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Affirming the Normative Imagination (up to a point!)  

16 Jun

Affirming the Normative Imagination (up to a point!)

 

While struggling with the challenges posed by writing a memoir during the endgame of life, conceptual cleansing seemed essential if I was ever to convey my identity with even a slight feeling of authenticity. The mystery at the core of my personal and public existence is how I came to trust my sense of moral purpose in life enough to act upon it despite shyness, a contemplative nature, and a strong dislike of self-promotion? It would hardly be a mystery if social norms led most people to reflect their sense of moral purpose in their relationships, career, and sense of self. We would say it was an aspect of the human condition, moving on to search for some other defining feature of a lived life. As my form of engagement with moral purpose runs against the current of mainstream opinion I have paid the price of marginalization, although validated by inner convictions and affinities with those who are likeminded.

 

Of course, having a moral purpose should not be confused with claiming moral superiority. The latter depends on a range of qualities associated with dutifulness, integrity, honesty, generosity, kindness, empathy, warmth, and forgiveness among other qualities that relate to living-with-and-amid-others. Moral purpose relates to how we live-in-the-world, with what kind of primary identity, our relations with collective entities (state, family, church) as well as with individuals. There is some overlap, and some areas of tension. We never stop growing inwardly, while the body decays creating false outer impressions.

 

Although my early professional work often involved a focus on international law, I realized while still in law school that law was an instrument rather than an end in itself. It could be used to do good or to uphold evil, to promote or to obstruct justice. To praise international law as an achievement of the West without saying much more about its problematic historical role in the colonial era or its fundamental present alignments with geopolitical interests, is to succumb to the lure of power, wealth, and status.

 

Even before I understood my own political stand in the world I saw that the social domain of the international law profession, both for academics and practitioners, were by and large far too beholden to vested governmental and corporate interests and standard careers to question nationalist or capitalist values on principled grounds. Even as I was myself inducted into such privileged ranks while a young academic, I felt nervous and ambivalent, as if I had crashed a party to which I had been mistakenly invited. This self-doubt was partly due to my early struggles as a student. I experienced adolescence as a mediocre under achiever in the midst of talented over achievers, and even through my college years lacked a coherent sense of moral purpose or even a normal degree of self-confidence. Sports were then and even now remain my most reliable comfort zone.

 

When the Vietnam War came along, it quickly became evident to me that American policy rubbed against the grain of contemporary international law, and that a critical legal discourse was useful in the court of domestic public opinion, but more than this. In this instance, international law was finally on the right side of history throughout the bloody twilight of colonialism and if reasonably respected, international norms might inhibit Cold War warmongers from running wild, oblivious to the dangers of the nuclear age.

 

Yet I also realized that those who clung to arguments about the wrongfulness of the war and were appalled by the way the United States was behaving in Vietnam, held a rose-tinted view of international law as invariably on the side of the angels. Some of these liberals believed that if only governments, especially our government, could be persuaded to uphold the law in all its external facets, the world would be peaceful and grow prosperous. Questions of equity in global settings were pushed to one side, out of sight. For elites the catchphrase was ‘the management of interdependence.’ For idealists, it was ‘world peace through law,’ an ethos that never attracted me and seemed mechanical and naïve because of its apolitical advocacy. I also felt that this legal utopianism had not the slightest prospect of being acted upon given the way the world was organized, and if due to unanticipated developments, it were to be acted upon it would likely end up as a globally centralized tyranny, almost a necessitated outcome, given the gross inequalities of circumstances between the developed and developing worlds, as reinforced by the refusal of the rich and powerful to make sacrifices to help the poor and vulnerable unless pushed to do so by credible revolutionary threats.

 

My early views after finishing law school and during my six teaching years at the Ohio State College of Law (1955-1961) did not depart from the political underpinnings of this legalist consensus as applied to Vietnam. I believed that refighting the war lost by the French, who had lots more at stake in Indochina than the United States ever did, was foolish from a realist interpretation of national interests. My views at that stage were similar to those of such eminent commentators on world events as George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau both of whom came to vigorously oppose the Vietnam War as a serious mistake of American foreign policy.  I knew personally and intellectually admired both of these important intellectual and political figures, and in the late 1960s teamed with Hans to run twice for lead positions in the American Political Science Association on an unabashed anti-war platform. Morgenthau ran the first time as presidential candidate, and the following year we reversed positions on the ballot, but with the same outcome, narrow losses to the official slate that opposed our effort that was claimed would ‘politicize’ the APSA.

 

I also held in these years what I would call ‘a world order’ view that the UN Charter should be respected with regard to peace and security issues as I was alarmed by the prospect of war between the Soviet Union and the United States, and believed that the UN deserved respect even if it was not strong enough, nor was it ever meant to be, to preserve the peace in the face of geopolitical conflict. Granting the veto to the Permanent Members of the Security Council was the clearest possible signal of true character of the UN as a modest undertaking, a perception confused, and somewhat contradicted, by the visionary language of the Preamble to the UN Charter. It was obvious even before the Cold War got going that it would be crazy for the Soviet Union to engage in even limited ways if the UN if the Western majority could control the decision process in the Security Council. The League of Nations had taught the West that it was worthwhile having the Soviet Union participating as a Member of the UN even if it meant weakening the authority or capabilities of the organization with respect to the control of the behavior of its members. Idealists hoped that the wartime alliance would persist in peacetime, while the realists thought and acted as though postwar stability was as dependent as ever on balance of power geopolitics, containment, and deterrence. It was one thing to join forces to defeat Hitler’s Germany. It was quite another to overlook geopolitical rivalries as fueled by competing ambitions, ideas, and fears. Such rivalries quickly surfaced during the peace diplomacy of the victors in World War II, especially exhibiting sharp differences over the postwar future of Europe, particularly Germany.

 

It was in this Cold War period that I became more overtly aware that moral purpose was my transcendent guideline both as a university teacher and as an engaged citizen, which for me was a dual reality that were best realized when merged. In this context, it was also obvious that international law had very little to offer, although it was relevant as a means of opposing colonialist and post-colonialist moves in what was being called the Third World.  My moral purpose became more associated with avoiding war and siding with the vulnerable. I came to believe that the military dimensions of the Cold War were irresponsibly dangerous, caused massive suffering, diverting resources that could be far better spent at home and abroad making lives better. Again international law was morally illuminating and political useful in some contexts of conflict, including opposition to military intervention and support for a level international economic playing field.

 

I came to understand that these larger quests were associated with a recognition that human interests deserved priority over nationalinterests when they clashed. This also meant that the empowerment of peoplewas a more emancipatory force than the consolidation of state power. In this regard, the anti-war movement in the United States, especially after 1965, provided the inspirational basis for my first trip to North Vietnam in 1968. Going to talk with ‘the enemy’ transformed my whole perception of why I opposed the war—it led me to identify with the nationalist struggle of the Vietnamese people against this post-colonial colonial futile and anguished effort that was confused with the imperatives of the Cold War by American leaders drunk with their own intoxicating ideology of freedom, which came to mean the promotion of markets more than the wellbeing of people. Meeting with Vietnamese leaders and witnessing the realities of the people of Vietnam and their struggle led me to view the American war effort as worse than a serious mistakeof judgment, in the manner of Morgenthau and Kennan, and having the character of acriminal enterprise. In retrospect, I appreciate the visionary underscoring of this shift of normative assessment from mistake to crime that was given its most comprehensive rendering in the two sessions of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal, chaired by Jean-Paul Sartre, held in 1967.

 

After I returned from Vietnam in 1968 the media were rather interested in my views on whether Hanoi was ready to make peace, but when I declared my sympathy for the Vietnamese struggle and opposition to relying on modern warfare to devastate a peasant society there was a total absence of interest even on the part of several influential liberal journalists who made no secret of their own opposition to the Vietnam War.  At first, I could not fathom this indifference toward what had been transformative in my experience, but soon I realized that most people did not view issues of war and peace through such a humanistic prism of awareness. Their calculus was winning and losing, and if losing, then cutting losses.

 

This cosmopolitan understanding of what seemed so decisive for me did involve a refusal to pass judgment and reach conclusions on the basis of national patriotism or ethno/religious identity. I think this way of looking contributed to my response to Palestinian victimization. The mere fact of being Jewish seemed more important for most others I knew than for myself, either others praised me for looking beyond my tribal identity or damning me for doing so, the whole false consciousness bound up in the nasty and defamatory accusation of being a self-hating Jew. I have come to understand that I am neither self-hating, nor self-loving. Being a Jew is a hereditary fact of my beingthat has not been very relevant in my becoming, although I am not oblivious to the horrifying tragedy inflicted upon the Jewish people of Europe during the period of Nazi ascendancy, and what my fate, and many of those I loved, would have been had I been caught in that genocidal maelstrom. Yet I never believed that the Zionist escape from the genuine horrors of anti-Semitism should be or needed to be achieved at the expense of another people or that a Jewish homeland in a non-Jewish society was the proper response to the long history of Jewish persecution.

 

Human solidarity took precedence. I am well aware that most others whether consciously or not proceed from a communitarian outlook that privileges the part over the whole. The migration challenge and response exhibits both sides of this reality—the tragic migrant loss and protection of community and the  communitarian rejection of asylum and hospitality via exclusions, deportations, walls. Statelessness, undocumented immigrants are also expressions of statist control over the security of the individual in the modern world. In this regard, there is as yet no practical way to affirm humanidentity because there is neither the institutional foundations nor existential reality of human community. We all remain crucially dependent on the questionable humanity and problem solving capacities of state structures even if we claim to be ‘world citizens.’

 

My own effort over the course of the last twenty years to delineate a new form of engaged citizenship is based on the possible futureemergence of human community, and the commitment to seek that kind of desired reality as a goal without pretending it to be a present reality. I identify such a future-oriented engagement by the label ‘citizen pilgrim,’ the pilgrim being defined as someone on a journey to a desired future. My mature publicsense of moral purpose is associated with thinking, feeling, and acting as a citizen pilgrim to the extent possible, not in a New Age spirit of self-contentment, but in concretecircumstances where the relevance of a shared humanity is given precedence. This helps explain my disposition toward solidarity with the poor, vulnerable, marginalized, and my suspicions toward the rich and powerful.

 

Such a way of acting in the public sphere is undoubtedly reflected in the intimacies of the private sphere, and vice versa, and so affirms the slogan ‘the personal is political,’ and its correlative ‘the political is personal.’ Love of partner, of children, and of friends strengthens the capacity of the citizen pilgrim to live happily in mostly alien worlds, although the separations of these spheres is more a matter of mental disposition than of experience. In this central respect my guiding moral purposeis to love and be loved, which means eroding the public dimensions of moral purpose, a choice I manifest each time I ignore a beggar on the street.

 

Of course, maybe I am making too much of my freedom to be and to choose. Perhaps what I am articulating is a thin gloss over genetic programming, as affected by social and cultural conditioning. If there is one distinctive feature of my deference to moral purpose it is a willingness not to fit in, yet also a prudential set of restraints that make me stop well short of being an outlawor a revolutionary warrior.

 

This little essay is but a sketch drawn to help me address the often questionable enterprise of a memoir, presented as a sort of reflective selfie to invoke an idiom of our age. I would benefit from comments and criticisms, and promise on my part to listen attentively.           

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The Great March of Return: The Gaza Sniper Massacre  

10 Jun

The Great March of Return: The Gaza Sniper Massacre

 

“No country would act with greater restraint than Israel.”

