Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

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.

 

 

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A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam         

23 Jan

[Prefatory note: This post if a modified and revised version of the previous post. I have rarely done this, but due to comments received, and further reflections on my part, I felt there was some aspects of the essay that should be clarified or elaborated. There are threemain points: what we learn about CNN from its treatment of Marc Lamont Hill; the special treatment accorded those that challenge that pillar of the bipartisan consensus that relates to unconditional support of Israel; the targeting of leading African Americans who dare speak out on mainstream controversial issues, a dynamic that goes back to Martin Luther King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War.]

 

 

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam          

 

In my last post I complained about the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as ‘a reality show.’ Beyond this obsession is inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode of Trump’s soap opera from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of developments throughout the world.

 

It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which seems the reverse side of the coin in a plutocracy. Keeping the public entertained and diverted allows the grossly unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and income almost to disappear from the radar of discontent.  Part of this post-political reality show is to reduce the operative sphere of American politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. Such a pattern of subtle indoctrination provides an apolitical certificate of permanent approval to global militarism, neoliberal capitalism, and unconditional support for Israel.

 

Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, by declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equity; a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured ‘bipartisan consensus’ that became the ideological sequel to the Cold War rivalry. It guides both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, which also underpins CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at least be managed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish.

 

The Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is somewhat surprisingly more rigidly enforced in public space than the seemingly thicker pillars of global militarism and neoliberal capitalism. CNN occasionally stumbles by allowing a progressive critic of the Pentagon or Wall Street to get some air time. Such occurrences are hard to avoid ever since Bernie Sanders opposed Hilary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and put these issues on the national agenda. Nothing much happens except maybe a backroom reprimand to the producers of the news programs. It is not the same if the Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is shaken even if only slightly. Then heads fall, and a visible reaffirmation of the consensus position is mandatory. CNN despite its wish to be trusted will not hesitate to treat any perception of sharp criticism of Israel as intolerable. The test of sharpness is whether it agitates militant Zionism as illustrated by the their malevolent reaction to the Hill speech.

   

The CNN dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was dismissed in deference to unidentified Zionist pressures. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at a UN conference. He did voice support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. Yet no fair reading of what Hill said at the UN or scrutiny of his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a reasoned call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contested territory.

 

Apparently, the closing line of his talk was enough to agitate Zionist militants, which led CNN immediately to dismiss Hill: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether tearing this phrase from the clear intention of the talk was a convenient pretext for outside forces to mount their attack on Hill. The alternative view is that this singled phrase was all that was read by those who indignantly ranted about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when my co-authored UN report was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This was enough of a red flag to make the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, adopt a hysterical tone when asserting her arrogant demand that the UN denounce the report, which as with CNN was dutifully done.

 

As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill points out both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various proposals of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational democratic one-state vision that Hill and many of us favor. To consider such a sentiment to be an anti-Semitic trope is a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and in opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly pro-Palestinian, and somehow vulnerable to being discrediting. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else!”

 

Of course, I am not suggesting that white critics of Israel, if seen as vulnerable, are not targeted for punitive treatment as was the unjustified treatment of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Salaita, Rahab Abdel Hadi, and many others illustrate. It is rather a matter of blocking African American supporters of Palestinian solidarity because they can speak with a special authenticity about ethnic victimization. In this regard, it is hardly accidental that post-apartheid South Africa is of all governments in the world the one most supportive of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

Surely, a rather grotesque irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual leading personalities are being implicitly instructed to limit their concerns and activism to their own  grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians, in effect, is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If as a Jew you speak too candidly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are not only an anti-Semite, but likely to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to remain silent when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.  

As Michelle Alexander reminded us in her breakthrough column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not a provocation by that stage in the war for white liberals to be publicly opposed to the Vietnam War, and certainly would not be an occasion for the appropriate use of words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ But for an African American to do so back then was existentially different. It was treated as tactically questionable and even impudent for a black man to act as if fully enfranchised and had the same right as white persons to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race. The chastening reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either intentionally or not served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and acknowledged, will be punished it they dare act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of universal rights as the rest of us.

 

For King to so enter the main lane of political controversy on Vietnam was to cast himself as an uppity black who offended even some mentally colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at least regretted, this supposed distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered by dog whistle to many liberals, black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.” A deeper irony here is that part of the reason that the Vietnamese prevailed in the war against all odds is partly because they derived strength from expressing solidarity with other liberation struggles and seeking as much support from non-Vietnamese peace oriented groups as possible.

