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On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

18 Apr

On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

 

Not long ago a cherished friend directed a remark at me during a dinner with several other friends: “You keep sticking your neck out. I used to do that, but I don’t do it anymore.” At the time, I listened, unsure whether it was a rebuke—‘isn’t it time to grow up, and stop exposing yourself to ridicule and behind the back dismissals’—or merely an observation. on different ways of growing old.  I am still unsure, but it made me think.

 

It had never occurred to me to stop signing petitions or writing blogs that staked out controversial positions, sometimes with provocative language. It seemed. like an extension of my ideas about global civic responsibility in a democratic society,a matter of trusting and acting upon the dictates of conscience and the affectionsof solidarity. I didn’t start making my views known in public spaces until my mid-30s at the onset of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In recent years, aside from periodic writing on my blog, I am mainly responding to requests for support of activist and academic initiatives by kindred political spirits or sympathetic journalists.

 

I suppose that a certain level of public notoriety followed my period as UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine during the period between 2008 and 2014. During those years I was under quite frequent attack by Zionist zealots, often operating under the misleading camouflage of NGO auspices with such anodyne names as UN Watch or NGO Monitor. It was defamatory and malicious, but it left an imprint in the mud. For those who know me best the main accusations didn’t make sense. I was clearly neither an ‘anti-Semite’ nor ‘a self-hating Jew.’ I suppose it was empirically accurate to consider me as an ‘anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist extremist,’ although I don’t think of myself in this way. True, my views on Israel/Palestine and the Zionist Project were overwhelmingly in support of the Palestinian national struggle for basic rights, including the right of self-determination, but this also represented my understanding of the application of relevant rules of international law and morality. I also came to believe that the Zionist insistence on ‘a Jewish state’ was the source of legitimate Palestinian resistance, and to quell this resistance Israel resorted to the establishment of apartheid structures of discriminatory  separation and domination, the elements of apartheid as an instance of a crime against humanity (as specified in Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court). I never thought of reaching such conclusions as sticking my neck out. I thought expressing these views while holding the UN position was an aspect of doing my unpaid job. This represented my sense of professional duty, including the recognition of the importance of civil society activism devoted to obtaining global justice.

 

Back at Princeton, especially after my visit to Iran in early 1979 during the last stage of the revolution, and the pushback I received after publishing an opinion piece in the NY Timesexpressing my hopes and concerns about the future of the Islamic Republic,  I did myself, partly as a gesture of self-irony, adopt the metaphor of sticking my neck out, attributed this move to my love for giraffes, their grace, absence of vocal chords, and strong kick. The giraffe became my totem, and my home was soon filled with carved and ceramic giraffes acquired during my trips to Africa. A friend with gifts as a woods craftsperson even made me a life-sized replica of a baby giraffe, which was slightly taller than I, and provided a vivid reminder of this identity that dominated my Princeton living room for many years. Yet, strangely, after moving to California I never thought about sticking my neck out until my friend reminded me, and led me to think about whether I am frozen in patterns of behavior apt only for those who are young or middle aged. The question for me is not whether we should stop caring after 80, but only whether it is unseemly for the elderly to keep acting.  Or perhaps having chosen ‘retirement’ from Princeton implies that I should stop actingas if I care, and leave the future to those young enough to have a more significant stake in what is happening and where it is leading.

 

A related kind of feedback from someone even closer was along the same lines, but could be classified as ‘a loving rebuke.’ It was the insistence that I was ‘obsessed’ with Israel/Palestine, and I should move on to other concerns as bad or worse than the Palestinian ordeal, with the example given of the horrifying persistence of the Yemen War with atrocities an almost daily occurrence. Here, I resist more than I reflect. Yet this is a matter of heart as well as head. From both sides, as my loving friend also insisted that she was saving my reputation from being permanently mired in mud, telling me I was smearing my own legacy by continuing to speak out critically of Israel and Zionism.

   

I have long believed that outsiders have much blood on their hands in relation to evolution of Palestine and Israel ever since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Beyond this, the United States had the leverage, responsibility, and opportunity for decades to make a political compromise happen, but refused to explore such an option evenhandedly. Instead, the U.S. Government, especially after 1967, subsidized Israel’s militarization to the point where it has become a substantially autonomous and affluent regional power, and yet continues to receive more than $3.8 billion per year, proportionately to population far more than any other country. A compromise might have accommodated Palestinian basic grievances sufficiently to produce a sustainable peace, although it would still have required the Palestinian people to swallow a large dose of injustice taking the form of outside forces imposing an alien political template on their future, which is the essence of colonialist expansion.

 

During the Trump presidency with its unseemly responsiveness to Netanyahu’s wishes, the situation facing the Palestinian people has further deteriorated in rather dramatic ways: the American embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights have been formally annexed following a green light from Washington, unlawful settlement building has accelerated, funding for essential UNRWA education and health services have been cut to zero, and even the pretension of the near universal international commitment to the two-state solution has been pointedly abandoned. Waiting for ‘the deal of the century’ seems likely to be either a matter of waiting for Godot or an ultimatum disguised as a peace plan demanding Palestinian surrender to Israeli one-statism.

