Tag Archives: Zionism

What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

24 Dec

[Prefatory Note: This is a modified version of an earlier text published in TMS (Transcend Media Service) in the December 23-29, 2019 edition. For the sake of discouraging anti-Semitism and restoring freedom of expression in Western constitutional democracies denouncing the branding of those in solidarity with struggles for justice and rights on behalf of the Palestinian people should be high on the policy agenda of 2020, and yet we have so far heard only the silence of the lambs in the debates of Democrats seeking the presidential nomination.]

 

What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

Only the most regressive rendering of tribalist solidarity can explain labeling those

who oppose Israel’s abusive treatment of the Palestinian people as ‘anti-Semites.’

We look upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the Myanmar abuse

of the Rohingya as casting the darkest of clouds over her Nobel Peace Prize. It

is an insult to Jews and others to allow Zionists, Evangelical, and Trumpsters to brand solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, or even empathy with the Palestinian people long enduring the denial of their most basic rights as a new species of anti-Semitism.

 

There is little doubt that real anti-Semitism, in the sense of hatred of Jews, has increased

in Europe and North America in the last decade of so. But the nature of why this is happening, and what is its true nature, are especially obscure, and subject to manipulations. Part of this obscurity is deliberate, arising from orchestrated efforts to label criticism of Israel or Zionist tactics and ideology as anti-Semitic, or in some usages as expressive of the ‘New Anti-Semitism.’ This extension of the scope of anti-Semitism seems designed to inhibit responsible opposition to Israel’s conduct in defiance of international law and, further, to make European Jews feel insecure enough in their country of residence so that they would consider emigrating to Israel, which in recent years has experienced a net outflow of Jews.

 

The essence of the new anti-Semitism is rooted in the definition proposed by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (or IHRA), which blends strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews or the Jewish people. President Donald Trump incorporated this IHRA definition into his Executive Order issued on Dec. 11, 2019 that is coupled with lawfare assaults by the US Government and right-wing Zionist organizations on respected American campus initiatives that critically address the Israel/Palestine conflict, including having students and faculty actively engaged in such nonviolent solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian quest for basic rights as the BDS Campaign. One recent example of this government pushback are calls for an investigation of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University because some of its members are BDS supporters.

 

The IHRA definition is elaborated in terms of signs of anti-Semitism as supposedly manifested in criticism of Israel. One of these signs set forth to illustrate the scope of the IHRA definition is singling out of Israel for criticism or coercive acts when its behavior is not worse than that of other human rights violators. This is the basis for the alleged link between BDS and anti-Semitism. Yet in no other context is this kind of test administered, nor is the severity of Israeli wrongdoing ever mentioned or taken into account. Recalling the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa of 30 years ago, it should be remembered that apologists for apartheid then similarly contended that conditions for black Africans in South Africa were better than elsewhere in the sub-Saharan region. Such contentions were argumentative, but were never used to stifle anti-apartheid activism in foreign countries, including a robust anti-apartheid BDS Campaign in North America and Europe, which many observers believe contributed to the unexpected reversal of course by the Afrikaner leadership in Pretoria that opened gates to achieving transition to a peaceful post-apartheid South Africa, constitutionally premised on racial equality and human dignity for all.

 

In my experience, the worst overall effects of this effort to stigmatize anti-Israeli speech and activism as anti-Semitism is not its punitive dimensions that target programs and individuals in unfair and harmful ways, but the larger informal and mostly invisible atmosphere of intimidation and silent discrimination that is produced. Already timid academic and institutional administrators are alerted to avoid conference proposals, speaker invitations, and faculty appointments if there exists a plausible prospect of attack, or even criticism, by Zionist watchdog groups. I am sure others have tales along these lines to tell, but in my own case, I have experienced and heard about many such instances. Only a few attain visibility, which can happen when a previously arranged meeting space is cancelled due to backroom pressure or an event is called off because of alleged security concerns. This happened to me in relation to a London launch tour of my book on Israel/Palestine two years ago when stories were circulated, and threats made, of planned disruptions as a way of inducing cancellations, which did occur at two universities. Some of these planned events did go forward, including a somewhat stormy session at the London School of Economics where during the discussion period shouting and hostile behavior by supporters and critics of Israel in the audience were viewed as threatening public order, but the meeting went on to its end. I was told that later on, LSE reacted by adopting stricter regulations to ensure balance in presentations and an entirely neutral identity of the moderator, which is an institutional signal designed to discourage controversial subject-matter. This is bad enough, but I think the real effect of these experiences is to make faculty and administrators think twice before supporting events perceived as critical of Israel or in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. My impression is that the indirect effects of this Zionist pushback is having a more significant inhibiting impact on academic freedom and freedom of expression than the shockingly suppressive initiatives being adopted by legislative bodies in such leading countries as France, Germany, and soon Britain, as well as the United States.

