Barr-bed Wire: A Framing Puzzle

2 May

Barr-bed Wire: A Puzzle

 

In the tidal waves of mainstream coverage of the Barr Performance(stonewalling; no show; legalistic hairsplitting; evasion and lies), there is a huge elephant in the room that as far as I can tell has been ignored:

THE RUSSIANS DID EVERYTHING THEY COULD DO TO HELP TRUMP WIN

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

 

This seems to have been Russia’s sole motive in trying to steer as many votes as possible to Trump. This made sense from the Kremlin’s point of view. After all, Hillary Clinton was supported by the American national security establishment, including self-described lifelong

Republicans, principally because she favored confrontation with Moscow over

a range of issues, including Crimea and Ukraine. Many of us feared her political

leadership was likely to produce a new cold war, or worse, especially as coupled

with her consistent support for regime-changing interventions in the Arab World

(Iraq, Libya). Despite my fears about Clinton’s foreign policy I voted for her in the end as the lesser evil, given Trump’s mean-spirited xenophobia masquerading as patriotism and his demagogic political style with its pre-fascist overtones.

 

I can understand why Republicans want to ignore such a framing of inquiry so as to invert the drama by calling for an investigation of Clinton’s wrongful use of a private computer to transmit classified material or to scrutinize the employment of a retired British intelligence agent to compile anti-Trump material. Obviously, the Clinton concern was prompted by this realization that the Russians were doing whatever they could to help Trump. It was hardly credible that she would have taken such a step had Russia been on her side, or that her level of indignation about meddling would have been active given her own support for U.S. efforts to influence the outcome of elections in more than one hundred countries. Indeed, indirectly, the Republicans are shrewd to attempt to shift the focus away from this underlying reality as at some point journalists are almost bound to contextualize the whole Barr/Mueller melodrama in relation to Russian support for Trump. Underneath such a question is a host of questions lying beneath a rock too volcanic to move. Among the most sensitive are questions bearing on the legitimacy of the 2016 elections. Remember that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million, and that the electoral college outcome favorable to Trump depended on exceedingly close votes in several large mid-Western states. Is it too great a stretch to conjecture that without Russian meddling, Clinton would today be the American president This seems to me to be the unasked question no self-respecting democracy can indefinitely ignore, however much Republicans prevaricate and Democrats lie low.

 

Yet while Republican tactics are reprehensible from perspective of constitutionalism and the rule of law, they make sense from the perspective of partisan politics in a winner-take-most in a highly polarized society. But why have not the Republicans framed their concerns around the report of the Special Counsel as presented by Barr in light of this contaminating feature. Surely, Clinton’s efforts were motivated by the knowledge that Moscow wanted Trump to win, and was doing its best to make this happen. By collecting information that showed Trump to be vulnerable to Russian pressures, or in league somehow with Putin, was both a rather natural defensive move but it was also an effort parallel to that of the FBI to investigate whether this kind of convergence could be viewed as a criminal conspiracy. Even if the elements of a conspiracy could not be established to the satisfaction of Mueller, that is, beyond a reasonable doubt, surely investigating whether there was such illicit cooperation was quite appropriate. The FBI, at its highest levels, even wondered whether Trump was a Russian agent. That such an outlandish possibility was even plausible, suggests the extremity of the situation.

 

Perhaps, the Democratic leadership regards it as too unpredictably disruptive to raise questions at this time about the 2016 election, especially as its 20+ candidates are jostling for right to challenge Trump in 2020. But why not back Barr into a corner by so framing their concern about misrepresenting the Special Counsel investigation of collusion and obstruction? This reality of Russia acting on its support of Trump is something beyond the abstract allegation of messing with the American electoral process. Such meddling should be resisted and prohibited as part of protecting the political integrity of sovereign states, but like espionage, it is both a crime and a practice ingrained in the habitual behavior of geopolitics. In most instances, the motivations for such covert intervention are to promote electoral results compatible with strategic goals, including economic advantages and geopolitical alignment. In a few instances, such interference is motivated by a genuine interest in preventing dangerous demagogues from gaining power, both for the sake of stable international relations and to uphold human rights. In this Russian instance, the principal goal seems to have been to defeat a hostile political figure from mounting the throne, but at the cost of promoting a menacing demagogue.

 

Of course, it is not too late to illuminate the national debate on Trump and Russia around this defining issue. With the totalizing mainstream media coverage, erasing all else that is going on in this country and around the world, such an oversight, if this is what it is, should be as alarming as an Attorney General that surrounds uncomfortable truths with Barr-bed wire!

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Does the Overthrow of el-Bashir in Sudan Signal a Second Arab Spring?

28 Apr

Is the Overthrow of el-Bashir in Sudan a Sign of a Second Arab Spring?

 

[Prefatory Note: What follows is an interview on recent developments in Sudan with M.J. Hassani of the Tasmin News Agency in Tehran. The questions focus on the implications of the overthrow of President Omar el-Bashir who had been the harsh autocratic ruler of Sudan for almost 30 years. Of particular interest is whether the mass movement of the Sudanese people and the counterrevolutionary dangers posed by the retention of emergency powers by the military entourage surrounding the former dictator will destroy the hopes of the mobilized population as happened in Egypt in seemingly analogous circumstances. Also analogous is the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that support the counterrevolutionary option in Sudan as they did in Egypt after 2011 in the rising against Mubarak.