 

And there is the outrage of a well-funded campaign to brand supporters of BDS and justice for the Palestinians as anti-Semites. This was never done during the global anti-apartheid movement after it adopted a BDS approach to South African apartheid. Why is Israeli apartheid being treated so differently? With amoral opportunism, debasing Jewish memories of the Holocaust, Zionist zealots, with money and encouragement from Tel Aviv and wealthy diaspora donors, are distorting reality by using Nazi genocidal tactics against Jews to intimidate those seeking justice for both peoples.  What is as bad is the degree to which most of the governments of the West go along with this smear campaign even altering the definition of anti-Semitism to conform with these lamentable tactics. To get the fuller picture this use of anti-Semitism as a smear tactic confuses the threats associated with the return of real hatred of Jews as embedded in the scary second coming of fascism with diaspora Jews again cast in the role of the unassimilable other, a degenerate enemy of the global wave of ultra-nationalism.

 

With this understanding, I can no more turn away from the Palestinians than those closest to me. It would represent a tear in the fabric of the life and love I have lived and affirmed. It is, for better or worse who I am and who I will always be. It may dim my image in the mind of many decent people of liberal persuasion, but I value self-respect and personal sovereignty more than the conditional affection of others. Having written in this vein, I also wish to affirm my identity as a Jew, and my realization of the desperation ignited by the Nazi experience. Yet such an experience could as easily have been tinged with compassion rather than a racist willingness from its very origins of an intention to displace, dominate, and victimize the majority long-term residents of Palestine. Offsetting this intention by reference to a Jewish biblical or historical entitlement has neither legal nor moral weight in my opinion.

 

Having so far affirmed continuity of belief and practice, there is something to be said in favor of discontinuity, breaking old habits inspired by giraffes running across an African savannah or overcoming obsessions even if morally inspired and intellectually justified. Choosing discontinuity has something to do with learning how to age so that the inner self takes command. The Hindu tradition emphasizes stages of life, to be a house-holder or family person until the age of 60, and after that go forth alone to nurture spirituality generally long marginalized by the pressures of ordinary life, if not dormant. Thinking along such lines, may make my defense of continuity of engagement seem shallow, if not wrong or at least exhibiting a stubborn streak.

 

Having so pondered and reflected, I am no nearer to closure. It feels inauthentic to abandon unfulfilled commitments, and yet to reconcile myself to being nothing more than a pale projection of my past seems a defeat. At least, this semi-meditation has made me more knowingly confused, and I share it on my blog because I feel that the dilemmas of ageing confront us all at some point, and are rarely faced clearly in Western culture, often inducing various degrees of denial, depression, and feelings of lost relevance and disengagement. I have chosen activism to the end, both continuing with sports to the limit of my ability and to honor the political commitments of a citizen pilgrim (dedicated to a journey to a desired and desirable political community that functions now only as an imaginary, yet has the ambition to become a political project) to the best of my ability.      

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Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

14 Apr

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

 

I suppose it is of interest that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found something to agree about—the criminal indictment of Julian Assange.  Trump is acutely vulnerable to the exposure of truth and Clinton blames her electoral defeat in 2016 partly on what WikiLeaks disclosed about her improper use of a government computer to send private emails. Such are the perverse ways of the deeply unjust.

 

The liberal media is not happy with this indictment, although it also wants to distance itself from justifications for Assange’s claims of journalistic privilege, viewing him as a lone wolf with rogue traits. There are solemn assessments evaluating the narrowly framed government indictment charging cyber-crime, that is, publishing illicitly obtained classified documents from a digital source, apparently an apolitical everyday occurrence for government employees. What is apparently at legal issue is deciding whether or not Assange should be protected by reference to freedom of expression or prosecuted as a cyber-criminal without reference to his motivation.

 

A few commentators have noted that the main reason to go after Assange is to discourage whistleblowing of the sort most prominently associated with the disclosures of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Here Assange is accused of conspiring with another heroic American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in obtaining the documents that featured 800 Guantanamo Bay ‘detainee assessment briefs’ and more than 400,000 cables and documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A particularly damaging document was a video showing deliberate bombing of civilians in Iraq by American pilots, clear evidence of a serious war crime.

 

WikiLeaks, co-founded by Julian Assange in 2006, has been dedicated all along to the ideal of transparency in state/society relations as promoted by civil society initiatives. As such, it can be viewed as a service institution of robust democracy, a needed contemporary check on gross misuses of governmental secrecy. We know from a reading of the Pentagon Papers that what made publication so provocative was the degree to which the truths about the Vietnam War were being hidden from the American people through the misuse of classification protocols. There was little in the original twelve volumes of the Pentagon Papers that the Vietnamese ‘enemy’ did not know already. The inflammatory message of the Papers was how and why the war in Vietnam was going badly while the government was disseminating to the world a rosy picture of how well things were proceeding, which had the political effect of extending an unlawful war by years at the cost of tens of thousands American and Vietnamese lives. I remember hearing George Ball speak off the record a few days after he resigned as LBJ’s Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the late 1960s about why he dissented from the Vietnam policies. He started his talk by saying “I only began to understand the Vietnam War when I stopped reading the cables from Saigon.” In other words, the patterns of deception were withinthe government as well as betweenthe government and the public.