 

We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the insidious expanded definition of anti-Semitism is itself malicious. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. CNN’s reflex reaction called for apology not dismissal. Thus, what CNN did fell even outside the contours of the recent Zionist insistence on an inflammatory definition of anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to walk the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill. Surely, an instance of self-censorship run amok.

 

Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill also serves as a warning to CNN to stay within the confines of its lane as lead propagandist of the bipartisan consensus. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they better watch their words or they should expect, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching.

 

The Hill case shows this to be hardly alarmist. The warning was gratuitously reinforced by the response of Hill’s academic employer. Instead of doing the right thing, giving a fair reading to the UN speech, and then supporting their faculty member, Hill was verbally lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. In the public press there were calls for dismissal from his tenured position. For what? Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.

 

Even now, anyone who cherishes the democratic spirit should insist that CNN reinstate Hill with an accompanying apology for the considerable damage done to his reputation and the psychic anguish inflicted. Also, I would hope that the academic senate at Temple, or some similar body does not imitate CNN by maintaining a stony silence. Even after the fact it would send a different message if the university community summoned the political will and commitment to academic freedom to censure their administrators for their outrageous remarks of condemnation directed at Hill, and along the way chide CNN for caving in, and then refusing to make amends. Hill deserves nothing less, and if this kind of punitive behavior is not repudiated by his university community it sends a chilling and obnoxious message—defamation works as a means to discredit Israeli critics, especially if African American, and the media and universities should blacklist such troublesome characters if they seek smooth sailing.

 

 

 

Weaponizing the ‘New Anti-Semitism’

22 Sep

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

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

Weaponizing the ‘New Antisemitism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Charlottesville Through a Glass Darkly

18 Aug

 

I suggest that Zionists fond of smearing critics of Israel as ‘anti-Semites’ take a sobering look at the VICE news clip of the white nationalist torch march through the campus of the University of Virginia the night before the lethal riot in Charlottesville. In this central regard, anti-Semitism, and its links to Naziism and Fascism, and now to Trumpism, are genuinely menacing, and should encourage rational minds to reconsider any willingness to being manipulated for polemic purposes by ultra Zionists. We can also only wonder about the moral, legal, and political compass of ardent Zionists who so irresponsibly label Israel’s critics and activist opponents as anti-Semites, and thus confuse and bewilder the public as to the true nature of anti-Semitism as racial hatred directed at Jews.

 

There must be less incendiary ways of fashioning responses to the mounting tide of criticism of Israel’s policies and practices than by deliberately distorting and confusing the nature of anti-Semitism. To charge supporters of BDS, however militant, with anti-Semitism dangerously muddies the waters, trivializing hatred of Jews by deploying ‘anti-Semitism’ as an Israeli tactic and propaganda tool of choice in a context of non-violent expressions of free speech and political advocacy, and thus challenging the rights so elemental that they have long been taken for granted by citizens in every funcitioning constitutional democracy. It is worth recalling that despite the criticisms of BDS during the South African anti-apartheid campaign, militant participants were never, ever smeared, despite being regarded as employing a controversial approach often derided as counterproductive in politically conservative circles.

 

And of course it is not only Zionists who have eaten of this poisonous fruit. As a result of Israel’s own willingness to encourage such tactics, as in organizing initiatives seeking to discredit, and even criminalize, the nonviolent BDS campaign, several leaders of important Western countries who should know better have swallowed this particular cool aid. A recent statement by the new and otherwise promising President of France, Emmanuel Macron: “Anti-Zionism…is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism,” and implicitly such a statement suggests that to be anti-Zionist is tantamount to criticism of Israel as a Jewish state.

 

After grasping this tortured reasoning, have a look at the compelling Open Letter to Macron, written in response by the famed Israeli historian, Shlomo Sand, author of an essential book, The Invention of the Jewish People. In his letter Sand explains why he cannot himself be a Zionist given the demographic realities, historical abuse of the majority population of historic Palestine, and the racist and colonialist overtones of proclaiming a Jewish state in a Palestine that a hundred years ago was a national space containing only 60,000 Jews half of whom were actually opposed to the Zionist project. This meant that the Jewish presence in Palestine represented only about 7% of the total population, the other 700,000 being mostly Muslims and Christian Arabs. The alternative to Zionism for an Israel that abandons apartheid is not collapse but a transformed reality based on the real equality of Jews and Palestinians. Shlomo Sand gives the following substance to this non-Zionist political future for Israel: “..an Israeli republic and not a Jewish communalist state.” This is not the only morally, politically, and legally acceptable solution. A variety of humane and just alternatives to the status quo exist that are capable of embodying the overlapping rights of self-determination of these two long embattled peoples.

