk: This is an entirely appropriate question that goes to the heart of what might be described as ‘the use and misuse of anti-Semitism’ in political discourse. The issues raised are complicated because there are variations based on place, time, and historical circumstances.

 

Of course, the shocking suggestion that Zionism can be responsibly accused of anti-Semitism is treated as an affront by almost every Zionists and most Jews. Jews have been brainwashed to an extent that they believe strongly that Zionism is unconditionally dedicated to providing sanctuary for Jews in a Jewish sovereign state, and to the practical necessity of achieving this goal combined with its biblical justifications and its anticipated success in restoring Jewish self-esteem individually and collectively. Yet there were some anti-Semitic sentiments (tropes if non-Zionists had so declared) in the writings of Herzl and Weizmann, the intellectual fathers of the Zionist movement, decrying the image and behavior of Jews in the diaspora, almost vindicating their non-acceptance by the hegemonic political cultures and social structures of Europe.

 

It is also true that Zionism has from its origins has been understandably preoccupied with the establishment and security of a Jewish state, and since 1948 fiercely defensive of Israel. Yet Zionism has always exhibited a pragmatic and opportunistic side that made it at all stages seem beneficial for the Zionist movement to work jointly, even collaboratively, with the most extreme anti-Semitic forces unleashed in Europe after World War I or in the regional neighborhood and global setting that Israel inhabits.

 

In this regard, the Zionist vision of a Jewish state in ‘the promised land’ of Palestine should be appreciated as an extreme utopian conception at its outset. We should remember that at the time the Zionist movement was formally launched in 1897 the Jewish population of Palestine was 8%, and when the Balfour Declaration pledging support for a Jewish homeland was issued in 1917, the Jewish population had only risen to 8.1%. How in the world could Zionists in an era of rising nationalism around the world hope to establish a Jewish state in what was clearly a non-Jewish society? This was the animating puzzle that has haunted the Zionism in the course of becoming a political project rather than a utopian phantasy. One might. contend that Israel would never have come into existence without this streak of Zionist opportunism, putting the need to increase the Jewish population of Palestine above all other considerations.

 

Without entering into the details of a complicated history, the grounds on which a kind of Zionist anti-Semitism was erected, involved persuading, and in some instances coercing Jews to emigrate to Palestine. In other words, only by making life in the diaspora unbearable for Jews could the Zionist project advance towards its goals in Palestine. In this sense, the rise of hatred of Jews throughout Europe, and especially Germany, in the period after World War I was a crucial contribution to making the Palestine option realistic. Beyond this, the anti-Semitic leadership in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, as well as Nazi Germany, had a common interest with Zionism in inducing Jewish emigration as they had a demographic motivation complementary to that of the Zionists, namely, reducing the number of Jews in their country to as low level as possible. This led the Polish Government to help train elite Zionist militias and supply weapons so that the Zionist penetration of Palestine would not meet with failure when it encountered Arab resistance. In other words, diaspora Jews were being manipulated, including after World War II, to choose Palestine rather than other destinations. Even those Jews who managed to survive the death camps of the Holocaust were manipulated after World War II to choose Palestine rather than other non-European destinations.

 

Since Israel was established it has struggled to gain acceptance as a legitimate state. It did gain entry into the UN, but it was subject to aggressive hostility from its Arab neighbors and from widespread

pro-Palestinians sentiments in the global South. Faced with such threats Israel embarked upon an opportunistic foreign policy inconsistent with its professed values. It made whatever foreign friends it could even bonding to the extent possible with anti-Semitic governments and civil society movements. Netanyahu has developed cordial relations with the unabashedly anti-Semitic leader, Viktor Orban of Hungary, and Israel supplies weapons and police training to many extreme rightest governments. Israel also courted the support of Christian Zionism, which while fanatically pro-Israeli is anti-Semitic in the prime sense of wanting Jews to leave America and elsewhere. Only when all Jews return to Israel will their evangelical reading of the Book of Revelations be vindicated because only then would the Second Coming of Jesus occur. Jews would then be given a rather humiliating choice of converting to Christianity or face damnation.