 

We are up against a basic challenge posed by the digital age where the government operates as a citadel of surveillance, collecting meta-data on its own citizenry as well as on masses of foreigners, threatening dissent, privacy, and theessence of freedom itself. It was these concerns that led Snowden to do what he did a few years ago, and yet be pursued around the world as if a dangerous criminal, and not at first by the Trumpist right, but by the moderate center that was in political control of the government during the Obama presidency.

 

The republican idea of governance, that is, the founding principles of the American system of constitutional governance, relied on ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to restrain excesses and abuses of power by the state. Such governance was reinforced by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that conferred an array of rights on the citizenry both as protection against an overreaching state and as protection against various manifestations of ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

 

The WikiLeaks role is especially important in the war/peace context as war-mongering governments tend to exaggerate, if not lie, to mobilize public support. This vital dimension of republicanism, designed to distinguish the American political undertaking from monarchies where war was often regarded as ‘the sport of kings,’ was entrusted to Congress, the legislative branch of government most directly connected with the people. The modern security state has moved away from restraints on war making as Congress has virtually abandoned its initially vital constitutional role of authorizing recourse to war. To revitalize this kind of republican democracy requires new instruments of transparency and validation of truth telling public servants. Otherwise, as in the Trump era, democratic constitutionalism can succumb to pre-fascist demagoguery.

 

A reinforcing observation in the American context arises from the corporatization of the media, as well as an appreciation of the unseemly recent closeness of the media to the intelligence and security governmental establishment. This has definitely weakened the independent and watchman role of journalism, especially TV, as part of the checks and balances framework in relation to the war/peace agenda, including the most trusted media outlets. Listeners of CNN, let alone FOX, know too well how debate on controversial foreign policy issues is almost exclusively entrusted to ex-generals,  admirals, CIA officials, and think tank hawks. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear the views of a civil society progressive or an articulate critic of global militarism, American style.

 

In contrast, WikiLeaks is independent of corporations, media, and governments, and has since its inception been devoted to the publication of materials incriminating governments and their private sector allies. We need to affirm WikiLeaks and whistleblowing as part of the legitimate architecture of constitutional democracy in the digital age. By criminalizing anti-war or human rights whistleblowing the political system is ratifying the suicide of substantive democracy.

 

Admittedly, this generalized endorsement of such transparency assumes that the government or the private sector have no legitimate secrets. I think there should be protection of legitimate state secrets wherein the criminality of unauthorized disclosures would require the government to sustain a burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt that the material released was not in the public interest. This is bound to be a controversial line to draw conceptually and in practice. In quite different circumstances the release of the full Mueller Report tests whether transparency will lose out to those anti-democratic forces trying to hide, or at least obscure by redaction, the extent of wrongdoing by the Trump administration.

 

In the background should be the realization that whistleblowers rarely, if ever, act without a deeply felt sense that information crucial for the public to know about is being wrongfully withheld. Even without legal repercussions there are often high costs incurred by whistleblowers in relation to career and reputation. You are forever feared as the opposite of ‘a team player,’ so important for the morale and standard operating procedures of almost all bureaucracies, but especially those of government. I know this the personal experience of friends. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers whistleblowers were forever non-legally tainted by their brave acts of true patriotism. They realized at the time that they were taking big risks of prison and would in any event pay a high price though informal dynamics of exclusion, and yet acted out of their profound feelings of loyalty to America’s professed values. And it is true that Ellsberg, in particular, has been ‘compensated’ by being lionized in civil society as an offset to being permanently invalidated as a high-level civil servant.

 

What is mainly forgotten in relation to these whistleblowing incidents is the truly incriminating content of the disclosures. In each of these prominent instances the material released there was exposed criminal conduct by the government of a kind that threatens millions of lives and confirms the most shocking suspicions about government conduct in war zones or through malicious encroachments on public liberty.

 

It seems apt to recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 message on German war crimes directed at the German people in the midst of World War II: “Hitler is committing war crimes in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under German domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide the victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what they can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.” (emphasis added) Is this not precisely what Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been doing?

 

As the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, reminded the world in his opening statement at the trials, if prosecution,  conviction, and punishment of the defendants is “to serve a useful purpose” it must in the future condemn similar lawlessness by others “including those who sit in here in judgment.” In effect, if the rule of law is to govern human behavior with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the sort of ‘victors’ justice’ applied to the German and Japanese losers must in the future be replaced by ‘justice,’ that is, the application of law to all who violate it. Of course, this Nuremberg Promise has been repaeatedly broken in spirit and substance, and most defiantly by the Trump/Bolton attacks on the very existence of the International Criminal Court.