 

There is also a pending indictment from the International Criminal Court against el-Bashir, the first ever against a sitting head of state. Will el-Bashir be sent to the Hague for prosecution by the new leadership or might he be prosecuted in Sudan or will the matter be quietly dropped?

 

A more hopeful reading of the Sudan situation (as well as the events in Algeria) is that this second coming of the Arab Spring will be more alert to the dangers of reactionary and external forces reversing the gains achieved by populist opposition activism. Did. political activists. in the MENA region learn from the failures and disappointments of the earlier Arab uprisings of eight years. ago.

Whatever happens in Sudan will be important for the entire region, whether encouraging or not with respect to spontaneous political activism aiming at economic reforms and empowering forms of democratization. It is helpful to recall that the movement in Sudan arose in December 2018 when the government reduced food and fuel subsidies, and only later broadened its agenda of grievances and demands.]

 

 

Q1: Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was recently removed by a military coup after months of anti-government protests against his three-decade rule. A Military Council led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is now in power and says it will oversee a transitional period that will last a maximum of two years. What do you think about the latest developments in this Northeast African country? How do you predict the future of the developments? Will the Military Council hand over the power to a democratic government?

The post-coup situation in Sudan is highly uncertain at the present time. Pessimistically, the military oligarchy that surrounded Omar al-Bashir for three decades remains in control of the governing Military Council. Its membership even includes Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who led the notorious Janjaweed militia that terrorized Darfur in the years following 2003, committing many crimes against humanity of a character that led many observers to charge genocide. More hopefully, the mass movement in Sudan that has mounted a determined opposition in recent months, remains determined to secure satisfaction for its basic demands of a genuine civilian government and for economic justice benefitting the entire Sudanese population. As far as the durability of the protest is concerned, the spirit of the movement seems strong. One opposition leader expressed the resolve of the movement, “We can wait for 100 years until we get what we want.”

What General al-Burhan has so far proposed as a political compromise is highly ambiguous. It consists of a three-month period of emergency rule, which has already been proclaimed to be followed in two years by a transition to a government of technocrats, which is apparently supposed to satisfy the demand for a civilian. The prospect of a government of technocrats seems to be a promise to establish an apolitical form of governance removed from any kind of op. This conceivably could be a retreat from prior patterns of military rule, but it more likely would be a collection of bureaucrats taking orders from uniformed generals. It is doubtful that such a prospect will satisfy the opposition, which has announced plans for massive demonstrations in the capital city of Khartoum during the coming days and weeks to press its demands. These include not only the civilianization of the governing process, but also a softening of Sharia law, especially as applied to Sudanese women who are reported to be the dominant presence on the streets, estimated at over 70%.

 

 

Q2: According to media reports, there have been some meddlesome measures pushed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Sudan. However, Sudanese protesters have declared their strong opposition to the two countries. What do you think about the future of relations between Sudan and the two Arab countries and do you think that the next Sudanese government would be an ally of the two?

 

According to the most accurate reports, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are joined by Egypt in supporting continued military rule in Sudan, both economically and politically. This should not be surprising, mirroring the diplomatic stance of Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, during the Arab Spring uprising of late 2010 and 2011. Egypt since 2013 has been under the oppressive and anti-democratic leadership of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in power thanks to a coup carried out against the democratically elected government of Mohamad Morsi. These three states are opposed to any democratic movements throughout the MENA region regardless of its religious identity. Morsi was a Muslim Brotherhood leader, and one might have expected Saudi/UAE support on sectarian grounds, but what became evident even during the earlier uprising in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak was that these Gulf states gave an absolute priority to maintaining political stability provided it was achieved by rulership from above. In this sense, movements from below are always perceived by these regimes as dangerous, and will be opposed, even if religiously oriented and seeking to remove secularists. The response to developments in Sudan is fully consistent with past political behavior, especially if the Sudanese developments are interpreted, and understood as indicative of a new activist mood possibly linked to the protest movement in Algeria, which can be viewed as the second coming of the Arab Spring. In this sense, the Military Council can be expected to be under severe external pressure not to give way to the continuing demands of the Sudanese opposition. And this pressure will probably be reinforced by internal concerns by the members of the Military Council that a real civilian government might investigate corruption and criminal charges. On the basis of this analysis, it would seem that the opposition has a long way to go before it can claim victory!

 

Q3: As you know, Sudan is part of Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign against Yemen. Given that a huge number of the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting in Yemen are Sundanese, what do you think about the effect of developments in Sudan on the protracted war on Yemen?

 

This is a vital question. It is known that the opposition forces object to the assignment of Sudanese soldiers to fight in Yemen on behalf of the Saudi war policy. What is not known is whether the economic assistance being given to Sudan in this period is conditioned on continued participation in the Saudi war effort, or the issue will be treated as negotiable, and somewhat subordinate to maintaining the continuity of military rule in Sudan. It is possible that the Saudi approach is to insist on the assurance from the Military Council of both continuing present levels of engagement in Yemen and the retention of military rulership in Sudan.

 

There is growing international pressure based largely on humanitarian grounds to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end. Whether this will be effective is far from clear. In other words, there are multiple uncertainties that bear on the future of Yemen, as well as Sudan. So far the United States seems to have remained removed from these latest developments, neither siding with the military or the opposition, but this could change if Saudi Arabia, and possibly Israel, exert pressure on the US Government to support and stiffen the anticipated hardline approach of General al-Burhan.

 

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.      

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.