 

To avoid the (mis)impression that Charlottesville was most disturbing because of its manifestations of hatred of Jews it is helpful to take a step backward. Charlottesville was assuredly an ugly display of anti-Semitism, but it only secondarily slammed Jews. Its primary hateful resonance was its exhibition of white supremacy, American nativism, and a virtual declaration of war against Black Lives Matter and the African American and immigrant struggle against racial injustice. Jews are doing better than all right in America by almost every indicator of economic, political, and social success. African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims are not. Many of their lives are daily jeopardized by various forms of state terror, as well as by this surge of violent populism given sly, yet unmistakable, blessings by an enraged and unrepentant White House in the agonized aftermath of Charlottesville. Jews thankfully have no bereaved victims of excess uses of force by American police as have lethally victimized such African Americans as Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Jews in America do not fear or face pre-dawn home searches, cruel family disrupting deportations, and the mental anguish of devastating forms of uncertainty that now is the everyday reality for millions of Hispanic citizens and residents.

 

What Charlottesville now becomes is up to the American people, and to some lesser extent to the reactions and responses throughout the world. The Charlottesville saga has already auditioned Trump and Spence as high profile apprentices of white nationalism. Whether an array of Republican tweets of disgust and disapproval gain any political traction remains to be seen, or as in the past they dissolve as bubbles in the air and soon seem best regarded as empty tropes of political correctness. What counsels skepticism about this current cascade of self-righteous pronouncements is the awareness that many of these same individuals in the past quickly renewed their conniving habits behind closed doors, working overtime to deprive the racially vulnerable in America of affordable health insurance, neighborhood security, and residence rights. As is so often the case in the political domain these days disreputable actions speak far more loudly than pious words.

 

If the majority of Americans can watch the torch parade and urban riot of white nationalists shouting racist slogans, dressed for combat, and legally carrying assault weapons, in silence we are done for as a nation of decency and promise. If the mainstream does not scream ‘enough’ at the top of its lung it is time to admit ‘game over.’ This undoubtedly means that the political future of this country belongs to the likes of Trump/Spence, and it also means that a national stumble into some kind of fascist reality becomes more and more unavoidable. The prospect of a fascist America can no longer be dismissed as nothing more than a shrill and desperate ploy by the moribund left to gain a bit of attention on the national stage before giving up the ghost of revolutionary progressivism once and for all.

 

So we must each ask ourselves and each other is this the start of the Second Civil War or just one more bloody walk in the woods?

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

22 Jul

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPEN LETTER

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

 

                     The Extremist Zionist Media Campaign Gone Too Far

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Contact persons for Cs4af:

 

Sondra Hale, Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

 

Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History

CSU San Luis Obispo

manzarforoohar@gmail.com

 

Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor Italian Studies

University of California Santa Barbara

claudiofogu@ucsb.edu

 

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

 

Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

 

Dennis Kortheuer

History, Emeritus

California State University Long Beach

 

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside

David.lloyd@ucf.edu

 

Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.edu

 

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics & Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

vidas@mail.fresnostate.edu

 

 

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

Smearing BDS Supporters

4 Jul

 

 

[Prefatory Note: An earlier version of this post was published with the title, “The Palestinian Struggle for Self-Determination: A New Phase?” in Middle East Eye, June 26, 2016. This version stresses the misappropriation of anti-Semitism as a propaganda weapon to smear pro-Palestinian activists, especially those supportive of the BDS Campaign. It also clarifies the issues of representation by explaining the formal differences between the PLO and PA, which do not seem presently consequential in my understanding; I am indebted to Uri Davis for bringing the distinction to my attention although he may not agree with my way of handling it.]

 

End of the Road?

 

There are many reasons to consider the Palestinian struggle for self-determination a lost cause. Israel exerts unchallenged paramilitary control over the Palestinian people, a political reality accentuated periodically by brutal attacks on Gaza causing massive civilian casualties and societal dislocation. Organized Palestinian armed resistance has all but disappeared, limiting anti-Israeli violence to the desperation of individual Palestinians acting on their own and risking near certain death by striking spontaneously with primitive knives at Israelis encountered on the street, especially those thought to be settlers.