 

The UN Membership unanimously affirmed that the Nuremberg Judgment was a desirable development of international law in General Assembly Resolution 95(I). In addition, the International Law Commission, the most authoritative body entrusted with the codification and development of international law formulated

The Nuremberg Principles in 1946 to formalize the impact of the trials on international criminal law. Of particular relevance is final Principle VII: “Complicity in the commission of a crime against the peace, a war

crime, or a crime against humanity..is a crime under international law.” Fairly read, this proposition would suggest that the U.S. Government moves to prosecute Assange are themselves crimes, while the acts of Assange are commendable efforts to prevent international crimes from continuing.

 

Such reasoning should also be relevant to the British judicial response to the formal American request for extradition. Of course, extradition should be denied because ‘political crimes’ are by treaty arrangement not extraditable, and if there ever was a political crime it is this apparently failed attempt by Assange to hack the password of a government computer so as to hide the identity of the whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

 

In the context of antiwar activism during the Vietnam War I made the argument that there existed a ‘Nuremberg Obligation’ that had moral, if not legal authority. In effect, the Nuremberg Obligation in light of the material discussed above means that every person has the rightand is subject to the dutyto contribute to the exposure of violations of international criminal law in war/peace and human rights contexts. Additionally, this moral right/duty could be reasonably construed as a legal obligation.

 

Julian Assange should be judged against this background. This applies not only to the underlying criminal charge, but to withdrawal of asylum status by the government of Ecuador that led to Assange’s unseemly arrest London and to the judicial treatment of the extradition request by the British judiciary.

Making Peace: Israel/Palestine

9 Apr

[Prefatory Note:  Interview with Samu Tamás Gergő, a Hungarian journalist, April 9, 2019, on conditions of peace for the Palestine/Israel, with some initial emphasis on my experience as UN Special Rapporteur addressing human rights in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.]

 

 

 

– Mr. Falk, you were an UNHCR special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967” for six years. How normal is that, a UN member, Israel worked against your appointment? What is the goal in this job? The UN needs “independent” experts or members from the “two sides” (pro-Palestine and pro-Israel)?

 

The Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council fall into two categories: most address thematic issues such as torture, religious freedom, and rights of indigenous peoples; a few deal with country scale problems, including Iran, North Korea, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. SRs are appointed after the President of the HRC approves consensus vote of the 49 member states for a three year term, generally renewable for another three years. The position is unpaid, and SRs are not international civil servants, which gives them independence and insulates their role from political pressures to some extent. They can be dismissed only if they exceed their mandate.

 

The idea of having SRs is to secure independent and trustworthy information pertaining to a particular concern, especially of controversial issues. Reports are prepared for submission to the HRC in Geneva and the Third Committee of the General Assembly each year. The expectation is for the SR to be objective, and present both sides of contested issues.

 

My role as SR for the Occupied Palestinian Territories was sharply contested from the outset. Israel objected to the very idea of having a SR for the OPT, and did their best to get someone appointed who would report the facts in a manner that was consistent with their propaganda. I found that Israel’s occupation was so clearly and flagrantly in violation of the rules and principles of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Belligerent Occupation that my reports were consistently critical of Israel’s behavior, especially with respect to extension of settlements to the OPT, annexation of Jerusalem, imposition of collective punishment, and use of excessive force to maintain security.

 

By and large, Israel and its main allies did not challenge the substance of my reports, but directed their complaints at my alleged bias and lack of credibility. The effort was to wound the messenger and avoid the message.

 

– What are the specific consequences of such reports? In addition to forcing the violators of international treaties into self-restraint, is Israel in this case?

 

It is difficult to assess the precise effects of these SR reports. Israel rejects the validity of inquiries under UN auspices, claiming bias and sovereign authority. It also refuses, contrary to its obligations as a UN Member to cooperate with SRs and most UN activity that its administration of Jerusalem’s sacred sites. At the same time Israel is sensitive to the impact of such reports on world public opinion, and relies mainly on Zionist. Watchdog NGOs, UN Watch and NGO Monitor to push back by doing their best to discredit the reports most often by questioning the credentials of the author.

 

The reports on Occupied Palestine did have two broad effects. First, their assessments influence the way issues bearing on Palestinian rights and Israeli wrongs are discussed at the UN, by some important governments, by NGOs, and especially by non-Western media. I remember meeting with the Foreign Minister of Brazil who told me that his ministry relied on these SR reports to obtain their understanding of developments in the OPT.   Over the years the role of SRs has gained in stature as their reporting provides generally reliable information, and their independence, including of the UN bureaucracy has. created credibility and some respect for willing to accept such a position that entails much work, no pay, and can be met with defamatory responses.

 

The. second impact of the reports is to confer legitimacy on pro-Palestinian nonviolent initiatives in civil society throughout the world. The most meaningful such initiative is the BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions). There are other initiatives that involve cutting off institutional cooperation between academic institutions in Israel and other foreign countries, such as study abroad programs. Israel is aware that such global solidarity efforts were a principal cause of the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Israel seems to regard this legitimacy war conducted against their policies and practices as now posing a larger threat than armed resistance by the Palestinians.