 

 

 

 

4) Daniel Falcone: Noam Chomsky mentioned this past summer how Israel was losing its support as the “darling of liberal America” as it moved more and more to support right-wing regimes in the era of Trump. At the time, it made much sense but this seems to be incredibly short lived. Does his type of observation reflect the purpose of the recent backlash?

 

Richard Falk: I believe these two divergent developments are occurring. simultaneously and are connected with one another. There are many confirmations of weakening public support for Israel due to many factors, and it would seem that the citizenry in America has been ready in recent years to accept as a positive initiative presidential moves toward a more balanced approach. Such an approach to be credible would have to confront several difficult issues. The U.S. would have to react against flagrant violations of international humanitarian law arising from Israeli reliance on excessive force in responding to the Palestinian demonstrations at the Gaza fence that have occurred every Friday throughout the entire year. Beyond this, a balanced approach would have to voice support for the Palestinian right of self-determination based on the equality of the two peoples. Even more ambitiously, if the objective of American diplomacy was to promote a sustainable peace rather than a ceasefire, Israel would have to be pressed to dismantle the apartheid structures it has relied upon to subjugate the Palestinian people and crush resistance over decades to the imposition of a Jewish state on an essentially non-Jewish society. If these steps were to be taken the foundation for an authentic peace process would finally have been laid. On such firm ground a political compromise is  imaginable relying on mechanisms for peaceful coexistence, human rights, and mutual respect. If this were to happen it could finally shape a benevolent future for both peoples.

 

Because Israe is losing this base of unconditional support in the liberal sectors of American society, the. pushback by pro-Israeli militants has grown uglier, and more severe, verging on the desperate, mainly relying on defamation while foregoing appeals to reason, ethics, and law. From this perspective, to keep Congress on board with respect to Israel has become more important than ever as a means to insulate policymaking from a potentially threatening democratic turn that is more critical of Israel and its policies. As with gun control, taxation, and the legalization of marijuana, the preferences of the citizenry can be indefinitely blocked by money and lobbying. The Palestinian cause has been. heretofore at a particular disadvantage in Congress due to its inability to mobilize countervailing forces to challenge and fracture the pro-Israel consensus. This has created a mindlessly one-sided phenomenon, defying evidence and law, that can only be understood as ‘the deformation of democracy.’ For a person in Congress to express their true beliefs or to honor their conscience by opposing Israel has in the past amounted to political suicide, while covering up Israeli wrongdoing has no down side whatsoever for elected officials. This has never been healthy.

 

The most intriguing question posed by the Ilhan Omar incident is whether the pro-Israeli tide is finally turning in Washington. On the one side, are the vigorous AIPAC style enforcers punishing any member of Congress that seems to be challenging the bipartisan consensus. On the other side, is a recognition that there is growing sympathy for the Palestinian people, and that it is time to reset American policy on Israel/Palestine, and indeed toward the whole of the Middle East. In retrospect, it seems that pro-Israeli neocons helped push the United States to launch the disastrous Iraq War in 2003, and is now, with the full backing of the Trump White House edging toward an even more disastrous war initiated against Iran.  

 

The reformulation of a House resolution intended to condemn as anti-Semitism the sort of allegations of collective Jewish influence has been called ‘a political earthquake’ because it disclosed previously non-existent tensions within the ranks of the Democratic Party on how to respond to Omar’s controversial statements, which signals a definite weakening of the earlier consensus. As with the Angela Davis turnaround in Birmingham, there may now be expanded space and protection for criticism of Israel and less fear of the Zionist enforcers. Significantly, also, several Democratic presidential aspirants, including Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have spoken in defense of Ilhan Omar. The dust has yet to settle altogether, but even this degree of ferment may portend better times ahead.