 

Furthermore, the current internal dialogue in Israel is disinclined to view ‘peace’ as either a goal or prospect. This dialogue is increasingly limited to whether it seems better for Israel at this time to proclaim a one-state solution that purports to put the conflict to an end or goes on living with the violent uncertainties of a status quo that hovers uncomfortably between the realities of ‘annexation’ and the challenges of ‘resistance.’ Choosing this latter course means hardening the apartheid features of the occupation regime established in 1967. It has long had the appearance of a quasi-permanent arrangement that is constantly being altered to accommodate further extensions of the de facto annexations taking place within the Palestinian territorial remnant that since the occupation commenced was never more than 22% of British administered Palestine. It is no secret that the unlawful Israeli settlement archipelago is constantly expanding and Jerusalem is becoming more Judaized to solidify on the ground Israel’s claim of undivided control over the entire city.

 

Israel feels decreasing pressure, really no pressure at all aside from the ticking bomb of demographics, to pretend in public that it is receptive to a negotiated peace that leads to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The regional turbulence in the Middle East is also helpful to Israel as it shifts global attention temporarily away from the Palestinian plight, giving attention instead to ISIS, Syria, and waves of immigrants threatening the cohesion of the European Union and the centrist politics of its members. This gives Israel almost a free pass and Palestinian grievances have become for now a barely visible blip on the radar screens of public opinion.

 

Recent regional diplomacy strengthens Israeli security. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey seek normalized relationships with Israel, Egypt is again supportive of Israeli interests, and the rest of the region is preoccupied with internal strife and sectarian struggles. Even without the United States standing in the background giving unconditional security guarantees, ever larger aid packages, and serving as dutiful sentry in international institutions to block censure moves, Israel has never seemed as secure as it is now. The underlying question that will be answered in years to come is whether this impression of security is appearance or reality.

 

Yet even such a reassuring picture from Israel’s perspective, while accurate as far as it goes, creates misimpressions unless we consider some further elements. There exist a series of reasons for the Palestinians to believe that their struggle, however difficult, is not in vain. Although the French initiative to revive bilateral negotiations is unlikely to challenge effectively Israel’s unilateralism, it does suggest a possibly emerging European willingness to raise awkward questions about the continued viability of the United States claim to be exclusively entitled to act as the international intermediary of the conflict. The Oslo framework that has dominated international diplomacy since 1993 was fatally flawed from its inception by allowing the United States to play this brokering role despite its undisguised partisanship. How could the Palestinians ever be expected to entrust their future to such a skewed ‘peace process’ unless compelled to do so as a result of their weakness? And from such weakness and skewed diplomacy only fools and knaves would expect a sustainable peace based on the equality of the two peoples to follow.

 

This diplomacy was exposed for the charade it was, especially by the subversive impact of continuous Israeli unlawful settlement expansion that was dealt with by Washington with diminishing expressions of disapproval. And yet this diplomatic charade was allowed to go on because it seemed ‘the only game in town’ and it had the secondary political advantage of facilitating without endorsing Israel’s ambitions with respect to land-grabbing.

 

A question for the future is whether the French, or the Europeans, can at some point create a more balanced alternative diplomacy that serves both parties equally and conditions diplomatic engagement upon compliance with international law. Such a possibility seems at last to being tested, however tentatively and timidly, and even this modest challenge seems to be worrying Tel Aviv. The Netanyahu leadership is suddenly once more proposing yet another round of futile Oslo negotiations with the apparent sole purpose of undermining this French innovative gesture in case it unexpectedly gains political traction.

 

Realistically viewed, there is no present prospect of a political compromise achieving a sustainable peace. There needs first to be a change of leadership and political climate in Israel coupled with a more overall balance of international forces than has existed in the past. It is here we witness the beginnings of a new phase in the national struggle that the Palestinians have waged ever since the nakba occurred in 1948. Gone are the hopes of Palestinian rescue by the liberating armies of Arab neighbors or later, through organized Palestinian armed resistance. Gone also is the vain hope of a negotiated peace that delivers on the vain promise of an end to Israeli occupation and the birth of a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

 

Palestinian ‘Statehood’

 

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)/Palestinian Authority (PA) [PLO represents the entirety of the Palestinian people whereas the PA technically represents only those Palestinians living under occupation; as a practical matter the two entities overlap, even merge, as Mahmoud Abbas is both Chair of the PLO and President of the PA; it is possible that as some point these two Palestinian organizations will act and operate separately and even at odds with one another] continue to represent the Palestinian people in global settings, including at the UN. Many Palestinians who are living under occupation and in exile consider the PA/PLO to be both ineffectual and compromised by corruption and quasi-collaboration with the occupiers. The PA/PLO on its side, after going sheepishly along with the Oslo process for more than twenty years, has begun finally to express its disillusionment by pursuing a more independent path to reach its goals. Instead of seeking Israel’s agreement to a Palestinian state accompanied by the withdrawal of its military and police forces, the PA/PLO is relying on its own version of diplomatic unilateralism to establish Palestinian statehood as well as trying to initiate judicial action to have Israeli policies and practices declared unlawful, even criminal.