 

In particular, Israel has been affected by the increasing acceptance of the view that its form of control of the Palestinian people as a whole constitutes apartheid, which according to the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court is one type of Crime Against Humanity, as specified in Article 7. The assessment of Israel as an apartheid state was the principal conclusion of a UN report in 2017 of which I. was the co-author prepared at the request of. the UN under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).

 

Overall, I think we can conclude that these reports are important although they fail to modify Israeli behavior to alter their policies and practices to bring them into conformity with international law. Their importance is informational and with potential impacts on international public opinion, which often translates into soft power, and this has been more important in the end in shaping the political outcome of many conflicts since World War II than has hard power.

 

– What about the imprisoned Palestinians? Are interrogations and other prison conditions in compliance with the international law and Israeli law?

 

Israeli practices with respect to imprisonment has come under constant criticism, especially with respect to the treatment of children, reliance on administrative detention, torture, and unsanitary conditions. Particular attention has been to the Israeli practice of nighttime arrests, taking children from their homes in the presence of their parents, often with accompanying violence that has terrifying effects that are. long-lasting. Children are giving heavy prison terms for minor acts of symbolic resistance to prolonged Israeli occupation, including the throwing of stones at distant soldiers that have been rarely if ever been injured as a result. There are reliable studies of Palestinian children in Gaza that reveal severe demoralization even to the extent of losing a will to life itself. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults have been rising.

 

Another violation of international standards is to take those arrested to prisons outside occupied Palestine located within Israel. This deprives prisoners of family visits, and isolates prisoners in a cruel manner over prolonged periods of time.

 

There have been frequent long hunger strikes in Israeli prisons protesting conditions. Israel, contrary to international medical ethics, has tried to force feed fasting individuals to avoid their dying in such a way, thereby creating adverse publicity.

 

There are several published collections of prison writings that convey the abuse of human rights associated with the manner in which Palestinians are treated by Israeli administering authorities.

 

– You told me earlier, “extension of settlements to the OPT, annexation of Jerusalem, imposition of collective punishment, and use of excessive force to maintain security” are the main violations of the Geneva Conventions. What is your opinion about the new situation with Jerusalem?

 

I assume that here you are referring to the 2017 initiative by the Trump White House to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move defies a deeply held longtime international consensus. The UN position is that Jerusalem has. been ‘occupied territory’ according to international law since the 1967 War and it is hence unlawful to alter its status in any way that interferes with its societal character and status. The proposed embassy move was condemned as null and void, with a demand to rescind the decision, by a one-sided UN General Assembly vote. (see GA Res. 11935, 128-9-35 absentions, 21 December 2017). The future of Jerusalem is a matter that according to this global consensus can only be settled by negotiated agreement between the two parties for which there is no present prospect. The United States defied the General Assembly and officially moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on 14 May 2018. From an international law and diplomacy points of view, the status of Jerusalem remains unresolved.

 

Israel defied this consensus immediately after the 1967 War by unilaterally annexing Jerusalem, enlarging its territory by incorporated large additional amounts of Palestinian occupied land, and declaring that an undivided Jerusalem would be the eternal capital of Israel. This annexation of Jerusalem was condemned by the UN Security Council in Resolution 478 (by vote of 14-0, with USA abstaining, 20 August 1980). As with the embassy move, this Israeli initiative was a violation of the law governing belligerent occupation, as set forth in the 4thGeneva Convention, including especially the unconditional prohibition on states acquiring territory by force of arms. As such, the annexation lacks any legal significance, but it does create a political set of conditions that are difficult to reverse, and become more so, given the long passage of time.

 

Thinking ahead to the future, there will be no genuine peace until the claims of the Palestinians with respect to Jerusalem, which also reflect the wider claims and concerns of especially Islam, but also Christianity, are given formal recognition. The future of Jerusalem is a test case of whether the Palestinian right of self-determination will be someday realized, or will be forever frustrated by Israeli expansionism reinforced by the geopolitical support it receives from the United States, which has been carried to new heights under the Trump presidency in ways that have brought strong denunciations from governments traditionally supportive of Israel and allied with the United States.

 

– As far as I know, you have Jewish ancestry. Does this mean you ethnically Jewish and/or religiously? Nonetheless, you were called “antisemitic”, because you criticized Israel. In is your opinion is the Jewish community in the US mostly Zionist, or is there a relatively strong part of the Jewish community that recognizes the right of Palestine to have an independent, internationally recognized,  and sovereign state?

 

To respond to the personal part of your question first, yes I am Jewish genetically, but neither culturally nor religiously. By this I mean I was brought up in New York City in a secular and assimilationist atmosphere where what was important was to be ‘American’ and ‘human’ rather than to emphasize ethnicity or religious identity. My parents were extreme versions of secularism, and this prompted a reaction that may explain my strong lifelong interest in comparative religion. In my own identity, I consider my species identity as ‘human’ to be primary, and other signifiers,  including nationality, to be secondary.