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. Ambassador to the UN

 

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The Gaza Sniper Massacre in response to the Great Return March is one more  milestone in Palestinian resistance and yet another frightening episode in the Israeli apartheid narrative of cruel and excessive violence, a shameful sequel of crimes for which there exists no adjudicative tribunal available to the victimized party to pursue justice. The post that follows consists of juxtaposing news items, a searing opinion piece by the courageously uncompromising Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and a wide-ranging brilliant commentary by my friend, Jim Kavanaugh. The post and is dedicated to the memory of Razan al-Najjar, the brave 21year old paramedic mortally shot while tending Palestinian demonstrators wounded at or near the Gaza fence. This young woman epitomized the purity of nonviolent yet heroic resistance, an identity given historical depth by her joy for life and her supreme sacrifice imposed by sniper brutality.

 

The Israeli political leadership and military commanders must be presumed to have chosen such a display of excessive and vindictive violence for a clear political objective, which will remain undisclosed. It would seem to be taking advantage of having unlimited support from the Trump presidency and the most favorable regional political situation of their history, but we may still ask ‘to what end?’ My best guess is that the effort was designed to convince the people of Gaza, more than Hamas, that resistance, and especially unarmed resistance was futile. Without a diplomatic path and with the annexationist path wide open, Israel would benefit from a Palestinian acknowledgement that the struggle is over, and they have lost. The Great March of Return was a defiant refusal to concede defeat, no doubt angering Israel, and inflicting a major defeat in the other war—the Legitimacy War being fought for hearts and minds on the basis of seizing the high moral and political ground.

 

Finally, we need to understand that the problem of winning the Legitimacy War is mostly a struggle to have the truth heard, to have it understood on all the major issues in dispute, law and morality are aligned with the Palestinian demands, but this has so far proved politically irrelevant as geopolitics and military capabilities strongly lean in an Israeli direction. Can Palestinian resistance as reinforced by a growing global solidarity movement overcome these Israeli

advantages? Time will tell. So far the corporatized media has sided with Israel, which is a battlefield in the Legitimacy War where the Palestinians have mainly fared badly.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) The Free Gaza Movement

 

Please share this news with everyone you can think of. The only way we have a hope that these brave sailors will be safe is if the news gets out. There has been very little coverage so far. This is what we have found in the past day.

 

Quds News Network·

For the first time, #Gaza will attempt to break the 12-year-long siege by sea

On Tuesday morning, ships will set sail with a number of injured Gazans and patients abroad, carrying the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people for freedom.

Tuesday’s Gaza flotilla will coincide with the 8th anniversary of an Israeli attack on the Turkish “Mavi Marmara” flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed when the Israeli navy attacked the vessel in international waters. A tenth activist died nearly four years later, succumbing to injuries sustained during the raid.

 

 

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180527-gaza-boats-will-attempt-to-break-israel-navy-siege-on-tuesday/

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-violence/israeli-air-strikes-target-boat-moored-in-gaza-residents-idUSKCN1IO06T

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/boats-carrying-gaza-patients-set-bid-break-israel-blockade-180527150238689.html

 

 

 

Greta Berlin, Co-Founder, the Free Gaza movement

 

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(2) Jonathan COOK ‘LETTER FROM NAZARETH”

The flames that killed Fathi Harb should make us all burn with guilt and shame

27 May 2018

The National – 27 May 2018

Fathi Harb should have had something to live for, not least the imminent arrival of a new baby. But last week the 21-year-old extinguished his life in an inferno of flames in central Gaza.

It is believed to be the first example of a public act of self-immolation in the enclave. Harb doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on a street in Gaza City shortly before dawn prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

In part, Harb was driven to this terrible act of self-destruction out of despair.

After a savage, decade-long Israeli blockade by land, sea and air, Gaza is like a car running on fumes. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that the enclave will be uninhabitable within a few years.

Over that same decade, Israel has intermittently pounded Gaza into ruins, in line with the Israeli army’s Dahiya doctrine. The goal is to decimate the targeted area, turning life back to the Stone Age so that the population is too preoccupied with making ends meet to care about the struggle for freedom.

Both of these kinds of assault have had a devastating impact on inhabitants’ psychological health.

Harb would have barely remembered a time before Gaza was an open-air prison and one where a 1,000kg Israeli bomb might land near his home.

In an enclave where two-thirds of young men are unemployed, he had no hope of finding work. He could not afford a home for his young family and he was about to have another mouth to feed.

Doubtless, all of this contributed to his decision to burn himself to death.

But self-immolation is more than suicide. That can be done quietly, out of sight, less gruesomely. In fact, figures suggest that suicide rates in Gaza have rocketed in recent years.

But public self-immolation is associated with protest.

A Buddhist monk famously turned himself into a human fireball in Vietnam in 1963 in protest at the persecution of his co-religionists. Tibetans have used self-immolation to highlight Chinese oppression, Indians to decry the caste system, and Poles, Ukrainians and Czechs once used it to protest Soviet rule.

But more likely for Harb, the model was Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in late 2010 after officials humiliated him once too often. His public death triggered a wave of protests across the Middle East that became the Arab Spring.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation suggests its power to set our consciences on fire. It is the ultimate act of individual self-sacrifice, one that is entirely non-violent except to the victim himself, performed altruistically in a greater, collective cause.

Who did Harb hope to speak to with his shocking act?

In part, according to his family, he was angry with the Palestinian leadership. His family was trapped in the unresolved feud between Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. That dispute has led the PA to cut the salaries of its workers in Gaza, including Harb’s father.

But Harb undoubtedly had a larger audience in mind too.

Until a few years ago, Hamas regularly fired rockets out of the enclave in a struggle both to end Israel’s continuing colonisation of Palestinian land and to liberate the people of Gaza from their Israeli-made prison.

But the world rejected the Palestinians’ right to resist violently and condemned Hamas as “terrorists”. Israel’s series of military rampages in Gaza to silence Hamas were meekly criticised in the West as “disproportionate”.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where there is still direct contact with Israeli Jews, usually as settlers or soldiers, watched as Gaza’s armed resistance failed to prick the world’s conscience.

So some took up the struggle as individuals, targeting Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints. They grabbed a kitchen knife to attack Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints, or rammed them with a car, bus or bulldozer.

Again, the world sided with Israel. Resistance was not only futile, it was denounced as illegitimate.

Since late March, the struggle for liberation has shifted back to Gaza. Tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians have massed weekly close to Israel’s fence encaging them.

The protests are intended as confrontational civil disobedience, a cry to the world for help and a reminder that Palestinians are being slowly choked to death.

Israel has responded repeatedly by spraying the demonstrators with live ammunition, seriously wounding many thousands and killing more than 100. Yet again, the world has remained largely impassive.

In fact, worse still, the demonstrators have been cast as Hamas stooges. The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, blamed the victims under occupation, saying Israel had a right to “defend its border”, while the British government claimed the protests were “hijacked by terrorists”.

None of this can have passed Harb by.

When Palestinians are told they can “protest peacefully”, western governments mean quietly, in ways that Israel can ignore, in ways that will not trouble consciences or require any action.

In Gaza, the Israeli army is renewing the Dahiya doctrine, this time by shattering thousands of Palestinian bodies rather than infrastructure.

Harb understood only too well the West’s hypocrisy in denying Palestinians any right to meaningfully resist Israel’s campaign of destruction.

The flames that engulfed him were intended also to consume us with guilt and shame. And doubtless more in Gaza will follow his example.

Will Harb be proved right? Can the West be shamed into action?

Or will we continue blaming the victims to excuse our complicity in seven decades of outrages committed against the Palestinian people?

 

 

 

(3) The Israel Massacre Forces

 

The shooting on the Gaza border shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes

 

Gideon Levy

https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-the-israel-massacre-forces-1.5962852

 

 

The death counter ticked away wildly. One death every 30 minutes. Again. Another one. One more. Israel was busy preparing for the seder night. TV stations continued broadcasting their nonsense.

 

It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened if a settler had been stabbed – on-site broadcasts, throw open the studios. But in Gaza the Israel Defense Forces continued to massacre mercilessly, with a horrific rhythm, as Israel celebrated Passover.

 

If there was any concern, it was because soldiers couldn’t celebrate the seder. By nightfallthe body count had reached at least 15, all of them by live fire, with more than 750 wounded. Tanks and sharpshooters against unarmed civilians. That’s called a massacre. There’s no other word for it.

 

Comic relief was provided by the army spokesman, who announced in the evening: “A shooting attack was foiled. Two terrorists approached the fence and fired at our soldiers.” This came after the 12th Palestinian fatality and who knows how many wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharpshooters fired at hundreds of civilians but two Palestinians who dared return fire at the soldiers who were massacring them are “terrorists,” their actions labeled “terror attacks” and their sentence – death. The lack of self-awareness has never sunk to such depths in the IDF.

 

As usual, the media lent its appalling support. After 15 deaths Or Heller on Channel 10 News declared that the most serious incident of the day had been the firing by the two Palestinians. Dan Margalit “saluted” the army. Israel was brainwashed again and sat down to a festive meal in a spirit of self-satisfaction. And then people recited “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not,” impressed by the spread of plagues and enthusing at the mass murder of babies (the killing of the first-born Egyptians, the 10th plague).

 

Christian Good Friday and the Jewish seder night became a day of blood for the Palestinians in Gaza. You can’t even call it a war crime because there was no war there.

The test by which the IDF and the pathological indifference of public opinion should be judged is the following: What would happen if Jewish Israeli demonstrators, ultra-Orthodox or others, threatened to invade the Knesset? Would such insane live fire by tanks or sharpshooters be understood by the public? Would the murder of 15 Jewish demonstrators pass with silence? And if several dozen Palestinians managed to enter Israel, would that justify a massacre? The killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing ofmosquitoes. There’s nothing cheaper in Israel than Palestinian blood.If there were a hundred or even a thousand deaths Israel would still “salute” the IDF. This is the army whose commander, the good and moderate Gadi Eisenkot, is received with such pride by Israelis. Of course, in the holiday media interviews, no one asked him about the anticipated massacre and no one will ask him now either.

But an army that prides itself on shooting a farmer on his land, showing the video on its website in order to intimidate Gazans; an army that pits tanks against civilians and boasts of one hundred snipers waiting for the demonstrators is an army that has lost all restraint. As if there weren’t other measures. As if the IDF had the authority or right to prevent demonstrations in Gaza, threatening bus drivers not to transport protesters in territory where the occupation has long ended, as everyone knows.

 

Despairing young men sneak in from Gaza, armed with ridiculous weapons, marching dozens of kilometers without hurting anyone, only waiting to be caught so as to escape Gaza’s poverty in an Israeli jail. This doesn’t touch anyone’s conscience either. The main thing is that the IDF proudly presents its catch. Palestinian President Mahmous Abbasis responsible for the situation in Gaza. And Hamas, of course. And Egypt. And the Arab world and the whole world. Just not Israel. It left Gaza and Israeli soldiers never commit massacres. The names were published in the evening. One man was rising from his prayers, another was shot while fleeing. The names won’t move anyone. Mohammed al-Najar, Omar Abu Samur, Ahmed Odeh, Sari Odeh, Bader al-Sabag. This space is too small, to our horror, to list all their names.