 

In this regard, after being blocked by the United States in the Security Council, the PLO/PA obtained a favorable vote in the General Assembly according it in 2012 the status of ‘non-member statehood.’ The PA used this upgrading to adhere as a party to some widely ratified international treaties, to gain membership in UNESCO, and even to join the International Criminal Court. A year ago the PLO/PA also gained the right to fly the Palestinian flag alongside the flags of UN members at its New York headquarters.

 

On one level such steps seem a bridge to nowhere as the daily rigors of the occupation have intensified, and this form of ‘statehood’ has brought the Palestinian people no behavioral relief. The PLO/PA has established ‘a ghost state’ with some of the formal trappings of international statehood, but none of the accompanying governance structures and expectations associated with genuine forms of national sovereignty. And yet, Israel backed by the United States, objects strenuously at every step taken along this path of virtuality, and is obviously infuriated, if not somewhat threatened, by PLO/PA initiatives based on international law. Israel’s concern is understandable as this PLO/PA approach amounts to a renunciation of ‘the Washington only’ door to a diplomatic solution, and formally puts Israel in the legally and morally awkward position of occupying indefinitely a state recognized by both the UN and some 130 governments around the world. In other words, as we are learning in the digital age, what is virtual can also become real.

 

 

Recourse to BDS

 

There are other potentially transformative developments complicating an overall assessment. Partially superseding earlier phases of the Palestinian struggle is a growing reliance on global civil society as the decisive site of engagement, and a complement to various ongoing forms of non-cooperation, defiance, and resistance on the ground. The policy focus of the global solidarity movement is upon various facets of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign (or simply BDS) that is gaining momentum around the world, and especially in the West, including on American university campuses and among mainstream churches. This recourse to militant nonviolent tactics has symbolic and substantive potential if the movement grows to alter public opinion throughout the world, including in Israel and the United States. In the end, as happened in South Africa, the Israel public and leadership just might be induced to recalculate their interests sufficiently to become open to a genuine political compromise that finally and equally safeguarded the security and rights of both peoples.

 

At this time, Israel is responding aggressively in a variety of rather high profile ways. Its official line is to say that its continued healthy rate of economic growth shows that BDS is having a negligible economic impact. Its governmental behavior suggests otherwise. Israeli think tanks and government officials now no longer hide their worries that BDS poses the greatest threat to Israel’s preferred future, including increasing isolation and perceptions of illegitimacy. As one sign of the priority accorded this struggle against BDS, the Israeli lobby in the United States has enlisted the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate has signed up to bea militant anti-BDS activist. At the heart of this anti-BDS campaign is what is being increasingly identified as ‘a new McCarthyism,’ the insidious effort to attach punitive consequences for those who are overtly pro-BDS.

 

 

Smearing BDS

 

In this vein, Israel has launched its own campaign to punish and intimidate those who support BDS, and even to criminalize advocacy. The Israeli lobby has been mobilized around this anti-BDS agenda in the United States, pushing state legislatures to pass laws that punish corporations that boycott Israel by denying them access to the domestic market or declare that BDS activism is a form of hate speech that qualifies as virulent anti-Semitism. Israel is even seeking common cause with liberal Zionist J Street in the US to work together against BDS, an NGO that it had previously derisively dismissed. Support for Israel from the Clinton presidential campaign includes two disgraceful features: an explicit commitment to do what it can to destroy BDS and a promise to upgrade the special relationship still further, openly overcoming the friction that was present during Obama presidency.

 

It is not new, of course, to brand critics of Israel as anti-Semites. Those of us who have tried to bear witness to Israeli wrongdoing and promote a just outcome have been attacked with increasing venom over the course of the last decade or so. The attack on pro-Palestinian members of the British Labour Party as anti-Semites is part of this Zionist pushback. What is particularly disturbing is that many Western political leaders echo these defamatory and inflammatory sentiments, including even the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who seems to be making some feeble amends as his term nears its end. Israel has no compunctions about attacking the UN as hostile and biased, while when convenient invoking its authority to discredit critics.