 

One of the supposed anti-Semitic tropes has been the contention over the centuries that Jews exercise disproportionate influence on public policy in ways that are harmful to the general wellbeing of society. It hard to interpret the success of concerted Zionist and Israeli efforts to adopt the IHRA definition and approach as other than a confirmation of this charge, validating grounds for public concern about the excessive influence wielded by Jews. Two prominent centrist political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a very academic study a decade ago to show how the Israeli Lobby in the United States was influencing foreign policy undertakings in ways inimical to national interests. (The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007)) Whether true or not, and I believe it was true, the authors were unjustly vilified even in 2003 for daring to raise such questions about the extent, character, and policy effects of Jewish influence, and although leaders in their field, undoubtedly paid for ever more, subtle hidden career prices. It should be noted that targeting Muslims, which is more common and vicious in Europe and North America, than what has been experienced by Jews, has produced no comparable official condemnations of Islamophobia.

 

More to the point in any effort to penetrate the penumbra of confusion surrounding this subject-matter is the near fanatical support of certain right-wing political orientations for Israel, while simultaneously pursuing an anti-Semitic agenda. This is the widely known case for many Christian evangelical groups who read the Book of Revelations as promising a Second Coming of Jesus once Israel is reestablished and Jews return, then being given an option of converting or facing damnation. Actually, this seeming tension, almost the opposite of the supposed fusion of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attitudes in the IHRA approach, actually has deep roots in the pre-Israeli experience of the Zionist Movement. From the start of the British Mandate the Jewish minority in Palestine was under 10%, hardly the basis for a feasible basis to establish a Jewish state in an essentially Arab society in a historical period in which European colonialism was being widely discredited, and starting to collapses. Zionists appreciated the odds against realizing their goals, and resolved by all means to overcome thiis disabling demographic inferiority, especially as national legitimacy seemed connected in both their vision and wider international public opinion with democratic procedures of governance, which in this instance, presupposed a Jewish voting majority.

 

As a result, Zionists did everything in their power to induce diaspora Jews to move to Palestine, even resorting to striking Faustian Bargains with outrageously anti-Semitic regimes in Europe, including even the Nazi government in Germany. This dynamic of coerced and induced population transfer of Jews is documented on the basis of archival research in The State of Terror (2016) by Thomas Suarez. Against this background the anti-Semitic card has been played in contradictory ways by Zionist hardliners, earlier useful to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel and recently to inhibit criticism of Israel, with the common element being opportunism, entailing a disregard of principle.

 

There is another reinforcing dimension of such policies that further discredits the IHRA approach. Israeli foreign policy even in circumstances where a Jewish state of Israel exists, and has been given constitutional status by the 2018 Basic Law: “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” there continues to be an Israeli willingness to overlook overt anti-Semitism in a foreign leader provided diplomatic friendship is accorded to Israel, or economic gains can be achieved. Viktor Orban of Hungary is the example most often cited, but the pattern seems to explain the choice of Modi, Bolsonaro, and Trump as Israel’s preferred benefactors. Netanyahu’s Israel reciprocates this friendship with arms deals and military/policy training to governments on the far right, and its ambassador to Myanmar recently went so far as to lend psychological support to the Myanmar Government’s legal defense at the World Court against overwhelming evidence of genocide against the Muslim minority, Rohingya. While the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is justified as a check on forgetting the Holocaust, when non-Jews are the victims of genocide a quite different ethical calculus apparently applies. Forgetting genocides, while remembering the Holocaust, seems the tangled message that Israel and Zionist enforcers are sending to the world.