 

 

 

 

5) Daniel Falcone: Lawrence Davidson recently pointed out how pro-Palestinian politicians will have to carefully craft their language to prevent the intentional distortion of their words. Since he wrote this however, it seems that no matter how careful their words are, Omar’s or others, rebukes will be commonplace as a result of political differences. It’s not really what she said, it’s the implications of how it can be utilized in redirecting American foreign policy beyond Netanyahu to extend to bipartisan policies overall. I’m reminded of Davidson’s additional takes on J-Street as contributing to ideological gatekeeping. What are your thoughts?

 

Richard Falk:  I almost always find Lawrence Davidson’s commentaries on important public issues to be incisive, developing morally coherent and politically progressive interpretations of complex and often controversial issues. Here, I feel that Davidson’s formulation is misleading. Those in the Zionist camp that seek to discredit a message critical of Israel are rather indifferent to whether the formulations are carefully crafted or not. Their primary objective is to discredit the messenger, which has the added benefit of shifting the conversation away from what was said to who said it. This shifting of the conversation is as important as the defamatory undertaking, and thus even if the person escapes with their reputation more or less undamaged, the discussion will be about whether the allegations were well founded or not, and the substantive concerns that prompted the statements being are buried beneath the unresolvable to and fro of ad hominem polemics. Such has been the choreography of the Omar experience.

 

Of course, if there are phrases that can be lifted from the offending statement or document that makes the work of defamation and distraction easier to accomplish, so much the better. But even if the message, tweet, or document was the work of heavenly scribes it would not deter defamation if the criticism of Israel has potential political traction. As before, the case of Goldstone and my own experience at the UN is instructive. The report of the Goldstone Commission was never subjected to substantive criticism by those who mounted their scathing attacks on Goldstone’s character. In my case, my twelve reports as Special Rapporteur received almost no substantive criticism from Israel or its puppet NGO, UN Watch, which trained all of its guns on my supposedly anti-Semitic character, or on my supposedly nutty views on issues not really relevant to Israel/Palestine such as the Iranian Revolution or my rather banal comments on the Boston Marathon massacre.

 

The crucial point here is what I have previously argued. These defenders of Israel are not trying to win an argument about disputed facts and rival interpretations of law. They are trying to make the author of what is objectionable to the Zionist outlook so disreputable that whether the analyses are true or false becomes irrelevant. I used to tell the official delegates at the UN in Geneva and New York that a person only had to be 10% objective to reach the same factual and legal conclusions that were set forth in my reports. In other words, if this is more or less correct about Israeli encroachments on human rights in the course of maintaining control of Occupied Palestine, then it would be a fool’s errand for diehard Israel defenders to engage in substantive debate.

 

The situation in Congress is quite special because unanimity on Israeli support has heretofore prevailed, and is itself seen as valuable for Israel, making any significant departure a risky course for a politician to take as the record of past encounters shows. The attack on Ilhan Omar may have gone too far, given who she is and what she actually said. Just as her status and identity make her especially vulnerable, it also makes those who support a pluralist, democratic country adopt her cause and fight back on her behalf. I am reminded of the Birmingham NGO that rescinded the human rights award to Angela Davis a few months ago because of her pro-Palestinian activism causing such a strong pushback on her behalf that Institute for Civil Rights in Birmingham had to reverse itself, and restore the award and speaking invitation. We have not yet reached the outcome of the Omar firestorm but it could be that the. attackers will back off, especially given the dark clouds forming over Israel in the shape of Netanyahu’s embrace of electoral support from the most extreme right and the rather weak presidential and congressional responses to White Supremacist language from within the ranks or from the White House.   

 

 

6) Daniel Falcone: Jeremy Corbyn is another decent person that faced heavy criticism and allegations for his word choices regarding the Holy State. It’s been pointed out by some progressives that the more progressive left tolerates or openly supports Corbyn and Omar’s “anti-Semitism” only because they want to emphasize their opposition to the illegal settlement expansion and to fend off the hard right. They argue, that’s no excuse to let the “trope” making off the hook. Meanwhile, since this sentiment has been expressed, the same people have not condemned the racist and demeaning Islamophobic depiction of Omar by the West Virginia GOP. Largely because, and cynically so, it was suspected that her own identity insulated her from her initial comments in the first place. My conclusion here is that calling out Omar initially was a form of doublespeak. Could you comment?