 

This inflation of the idea of anti-Semitism to cover activities protected by free speech and in the realm of responsible debate and citizen activism is on its own a regressive maneuver that deflects attention from the virulent history and outlook of those who hate Jews as individuals and support their persecution as a people. To attenuate the meaning of anti-Semitism in this way is to make the label much less ethically clear as it is improperly used to denigrate what should be permissible and even favored as well as what is properly condemned and socially rejected. To blur this boundary is to weaken the consensus on anti-Semitism that formed throughout the world after the Holacaust.

 

It is notable that this latest phase of Palestinian national struggle is mainly being waged nonviolently, and in a manner that accords with the best traditions of constitutional democracy. That Israel and Zionist hardliners should be opposing BDS by an ugly smear campaign exposes Israel’s vulnerability when it comes to the legitimacy of its policies and practices, and should give the Palestinians hope that their cause is far from lost.

Zionism, Anti-Semitism, BDS, and the United Nations

8 Jun

 

 

[Prefatory Note: An earlier abridged version of this post was published by Middle East Eye under a different title on June 5, 2016. The focus is upon the misuse of anti-Semitism by those defending Israel to deflect a rising tide of civil society activism and public criticism of Israeli policies and practices.]

 

Zionism as Racism? Zionism and the State of Israel

 

More than 40 years ago the UN General Assembly adopted controversial resolution 3379 by a vote of 72-35 (with 32 abstentions), determining “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” This resolution was bitterly opposed by Israel and its friends in 1975. According to Zionists and others this resolution was an unacceptable assault on the dignity of the Jewish people, a blatant expression of anti-Semitism, exhibiting hurtful insensitivity to the long dark shadow cast by horrific memories of the Holocaust.

 

The Israeli ambassador at the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, was unsparing in his denunciation: “For us, the Jewish people, this resolution based on hatred, falsehood and arrogance, is devoid of any moral or legal value.” The American Ambassador, with a deserved reputation as an outspoken diplomat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was hardly less severe. In the debate preceding the vote Moynihan used exaggerated language of denunciation: “The UN is about to make anti-Semitism international law..The [US] does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act..a great evil has been loosed upon the world.”

 

Such harsh language was an effective tactical maneuver by Israel and the United States to mislead as to the purpose of the anti-Zionist resolution by waving the red flag of anti-Semitism. With a few notable exceptions, the governmental supporters of the initiative at the UN were never motivated by hatred of Jews, although the resolution was an unwise way to exhibit anger toward Israel because it was so susceptible to being discredited as unacceptable due to its anti-Semitic overtones. The primary backers of the resolution were seeking to call attention to the fact that Israel as a state was proceeding in a racist manner by its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population. In fact, the focus on Zionism rather than Israel reflected a continuing commitment by the main representatives of the Palestinian people and their allies to accept, however reluctantly, the reality of Israel as a state, while rejecting certain of its policies and practices that were being attributed to the Zionist ideology that did shape Israel’s governing process.

 

The context of the resolution is also important. It came after a decade of international frustration concerning the refusal of Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian (and Syrian) territory occupied in the 1967 War in the manner prescribed in the unanimously passed iconic UN Security Resolution 242. By 1975 it seemed that Israel had no serious intention of ever withdrawing fully or soon. True, there were interpretative ambiguities surrounding the exact conditions of withdrawal, yet Israel’s expansion of the metropolitan area of Jerusalem together with its annexation combeined with the establishment of settlements in occupied Palestine was generally perceived in UN circles as confirming this suspicion that Israeli ambitions far exceeded the scope of what had been agreed upon in 1967 at the Security Council. Subsequent developments have only hardened the perception the belief that Israel will defy international law and UN authority whenever it suits their purposes.

 

Inappropriately and ineffectively, the anti-Zionist resolution was seeking to mobilize the international community in 1975 around the idea that Palestinian suffering and humiliation resulted from illegitimate Israeli behavior that would not be overcome by statecraft or UN diplomacy, both of which had been tried and failed. Over time this interpretation of the situation has given rise to a growing skepticism about whether any inter-government effort, including even that undertaken by the Palestinians themselves, will secure the Palestinian right of self-determination, as long as the balance of forces is so strongly in Israel’s favor. Against this background it is not surprising that the Palestinian struggle increasingly relies upon civil society militancy currently epitomized by the BDS Campaign to correct this imbalance.