 

I think these various considerations make it plain that the current surge of emphasis on anti-Semitism is being driven by a combination of many crosscutting factors, some genuine, some fake. One of the more malignant developments in recent years is centered on this attempt to extend the scope of anti-Semitism beyond its core reference to hatred of and hostility toward Jews. In this broad sense, by classifying supporters of the human rights of the Palestinian peoples as anti-Semites there is both a loss of focus on hatred of Jews, combined with a deliberately misleading insistence that those who oppose Israeli apartheid and oppression are anti-Semitic. It seems evident that such distortions of the anti-Semitic discourse reflect the growth of civil society activism, critical of Israel, and reactive to Israel’s expansionism and pointedly defiant posture toward criticisms by the UN and human rights organizations. The disgraceful effort to brand Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party as anti-Semitic inserted an irrelevant toxic element into an electoral process in a leading democratic country, and is suggestive of the radiating implications of this irresponsible IHRA approach to anti-Semitism.

 

A final ground for suspicion about such tactics is the seemingly unconditional disregard of

Israel’s behavior. Without such an inquiry, to brand opposition to Israel or solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as anti-Semitic is to engage in a destructive form of anti-democratic polemics that has the perverse secondary effect of encouraging real anti-Semitic behavior that deserves condemnation. Even the notoriously cautious prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has just announced that an investigation of criminal allegations relating to Israel’s settlement activities on the West Bank and Gaza. Beyond this there is a growing consensus among those informed about the overall relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people (including those in refugee camps and exile) is accurately understood as based on apartheid structures of control. If this is a reasonable perception, then BDS and other solidarity initiatives are justifiable responses that deserve and need support and protection rather than being shamefully stigmatized as anti-Semitism, and compensate for the inability and unwillingness of established institutions to protect the basic rights of vulnerable people.

 

 

 

On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

18 Apr

On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

 

 

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation

24 Mar

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation- On the Politics of Language

 

Controlling the Discourse

 

Israel has been brilliant over the years in shaping and misdirecting the public discourse on the future of Palestine. Among its earliest achievement along these lines was the crucial propaganda victory by having the 1948 War known internationally as the ‘War of Independence.’ Such a designation erases the Palestinians from political consciousness, and distorts the deeper human and political consequences of the war. Language matters, especially in vital circumstances where there are winners and losers, a reality that applies above all to a war of displacement.

 

It took decades for the Palestinians to elevate their experience of the 1948 war to even the consciousness of those on an international level who supported the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination. Even now more than 50 years after the war, the ‘Nakba’ by which the 1948 war is known to Palestinians remains internationally obscure. The word signifies ‘catastrophe,’ which is associated principally with the dispossession of at least 700,000 non-Jewish residents of Palestine, what became the state of Israel after 1948, and subsequently, with the denial by Israel of any right of return for those Palestinians who abandoned their homes and villages out of fear or as a result of Israeli coercion. This double process of dispossession and erasure was reinforced powerfully by the bulldozing and utter destruction of 400-600 Palestinian villages in the new state of Israel.

 

Even those who have this revisionist awareness rarely convey a sense of the Nakba as a process, not just a calamitous event. For those Palestinians dispossessed of home, property, community, employment, and dignity, their life, that of their families, and that of subsequent generations has been generally ‘a living hell’ as a consequence of either enduring the misery and humiliation of long-term residence in refugee camps or experiencing the various vulnerabilities and rootlessness of involuntary and permanent exile. In other words, the tragedy of the Nakba began and did not end with the traumas of dispossession, but rather continued in the ordeals that followed, which must be considered as inseparable from the originating catastrophe.

 

 

The UN Partition Resolution

 

For many reflective Palestinians, the decades since 1948 have intensified the ordeal that followed from the struggle for control of territory and elemental rights that followed from GA Resolution 181 adopted by a vote of 33-13 (with ten abstentions, one absent), in November 29, 1947. The Israeli mastery of the public international discourse was expressed by dramatizing the Zionist acceptance (as represented by the Jewish Agency for Palestine) of the proposed partition of historic Palestine while the Palestinians, their Arab neighbors, as well as India and Pakistan, rejected it declaring above all that partition without the consent of the inhabitants of Palestine was a flagrant violation of the UN Charter promise of the right of self-determination, entailing peoples choosing their own political destiny.