Richard Falk: The guns of liberal Zionism are booming. Bret Stephens, proud of his call for the resignation of Netanyahu due to corruption charges, was expressing his satisfaction that American Zionists no longer can be said to walk in lockstep submission to Israel and its strong prime minister. This seemed to be a kind of hunting licence making it fair game to condemn Omar for what he calls ‘Corbynism.’ [Bret Stephens, “Ilhan Omar Knows Exactly What She Is Doing,” NY Times, March 7, 2019] What this slur intends to convey is that a person can be personally free of anti-Semitic hatred of Jews, and yet because of their distaste for Zionism or Israel, still qualify as ‘anti-Semites’ because they invoke those nasty ‘tropes’ used to mobilize hatred of Jews through the ages. Her tweets about dual allegiance and Jewish money used to silence critics of Israel are regarded as sufficient evidence.

I do consider this kind of demeaning attack on Jeremy Corban and Ilhan Omar to be irresponsible to the point of generating the very feelings it purports to be condemning. For such morally sensitive and political progressive personalities to be so smeared because they point to features of reality associated with this unprecedented ‘special relationship’ or their willingness to befriend those that make such criticisms of the use of Jewish power to hide Israeli injustice. Such lines of attack are not only intended to narrow freedom of expression when it comes to Israel but also to rely on a dragnet sort of argument that rests on guilt by association. Once more I can illustrate the point from my own experience. A leading English tabloid carrying on their vendetta against Corbyn published a picture of Corbyn and myself at an event in London where we discussed the Palestinian ordeal, contending that Corbyn by appearing with an anti-Semite like myself was linking arms with anti-Semitism.

 

 

7) Daniel Falcone: There are journalists and liberal critics of Omar’s “tropes” that state that opposition to US/Israel policy on the one hand is fine, but reinforcing conspiracy theories are not. This is entirely understandable yet I don’t see J-Street type rhetoric translating into meaningful shifts in policy construction. Could you comment on the limitations of partisan criticism of Israel when it seems it should be bipartisan?

Richard Falk: I think that identifying and criticizing collective efforts to control debate on Israel/Palestine or to intimidate defections from bipartisan unity in the Congress and elsewhere that call attention.to the biasing of legislative scrutiny and procedures, is inherently regressive. By characterizing the defection as an anti-Semitic trope, which is supposed to establish taboos that if violated, generate a justifiable contention of anti-Semitism, is resorting to a blunt manipulative device. The plausibility of this use of ‘tropes’ is the purported link to the historical experience of conspiracy theories used by right wing movements to mobilize fear and hatred of Jews, fabricating Jewish plots to use Jewish money to penetrate and dominate the centers of power, and even to take over control of the whole world (for example, the notorious Protocols of Zion).

It is viciously false reasoning to merge criticisms of actual collective action that is fact-based with fabricated conspiracies designed to generate fear and hatred, and give rise to persecution or worse.

 

 

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

7 Oct

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

 

Ever since I started this blog I have wrestled with the question of whether unrestricted free expression should be favored over a preferred atmosphere of civility. My inclination is to allow diverse views to be expressed in harsh ways, provided interactions among those submitting comments do not degenerate into a toxic blend of insult and propaganda.

 

What I have experienced is that those most dogmatically insistent on defending Israel regardless of its behavior as viewed from the perspectives of international law and international morality rely on a discourse that is quick to call critics Jew haters or anti-Semites, or to demean the professional competence of their opponents. This puts those who seek serious dialogue and responsible conversation in an awkward position. Either we withdraw to the sidelines and let the hostile comments slip through with out silent disapproval, or we respond and face repetitive cycles of further insult, which includes a questioning of motives.

 

It is fair to acknowledge that these determined apologists for Israel, despite the evidence, contend that they are doing nothing more than turning the tables on the critics. They claim that we are as insulting as they are, or more so, and that they are merely meeting fire with fire, and in the end expressing a more objective and correct view of the situation arising from Israel’s security challenges. They contend, to give just one example, that my refusal to debate with Alan Dershowitz is based on my fear of being exposed or humbled, when in reality it is a lack of respect for his demeanor and unscrupulous behavior in using his status to harm those he believes go over a line drawn by him in exposing Israel’s wrongdoing.