 

The reason I have been called anti-Semitic by militant Zionist NGOs and their followers is because I support the national struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights, and I have in the context of UN activity described Israel as ‘an apartheid state.’ This description of Israel is based on the academic study of Israeli policies and practices toward the Palestinian people as a whole, and not only those living under occupation, in relation to the crime of apartheid as defined in international criminal law. It is unfortunate, and harmful to Jews, for Zionists to extend the meaning of anti-Semitism from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel. In my view only when Israel dismantles its apartheid structures of control over Palestinians will sustainable peace be attainable for both Jews and Arabs.

 

Turning to the part of the question concerning the outlook of Jews in America, according to polls more than 85% of Jews do consider themselves to be Zionists in the minimal sense of supporting the existence of Israel as a. Jewish state. But a growing minority of Jews is critical of the Likud/Netanyahu leadership of Israel, and an even larger number would favor a balanced approach by the US Government to the relationship between Israel and Palestine. This latter Jewish viewpoint is usually identified with what is called ‘liberal Zionism’ that tends to favor a two-state solution. In American domestic politics the split is obvious in Washington lobbying groups. AIPAC is unconditionally pro-Israeli, and with rare exceptions refrains from criticism of Israeli wrongdoing, adopting a punitive approach to those who like myself are critical of Israel.  J-Street is a smaller lobbying organization representative of liberal Zionism that is critical of some Israeli policies while being avowedly pro-Israeli, while lending support to the. two-state solution.

 

My own position is critical at this stage of all forms of Zionism. I believe the original failure of the Zionist project was to impose a Jewish state on a non-Jewish society. It is important to remember that at the time of the Balfour Declaration (1917) pledging British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine the Jewish population was less than 8%, and even in 1947 when the UN General Assembly recommended partition, the Jewish population was about 30%. What this means is that from the very beginning the inalienable right of self-determination of the resident Arab population was being ignored and an essentially settler colonial arrangement was being promoted and later imposed by force.

 

I agree that as of now, however dubious the earlier history, the Jewish population must be accommodated in any future peace agreement, but I am very doubtful that this could or should be done within a framework of two separate sovereign states. Israel by its deliberate actions over many years has made this outcome a practical impossibility. The encroachment of more than 600,000 Jewish settlers onto occupied Palestine cannot be reversed by nonviolent means. In this regard, the only sustainable peace would be a single democratic secular state with the protection of human rights for all. Ethnic or religious states are by definition suppressive of minority rights, and thus inconsistent with the modern commitment to human rights as originally set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Such a one-state solution is not endorsed by liberal Zionism as it would mean the abandonment of the core idea of ‘a Jewish state’ as a sanctuary of the Jewish people. It is my view that Jews and others would be better off in a secular environment dedicated to the implementation of human rights for all. True an ethnic state may impose a protective regime for the favored ethnicity but it is likely to arouse enmity among other ethnicities, and over time likely to generate external pressures. The underlying challenge for all communities is to live together humanely on the basis of equality.

 

What is your opinion, could be peace and two separated but cooperative states in the territory of Palestine/Israel in the near future?

 

Earlier, I was of the view that it is up to the parties to decide how to reconcile their overlapping claims to self-determination in Palestine. I thought that the Palestinians had suffered for too long from external. political actors seeking to shape the future of Palestine. The Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the UN partition resolution of 1947 were both interferences by international actors as to how the conflict over Palestine should be resolved. It was time, I felt, to let the two peoples to work out their own solution. In retrospect, there were problems with my position: First, it was not clear that the Palestinian people were being legitimately and adequately represented within international venues, especially after the death of Yasir Arafat. This raised the question, still not answerable, of who could speak authoritatively on behalf of the Palestinian people. Secondly, the disparity in power, accentuated by the U.S. role as a partisan third party intermediary, presiding over the diplomatic framework, made it unlikely that a sustainable peace could be negotiated by relying upon such a flawed process.

 

In recent years, I have shifted my view to a one democratic state position. Israel through a variety of actions, including expanding the settlements, building the wall, establishing security zones has made it a practical impossibility to establish an independent, equal, sovereign state of Palestine. Furthermore, Israel’s leadership and public opinion feel triumphant, especially with Trump in the White House, and no longer feel the need for a political compromise, and seem to be moving step by step toward imposing their own apartheid version of a one-state solution on the Palestinian people.

 

It is true that the UN and the international community continue to affirm the two-state solution as the only viable outcome if peace is the goal. Why, when it is so obviously a dead-end? To abandon the two-state approach would acknowledge the failure of UN and international diplomacy. Additionally, the durability of two-state thinking results from the influence of Zionism on the international approach to peace. A democratic and secular one-state would necessitate giving up the goal of a Jewish state, requiring a retreat to the original Balfour pledge of a Jewish homeland, and involve a major Zionist downsizing.  Such a retreat is a necessity, in my view, if there is ever to be a political arrangement for Palestine based on the essential equality of the two peoples and creating the conditions for a sustainable peace.