 

This clash of attitudes was then interpreted in the West as demonstrating the reasonableness of the Zionist approach to the complexities associated with two contradictory claims of right regarding self-determination and territorial sovereignty. The Zionist/Israeli spin claimed a readiness to resolve the conflict by way of political compromise while contrasting and denigrating the Palestinian approach to the future of the country as exclusivist and rejectionist, even as genocidal, implying an alleged Arab resolve to throw Jews into the sea, a contention that naturally agitated an extremely sensitive post-Holocaust Western liberal political consciousness. A more objective rendering of the opposed viewpoints of the two sides supports a set of conclusions almost totally the opposite of what has been sold to the world by an Israeli narrative of the UN partition initiative and its aftermath that despite these contrary considerations remains dominant.

 

After an understandable initial Palestinian reflex to repel Jewish intruders intent on occupying and dividing their homeland of centuries, it has been the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have been proposing a comprensive compromise and it is the Israelis who, by and large, subscribe to the view that the Jewish ‘promised land’ incorporates the West Bank and the unified city of Jerusalem, and any dilution of these goals would be a fundamental betrayal of the Zionist project to restore fully a mythic ‘biblical Israel’ in the form of a sovereign state. The more ideological Israelis, including Menachem Begin, (commander of the Zvai Leumi Irgun, 6th prime minister of Israel, 1977-83) were outspoken critics of partition in 1947, anticipating correctly that it would produce violence, and believing that Israel would only achieve its security and complete the Zionist Project by engaging in military operations with the object of territorial expansion. David Ben-Gurion, the master Zionist tactician and the first and foremost Israeli leader, shared Begin’s skepticism about partition, but favored it for pragmatic reasons as a step toward the fulfillment of the Zionist Project, but not the end of it. Partition was provisional, to be followed by seeking to complete the Zionist agenda, which is precisely what unfolded ever since 1947.

 

Partition was a familiar British colonial tactic that complemented their ‘divide and rule’ strategy of occupation was proposed for Palestine as early as 1937 in the report of the Peel Commission, but in view of the desire for Arab cooperation in World War II, the UK uncharacteristically backed away from their advocacy of partition for Palestine. In a later white paper the British declared partition to be ‘impractical’ as applied to Palestine, and somewhat surprisingly abstained from the vote on GA Res. 181.

 

Prolonging the Palestinian Ordeal

 At least since the PLO decision in 1988 to accept Israel as a legitimate state and offer normalization of relations if Israel followed the prescriptive provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242, that is, withdrawing to the 1967 green line borders and agreeing on arrangements for an effective resolution of the refugee issue. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 added regional inducements to the PLO offer of political compromise, and this too was met by Israeli silence and a lackluster response in the West. The Oslo diplomacy was a one-sided failure. It never produced proposals on the disputed issues in ways that contained any reasonable prospect of bringing the conflict to a sustainable end while allowing Israel valuable time to keep expanding their network of unlawful settlements, a form of creeping annexation that served, as well, to make the two-state mantra more and more of a cruel chimera, useful to pacify international public opinion that sought a sustainable peace for both peoples and an end to the conflict..

 

More objectively considered, these dual reactions to the partition solution can be deconstructed. The Zionist movement at every stage took what it could get, and then went about creating conditions on the ground and diplomatically for getting more, by expanding their political demands and expectations, or as sometimes observed, ‘shifting the goalposts.’ Reliance on such ‘salami tactics’ can be traced back at least as far as the Balfour Declaration when Zionists accepted the terminology of ’national home’ despite their aspirations from the outset to establish a Jewish state that disregarded Palestinian moral, legal, and political rights. Recent archival research has made it increasingly clear that the real Zionist goal all along was the imagined Israel of biblical tradition, ‘the promised land’ that deemed to encompass all of the city of Jerusalem, as well as the area known internationally as ‘the West Bank’ and in Israel as ‘Judea and Samaria.’