 

(4)Sacrificing Gaza: The Great March of Zionist Hypocrisy

 

By Jim KavanaghOn June 4, 2018

 

 

Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús | CC BY 2.0

The Great March of Return is a startling, powerful expression of Palestinian identity and resistance. Thousands of Palestinians have come out, bravely and unapologetically, to say: “We refuse to remain invisible. We reject any attempt to assign us to the discard pile of history. We will exercise our fundamental right to go home.” They have done this unarmed, in the face of Israel’s use of deadly armed force against targets (children, press, medics) deliberately chosen to demonstrate the Jewish state’s unapologetic determination to force them back into submissive exile by any means necessary. By doing this repeatedly over the last few weeks, these incredibly brave men, women, and children have done more than decades of essays and books to strip the aura of virtue from Zionism that’s befogged Western liberals’ eyes for 70 years.

 

What the Israelis have done over the past few weeks—killingat least 112and wounding over 13,000people (332 with life-threatening injuries and 27 requiring amputation)—is a historical crime that stands alongside the Sharpeville Massacre(69 killed), Bloody Sunday(14 killed), and the Birmingham Fire Hoses and Police Dog Repressionas a defining moment in an ongoing struggle for justice and freedom. Like those events, this month’s slaughter may become a turning point for what John Pilger correctly calls“the longest occupation and resistance in modern times”—the continuing, unfinished subjugation of the Palestinian people, which, like apartheid and Jim Crow, requires constant armed repression and at least occasional episodes of extermination.

 

The American government, political parties, and media, which support and make possible this crime are disgraceful, criminal accomplices. American politicians, media, and people, who feel all aglow about professing their back-in-the-day support (actual, for some; retrospectively-imagined, for most) of the Civil-Rights movement in the American South and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but continue to ignore the Palestinian struggle for justice against Zionism, because saying peep one about it might cost them some discomfort, are disgraceful, cowardly hypocrites.

You know, the millions of ant-racist #Resistors who are waiting for a quorum of Natalie Portmans and cool elite, preferably Jewish, personalities to make criticism of Israel acceptable before finding the courage to express the solidarity with the Palestinian people they’ve always had in their hearts. Back in the day, they’d be waiting for Elvis to denounce Jim Crow before deciding that it’s the right time to side with MLK, Malcolm, and Fred Hampton against Bull Connor, George Wallace, and William F. Buckley.

 

Dis/Ingenuity

 

The bankruptcy of purportedly anti-racist and humanitarian liberal-Zionist ideology and ideological institutions reached an apogee with the eruption of various apologia for Israel in the wake of this crime, not-so-subtly embedded in mealy-mouthed “regret the tragic loss of life” bleats across the mediascape. All the usual rhetorical subjects were rounded up and thrown into ideological battle: “Israel has every right to defend its borders” (NYT Editorial Board);  the “misogynists and homophobes of Hamas” orchestrated the whole thing (Bret Stephens); the protestors are either Hamas “terrorists” or Hamas-manipulated robots, to be considered “nominal civilians” (WaPo). And, of course, the recurring pièce de résistance: Human Shields!

 

Somewhere in his or her discourse, virtually every American pundit is dutifully echoing the Israeli talking pointlaid down by Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014: that Hamas uses the “telegenically dead” to further “their cause.” The whole March of Return action is “reckless endangerment, bottomlessly cynical” (Stephens). Women and children were “dispatched” to “lead the charges” although they had been “amply forewarned…of the mortal risk.” It’s a “politics of human sacrifice” (Jonathan S. Tobinand Tom Friedman), staged by Hamas, “the terrorist group that controls [Gazans’] lives,” to “get people killed on camera.” (Matt Friedman, NYT Op-Ed). The White House, via spokesman, Raj Shah, adopts this line as its official response“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” which “intentionally and cynically provoke[ed] this response” in “a gruesome… propaganda attempt.”

Shmuel Rosner takes this “human shields” trope to its ultimate “no apologies” conclusion in his notorious op-edin the NYT, “Israel Needs to Protect Its Borders. By Whatever Means Necessary.” Feeling “no need to engage in ingénue mourning,” Rosner forthrightly asserts that “Guarding the border [or whatever it is] was more important than avoiding killing.” They want human sacrifice, we’ll give ‘em human sacrifice!

 

He acknowledges that Gazans “marched because they are desperate and frustrated. Because living in Gaza is not much better than living in hell,” and that “the people of Gaza … deserve sympathy and pity.” But the Palestinians were seeking“to violate [Israel’s] territorial integrity,”so “Israel had no choice” but to “draw a line that cannot be crossed,” and kill people trying to leave that hell. It was “the only way to ultimately persuade the Palestinians to abandon the futile battle for things they cannot get (“return,” control of Jerusalem, the elimination of Israel).”The alternative ismore demonstrations — and therefore more bloodshed, mostly Palestinian.”

 

Though he acknowledges that “the interests of Palestinians are [not] at the top of the list of my priorities,” Shmuel nonetheless feels comfortable speaking on their behalf. He sincerely “believe[s] Israel’s current policy toward Gaza ultimately benefits not only Israel but also the Palestinians.”Following the wisdom of “the Jewish sages” (featuring Nick Lowe?) he opines: “Those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind.”

 

Fear not, Shmuel, for the pitiable people of Gaza: Knesset member Avi Dichter reassuresus that the Israeli army has enough bullets for everyone. If every man, woman and child in Gaza gathers at the gate, in other words, there is a bullet for every one of them. They can all be killed, no problem.”For their ultimate benefit. Zionist tough love.

There is nothing new here. Israel has always understood the ghetto it created in Gaza. In 2004, Arnon Soffer, a Haifa University demographer and advisor to Ariel Sharon, said: “when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. … The pressure at the border will be awful. … So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day….If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.” And when challenged again in 2007about “Israel’s willingness to do what he prescribes… – i.e., put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security fence,” Soffer replied with a shrug:. “If we don’t, we’ll cease to exist.”

 

Soffer’s only plaint: “The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.” A reprise of Golda Meir’s “shooting and crying” lament; “We can never forgive [the Arabs] for forcing us to kill their children.” Ingénue mourning, anyone?

 

We can point out the factual errors and concrete cruelties that all these apologias rely on.

We can point out that Hamas did not “orchestrate” these demonstrations, and that the thousands of Gazans who are risking their lives are not instruments. “You people always looked down at us,” one Gazan toldAmira Hass, “so it’s hard for you to understand that no one demonstrates in anyone else’s name.”

 

We can point out that the fence the Israelis are defending is not a “border” (What country are the Gazans in?), but the boundary of a ghetto, what Conservative British PM David Cameron calleda giant “prison camp” and Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling called“the largest concentration camp ever to exist.” It’s a camp that tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced into by the Zionist army. The right of those families (80% of Gaza’s population) to leave that confinement and go home is a basic human right and black-letter international law.

 

We can point out that Gazans aren’t just trying to cross a line in the sand, they are trying to break a siege,and that: “The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. …There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the head.” Those were, after all, thewords ofIsraeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, when he was justifying Israel’s attack on Egypt in 1967. And they are confirmed today by New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who says: “The blockade of Gaza has to be lifted immediately and unconditionally.”

 

We can point out that there can be no excuse in terms of modern international law or human rights principles for Israel’s weeks-long “calculated, unlawful” (HRW) mass killing and crippling or unarmed protestors who were standing quietly, kneeling and praying, walking away, and tending to the wounded hundreds of meters from any “fence”—shootings carried out not in any “fog of war” confusion, but with precise, targeted sniper fire (which, per standard military practice, would be from two-manteams).

As the IDF bragged, in a quickly deleted tweet:  “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.” Indeed, as Human Rights Watch reports, senior Israeli officialsorderedsnipers to shoot demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life, and many demonstrators were shot hundreds of meters, and walking away, from the fence.

 

We can point out that the IDF’s quick deletion of that tweet indicates its consciousness of guilt awareness, in the face of proliferating images of gruesome, unsupportable casualties, of how bad a Rosner-like “no apology, no regrets” discourse sounds. After all, it’s hard, since they “know where every bullet landed,” not to conclude the Israelis deliberately targeted journalists and medical personnel, who were never threatening to “violate [Israel’s] territorial integrity.” There have been at least 66 journalists wounded and 2 killedwearing clearly marked blue “PRESS” flak jackets. And everyone should see the powerful interviewwith Canadian doctor, Tarek Loubani, who was shot in the leg, describing how, after six weeks with no paramedic casualties, suddenly:

“in one day, 19 paramedics—18 wounded plus one killed—and myself were all injured, so—or were all shot with live ammunition. We were all… away during a lull, without smoke, without any chaos at all, and we were targeted…So, it’s very, very hard to believe that the Israelis who shot me and the Israelis who shot my other colleagues… It’s very hard to believe that they didn’t know who we were, they didn’t know what we were doing, and that they were aiming at anything else.”

 

It was on another day that this 21-year-old “nominal civilian” nurse, Razan al-Najjar, was killedby an Israeli sniper while tending to the wounded.

 

Of course, pointing all this out won’t mean anything to these apologists or to those who give them a platform. Everybody knows the ethico-political double standard at work here. No other country in the world would get away with such blatant crimes against humanity without suffering a torrent of criticism from Western politicians and media pundits, including every liberal and conservative Zionist apologist cited above. Razan’s face would be shining from every page and screen of every Western media outlet, day after day, for weeks. Even an “allied” nation would get at least a public statement or diplomatic protest; any disfavored countries would face calls for punishment ranging from economic sanctions to “humanitarian intervention.” Israel gets unconditional praisefrom America’s UN Ambassador.

Indeed, if the American government “defended” its own actual international border in this way, liberal Zionists would be on the highest of moral saddles excoriating the Trump administration for its crime against humanity. And—forgetting, as is obligatory, the thousands of heavily-armed Jewish Zionists who regularly force their way across actual international borders with impunity—if  some Arab country’s snipers killed hundreds and wounded tens of thousands of similarly unarmed Jewish Zionist men, women, children, and paraplegics who were demonstrating at an actual international border for the right to return to their biblical homeland, we all know the howling and gnashing of morally outraged teeth that would ensue from every corner of the Western political and media universe. No “Guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing” would be published in the NYT,or tolerated in polite company, for that scenario.

 

Nathan J. Robinson got to the bottom line in his wonderful shreddingof Rosner’s argument, it comes down to: “Any amount of Palestinian death, however large, was justified to prevent any amount of risk to Israelis, however small.” Western governments and media have fashioned, and are doing their utmost to sustain, an ethico-political universe where Israel canlay siege to a million people, ‘bomb them occasionally,’ and then kill them when they show up at the wall to throw rocks.”

 

Is there a way anymore of not seeing the racism of Zionism? Can we just say, once and for all, that the interests of Palestinians—not as pitiable creatures but as active, fully, enfranchised human beings—are not anywhere on the list of Soffer’s or Dichter’s or Rosner’s (or the Western media’s or governments’) priorities, and refuse any of their pitifully disingenuous expressions of concern for the Palestinians’ benefit? Nobody gets to put “For your own benefit,” in front of “Surrender or I’ll put a bullet in your head.” The onlyconcern any of these commentators have for the people of Gaza is that they submissively accept their forced displacement and imprisonment in “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.”

 

Does the vulgarity of it shock you?

 

The “human shields, human sacrifice” trope, which all these apologias hang on, is particularly mendacious and hypocritical as used by Zionists. It’s also a classic example of projection.