 

The reason for a mood of despair is obvious. What is desirable seems politically unattainable, while what is attainable seems unacceptable. Under these conditions false consciousness is bound to flourish. To overcome this mood of despair, we should not look to the UN or the United States. Our best hope for a just peace for both peoples is a heightening of pressure from civil society to such a level as to prompt Israeli leaders and the Israeli public, as well as diaspora Jewry to. recalculate their own interests so as to incorporate the realization of basic Palestinian rights.

 

  

 

 

Joan Mellen’s BLOOD IN THE WATER: How the U.S. and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty

29 Mar

My recommendation of Joan Mellen’s Blood in the Water: How the U.S. and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty

 

If you are able read just one book in 2019 I urge it to be Joan Mellen’s Blood in the Water: How the U.S. and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty.

 

The author on the basis of meticulous research probes every detail to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sinking of USS Liberty in the midst of the 1967 War is the greatest moral and political scandal in all of American history. In what was long described as a ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ Israeli planes and submarines attacked the Liberty, killing 34, wounding 174 American naval personnel. Subsequent critical writing had established convincingly that the United States Government refused to authorize an inquiry that would have established that Israel deliberately attacked the ship of its ally. Those who took the trouble to read the critical literature or were among the surviving crew members were shocked by a coverup that was willing to overlook what amounts to the murder of American servicemen. Mellen addresses these allegations in a definitive manner that includes evidence that Lyndon Johnson, as president, called off a rescue operation, which seems confirmed, and if properly pursued would seem to indicate both an impeachable offense and indictable as treason.

 

This alone would make Joan Mellen’s book well worth reading, but her contribution goes far beyond what prior research and scholarly writing had established and alleged. She demonstrates that the real story of theLiberty attack was far worse than a coverup of Israeli criminality, it was a mixture of ‘conspiracy’ and ‘collusion,’ that is, a deliberately planned collaborative attack by Israel and the United States that was designed to be blamed on Egypt. The purpose of this operation was to provide a satisfactory pretext for launching retaliatory strikes against Egypt with the primary objective of destabilizing the Egyptian Government, and removing Gamel Abdul Nasser from power. At the time Nasser was a thorn in the back of both Israel and the United States. The American and Israeli national security establishments, including some identified sinister figures in the CIA and Mossad, regarded Nasser as a major threat to American regional objectives in the Middle East, Israeli security and expansionist ambitions, as well as to the prevailing grand strategy of the Cold War. The reason that the collusion was never consummated by the contemplated attack on Egypt was a result of the failure to sink the Liberty so as to eliminate evidence and survivors. The contrived rationale of responding to an Egyptian provocation was no longer viable. Even with this overwhelming exposure of the events, it is hard to accept the reality of a democratically elected government so sacrificing its own citizens so that it could hide aggression beneath a phony claim of self-defense.

 

Such shocking revelations, even long after the events, comes at a time when the momentous events surrounding the 9/11 attacks remain shrouded in suspicion and mystery. It is notable that the Liberty incident occurred under a Democratic president. It would seem that political liberalism is always subordinate to the security imperatives of the militarized American state. What happened in 1967 could easily occur in 2019. None of the pieces have been removed from the great geopolitical board game of the deep state. What Mellen demonstrates so clearly is that democratic elections and public trust are cast aside to satisfy the demonic greed of those within the government bureaucracy who are in the secretive business of slaying monsters in distant settings while pacifying their own citizens with lies and evasions.

 

We need to read and upon reflect upon Blood in the Water, asking ourselves two familiar political question: ‘what needs to be done? How can it be done?” It is little wonder that although published in 2018 this crucial book has so far flown far beneath mainstream radars.

 

Blood in the Waterpublished by Prometheus Books can be obtained from all booksellers, including Amazon.    

 

Recommending REST IN MY SHADE

26 Mar

I want to recommend Rest in My Shade: A Poem About Roots by Nora Lester Murad and Danna Masad. It is a beautifully crafted story of the Palestinian ordeal as understood through a primary metaphor of the olive tree, so bound up with Palestinian identity, both because of the rootedness to place of olive trees and the life nurturing qualities of olive oil. The book is a brilliant collaboration between its authors and a group of world class Palestinian painters. The lyric words of the text give clear meanings to the vibrant beauty of the visual art. In its few pages the tragedy and the transcendence of the Palestinian narrative are both memorably vivified.

 

Rest in My Shade can be obtained from the appropriately named publisher, Olive Branch Press of the Interlink Publishing Group, which has long featured excellent writing on progressive themes.  The book can also be purchased from any book seller, including Amazon. You will never regret having this book in your possession.

Challenging Pitzer/Haifa Study Abroad Program: Can Civil Society Act?