 

And with respect to the Palestinian response, initially ardently supported by the entire Arab world, as well as most countries with majority Muslim populations, rejection of the UN approach was based on the extent to which partition bisected Palestine without any process of consent by, or even consultation with, the majority resident population. It was an arrogant effort by the UN, then under Western control, to dictate a solution that was not sensitive to Palestinian concerns or in keeping with the spirit or letter of its own Charter. To treat Palestinian rejection of GA Res. 181 as indicative of anti-Semitism or even rejectionism is to accept an explanation of the disastrous legacy of partition that conforms to the Israeli narrative that misses the real dynamic at work that has kept the conflict alive all these decades. To this day Israel continues to create conditions that diminish Palestinian prospects while subtly depicting the Zionist Project as in reasonable pursuit of previously undisclosed ambitions with greater clarity.

 

This leads to the central question that also includes reasons why the Israelis did also not want partition, but felt correctly that its provisional and temporary acceptance was a way of gaining more political space both for maneuvering and for showing the world its reasonable face that included a commitment to peace. In contract, the Palestinians felt shut out and humiliated by the way the future of their society was treated by the UN and the West, and yet didn’t want to alienate the international community, especially Washington. This kind of attitude meant lending credence to the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles, and acting as if the ‘peace process’ had something to do with ‘peace.’ This accommodationist mode of diplomacy practiced by the Palestinian Authority over the course of the last 25 years while Israel annexed and Judaized East Jerusalem and penetrated more and deeply into the West Bank created the impression in many circles, including Palestinian and others, that the Palestinian Authority was not nearly rejectionist enough, and either naively playing a losing hand or completely failing to understand the real Zionist game plan.

 

 

‘The Partition War’

 

To circle back to the contention that language is itself a site of struggle, it become desirable, even now, more than 70 years later, to call the 1948 War by a name that reveals more clearly its essential and flawed character, and this name is The Partition War. Only by such a linguistic move can we begin to understand the extent to which the international community, as embodied in the UN, was guilty of original sin with respect to the Palestinian people, and their natural rights, as well as their legal entitlements and reasonable political expectations. Endorsing the partition of Palestine was what I would describe as a ‘geopolitical crime.’

 

 

Parallel Universes: Vietnam and Palestine

26 Nov

 

 

Not surprisingly, my sixth visit to Vietnam stirred many memories, among them, a recognition of the parallels between the Vietnamese and Palestinian experiences, two peoples who have meant so much to me over the course of my adult lifetime. I visited Hanoi in 1968 in the midst of the American war that was devastating the country and its population, causing more than three million deaths and deliberately injuring the environment and its human surrounding by using vast quantities of Agent Orange, containing the highly toxic chemical Dioxin. Agent Orange was being used to defoliate large areas of the countryside in the South as a tactic against revolutionary Vietnamese forces who were taking advantage of the wooded countryside to mount their attacks. The legacy of Agent Orange continues grimly to remind people of the war, giving rise to anguished societal suspicions of current contamination that seems confirmed by the continuing occurrence of birth deformities in certain provinces that far exceed normal statistical expectations. The Vietnamese mention this ongoing tragedy in muted tones as the government worries that it might hurt Vietnamese plans to increase their exports of agricultural products. It is part of the present atmosphere in which the war/peace preoccupations that I encountered when I visited Vietnam during the war have now been replaced by according the highest policy priority to economic growth and poverty reduction.

 

The Vietnam/Palestine parallel should not be understood as a claim of similarity. The two experiences are each highly distinctive, reflecting many particular features of the cultural, historical economic, and political experience of each country, as well as the specificities of relations to their regional neighborhood and global setting. At the same time these two peoples do share defining experiences of prolonged victimization intertwined with bitter resistance struggles because their desired national narrative collided with the geopolitical ambitions and commitments of the United States. In Vietnam the United States assumed responsibility for a colonial war already lost once by France in 1954, and pursued it with almost unrestrained fury for more than a decade before renouncing the quest in 1975, and slinking home in thinly disguised defeat. The supposed stakes of the conflict for the United States in Vietnam were mainly measured and justified in the ideological currency of the Cold War, holding the line in Asia against Communism after ‘the loss of China.’ According to the principal justification for the war, Vietnam was an Asian domino, which if it fell to national liberation forces, would lead to a rapid spread of Communism to Vietnam’s neighbors, which was then interpreted in Washington to mean the expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence.