This is a “human shield”:

It is Israel which has repeatedly used the specific, prohibitedtactic of using children as “human shields” to protect its military forces. According tothe U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Israel is guilty of the “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants.” Besides this namby-pamby UN Committee that no red-blooded American/Zionist would pay any attention to, the High Court of Justice in Israel identified and denounced the “human shield” procedures the IDF acknowledged and defended using 1,200 times. These include “the ‘neighbor procedure,’ whereby neighbors of wanted Palestinians are forced to go into the wanted man’s house ahead of troops, in case it is booby-trapped,” andIsraeli “soldiers forcibly position[ing] members of [a] family, including the children, at the windows of [a] home and proceed[ing] to fire from behind them.”

So, when Zionists use a “human shields” argument as a moral cudgel against unarmed civilian protestors, and a moral justification for a powerful army, which brazenly uses children to shield its own soldiers, killing scores of those protestors by the day—well, it’s not a stretch to see this charge is a projection of Zionists’ own pattern of thought and behavior.

 

Besides being an ongoing tactic of today’s Israeli army, “human shields” and the “human sacrifice” they imply were an integral element of the Zionist narrative—expressly articulated and embraced, with no apology, as a necessity for the establishment of a Jewish State.

 

Take a look at what Edward Said in 2001 called: “the main narrative model that [still] dominates American thinking” about Israel, and David Ben-Gurion called“as a piece of propaganda, the best thing ever written about Israel.” It’s the “’Zionist epic’…identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionismand support for Israelin the United States.” In this piece of iconic American culture, an American cultural icon—more sympathetically liberal than whom there is not—explains why he, as a Zionist, is not bluffing in his threat to blow up his ship and its 600 Jewish refugees if they are not allowed to enter the territory they want:

 

–You mean you’d still set it [200 lbs. of dynamite] off, knowing you’ve lost?…Without any regard for the lives you’d be destroying?…

Every person on this ship is a soldier. The only weapon we have to fight with is our willingness to die.

–But for what purpose?”

Call it publicity.

Publicity?

Yes, publicity. A stunt to attract attention….Does the vulgarity of it shock you?

More Zionist tough love.

 

In the face of the scurrilous “human shield” accusation against Palestinians now being used to denigrate the killed, maimed, and still-fighting protestors in Gaza, we would do well to recall Paul Newman’s Zionist-warrior, “no apology,” argument for 600 telegenically deadJewish men, women, and children as a publicity stunt to gain the sympathy of the world.

 

Lest we dismiss this as a fiction, remember that Paul Newman’s fictional boat, Exodus, is based on a real ship, the SS Patria. In 1940, the Patriawas carrying 1800 Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe whom the British authorities refused entry into Palestine. While the Patria was in the port of Haifa, it was blown up and sunk by Munya Mardoron the orders of the Haganah, which did not want Jewish refugees going anywhere but Palestine. At least 267 people were killed. The Haganah put out the story that the passengers had blown up the ship themselves – a story that lasted 17 years, nourishing the imagination of Leon Uris, author of the Exodus fiction. This wasn’t a commander or leading organization urging people to knowingly take a deadly risk in confronting a powerful enemy; it was “their” self-proclaimed army blowing its people up with no warning—and then falsely claiming they did it to themselves! Nobody who wouldn’t use “bottomlessly cynical” to denigrate the Haganah should be using it to denigrate Gazans.

 

At a crucial moment in history, it was Zionists who practiced a foundational “human shield” strategy, holding the victims of Nazism “hostage” to the Zionist “statehood” project – as none other than the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, recognized and criticized:

I cannot rid myself of the feeling that the unfortunate Jews of Europe’s D. P. [Displaced Persons] camps are helpless hostages for whom statehood has been made the only ransom. …[W]hy in God’s name should the fate of all these unhappy people be subordinated to the single cry of Statehood?

 

The Exodus/Patria/Paul Newman/Haganah willingness to blow up hundreds of Jewish refugees in order to force their way into a desired territory was an attitude endemic to the Zionist movement, and enunciated quite clearly by its leader, David Ben-Gurion, as early as 1938: “If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter.” You want human sacrifice?…

 

(Sulzberger, by the way, “opposed political Zionism not solely because of the fate of Jewish refugees because he disliked the ‘coercive methods’ of Zionists in this country who use economic means to silence those with differing views.” Yes, the NYT!  So change is possible.)

 

What’s Right Is Wrong

 

And here’s the thing: You want to call what the Gazans did—coming out unarmed by the thousands, knowing many of them would be killed by a heavily-armed adversary determined to put them down by whatever means necessary—a “politics of human sacrifice”? You are right.

Just as you’d be right to say that of the Zionist movement, when it was weak and faced with much stronger adversaries. And just as you’d be right to say it of the unarmed, non-violent Civil Rights Movement, when it faced the rageful determination of the immensely more powerful American South, to preserve the century-old Jim Crow apartheid that wasits identity, by whatever means necessary.

 

Princeon Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. nailed it when, to the visible discomfort of his MSNBC co-panelists, he respondedto the invocation of the White House line that it’s “all Hamas’ fault and that they’re using them as tools for propaganda,” with: “That’s like saying to the children in the Children’s March of Birmingham it was their fault that Bull Connor attacked them.”

 

Civil-rights activists did put children on the front lines, and put their own and those children’s lives in danger to fight and defeat Jim Crow. They knew there were a lot of people armed and willing to kill them. And children, as well as activists, were killed. And those actions weresupported (but by no means “orchestrated”) by “extremist” organizations—i.e., the Communist Party. At the time, conservatives attacked Freedom Riders with the same arguments that Zionists are now using to attack Gaza Return Marchers.

All unarmed, non-violent but disruptive, Gandhian strategies to eliminate entrenched systems of colonial-apartheid rule will knowingly sacrifice many lives to attain their victory. Call it a politics of human sacrifice if you want. I won’t make any ingénue objections. But it’s not a sign of the subjugated people’s cynicism; it’s a result of their predicament.

“Human sacrifice” defines the kind of choices a desperate and subjugated people are forced to make in the face of armed power they cannot yet overcome. A militarily-weak insurgent/liberation movement must use an effectively self-sacrificing strategy of moral suasion. That is now a standard and powerful weapon in political struggle. (Though moral suasion alone will not win their rights. Never has. Never will.)

 

For Gazans, it’s the choice between living in a hell of frustration, misery, insult, confinement, and slow death, or resisting and taking the high risk of instant death. It’s the choice faced by people whose “dreams are killed” by Israel’s siege and forced expulsion, and who are willing to risk their lives  “for the world’s attention.” Young men like Saber al-Gerim, for whom, “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not. Death or life — it’s the same thing.” Or the one who told Amira Hass: “We die anyway, so let it be in front of the cameras.” Or 21-year-old Fathi Harb, who burned himself to death last Sunday. Or Jihadi al-Najjar, who had to make the choice between continuing to care for his blind father (“He was my sight. He helped me in everything, from going to the bathroom to taking a shower to providing for me…I saw life through Jihadi’s eyes.”) or being killed by an Israeli sniper while, as his mother Tahani says “defending the rights of his family and his people.”

 

Tough choices, to get the world’s attention. This is the kind of choice imposed on the untermenschen of colonial-apartheid regimes. The only weapon they have is their willingness to die. But Gazans won’t get the sympathetically-anguished Paul Newman treatment. Just “bottomlessly cynical.”

 

Paul’s choice, Sophie’s choice, is now Saber’s and Jihad’s and Fathi’s, and it’s all bad. Maybe some people—comrades and allies in their struggle—have a right to say something about how to deal with that choice. But the one who doesn’t, the one who has no place to say or judge anything about that choice, is the one who is forcing it. Those who are trying to fight their way out of a living hell are not to be lectured to by the devil and his minions.

So, yes, in a very real sense, for the Palestinians, it is a politics of human sacrifice—to American liberals, the gods who control their fate.

 

By choosing unarmed, death-defying resistance, Palestinians are sacrificing their lives to assuage the faux-pacifist conscience of Americans and Europeans (particularly, I think, liberals), who have decreed from their Olympian moral heights that any other kind of resistance by these people will be struck down with devastating lightning and thunder.

 

Funny, that these are the same gods the Zionists appealed to to seize their desired homeland, and the same gods the civil-rights activists appealed to to wrest their freedom from local demons of lesser strength. Because, in their need to feel “sympathy and pity,” the sacrifice of human lives seems the only offering to which these gods might respond.

 

The Nakba Is Now

 

The Israelis and their defenders are right about something else: They cannot allow a single Gazan to cross the boundary. They know it would be a fatal blow to their colonial-supremacist hubris, and the beginning of the end of Zionism—just as Southern segregationists knew that allowing a single black child into the school was going to be the beginning of the end of Jim Crow. Palestinians gaining their basic human rights means Israeli Jews losing their special colonial privileges.

 

As Ali Abunimah points out, Arnon Soffer was right, when he said: “If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist,” and Rosner, when he said the Gazans threatened the “elimination of Israel.” To continue to exist as the colonial-apartheid polity it is, Israel must maintain strict exclusionist, “noright of return,” policies. Per Abunimah: “the price of a ‘Jewish state’ is the permanent and irrevocable violation of Palestinians’ rights…If you support Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” in a country whose indigenous Palestinian people today form half the population, then you… must come to terms with the inevitability of massacres.”

 

What’s happening in Gaza is not only, as Abunimahsays, a “reminder… of the original sin of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of a so-called Jewish state,” it is a continuation of that unfinished work of the devil. The Nakba is now.

 

 

I’m all for everybody on both sides of the issue to be aware of the stakes and risks in this struggle, without any disingenuous denials.

 

 

Whether you sympathize with, or denigrate, the choices of people who put their own, their comrades’, and even their children’s, lives at risk is not determined by whether some tactical choices can be characterized as “human shields, human sacrifice”; it’s determined by what they’re fighting for, and what and whom they are fighting against, anwhere your solidarity lies.

 

 

Stage Left

 

Here’s the core of the disagreement about Gaza (and Palestine in general): There are those—they call themselves Zionists—who think the Palestinians deserve to have been put in that concentration camp, and who stand in solidarity with the soldiers who, by whatever means necessary, are forcing them to stay there. And there are those—the growing numbers who reject Zionism—who stand in solidarity with every human being trying to get out of that camp by whatever means necessary.

 

There’s a fight—between those breaking out of the prison and those keeping them in; between those seeking equality and those enforcing ethno-religious supremacism; between the colonized and the colonizer. Pick a side. Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner, and Tom Friedman have. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Breitbart have. ABC, CBS, (MS)NBC, and Fox have. The Democrats and Republicans and the Congress and the White House have. And they are not shy about it.

 

It’s past time for American progressives to clearly and unequivocally decide and declare which side they are on. It’s time for professedly humanitarian, egalitarian, pro-human rights, anti-racist, and free-speech progressives to express their support of the Palestinian struggle—on social media, in real-life conversation, and on the street.

 

It’s time to firmly reject the hypocritical discourse of those who would have been belittling any expression ofsorrow and outrage over Emmet Till, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, and the four black schoolgirls killed in Birmingham, while “ingénue mourning” the terrible moral quandary in which those disrupters had put Bull Connor’s boys. Don’t shrink from it, talk back to it—every time.Make them ashamed to be defending colonialism and apartheid with such patently phony arguments.

 

Politically? At a minimum, demand of any politician who seeks your vote: End the blockade of Gaza, immediately and unconditionally. Support BDS. Refuse any attempt to criminalize BDS and anti-Zionism. Stop blocking UN and ICC actions against Israeli crimes. Restrict arms sales to Israel. Reject the hypocritical Zionist apologetics. Refuse any attempt to censor or restrict the internet. (This last is very important. Nothing has threatened Zionist impunity more than the information available on the internet, and nothing is driving the demand to censor the internet more than the Zionists’ need to shut that off.)