 

I have throughout my teaching and writing career found it useful to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree so long as they do not set forth views that echo the propaganda of governments engaged in unacceptable behavior and mix their espousal of such positions with insulting responses to their opponent. Many years ago I had such an experience in a public debate with a South African apologist for the apartheid regime that was then in control of the country. The gap in morality and civility between us was too great, and I felt degraded by my participation, which seemed to produce a kind of moral equivalence in a situation where I was convinced that there was no justification whatsoever for hiding the cruelty of apartheid as it operated in South Africa, and even less for claiming that it was an enlightened manner of addressing racial diversity. The debate degenerated into vehement denunciations of one another, which some in the audience might have found entertaining, but no one could learned anything or changed their views on iota.. In contrast I had a long debate in Wisconsin with Samuel Huntington of ‘clash of civilizations’ fame in which we deeply disagreed, but spoke with mutual respect and the audience after this event that lasted the whole day seemed grateful for the experience.

 

During the life of this blog, which began in 2010, civility has prevailed except in the context of Israel/Palestine. I would not overstate this assertion. Sometimes, comments are tasteless, irrelevant, foolish, including my own.

And I have no doubt that some subscribers or readers find my posts either too opinionated or not balanced and fair. I welcome feedback that would enable me to do better. My goal is to communicate effectively within a framework of

reasoned discourse that is also respectful of the relevance of emotion and belief. It is in this space of controversy and disagreement that the ethos of civility is most needed if communication is to be fruitful.

 

One of the liabilities of incivility is its contagious effect on those who are normally and naturally civil. Of course, it is part of the polemical atmosphere to allege that it was the other side that first breached the boundaries of civility. I admit that my sympathies are with the Palestinian struggle for their basic rights. I reject both the ultra-nationalism of Israeli apologists and the ideology and tactics of Zionist extremists. At the same time, my abiding wish is for a sustainable and just peace that benefits both peoples and is guided by the spirit and substance of equality, and welcome all those that share in some way these sentiments.

 

I suppose I am at this moment also responding to the dismal outcome of the just concluded Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. I was dismayed that party discipline and white male privilege prevailed over truth and accountability in such circumstance. One result is the further weakening of the highest judicial body in America while inflicting pain on women who have endured sexual abuse or fear it. Such a development confirms the Trumpist poisoning of the democratic process and the subversion of republican principles that depend for their vitality on conscience and trust more than party affiliation and demagogic leadership. I cannot hope to control civility and truthfulness in public space, but I am able to exert some influence in private space.

 

This may be a pompous way of communicating my frustration with the recent wave of comments, some of which I have blocked in recent days. I began re-re-blocking those most illustrative of extreme incivility. For the present, I will again become more vigilant in monitoring comments, blocking those that abandon the ethos of civility. I keep hoping that my task will become easier over time either as a result of futility by those angry propagandists or by a recognition that a civil tone is a more effective way of engaging the other unless the substantive position being defended is so weak.

 

I have noticed for some time that the rise of smear tactics aimed at activists and critics who deplore Israel’s policies and practices is directly proportional

to the weakening of Israel’s explanations as to legality, moreality, and political intention. There was a time defenders of Israel welcomed the give and take of serious discussion but no longer. With Trump in the White House it is a time for a victory dance not for diplomacy, and certainly not for dialogue.

 

As I have in the past, I invite those at odds with my views to devote their attention to some among many websites dedicated to promoting Israel’s priorities. Among these, the most influential these days may be the Middle East Forum, a vehicle for the views of Daniel Pipes, and the Gatestone Institute that was formerly a mouthpiece for John Bolton, and all along a friendly venue for Dershowitz. To avoid voices such as mine, these websites do  not pretend an openness to dialogue. There is no comments section.