 

Of course, the ideological and geopolitical motivations were packaged, as usual, with sleazy propaganda about the defense of freedom and the protection of South Vietnam against aggression from the North. This imposed division of Vietnam was itself a figment of the last stage of the Western colonial imaginary that tried to make the world believe that borders of geopolitical convenience took precedence over the the fundamental right of self-determination, which reflected the organic unities of history, tradition, and national identity. Eventually, as in most other anti-colonial struggles the national movement eventually prevailed during the period after 1945, enjoying in Vietnam the benefits of inspired political, military, and ideological leadership in the persons of Ho Chi Minh, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and Le Duan, and a historical tradition of many centuries of success in defending national territory against foreign invaders, especially the Chinese. What is more, not only were the Vietnamese strengthened by this historical tale of victory. They were equally proud and sustained by an extraordinary record of post-conflict reconciliation with prior enemies that many other governments and societies could do well to heed. Political leaders in Hanoi enjoyed telling foreign visitors during the war how the Vietnamese prepared a farewell banquet for their Chinese intruders once they opted for peace, and decided to return home with the obvious implication that if the Americans stopped the war, friendship could follow, not recrimination and bitterness.

 

Never did I understand better the Communist slogan that our enemy is the government not the people than when I came to Vietnam in 1968 as an American peace activist. What I felt with a depth that could not be staged was the genuineness of these sentiments, then strongly associated with the teachings and beliefs of Ho Chi Minh. This attitude, so different than what I had experience as a child growing up during World War II, was epitomized by Ho’s appreciation of the American Declaration of Independence that Vietnamese school children were made to read and think about about throughout a war in which American planes were daily dumping tons of explosives on the villages and towns of an almost defenseless people. I remember driving in the beautiful Vietnamese countryside during the visit and being told by a government official that the driver’s entire family had been recently killed by a bombing strike, but that if an American plane were to attack us now he would risk his life, if necessary, to save yours. I felt moved at the time because it seemed so sincere, and consistent with all that I felt during my two weeks in the country at a time of its great national hardship, including shortages of food and medicine. The Vietnamese even in these dire circumstances were ready to give so much more than I was capable of giving!

 

My experience with the people of Palestine, whether living under occupation, as a minority in Israel, or in refugee camps, or in a global diaspora has many equivalent moving moments, maybe even more that were accompanied by tears either of grief or laughter. Both peoples exhibit resilience of will, virtue, love, and a lively comedic sense of reality that exceeds what seems imaginable. Beyond this, in the case of the Palestinian people their struggle continues to be maintained against seemingly overwhelming odds if the calculus of ‘political realism’ is to be trusted, which never seems to lose credibility no matter how often it errs. There are crucial differences between the principal adversary facing the Vietnamese and the Palestinians. It is this subjectivity of the oppressive forces that is not widely enough appreciated. Both the French and Americans, although investing heavily in their respective wars, always had a Plan B, a metropole to which they could retreat from Vietnam if the cost of the overseas campaign became too high.

 

For the Israelis, although many Jews as individuals do hold a second passport, there is no Plan B, no homeland other than that established by the Zionist settler colonial undertaking from its inception toward the end of the 19th century. These Zionist high stakes help explain the sense of justification with regard to the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people. What the Israelis may, however, be forced to consider in the future, if adverse pressures from the combination of Palestinian national resistance and global solidarity initiatives becomes threatening enough to make attractive to Israelis the choice of Plan C, that is, ‘a just peace’ based on the equality of the two peoples.