 

This is a real, concrete, important resistance. What’ll it cost? Some social discomfort? It’s not sniper fire. Not human sacrifice. Not Saber’s choice.

 

Are we at a turning point? Some people think this year’s massacre in Gaza will finally attract a sympathetic gaze from the gods and goddesses of the Imperial City. Deliberately and methodically killing, maiming, and wounding thousands of unarmed people over weeks—well, the cruelty, the injustice, the colonialism is just too obvious to ignore any longer. And I hope that turns out to be so. And I know, Natalie Portman and Roger Waters and Shakira, and—the most serious and hopeful—the young American Jews in groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and IfNotNow. There are harbingers of change, and we must try.

I also know there is nothing new here. Thirty years ago, a doctor in Gaza said: “We will sacrifice one or two kids to the struggle — every family. What can we do? This is a generation of struggle.” It was obvious thirty years ago, and forty years before that. TheNakbawas then. The Nakbais now. Was it ever not too obvious to ignore?

My mother was an actress on Broadway, who once came to Princeton University to share the stage, and her professional skills, with Jimmy Stewart and other amateur thespians. She played the ingénue. Me, I’m not so good at that.

By all means, regarding Palestine-Israel and the sacrifices and solidarity demanded: No more ingénue politics.

 

Article printed from http://www.counterpunch.org: ‪https://www.counterpunch.org

URL to article: ‪https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/04/sacrificing-gaza-the-great-march-of-zionist-hypocrisy/

 

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(5) Israeli army frames slain medic Razan al-Najjar as ‘Hamas human shield’

 

 

 

Mondoweiss7 June 2018 by Jonathan Ofir –

 

Just when you thought Israel couldn’t get any lower… The Israeli army has just released an incitement video, titled “Hamas’ use of human shields must stop”, in which it frames the slain medic Razan al-Najjar as a “Hamas human shield”– a day after it claimed she was killed by accident. This is more than adding insult to injury. This is adding malice to crime. The propaganda effort is based on twisting al-Najjar’s own words. I have consulted with three Arabic experts, who have looked at the original Arabic interview from which the IDF took the “human shield” text, and it is clear to them beyond a doubt that the IDF was knowingly and cynically manipulating Razan’s words to mean something other than what she said. Bear with me, this requires close analysis: First the video features Razan throwing away a gas grenade in the field.  Obviously, this is one of the tear gas grenades fired by the Israeli army, which she is taking up and throwing to a safe distance. By this visual, the IDF is trying to create the impression that Razan is a kind of ‘combatant’. Then comes the short clip from an interview. The original interview has been found to be from Al Mayadeen News, a channel based in Beirut. The IDF video runs subtitles, saying: “I am Razan al-Najjar, I am here on the frontlines and I act as a human shield…” That’s all the IDF needs. Now, with the ominous music in the background, the IDF text states: “Hamas uses paramedics as human shields”. But the IDF cut out a very significant part of the sentence. Razan actually says: “I the Paramedic Razan al-Najjar, I am here on the Front Line acting as a human shield of safety to protect the injured at the Front Line. No one encouraged me on being a Paramedic, I encouraged myself. I wanted to take chances and help people…” (my emphasis)….

http://mondoweiss.net/2018/06/israeli-frames-najjar/

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Toward Benign Global Leadership in a Post-Trumpist World Order

7 Jun

Toward Benign Global Leadership in a Post-Trumpist World Order

 

[Prefatory Note: This is a revisionof a post that was published as #534 on May 14, 2018 inthe TRANSCEND Media Service with the title “World Order After the Cold War.” This essay discusses possible future geopolitical relationships that might provide beneficial global leadership, much needed if current world order challenges are to be met this side of catastrophe.]

 

 

The Cold War ended abruptly and surprisingly, not only preceded by the Gorbachev softening of the ideological dimension but his offers to the world of an uplifting alternative to geopolitical rivalry and predatory neoliberal globalization:  war prevention and common security, as well as internal democratizing reforms crystallized by the Russian words glasnostand perestroika. At first, it seemed to sympathetic observers an overhaul of socialism that resembled the program of reform that Franklin Roosevelt had put into practice in the United States during to rescue the country from the depths of the Great Depression. Missing a goldenopportunity for global reform the West watched with triumphal glee as the Soviet system unraveled. Instead of lending this innovative leader in Moscow a helping hand the United States did all it could do to hastenthe Soviet collapse. How different, and better, the world might have been if Washingtonhad sought to make Gorbachev’s Kremliin the redesignof world order along humanistic lines!

 

This lost opportunity to transform the negative bipolarity of the Cold War era in the direction of positive bipolarity illustrated a historically significant failure of moral and political imagination. The essence of positive bipolarity would have involved transformations of the war system and predatory capitalism as the basis of world order. This would be combined with an embrace of common security at the level of sovereign states, human security as the level of society, and a reliance on robust lawmaking multilateralism in the face of such global challenges as nuclear weaponry, climate change, acute poverty, and migration.

 

The aftermath of the Cold War exhibited several forms of dysfunctionality: failures by the Amercan-led West to recognize and act upon a new global agenda that served the human interestrather than continue to pursue geopolitical ambitionsby relying on coercive diplomacy, an inadequately regulated world economy,  and militarist leverage. With a variety of global disasters in the offing, it is more urgent than ever to explore whether there remains an emergent possibility of positive forms of world order.  A brief overview of what went wrong after the Cold War ended serves as a prelude to exploring what might be put right, although not at all likely to happen without transnational revolutionary ferment in support of humane global governance.

 

 

The Failed Response: Unipolarity

 

With the Cold War over, a unipolar moment appeared to be the most accurate way of regarding the geopolitical structure of world politics after this geopolitically painless ending of Cold War bipolarity, fortunately occurring without an accompanying major warfare or civil strife. The United States despite the wide open window of opportunity, seemed to take no notice, and instead built a bridge to nowhere called ‘full spectrum dominance.’

 

It does appear in retrospect that U.S. suffered from a paralyzing version of triumphalism after the Soviet collapse, glorified in  various shortsighted narratives of its victory, most influentially, perhaps, by Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History. Establishment gurus supported the American-led response to Iraq’s attack and annexation of Kuwait in 1990, especially with the backing of the peacekeeping consensus at the UN, and a ringing proclamation by George H.W. Bush of ‘a new world order.’ He based this enthusiasm on the apparent new potential for P-5 cooperation under U.S. leader and a more active UN role, finally seeming to fulfill Charter intentions. Unfortunately, these hopes were never thought through, and proved in any event to be transitory.

 

The Bush, Sr. presidency showed quickly its lack of commitment to the emergence of a new world order beyond the opportunistic and temporary relevance of the label to help mobilize an anti-Iraq consensus to support a legally questionable recourse to war. The idea that this was the beginning of more serious forms of collective global governance in the aftermath of the Cold War was just not present in the American political imaginary. Rather the low causality efficiency of the military operations that achieved an easy victory in the Gulf War overcame the lingering so-called Vietnam  Syndrome, thereby restoring the confidence of the U.S. in the relevance of its military prowess. Not since the humbling defeat in Vietnam was there any public belief that the war machine could prevail quickly in time and at acceptable costs.

 

Bill Clinton’s presidency was no more capable of shaping a constructive international response to the new realities of international life than had been the elder Bush. Clinton promoted the predatory capitalist view of the new world order by giving priority to the efficiency of transnational capital at the expense of the wellbeing of people. This goal of facilitating the transnational flow of capital contributed to a perverse shift of ideological emphasis from Keynesian to neoliberal economics, further marginalizing concern for the harmful human consequences of unregulated markets, setting the stage for various forms of trouble. This shift to neoliberalism is significantly responsible for the severe inequalities that now afflict the internal public orders of many states, as well as insufficient attention to global warming. The resulting alienation helps explain the rise of freely elected autocrats whose popularity rests on a mindless hostility to the established order.

 

Perhaps the most tragic effect of such responses to the end of the Cold War was the lost opportunity to exert two major forms of positive U.S. leadership: seriously proposing international negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament and other forms of demilitarization; and strengthening the UN by adding non-Western permanent members to the Security Council to reflect the new geopolitical landscape, as well as confining the veto to circumstances of self-defense.

 

The 1990s did achieve a temporary depolarization in international relations yet without accompanying normative improvements by strengthening international institutions to uphold global interests. U.S. leadership was focused on narcissistic geopolitics lacking even a self-interested long-term vision. This kind of lapse was further aggravated by the rise of neoconservative influence in the U.S. that favored relying on military superiority to promote strategic interests, especially in the Middle East.

 

 

Mishandling Mega-Terrorism After 9/11

 

The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were apparently the work of a non-state actor, heralding two broad developments affecting the structure and processes of world order: first, the resecuritizing of international relations, which meant reasserting the primacy of politics over economics as the vector of geopolitical behavior; secondly, deciding that the proper response to the attacks should be shaped by the war paradigm rather than the crime paradigm, which had been relied upon in the past by governments when dealing with terrorism.

 

In one respect, the war on terror was an extension of unipolarity, especially given the political logic articulated by George W. Bush to the effect, ‘you are either with us, or with the terrorists.’ Beyond this demand for solidarity with the counterterrorist side, there is the sense that territorial sovereignty of any country can be legally breached if its government is unable or unwilling to eliminate terrorists from its soil. There are no safe havens if the entire world becomes the battlefield.

 

The decision of the Bush Jr. presidency to treat the 9/11 attacks as ‘war’ rather ‘crime’ has caused many concerns about civilizational decline, and the abandonment of international law and common humanity. The names Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are appropriately invoked to epitomize what went perversely wrong in the response to 9/11, considering the early attempt to portray the conflict as pitting the evil terrorists against the benevolent democrats.

 

As with the earlier failure to take advantage of the end of the Cold War, the 9/11 attack were another lost opportunity to enhance world order by devising a regime of common security. Such a regime could be adapted to regulating non-state violent political crimes and transnational extremist movements by inter-governmental police cooperation, as abetted in exceptional circumstances by paramilitary and military tactics.

 

The 9/11 response by way of a series of controversial and costly international wars that failed to achieve their security goals despite a massive military commitment weakened international law, the UN, and multilateralism generally. It also seriously compromised the quality and reputation of democratic life in liberal societies by its excessive encroachment on civil and political rights.

 

While the U.S. was engaged in military adventurism at a time when war was losing its historical agency, China, India, Brazil, Russia were gaining influence and making impressive developmental progress. The G-20 was established to create a more representative venue for global economic policy but its lack of institutionalization and authority are part of a confusing situation that features inadequate and incoherent international regulation of the world economy. States, led by the United States increasingly rely on narrowly nationalistic economic policies posing rising risks of trade wars and regressive forms of protectionism. What has emerged is an ineffectual form of multipolarity that leaves at risk the agendas of trade, investment, and development. In relation to global security there seems to be emerging an amalgam of military unipolarity without political effectiveness, exhibiting a helpless passivity with respect to repeated atrocities and massacres, typified by pathetic responses to the Syrian War raging since 2011 and the failure to protect the people of Gaza subject to repeated abuse by Israel over the course of many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatives to Anemic Multipolarity

 

The sort of anemic multipolarity (as distorted by an inept unipolar militarism)just described is inherently unstable given the increasing tensions and harms resulting from insufficiently attended contemporary challenges of global scope. As seems obvious, either a creative alternative will emerge or there is likely to be a series of regressive trends and events associated with worsening conditions arising from one or more of these unmet world order challenges. The most plausible positive alternatives under these conditions are benevolent leadership for either multilateralism or bipolarity. The assumption here is that the United States under Trump, as complemented by a reactionary and unprincipled Congress, is no longer motivated or capable of exercising the kind of leadership role that it had assumed since 1945, admittedly always with mixed results from the perspective of humane values.