22 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The post is an open letter to the President of Pitzer College urging support for reconsideration of his veto of a resolution urging the college to suspend its study abroad program with the University of Haifa until Israel ends its discriminatory policies in the educational sphere that affect Palestinians and anyone exercising rights of free expression in a manner that Israel disapproves, and more. specifically the BDS Campaign. With the UN unable to bring peace, the long failed effort at. American-led diplomacy, and now Trump in the White House it.  is time for civil society to speak and to act.]

 

 

March 19, 2019

 

Open Letter to the President of Pitzer College, Melvin L. Oliver:

 

I write in response to your reported decision to overrule the vote of the Pitzer Student/Faculty/Staff Council urging the suspension of the Study Abroad program of Pitzer with the University of Haifa until Israeli discrimination on the basis of race and legally protected political speech with respect to entry and issuance of visas ceases. Through your statements supporting the rejection of this vote by this representative campus body, you are using your executive position to make your judgment prevail over the decision of the democratic procedures in place to reflect the collective judgment of the Pitzer College community. I find this troubling for both procedural and substantive reasons, and from what I have heard, demoralizing and disillusioning for many persons on and off the campus. 

 

Your statements rely on two broad arguments. First, that the business of Pitzer College is to promote education, not social justice, and that some students might be deprived of valuable educational opportunities. And secondly, that Israel’s alleged wrongdoing is certainly not worse than that of several other countries, and singling out Israel is thus applying double standards and is unfair and hence “political.” These objections raise important issues, but they do not, in my judgment, outweigh the case for supporting the resolution mandating the suspension of this Study Abroad Program until the conditions in the resolution are met.

 

I have had occasion to consider these arguments and to study comparable issues over the course of six years (2008–2014) in my role as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. It was clear that the UN–and indirectly, the United States had a special responsibility with respect to both the State of Israel and the Palestinian people that goes back to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 that is different and. more pronounced than that toward other victimized peoples around the world. Furthermore, as a result of a collaborative report of which I was one of the two authors, written as an independent academic study under contract with the UN Economic and Social Council for West Asia, it was concluded that the victimization of the Palestinian people as a whole was dependent on Israeli apartheid state structures associated with upholding a state that by its own Basic Law limits the right of self-determination exclusivelyto the Jewish people. On the basis of my experience at the United Nations, it is overwhelmingly clear that Israel discriminates against Palestinians with respect to entry into its educational institutions and also withholds visas and rights of entry to those from the United States and elsewhere who have exercised their human right of free expression in ways that Israel deems critical of its policies, with a particular animus exhibited against those who support the BDS Campaign.

 

In so many respects, a preoccupation with Israel’s conduct is appropriate within an American setting.

 

The United States has presided over a failed peace process for more than twenty years. Against this background, it is obvious that Palestinian basic rights have not been achieved either by the UN, by traditional diplomacy, or by international mediation, and there is no prospect of this changing in the near future. The hope for a sustainable peace for both peoples is the continuation of Palestinian resistance and nonviolent transnational solidarity initiatives of civil society. The BDS Campaign has this objective, as had the analogous movement directed at apartheid South Africa, which finally brought a change of governing policy and sustained racial peace under circumstances in which it was deemed by many outside observers as impossible. This attempt at signaling to Israel and to the world that a study abroad program is unacceptable so long as it operates in accordance with discriminatory standards is part of this struggle for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. Pitzer College should be proud of its stand, and it should certainly not be blocked by an administrative fiat.   

 

As someone who has been active as a faculty member for more than 50 years, I would take issue with your distinction between the promotion of social justice and the pursuit of educational goals. It is my experience, reinforced by feedback from many students, that the most valuable educational and learning experience during their time at college was their moral engagement with social issues confronting society at the time. College education at its best should involve moral empowerment by way of commitments on issues that challenge conscience. In this controversy about acceptable standards of a study abroad program, the link between social justice and education is organic. As well, taking a stand on a question of this sort relates to the sort of civic education that helps orient younger people to be active in their participation as citizens of a vibrant democracy, and deserves to be considered as part of the educational mission, and not outside of it.

 

It is my understanding that this is the first instance in the history of Pitzer College in which the president has vetoed a resolution. I would urge you to respect a community consensus on this matter of such deep political conviction and moral commitment. It is certainly the case that reasonable people can weigh the issues at stake in opposite ways, and so the ultimate question at issue is whose voice should prevail. By rejecting the voice of the college community, you are creating tensions that will not subside. If you chose to defer, while setting forth your reasons for disagreement, your actions would create the kind of broader understanding of those invaluable aspects of education that occur outside the classroom in the course of a benevolent college experience.

 

Finally, I should express my own personal interest in having Pitzer do the right thing in this challenging situation. My son, Dimitri, graduated from Pitzer about 25 years ago, having had a wonderful college experience that I and his mother greatly appreciated. I also had the honor of being a speaker at the installation of the preceding president of Pitzer College, which gave me an occasion to renew my affection for the place.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University

Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                               

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

15 Mar

The Ilhan Omar Incident: A Zionist Witch Hunt?

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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