 

Such a drastic shift of Israeli objectives would necessitate both rolling back the idea and mechanisms of an exclusionary Jewish state, that is, abandoning the biblical vision of Israeli Jews occupying the whole of ‘the promised land’ of Palestine and then dismantling the apartheid structures to sustain control over the Palestinian people as a whole. At this point a just peace seems such an unlikely scenario as to invite responses of ‘utopian’ or ‘impossible’ to any suggested course along these lines. Yet history has its ways of undermining oppressors, making the impossible happen. Israelis would do well to ponder their future before supposing that they can subjugate the Palestinian people indefinitely. These reflections should include the awareness that the Palestinians, like Israeli Jews as a collectivity also have no Plan B (and few second passports!). The Israeli self-serving contention that since Palestinians are ‘Arabs’ they could and should give up their quest for a sovereign Palestine, and be content with lives in the Arab world. Palestinians, as might be expected, connect their aspirations with their connections to Palestine, and would be no more content or secure if moving to Arab countries than Israeli Jews would be to live in a Western country, in fact, less so.

 

Most Palestinian leaders have long seemed ready to negotiate their versions of a Plan C, which contains the proviso that it must give concrete meaning to the affirmation of an ‘equality of rights.’ True, Hamas might seem reluctant to endorse a full fledged Plan C, at least at the outset, but their leaders too during the past decade have been seeking an escape from the treadmill of perpetual violence, and if Israeli leaders showed comparable good faith, a long term accommodation would seem attainable, beneficial to both peoples, and allowing both sides to feel comfortable with distinct interpretations of what was agreed upon, a zone of ambiguity that lawyers are very good about delineating so that differences are neutralized rather than resolved. More specifically, Hamas would not be made to legitimize Israel in the process of normalizing relations, and accepting the fact of its existence as a country.

 

During the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson once referred to Vietnam as a tenth-rate Asian power, making it seem as if a miracle would be required for the Vietnamese to achieve victory. Many military historians are still at a loss in their attempt to offer an understanding of the outcome of the conflict, given the economic and military disparities between the adversaries. The Vietnam War, especially after the illusions of an American victory were destroyed by the Tet Offensive in 1968, became too politically costly in blood and treasure to sustain, although think tank hawks never let go of their insistence that ‘defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory’ or alternatively, the insidious suggestion that ‘the war was lost in American living rooms’ (that is, by TV coverage, especially of dead Americans returning home in body bags and coffins). Such explanations amount to Orientalist denials of Vietnamese agency, implying the impossibility that such backward military technology could prevail when matched against the unlimited quantities of hyper-modern equipment available to United States armed forces.

 

For several years, extreme supporters of Israel have been urging the world to move on by accepting the reality that Israel has won, the Palestinians have lost, and regardless of feeling about the merits of the Palestinian struggle it has become one more lost cause. Daniel Pipes, long a Zionist zealot, has formalized this ‘game over’ diplomacy by using an NGO under his influence, the Middle East Forum to promote ‘a victory caucus’ in both the United States and Israel with the participation of members of the U.S. Congress and Israeli Knesset. There is something discordant about such triumphalist posturing. It doesn’t fit comfortably with the furious efforts of Israeli lobbies around the world to discredit the BDS campaign as ‘the new anti-Semitism’ or with the increasing momentum of the Palestinian global solidarity movement that has increasingly troubled Israeli think tanks, and given rise to heavily financed campaigns to punish anti-Israeli activists throughout the world. Given these realities, it seems to me that the relevant comparison seems South Africa’s about face, and not Vietnam’s victory. Apartheid South Africa also appeared to the world securely entrenched until its shocking moment of self-engineered collapse in the early 1990s at a time when even dreamers did not envision a peaceful transition to a post-apartheid reality.

 

Without counting on dreams and dreaming, we who care about a just future for both peoples need to realize it will depend on work, sacrifice, and above all, struggle. Dreams don’t become the new reality without the dedication of a people brave and creative, and helped by the inspirational effects on friends and supporters. This blessing of empowering and charismatic resilience is the core identity of the Vietnamese and the Palestinian people, their point of most profound convergence.