 

            What might multilateralism with benevolent leadership mean?China has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for soft power extension of influence together with the greatest surge of economic growth in all of history. China seems to have a mature and realistic appreciation of the need for global problem solving and management of global warming, nuclear policy, and the world economy. Whether it can deliver the kind of globally oriented

leadership needed at this stage of history is an unanswered question. As the most promising nextglobal leader China will need to overcome several obstacles: the fact that Chinese is not spoken outside its borders; China lacks a globally traded currency; China has little experience in global, as distinct from regional, diplomacy; China has a poor human rights record at home; and Chinese ideology, itself now rather obscure, is without many foreign adherents even if its own practice seems pragmatically motivated.

 

 

Maybe it is premature to count the United States as out of the leadership game. It seems possible, maybe likely, that the Trump presidency will, in one way or another, be rejected by means other than global catastrophe, that is, by electoral rejection, impeachment, resignation. It also seems that a progressive backlash to Trumpism will occur in the United States and perhaps elsewhere, as well as a rejection of the recent global wave of exclusivist nationalism. A new global mood might be receptive to a  revival of creative multilateralism, vitality for the UN and other international institutions, and display support for more compassionate global public policy processes that are not narrowly focused on national interests, and more attuned to the promotion of global and human interests.

 

A variant of this kind of more hopeful world order scenario would result from a new global political atmosphere induced by a shared recognition of urgent challenges. Such an atmosphere could lead to what might be called benevolent bipolarityin which the United States and China collaborate much as wartime alliances have produced strong cooperative relations temporarily bonding heretofore antagonistic political actors. This was the case with the anti-fascist coalition. Such bipolarity would complement multilateralism by concentrating policymaking in these two governmental centers of authority, status, influence, and capabilities. It would extend their current reach to encompass common and human securitysystems that gradually rendered the war system obsolete and discredited reliance on coercive geopolitics. During this process security would increasingly be assessed from the perspectives of human rights, global justice, civilizational equality, and ecological sustainability.

 

Such a reframing of policy formation in the domain of security would achieve a new kind of two-level world order: (1) leadership exercised by the collaborative efforts of China and the United States; (2) multilateral lawmaking and humane policy pursued by states, as influenced by and coordinated with civil society actors around the world.

 

 

 

 

A Concluding Remark

 

We are living in a period of radical uncertainty, although increasingly imperiled by palpable world order challenges. The dominant current trend is highly problematic, configured by various expressions of resurgent and exclusivist nationalism that is irresponsibly unresponsive to an array of global challenges. It is highly unstable because the challenges on the global agenda urgently require an unprecedented scale of cooperation and global leadership or catastrophe is almost certain to follow. We hope for the best, especially the resilience and mobilization of civil society accompanied by the reemergence of visionary leaders of state and non-state actors sensitive to and creative about meeting the array of global challenges.

 

What is politically feasibleat this point will not do. The peoples of the world deserve and require a politics that recognizes what is necessaryand aspires and acts to attain what is desirable.A first step in the right direction is a recognition of the vital role that could be played by greater trust in what might be called the public imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

“Sympathy is not enough..”

1 Jun

Sympathy is not enough..”

 

Ten days ago, while attending the opening ceremony of a conference in Vienna commemorating the 25thanniversary of the Vienna Declaration ofHuman Rights, I was struck by the simple words and sad demeanor of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of ISIS captivity featuring sexual slavery and institutionalized rape. [For an illuminating commentary on the Yazidi ordeal see Cathy Otten, “Slaves of Isis: the long walk of the Yazidi women,” The Guardian,25 July 2017]

 

Nadia Murad’s words contained a single message: “Sympathy is not enough. Sympathy does not create change. We need action.” Her manner as a speaker was exceptionally calm, her intonation almost without inflection. Her words were enveloped in an aura of resignation and despair, but her talk avoided the shocking details of her experience, the details where horror resides. I grasped her words as they were being spoken as the gentlest of indictments. Her meaning came across. Empathy although welcome, does not save lives. Sympathy does not stop crimes against humanity. Action might. Action could be relevant. Action was not forthcoming when needed by the Yazidi communities in northern Iraq.

 

Her words were a muted cry for help, but after the fact. It is true that understanding must precede action, but most of us are content to brood over the human condition that let’s such brutality pass almost unnoticed. Despite the War on Terror the Yazidis were compelled to depend on their own meager resistance capabilities to survive to tell their latest story of abuse, and survival.

 

The Yazidis are an old syncretist religion that draws inspiration from Christianity via baptism, Islam via circumcision, and Zoroastrianism via fire. The religion is not theological. Its main practices consist of visiting sacred places and telling stories of their endurance and affliction. The ethnicity of Yazidis is primarily Kurdish, and they accept neither converts nor dilution of Yazidi identity (if a Yazidi marries outside the religion, it is assumed she or h has converted). The Yazidis were often persecuted by the Ottoman Empire as an infidel sect, somewhat similar to the perception of Bahi’as by Iran after 1979. The Yazidis number less than one million, many fleeing to Europe and elsewhere after the ISIS takeover of their region. The long history of the Yazidi people is one of struggle, persecution, and persistence of which this latest phase is perhaps the most excruciating.

 

Listening to the soft-spoken Arabic words of Nadia Murat I could not refrain from thinking of Palestinian suffering. Sympathy for Palestinians is widespread these days in response to the Jerusalem embassy move by the United States and IDF massacre of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators at the Gaza fence, yet still far less intense than Palestinian prolonged suffering and subjugation deserves. Action on their behalf remains anemic, and is subject to social, and even legal, pushback, even punishment. Israel shirks   responsibility. Israeli leaders offer allegations and inducements intended to distract onlookers, and heaps denunciation on those who do choose to act, however mildly.

 

 

 

Nadia Murad’s words were best heard as a non-accusatory lament, although inevitably also a commentary on the human condition: So long as evil is bold and good is pacified by its benign intentions, genocides will continue to happen. The Genocide Convention is there waiting to be implemented in more than a dozen places, but who among the movers and shakers of this world cares enough to lift a finger?

 

I believe that is what Nadia Murad’s brave witnessing was trying to teach us during her brief remarks in Vienna.

 

 

 

 

On Not Remembering Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III

28 May

 

[Prefatory Note: More than usual, I need to explain this post of an article by Vimal Patel published a few days ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Given the celebrity surrounding Robert Mueller since he was appointed Special Counsel to investigate charges of criminal wrongdoings associated with the 2016 election that brought us and the world, Donald Trump, the most anomalous presidency in all of American history, yet also part of a global trend toward ‘illiberal democracies,’ which may be a polite was of describing ‘democracies’ with a soft spot for fascism. In any event, Mueller’s thesis was devoted to litigation in the World Court (more formally known as the International Court of Justice) at the Hague, initiated by Ethiopia and Liberia, to challenge the extension of apartheid to the South West Africa mandate, now Namibia. I worked at The Hague on the second phase of the case as a member of the Ethiopia/Liberia team throughout the year 1964-65, while on leave from Princeton. I will write about the case in a few days. Mueller’s paper was devoted to the first phase, the much contested question as to whether the ICJ should accept jurisdiction.

Mr. Patel’s article is concerned with what struck him and others as strange, that someone with conservative politics should choose to work with someone on the left, especially given the polarizing effects of the Vietnam debate raging on and off campus. I have lightly edited the published text for clarity.]

 

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“Robert Mueller’s Undergraduate Thesis Adviser Has a Great Memory. But He Doesn’t Remember Mueller”

By Vimal Patel, MAY 24, 2018

 

 

Robert S. Mueller III, special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, wrote an undergraduate thesis at Princeton U. on “Acceptance of Jurisdiction in the South West Africa Cases.”

 

 

Before Robert Mueller became a war hero, headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and led the inquiry into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, he had another feat to accomplish.

 

The year was 1966, and he had his senior thesis to complete at Princeton University. The senior thesis is a big deal, and has been described as the defining Princeton academic experience for undergraduate seniors.

 

Mueller’s 117-page thesis was titled “Acceptance of Jurisdiction in the South West Africa Cases.” It dealt with a court case at The Hague about the extension of apartheid to a South African territory, Namibia.

In the acknowledgments section, Mueller acknowledged just one person, Richard A. Falk, “for his stimulating guidance in the preparation of this Thesis.”

 

The Chronicle tracked down Falk, who is 87, in Turkey, where he has a home along the coast. He also lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he is a research fellow in the University of California’s Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies.

 

“He must have been fairly low profile.”

 

Falk has a razor-sharp memory, and 53 years later, can recall details of the case he argued at The Hague, like the final vote count and the name of the judge who cast the tie-breaking vote. But he has no memory of Mueller.

 

However, after The Chronicle alerted him about his star student, he reread Mueller’s thesis. Falk spoke to us about Princeton in the 1960s, and what he thinks about the quality of the thesis after all these years. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Can you tell me how you were involved with the case Mueller wrote his thesis on?

 A.It was a very important case that had complicated political ramifications. It ended up to the surprise of almost everyone of being decided in favor of South Africa. I was involved with the litigation team of the governments that brought charges. The judges were split, 7 to 7, and the president of the International Court of Justice, an Australian and colonialist, Sir Percy Spender, had a second vote to break the tie, and cast it in favor of apartheid, South Africa’s position. The whole case involved whether South Africa was living up to its mandatory duties as set forth by the international community. The main question was whether extending apartheid to Namibia, then South-West Africa, was consistent with the mandate.

 So a key question was whether apartheid would be allowed in Namibia?

 A. Yes, whether South Africa was living up to its obligations [to govern Namibia] by extending apartheid to Namibia. And the South African argument was “It’s the best solution. After all, it’s what we do for our own people.” It was at the height of apartheid. And it made the international community very angry. The court’s decision actually accelerated Namibia’s process of independence, because people were so angry at the decision. It also led to the restructuring of the personnel of the court. It was an extremely controversial decision. It was a big breakthrough for the anti-apartheid campaign. That’s why the jurisdictional issue was politically interesting. That’s what Robert Mueller was obviously preoccupied with at the time. When I first got your message, it didn’t even occur to me that you were referring to this Robert Mueller, who has become a celebrity.

 You don’t have any memory of Robert Mueller?

A: Unfortunately, no. None. And I remember many of my senior-thesis students. I taught at Princeton for 40 years. You do have a quite close relationship with your senior-thesis students. It’s the big thing your last year at Princeton. You can probably text me the names of 10 others, and I would remember at least eight of them.

 That’s fascinating to me because you have an impressive ability to recall half-century-old details.

 A: I could talk about the details of the case for hours. I spent a year working on it.

Robert Mueller does strike me as sort of an unmemorable and unflashy person.

He must have been fairly low profile. I had some very right-wing students, like, for instance, Richard Perle, who became one of the lead intellectuals of the neoconservative movement. I remember him extremely well. He was there around the same period as Mueller.

 

The chair of the department of politics at Princeton was surprised that Mueller would thank you in his thesis, calling it an “odd pairing.” Mueller ended up serving in Vietnam. You questioned the legality of the war. Mueller would become a Republican. You were a controversial leftist. But yet there he was, working with you.