 

I suppose that closing down the comments section is an alternative. I resist such an alternative as I welcome interaction and communication with likeminded and with adversaries ready to listen and reluctant to denounce and impugn. As my disposition is toward openness, I will probably become again soon permissive, and so disappoint, and even antagonize, both sides.

Weaponizing the ‘New Anti-Semitism’

22 Sep

Prefatory Note: This post consists of an opinion piece developed by several members of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af) titled “Weaponizing the ‘New Antisemitism’”.  In addition to myself, those responsible for this short essay are Vida Samiian, Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom, Professor of Linguistics and Dean Emerita, California State University, Fresno and Lisa Rofel, Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds, University of California, Santa Cruz, and David Lloyd, Professor of Literature, University of California, Riverside. The piece was initially published in The Abolition Journal, September 20, 2018, with this link https://abolitionjournal.org/weaponizing-the-new-antisemitism/

Let me add that I did not contribute to the parts of the response that describe my positive credentials. I do believe that such indirect smears are intimidating for younger more vulnerable members of the academic community, creating a public image of a controversial personality that could be harmful when career decisions are made behind closed doors. The direct effort to discredit Corbyn is also shameful, depriving the public of the opportunity to understand the views of an important political figure rather than to create diversionary attention to such irresponsible charges that cannot be left unanswered without leaving presumptions of doubt, or worse.]

Weaponizing the ‘New Antisemitism’

It was shocking to read on August 31, 2018 the following headline in the British tabloid, The Sun “Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to a disgraced ex-UN official who ‘blamed Boston bombings on Israel.’”The “disgraced ex-UN official” referenced by The Sunis Professor Richard Falk1, a widely respected scholar of international law and a consistent advocate of human rights for all. The tabloid’s intent was to demonstrate that allegations of antisemitism directed at Corbyn were justified because he was praising a notorious ‘antisemite’.

Revealingly, the article raised, out of context, views Professor Falk had expressed about the blowback dimensions of the Boston Marathon and concerns about how the U.S. Government handled skeptical reactions to the official version of 9/11. It made much of the fact that Falk had commented that Israel’s outsized influence on the conduct of American foreign policy contributed to blowback effects, generating rage and frustration vented in violent extremism. However, a careful reading of Professor Falk’s body of work demonstrates that nowhere in his writings is any animus whatsoever against Jews as a people. His criticisms were directed at the U.S. government for refusing to pursue policies that genuinely promoted mutual respect and understanding. As a public intellectual, it is within Professor Falk’s expertise and right both to academic freedom and Frist Amendment protections to analyze and criticize US policy without fear of intimidation or slander.

This kind of attack tricks the mind by extending the discrediting label of antisemitism to any line of thought or action that is seen as critical of Israel. The old antisemitism was about the hatred of Jews; the new charge of antisemitism is about criticism of Israel, although it seeks to conflate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews. Ironically, it also identifies all Jews with the state of Israel, an unheard-of and potentially racist denial to Jews of the right to criticize the state that pretends to represent them.

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom2, a group of over 200 California scholars who defend academic freedom of faculty and students in the academy and beyond, join Professor Richard Falk in voicing concern regarding the smear tactic used by ultra-Zionist defenders of Israel in defaming an internationally known academic and human rights leader. Beyond that, we are gravely concerned with the attempt to shut down debate by smearing opposition voices to prevent their message from being heard or heeded. Such tactics are intrinsically shameful as they try to evade substantive argument by recourse to character assassination.

In this instance, it shifts the conversation away from Corbyn’s programs, which are more difficult to discredit because they speak to the many ordinary people in Britain who have suffered for many years from neoliberal regimes of austerity. Blairites in the Labour Party who are allergic to Corbyn because of his supposedly socialist message seem quite content to hide behind this dirty campaign to paint Corbyn as an anti-Semite.  It is a perfect catch-22: he dare not ignore the charge or it will be taken as true, but by responding he is weakening his own message and political credibility as a future national leader.  Labour’s main constituencies in Britain want to determine whether his economic program is workable and likely to make their lives better than they are under a Tory government. They are deprived of this understanding by these demeaning taunts.