 

Asserting its geopolitical muscle over the years Israel finally managed to induce the General Assembly to reverse itself in 1991 by Res. 46/86. This single sentence text simply revokes the earlier resolution condemning Israel without offering any explanation for the new posture. Israel secured this vote by making conditional its participation at the Madrid Peace Conference that same year, insisting on a formal repudiation of the 1975 resolution.

 

In retrospect, the General Assembly had made a serious mistake by equating Israel with Zionism. It should been earlier realized that Zionism is a political project devised by Jews in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, and while responsible for the world movement that successfully established Israel against great odds, it does not represent the Jewish people as whole, nor is it an authoritative expression of Judaism whether conceived as a religion or an ethno-historic tradition. From the inception of Zionism, Jews as individuals held wildly divergent, even contradictory, views about the wisdom of Zionism in theory and practice as well as about the validity of its relations with Judaism. Zionism was never institutionalized as the governing ideology of the Israeli state, and many Jewish critics of Israel emphasized the failure of the state to live up to Zionist ideals and Judaic traditions.

 

Among the most fundamental of these disagreements related to whether Jews should aspire to a state of their own in Palestine, or should limit themselves to the Balfour pledge of support for a homeland in historic Palestine. The whole idea of an ethnic state is problematic given the geographic intermingling of ethnicities, and can be reconciled with the ideal of protecting the human rights of every individual only by artifice. In practice, an ethnic state, even if its activities are constitutionally constrained, dominates the governing space and discriminates against those with other ethnic identities. And so has been the case with Israel despite Palestinian voting rights and participation in the Knesset. Again, Zionism championed Israeli statehood as the fulfillment of the vision of a Jewish homeland, but the state that emerged is a political actor whose behavior needs to be appraised by its policies and practices, and not by its founding ideology.

 

Such general speculation raises somewhat different issues than posed by the anti-Zionist resolution. Now the much more difficult issue is raised in the form of allegations that Israel as of 2016 has become a racist or apartheid state, most clearly with respect to its oppressive and discriminatory administration of the West Bank and Gaza. To be clear, it is not Zionism as an ideology that should be evaluated as racist or not, despite its ethnic exclusivity, but Israel as a state subject to international law, including the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(1966) and the International Convention on Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973).

 

BDS as Anti-Semitism?

 

At this time, complaints about anti-Semitism have taken an entirely different course, although emanating from a similar source. Instead of deflecting criticism at the UN by angry claims of institutional bias verging on anti-Semitism, Israel is now actually invoking the prestige of the UN to carry on its fight against the BDS Campaign and an alleged delegitimation project aimed at discrediting and isolating, if not destroying, the state of Israel. On May 31,, 2016 Israel convened a day-long conference under the willfully misleading title, “Ambassadors Against BDS—International Summit at the UN.” Invited speakers were limited to pro-Israeli extremists who took turns deploring BDS as a political initiative and denouncing its activist supporters as vicious anti-Semites. The Israeli ambassador, acting as convenor of the conference and known mainly as an inflammatory leader of the settlement movement, Dani Danon, set the tone of the event with these words: “BDS is the modern incarnation of anti-Semitism,” spreading an “..ideology of hate.”

 

The program was unabashedly one-sided. The conference sponsored by a series of leading Jewish organizations. The audience consisted of more than 1500 invited guests who possessed strong anti-BDS credentials and were encouraged to be militant in their opposition to BDS activities. The conference call relied on language that highlights the political significance of this extraordinary initiative: “The BDS movement continues to make strides in their campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel. They are gaining increased support on campuses around the world as they promote initiatives on local and national levels calling to divest and boycott the Jewish state.” Such a statement accurately recognizes that BDS has become the main vehicle of a rapidly strengthening global solidarity movement that aligns itself with the Palestinian national movement, is effectively mobilizing beneath the BDS banner, and has been shaped since its inception in 2005 when endorsed by 170 Palestinian NGOs and a wide spectrum of civil society activists.

 

It should be clarified that the so-called anti-BDS ‘summit,’ appearances not withstanding, was not a UN conference, nor did it have the blessings or participation of top UN officials. It was an event organized by the Israeli delegation at the UN that was allowed to make use of UN facilities. Calling itself ‘Ambassadors Against BDS” is deceptive, suggesting some kind of collective diplomatic undertaking by the international community or at least its Western segment.

 

Contrariwise, and more to the point, several European governments normally supportive of Israel, including Sweden, Ireland, and even the Netherlands have recently officially indicated that support for BDS is a legitimate political activity, entitled to the protection of law in a democratic state, and its supporters should be treated as exercising their right to freedom of expression in a lawful manner.