A: It’s an irony I suppose. I’m glad you brought this to my attention. I would have never known about my forgotten connection to this currently prominent personality who may have the fate of the nation in his hands.

What do you remember about Richard Perle?

 A: I remember lots of things some of which I am reluctant to discuss. Despite the political gap between our views, we were quite friendly. The seminars were small at the time, so you knew many of the graduate students quite well. He’s one of the few people who eventually left Princeton as a graduate student, because the department was too liberal for him. There are many arguments about what goes wrong at Princeton, but very few have ever claimed that it was too liberal as an institution.

It was more on the conservative side, as far as universities go, during this time?

Definitely. It prided itself on being conservative. And its alumni were extremely conservative. I had a lot of trouble over the years with the alumni, especially the older alumni. Princeton changed a lot in my 40 years there, and being a visible progressive faculty member I was associated with some of the changes, like bringing women into the university. And some of the more progressive political initiatives that occurred during the Vietnam period particularly. I favored most of these changes, but played very little role in bringing them about.

So having someone like Robert Mueller, who would end up serving in Vietnam and becoming a Republican, wouldn’t be out of character at Princeton in the 1960s?

Not at all. He would be a mainstream Princeton student — in the early 1960s, at least. Princeton changed during the 1960s. and he’s just about at that point where it did become briefly — I wouldn’t say radicalized — but I would say the student body became quite progressive. That’s what alarmed and angered many of the alumni at the time, particularly older alumni who wanted Princeton to remain as they had experienced it.

Would it be fair to say you were more of an anomaly than Robert Mueller at the Princeton of the sixties?

A: Oh, much more. Mueller would not be seen as an anomaly at all in that Princeton atmosphere. It was a year when there was growing tension among students about the Vietnam War. The draft was present, but there were also many pro-war students. Some students began to express the view, “Why should we risk our lives for a war that had no meaning for us?” Because I don’t remember Mueller at all, I don’t know if he expressed any views about this back then. But it was a key moment in the evolution of the political atmosphere at Princeton. It must have affected him deeply, because there was growing tension by 1966 in the university community, and since I was probably the most visible critic of the Vietnam War among the faculty he would have been well aware of this fact.

How does it feel knowing that one of the most talked about people in the United States thought so highly of you and acknowledged you in his senior thesis?

Of course, it is pleasant, and far better than the reverse. On one level, it’s amusing. I do wish my memory extended to the experience of knowing and working with him at that time. It’s one of those experiences that I didn’t appreciate at the time but later acquires a special significance.

 

Robert Mueller throughout his career seems to have earned a lot of bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans found him to be someone they could work with. And it’s interesting to me that his productive relationship with you more than half a century ago — someone with presumably wildly different views — alludes to the kind of person he would become.

A: I think that’s a good insight. From what little I know about him as a public personality, he is somebody that comes across as careful and impresses people with his professionalism. He doesn’t flaunt his ideological views the way someone like Richard Perle would have, or some of the well-known people on the right, orthe left for that matter.

Any general thoughts on his thesis?

A: I was extremely impressed with the maturity and sophistication of the analysis, which was quite unusual for someone who had not yet attended law school. Even though, from my perspective, it sided too strongly with the conservative interpretation of these complex legal issues, he did so in a judicious way and was very fair in his assessment of opposing views. These are exactly the kind of qualities you would look for in someone given this nationally sensitive role of looking into potential wrongdoing by the president of the United States.

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Vimal Patel covers graduate education. Follow him on Twitter @vimalpatel232,or write to him at vimal.patel@chronicle.com.

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ONUMA-san’s WORLD

27 May

 

[Prefatory Note: The following text was published in May 2018 in the Yale Journal of International Law. Professor ONUMA’s text is the best comprehensive treatment of international law, and additionally raises crucial questions about the legitimating impact of a transcivilizational approach, which implies dewesternization as international law up to this point evolved as an instrument for regulating relations among Western sovereign states and exerting hegemonic control over the non-Western members of international society. An indispensable book.]

 

 

International Law in a Transcivilizational World. By ONUMA Yasuaki. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

 

 

A Transivilizational Perspective?

 

Professor ONUMA Yasuaki, long considered among the most eminent of international law scholars of our time, has made a clarion call in recent years for what he calls “a transcivilizational approach” to the study and appreciation of international law. Onuma san[*]is judicious in balancing the contributions of international law to a more humane world order against its limitations in regulating behavior from the perspective of peace, sustainability, and equity or justice. What Onuma san has given us in the book under review is a magisterial treatise that provides the best available pedagogic foundation currently available for the study of international law as a discipline. Although clearly written, it is demanding because of its jurisprudential sophistication, historically grounded doctrinal assessments, and comprehensive treatment of the major legal issues on the current global policy agenda.

 

A few years ago, in an apparent effort to reinforce his Japanese identity, Onuma san wrote to friends and colleagues, requesting that they address him as “ONUMA (or Onuma) san” in accord with Japanese protocol, and even if closely associated, refrain from the Western habit of calling friends by their first names, that is, “Yasuaki.” I suspect that this outstanding scholarly contribution is also an outgrowth of such a maturing of Onuma san’s psycho-political consciousness, resting on an insistence that the future legitimacy and effectiveness of international law will depend on whether it can overcome what Onuma san calls its West-centric bias and orientation.

 

For many years I worked rather closely with another leading, now deceased, Japanese scholar, Yoshikazu Sakamoto, in a multi-civilizational project, the World Order Models Project.[1]  What makes this reference relevant is that Sakamoto’s preoccupation, alone among the dozen or so participating scholars from around the world representing a wide range of legal traditions and policy priorities, was focused on “identity” as the prime world order challenge of the late twentieth-century post-colonial world. It makes me wonder now whether there is something about Japanese cultural sensitivity in the period since the end of World War II that seeks to find a distinctive path into the “lifeworld” (Habermas) that is authentically faithful to the Japanese national circumstance, yet (i) maintains its intellectual and emotional distance from the United States/Europe and China and (ii) possesses the transnational tools and accompanying outlook needed to solve the challenges facing what Onuma san calls “humankind,” which seems an apparent move in the direction of feminist political correctness, scrapping the more familiar terminology of “mankind.”

 

Onuma san appears somewhat anguished, not only by a keen awareness of the inherent “impossibility” of achieving a genuine transcivilizatonal approach, given the dominance of Euro-American civilization in the evolution of international law and world order, but also by his own intellectual formation. In his words, “I am just one of many modern persons whose intellectual personality has been constructed by modern European civilization.” He adds, “I am a hybrid being, only part of which is an Asian or Japanese” (p. 7). In another passage Onuma san, almost in a confessional idiom writes, “We are all children of Grotius, Kant and Marx, and therefore ‘Europeans’ in the figurative sense”(p. 13).[2]

 

He does modify this assertion by the observation that “contemporary members of humankind are also children of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, and many other non-Western thinkers.” (p. 13). I really do have some doubts about this unsubstantiated claim, which would seem to suggest that we are all, to some extent, transcivilizational without even realizing it. As a sympathetic reader, I find these non-Western influences hard to find either in Onuma san’s treatment of international law or in my own thinking about comparable issues. To be sure, there is presently a disposition toward humane solutions of global problems and the encouragement of peaceful approaches to international disputes and conflict situations, but such views seem similarly rooted in Western humanist traditions of thought and not necessarily a reflection the influence of non-Western philosophical wisdom.

 

One feature of Onuma san’s approach that cuts across the grain of typical international law theorizing is his insistence on understanding present reality by adopting a historical approach to international legal doctrine and norms. Onuma san lets us know rather starkly that he has “learned far more from modern European works published from the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century than from post-World War II theories” (p. 13). He does not engage directly with contemporary international law theorizing in the course of his seven-hundred-plus page book, which is somewhat puzzling, since Onuma san’s perspective focuses on the impact of recent events, especially the collapse of European colonialism, followed by the international participation and economic growth of the non-West, especially of Asian countries.  Onuma san strongly believes that these altered material conditions in the character of international relations must make some fundamental adjustments to the nature of international law if it is to gain the global legitimacy required to be effective (p. 53).

 

Such a concern seems particularly timely in view of the helplessness of the international order to bring peace and stability to the Middle East or to overcome the legal nihilism of a new crop of political leaders, highlighted by the lawlessness of the Trump presidency.

 

Reflecting personally on such concerns, I realize that I am less hybrid than Onuma san, although I completely agree with his aspirational insistence on transcivilizational authenticity for both historical and practical reasons. I suspect that I am less hybrid because my Western embeddedness takes for granted questions of identity and perspective, which has led my critical energies to express themselves as an internal critic of Western civilization. I am sure that this non-self-consciousness, when it comes to civilizational identity, also follows from the way international law is studied in the United States and Europe, employing an ahistorical jurisprudence rooted in Western values and universalizing pretensions, as well as resting on similar conceptions of the international political context. Although I have been a critic of the way Western policymakers continue to manipulate international law to rationalize a belligerent foreign policy, I have not thought of these dangerous shortcomings as projections of civilizational values but rather as a matter of indulging an insatiable geopolitical appetite.[3]

 

Turning to substance, Onuma san’s treatment of international law is convincingly grounded in the sociopolitical realities of our time, making it hard to dissent from the lessons he draws. Onuma san places stress on the fact that ninety percent of the world’s peoples are non-Western, and that power relations are changing in ways that favor Asia and diminish the political and economic dominance of the West on a materiallevel. Yet—and here is where Onuma san’s call for change in approach and content becomes most relevant—he anticipates (in a rather complex and somewhat confusing manner) that there will be a continued dominance of Western ideationalinfluence, which he believes will persist deep into the twenty-first century, even in the likely event that China becomes the world’s largest economy. Whether Onuma’s prediction will hold in the event that Trump’s policy of relinquishing global leadership persists is quite uncertain.

 

 

Conceptualizing International Law

 

Onuma san is very clear about how he understands basic issues bearing on the nature and effectiveness of international law. He blames what he calls “domestic model thinking” for a frequent underestimation of the effectiveness and importance of international law to the maintenance of an orderly world. In effect, the weak institutionalization of authority and lack of enforcement capabilities overlook the degree to which State actors and a variety of non-State actors benefit from a stable normative environment that encourages compliance, reliability, and moderation. Onuma san makes the frequently overlooked point that violations of domestic law are common without drawing into question the reality of the legal order. We must learn to evaluate international law in relation to the specific functions it performs given its State-centric modes of operation.

 

Unlike domestic law, international law is less focused on regulating behavior than in a series of other undertakings that Onuma san enumerates as “prescriptive, adjudicative, justificatory, legitimating, communicative, rule declaratory, and constructive (or constitutive)” (pp. 30, 585). These functions have more to do with the conduct of statecraft, civic activism, and policy planning than they do with governmental adherence to rules. In this vein, Onuma san is critical of the parallel tendency of international jurists to emphasize adjudication in their presentation of the field. This emphasis exaggerates the relevance that tribunals and judicial decisions have to the diverse modes by which international law fulfills its various functions.

 

Not surprisingly, Onuma san credits this more existentially-grounded appreciation of international law to his work outside the classroom and library, mentioning specifically his work as “a human rights activist and as an advisor to a member of the Japanese cabinet” (p. 8). In effect, Onuma san wants us to understand that it is in these non-judicial settings of advocacy and advising that the guidelines associated with international law often make their most significant contribution. What Onuma san proposes for the study of international law is a less academically oriented understanding and more of a practitioners’viewpoint.