The attacks on Corbyn and Falk are all too familiar to any of us who have expressed our criticisms of Israel or on US policy in the Middle East. For those of us in academic life, ideas are as vital as oxygen, and when we are made to pay a price for telling the truth as we see it the outcome is not only chilling, but a direct attack on the freedom of thought and expression. It signals to many members of academic communities to shut up about Israel/Palestine or their careers will be in jeopardy.  Where successful, such censorship also raises the specter of wider efforts to curtail freedom of expression.

The issue is not entirely new. During the Cold War it could prove toxic for faculty members to be perceived as Marxists or even as intellectuals who thought that Marxist traditions of thought were important for their historical relevance to the ideological battles going on around the world. Professors at some leading universities were required to sign loyalty oaths, and if they refused, were expected to resign or were fired. This narrowed the experience of students and closed minds to alternatives to the ideology prevailing in the United States. If a democratic society is afraid of ideas, especially controversial ideas, then it forfeits much of the claim of being democratic and ends up cheering demagogues.

During the long campaign against South African apartheid within universities, churches, unions, and in a variety of other settings, there were criticisms made of demands that investments be divested or that athletes and cultural figures boycott South Africa. There were discussions about the limits of nonviolent activism, and again criticism was made of professors who were seen as encouraging militancy. Yet what was not done was to smear scholars and activists with epithets designed to portray opponents of apartheid as despicable human beings.

Why has this red flag of antisemitism has been waved so vigorously and irresponsibly in the last few years and not earlier? For decades, supporters of Israel would come to discussions where pro-Palestinian positions were being expressed armed with questions prepared in advance, and often delivered in an angry tone of voice. The purpose was to gain the upper hand substantively, or at least to join the issues in ways that would convince most of the audience that the issue was too complicated or controversial. But rarely if ever was the anger directed at the character of the speaker unless, as in the rarest of cases, the background of Israeli critics included membership in organizations or authorship of screeds expressing hatred of Jews, that is, genuine antisemitism.

With the appointment of Kenneth Marcus, a former Israel lobbyist, as the top civil rights enforcer of the US Department of Education, we are already witnessing a new level of aggression against any criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and denial of human rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories. The request to reopen the Rutgers University case after four years is a case in point. Equally alarming is the British Labour Party’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which conflates not only criticism of Israel but also anti-Zionism with antisemitism, in defiance of both logic and history, given the long tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism. These efforts are alarming attacks that shake the foundation of our first amendment rights protected under the Constitution.

The shift in tactics also reflects Israel’s awareness that its positions cannot be convincingly defended because they are so clearly at odds with elemental notions of law and morality. Unable to win debates where the facts are so damaging to their political messaging, they seek to silence the messenger by defamation. In consequence, reputable scholars lose academic appointments or are silently blacklisted and university institutions are increasingly reluctant to antagonize trustees or donors by hosting serious inquiries into the Palestinian national movement or events that view critically the evolution of the Zionist project. The resulting media feeding frenzy justifies its complicity by claiming that with so much smoke there must be fire somewhere.

In short, our political and academic freedoms are being hijacked by these defamatory tactics. Worst of all, the charges made under this ‘new antisemitism’ that confuses political criticism with racial hatred is harming the quality of political life in democratic societies and dangerously merging political controversy with ethnic prejudice.

1.  RICHARD FALKis Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and has been a Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he currently co-leads UCSB’s Orfalea Center Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy.  He taught international law and politics at Princeton University for 40 years. In 2001, he served on a three-person Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories that was appointed by the United Nations, and previously on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo.  He acted as counsel to Ethiopia and Liberia in the Southwest Africa Case before the International Court of Justice. In 2008 Falk was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to a six-year term as UN Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” He serves asChair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Board of Directors and as honorary vice president of the American Society of Internal Law. He is the author of over twenty books and editor of another twenty and numerous journal articles. He received his BS from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; LLB from Yale Law School; and JSD from Harvard University.

  1. 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.