 

The BDS goals are set forth clearly in its founding document and do not include the delegitimation of Israel as a state: (1) withdrawal of Israel forces from Arab territories occupied in 19 67, including the Syrian Golan Heights as well as West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza; (2) respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 194; (3) protection of the human rights of Palestinians living in pre-1967 Israel on the basis of full equality. Without question the BDS movement endorses an ambitious program, but it does not question Israeli sovereignty over pre-1967 Israel, despite its territorial control of 78% of the Palestine mandate, which is far more than what the UN considered fair in 1947 that was about 45%, and was rejected by the Palestinians as being grossly unfair given the demographics at the time.

 

 

In a growing reaction to the growing influuence of BDS, Israel and pro-Israeli civil society actors have been pushing back in a variety of settings with tactics that violate the written and unwritten rules of democratic society. Among those most salient of these tactics have been the successful efforts of the organized Jewish community in Britain to have an academic conference at Southampton University canceled for two consecutive years, the frantic defamatory assault on Penny Green, the distinguished British criminalist who had been proposed as the first choice to be the next UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine, a travel ban imposed by Israel on Omar Barghouti, the widely admired worldwide leader of BDS, and sundry outrageous efforts throughout the United States to have as many state legislatures as possible pass laws that criminalize BDS by associating its advocacy and activity with anti-Semitism.

 

Above all, this ugly effort to stigmatize BDS represents a double shift in the essential battlefield of the Israel/Palestine struggle. The first shift is from armed struggle to a series of symbolic encounters concerning the legitimacy of Israel’s policies and practices. The second interrelated shift is away from inter-governmental diplomacy and toward civil society militancy. It is possible that the second shift is temporary or provisional, having as its objective the revival of normal diplomacy at a future time under conditions where both sides are treated equally, and the process facilitated by a genuinely neutral intermediary. In effect, an authentic peace process in the future must correct the flaws that doomed the diplomacy undertaken within the Oslo Framework of Principles to failure, and what is worse operated to enable a steady dynamic of Israeli expansionism at Palestinian expense. One way of thinking of BDS is as a corrective to this failed diplomacy of the past.

In the meantime, both Israel and its civil society adversaries will reflect their contradictory agendas with respect to a variety of struggles centering on what is legitimate.

 

In important respects the double shift should be welcomed. The BDS Campaign concentrates on university campuses, churches, and labor unions. To challenge the legality and propriety of its tactics is to attack the most fundamental values of constitutional democracy. BDS-bashing also lends indirect credibility to those who argue that only political violence can achieve justice for the Palestinian people that alone can end their unspeakable ordeal. It is reasonable, of course, to question whether BDS is effective, or to argue over its proper scope and tactics, but attacks on BDS as a valid political instrument should be rejected.

 

Comparing Anit-Zionism in 1975 and Anti-BDS in 2016

 

This deadly dance between Zionism and the UN has now come full circle. In the 1970s Zionism was condemned by the General Assemly at the UN, and the condemnation was sharply criticized by Israel as being so anti-Semitic as to contaminate the Organization as a whole. In 2016 Israel in a dramatic turnabout relies on the stature and access associated with its UN membership to empower Zionist forces throughout the world to engage in BDS-bashing. In the end, we should appreciate that neither Zionism nor BDS are racist as such, and any serious inquiry should be directed at the behavior of Israel as a member of the UN obliged to respect international law with respect to race and on the actual claims and initiatives of BDS as a transnational civil society initiative seeking the implementation of international law and fundamental human rights.

 

It was a mistake to play the anti-Zionist card in 1975 as the real grievances of Palestinians and the UN were obscured behind the smokescreen of a false debate about whether or not deep criticisms of Israel were anti-Semitic. It is an even bigger mistake to play the anti-Semitic card in the current global setting as a way of evading the demands set forth by BDS, which seem on their face in accord with international law and morality, and have as a principal virtue the clear commitment to pursue political ends by peaceful means.

 

The scale of this mistake is enlarged by blurring the boundaries between a proper concern with anti-Semitism as a virulent form of ethnic hatred that has given rise in the past to bloody persecutions and fascist extremism, and most abhorrently to the Holocaust. Opposing BDS on its pragmatic or normative merits is an entirely reasonable posture for those who disagree with its premises, methods, and goals. What is not acceptable is to engage in these provocative efforts to discredit and punish the proponents of BDS, and to threaten adherents with punitive pushback as happens when tenure is abrogated or steps are taken to brand activists by name as targets for vilification and intimidation.