 

Again I am struck by the tensions between Onuma san’s erudition and reliance on political philosophy (especially, Hobbes, Kant, Machiavelli, Karl Schmitt, even Marx), as well as early modern juridical works (especially, Grotius), which stand in contrast to his experiential unbookish insistence on comprehending the scope and functioning of international law by contact with the doingrather than by parsing the nuances of doctrineas enunciated by the judges of the International Court of Justice or the elaborate pontifications of leading jurists. In a similar spirit, Onuma san downplays the constraining role of international law, particularly relating to the behavior of major States, insisting that if a legal system works well, disputes are generally avoided, and behavioral guidelines are invisibly respected as a matter of course or to satisfy national interests.

 

Another feature of Onuma san’s approach is the avoidance of idealism and legalism in his assessment of what to expect with respect to the links between international law and justice: “[T]he work of international law is in an irrational world where voices seeking justice are often ignored. It is sad to recognize such a reality, but one should not escape from it” (p. 28). In this spirit, which seems more in keeping with a variety of skeptical twentieth-century European thinkers than with a manifestation of non-Western thinking, Onuma san describes himself as “a pessimist in approach” whose advice is “to doubt everything, including one’s own sense, intuitions, premises, and understandings, based on his or her past study and experience”(pp. 28-29).[4]

 

There are many thoughtful reflections offered by Onuma san as to the development of international law over time—and particularly the emergence of the territorially-oriented European system of sovereign states and its globalization in the past several decades. This transformation of international law reflects both the success of the anti-colonial movement—the greatest pushback ever experienced by the West as a global system—and the essential acceptance of this European way of organizing international relations by the newly independent States of Asia and Africa. This erosion and extension of Euro-centricism has made international law “less imperialistic, racist, male-centric” and hence more globally legitimate (p. 85). At the same time, there is much more to be done in the ideational sphere to attain Onuma san’s transcivilizational goals. He is acutely aware that most writings on international law continue to be reflections predominantly of the Western mentality. This civilizational provincialism will not be overcome until “global discursive space” exhibits a greater responsiveness to the civilizational outlook of the new demographic and normative balances that are heavily weighted in favor of non-Western peoples.

 

Onuma san’s views here do encourage greater self-reflection and self-criticism by those of us who are representative of the West, and this is good. In some ironic sense, for this reason I find Onuma san’s treatise potentially more valuable for Western readers than for others. I suspect that the Asian scholarly community, especially after twenty years of anti-Western critiques asserting the relevance of “Asian values,” needs no coaching by Onuma san as to the desirability of a transcivilizational perspective.

 

I also find that some confusion surrounds the post-Cold geopoliticalappropriation of human rights, narrowly understood in the West as civil and political rights and invoked as a pretext for military interventions in such non-Western countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. In other words, in the post-colonial and post-Cold War world, the West has sought to retain its global role by claiming the high moral ground, creating an entitlement to override non-intervention and self-determination norms that are given priority by most non-Western states.

 

This development raises two relevant concerns. First, the West claims that the human rights discourse is transcivilizational in character, by its linkage of rights to the generic quality of being “human,” even though its formulations are beholden to Western liberalism. Secondly, the relevance of the continued Westernized dominance of force projection, a salient material reality largely under the aegis of the United States, seems not sufficiently appreciated by Onuma san in his long final chapter on the strenuous efforts of international law—as set forth most authoritatively in the UN Charter—to restrict recourse by States to force. It would appear that this central feature of the global security system raises some serious unanswered questions about the materialdecline of the West. We still live in a world where all debates and practice pertaining to intervention continue to be discussions about whether the West should intervene in the non-West, and never the reverse.[5]

 

 

A Concluding Assessment

 

There are thoughtful and analytically rigorous chapters on the main themes of international law, each of which warrants extensive comments beyond the limits of this review. In general, rather than a transcivilizational view, what I find more consistently present is an interpretation of the substance of international law from a global perspective that privileges the humaninterest, yet is restrained by Onuma san’s form of pessimistic realism that is sensitive to the primacy of a State-centric world order that rests on the interaction of egoistic nationalinterests.

 

To illustrate the accelerating pace of history, Onuma san’s treatise was published before the world was gripped by a populist backlash in politics that has reversed prior democratizing trends. This has produced a surge of chauvinistic nationalisms and a series of elected leaders with autocratic governing styles in some of the world’s most influential countries, including Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, and the United States. In addition, the worst nuclear crises in fifty years have threatened catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Middle East with respect to Iran. Beyond this, the Trump presidency has deprived the world of leadership with respect to major issues requiring global cooperation, such as climate change, global migration and treatment of refugees, and famine conditions in several countries. These issues call for what might be considered a meta-civilizational approach that addresses current global challenges on the basis of shared human interests. In my view, Onuma san provides the outlook and understanding that would encourage such enlightened behavior, but it is only presented as a sub-text and is perhaps overshadowed by the less substantiated claim that this treatise provides a transnationalized approach to international law traditions that still prevail under the ideationalhegemony of the West despite its partial loss of materialistleverage due to the rise of the non-West.

 

Despite my quibbles here and there, this is a great book that deserves study by all those concerned about the past, present, and future of international law. Every serious student of the subject can hardly get along without meeting the various challenges posed and interpretations offered by Onuma san in the course of this all-encompassing treatise.

 

Onuma makes a stirring final appeal that is worth pondering: “International law is an indispensable meansfor people to realize the material and spiritual well-being of humanity. As such, people should constantly press national governments, international organizations, and other subjects to respect and abide by it” (p. 666). I find this kind of profession of faith in the importance of international law to be a compelling conclusion, including its unexplained yet resonant reference to “spiritual well-being.” This may be the most indispensable element of all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

[*]Professor ONUMA Yasuaki has requested that his name appear, in keeping with Japanese tradition, as ONUMA or Onuma san.

[1]See On the Creation of a Just World Order: Preferred Worlds for the 1990s(Saul H. Mendlovitz ed., 1975).

[2]Elsewhere, Onuma san suggests that his intellectual personality was also formed by Buddhist and Confucian thought operating on an “unconscious level” (p. 7). I am puzzled by what is meant in this regard with respect to the concrete pattern of opinions and judgments offered in the course of this most comprehensive study of international law.

[3]My own approach to these issues is most recently set forth in Richard Falk, Power Shift: On the New Global Order(2016).

[4]Perhaps, as a gesture to a transcivilizational approach, Onuma san concludes this line of thought with the following quotation of Confucius: “[I]t should be a pleasure to learn and review constantly and repeatedly” (p. 29). I read such advice as not an expression of pessimism or wisdom from the East but, on the contrary, the near-universal view that learning should be a satisfying lifelong activity that allows ideas and opinions to remain alive so long as they do not become dogma.

[5]This persistence of Western dominance in the security domain does not alter my belief that the unlearned lesson of the Vietnam War is the declining capacity of Western military superiority to control the political outcomes in non-Western contexts. For discussion, see Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk (Stefan Andersson ed., 2017).

Once More: Blog Gatekeeping Dilemmas

22 May

 

 

Whenever Palestinian grievances become prominent, as they have recently due to the U.S. embassy move and defiant opening in Jerusalem, which coincided in time and outrage with the massacre at the Gaza border, Zionist nerves grow frayed, insults fly, and nasty moves are made to shift the conversation as far away from both the grievances and Israeli brutality as possible. In the humble setting of my blog apologists for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity invite us to read their comments that blame Hamas for the shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Since Hamas, as everyone knows, is ‘a terrorist organization’ and that alone is supposed to end discussion. Of course, such tactics of closure take no notice of the fact that Hamas was encouraged by Washington to participate in the 2006 elections by Washington, and then was punished for winning internationally supervised elections.

 

After that Hamas quietly tried to urge Washington to take steps to avoid violence in and surrounding Gaza by diplomatic initiatives that would promote co-existence. Hamas put forward in subsequent years a number of long-term ceasefire proposals that Israel left unanswered. If Hamas ignored comparable Israeli initiatives it would be severely denigrated by governments and the media. When violence involving Gaza has erupted, it has usually been Israel that has not only initiated major attacks, but has done so in a one-sided manner inflicting massive death and devastation on the Palestinian civilian population by taking full advantage of their military dominance. For Israel it has obviously been useful to keep Hamas in a terrorist box, which has kept a bright green light shining in the IDF direction.

 

The second argument made by Israeli apologists is to contend that every country has a right to defend itself, and when Israel repeatedly shoots, kills, and maims large numbers of unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition it is within its rights–acting in lawful self-defense. Such an abstract argument is only possible by either ignoring the true nature of the conflict or pretending that Israel, with its vast experience in controlling hostile demonstrations, has no alternative better way to address these unruly Palestinians who have been locked in captivity for decades and denied the most elemental human rights. Such a line of argument should be shameful, yet isn’t treated as such by mainstream media. Imagine the public outcry if East German border guards has used IDF sniper tactics at the Berlin Wall to repel enraged West German demonstrators (with far less justification for desperate anger than the Palestinians), it could have meant war, and certainly would have produced widespread denunciations of Communist barbarism.

 

With reluctance I have blocked such comments, as unhelpfully detached from reality. My actions have elicited especially the anger of Fred Skolnik, Mike71, and some others who have left the website. Fred and Mike have been more persistent, hiding their contempt for me long enough from time to time so as to regain temporary access to the blog, pleading free speech and with comedic absurdity, claiming that I block or filter their comments because I fear that the truth that they have to tell will expose the lies I tell or to avoid their arguments that are so convincing to the objective mind as to make mincemeat of mine.

 

There are some well funded major websites that serve loyally as strident voices for the Zionist right, such as Gatestone Institute, a regular outlet for Alan Dershowitz, and the Middle East Forum, featuring the views of Daniel Pipes. These websites would no more dream of publishing my comments than would Nikki Haley invite me over for dinner. I should point out, in a burst of liberal self-righteousness, that I have also mostly excluded comments that do express extreme anti-Zionist, anti-Israel views that appear to me to cross the line of political criticism and enter with their language the domain of ‘killing fields.’ Exactly where that line should be drawn is not easy for me, although it is obvious for my critics who claim I am easy on those that hate Israel while harsh on its defenders. I can only respond by saying “not true.”

 

It is never congenial for me to play this filtering role. I would make a terrible censor. I waver from time to time, which lead to inconsistent decisions, and sometimes disappoint friends as much as other times I anger my worst adversaries. My liberal, Habermasian inclinations are toward discourse and dialogue, and I am aware that restrictions, even if taken responsibly are a slippery slope. I confess also that I resent spending time reaching decisions about whether comments that stray close to the line of what I would call ‘inhumane apologetics’ (as in defending Israel’s shoot to kill or maim policies at the Gaza border) or involve defamatory attacks on my character, competence, motivations. Except in the most extreme cases it strikes me as a Hobson’s Choice: respond and futile engage or ignore and leave behind a trail of suspicion.  This same dilemma applies to invective directed at comment writers that express views similar to mine.

 

I know I have written along these lines in the past, dueling with my frustration, with some anger, and the debilitating feeling of being trapped in a fruitless exercise, and yet when the volume of blocked comments pile up from time to time, silence does not seem a good option. I am tempted at such intervals to stop comments altogether, thereby sidestepping the issue. I have so far resisted this temptation because despite some acute discomfort, on balance, I find most of the comments supportive and of great interest, containing independent insights, and offering constructive criticisms that I do my best to take into account in the future.

 

 

 

There is no conversation possible, especially as those who disagree are branded as showing their alleged hatred for Israel. As the principal target of such defamatory comments, I am particularly sensitive to the issue.