 

Balfour: Then and Now

2 Nov

 

 

Today, November 2, is exactly 100 years after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the pledge given to the World Zionist Movement in a letter signed by the British Foreign Secretary to support the establishment of a ‘national home’ in the then Ottoman millet of Palestine. Certainly ‘a day of infamy’ for the Palestinian people and their friends around the world, while unfortunately treated as ‘a day of pride’ by the British Government, and all in the West those morally bankrupt enough to regret the passing of the colonial era, and to pretend without embarrassment that the Balfour legacy is something to celebrate, rather than to mourn, in the year 2017.

 

The British pledge was an unabashed expression of colonialist arrogance in 1917, ironically made at the dawn of the worldwide movement of national upheavals that would lead in the course of the century to the collapse of European colonialism. At the end of World War I colonialism was being increasingly questioned morally, but not yet challenged legally or politically. Such challenges only began to emerge as the struggles of national liberation gained political traction globally after 1945.

 

It is worth noticing that there was a certain amount of diplomatic pushback even in the post-1918 diplomacy, especially by way of Woodrow Wilson’s advocacy of ethnic ‘self-determination’ for the Ottoman held territories of the Middle East. More strongly in the same direction was Lenin’s radical critique of colonialism as a system of oppression that needed to be opposed and crushed wherever in the world it existed. This pushback did lead Britain and France to moderate their colonial ambitions as embodied in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, but these two unrepentant colonial powers still managed to gain essentially uncontested de facto control of political communities throughout the Middle East by way of the mandate system, which might be better understood as ‘tutelary colonialism.’

 

I am led to wonder whether if Wilson had had his way at Versailles in 1919 would the Balfour impact have been lessened with respect to the unfolding reality of Palestine? Presumably, Arab self-determination throughout the region would have drastically reduced the British and French role. Perhaps this European displacement would have been to an extent as to prompt a shift of Zionist energies away from Palestine, leading to a willingness to find a secure homeland somewhere that would be more receptive to the establishment of a Jewish state in their midst. This might have spelled a different tragedy for a different people than what has befallen the Palestinian people. Of course, ‘what might have been,’ is only of interest as a way of historically decoding the injustices that currently afflict oppressed and deprived peoples. We are helpless to change the past, although we can imagine unfolding in more benevolent ways. As much as the Palestinians, the Kurds throughout the region were fragmented and subjugated, and continue to this hour to struggle for some measure of ethnic autonomy, collective dignity, and self-determination. The Kurds were promised by World War I victors a state of their own situated mainly in present day Turkey and embodied in the Treaty of Sévres (1920). A few years later what was given was taken away, reflecting geopolitical moves that adapted to intervening political developments at the enduring expense of the Kurdish people. The main intervening event between the two treaties was the shocking Ataturk victory over European powers in Turkey, which helps understand why the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) abandoned the arrangements proposed at Sevres.

 

Reverting to reality, Britain became the mandatory administrator of Palestine in 1923, opening the country to the incremental realization of the Zionist agenda, which concentrated during the 1920s and 1930s on buying land from Palestinians that could be given to Jewish settlers, doing it all it could to induce Jews to emigrate to Palestine, and resorting to a terrorist campaign that was intended to make the British position in Palestine untenable. To make the whole Zionist undertaking credible ideologically, economically, and politically it was imperative to overcome the huge demographic imbalance that existed in Palestine during the early phases of the Zionist movement. It is instructive to recall that the Jewish presence in Palestine at the time of Balfour was no more than 5-7%. Such a small minority could not possibly succeed in establishing and dominating the government of a state that was to be ethnically oriented and yet democratic. Not a single Zionist expected the resident population to accept willingly such an outcome. Israel as a viable sanctuary for Jews escaping persecution necessarily depended on finding the right formula for combining armed struggle and political deception.

 

In this sense Balfour launched a project that was utopian from the Zionist point of view and dystopian from the Palestinian perspective. On the utopian side, establishing a Jewish state that could show a democratic face to the world seemed well beyond the horizon of feasibility. To attain the Zionist goal of a democratic Jewish state in Palestine ran directly counter to the anti-colonial historical tide in the 20th Century that swept away all in path elsewhere in the non-Western world. And then to overcome such a one-sided

demographic imbalance seemed a mission impossible no matter how much the Jewish diaspora was goaded into emigrating to Israel.

 

On the dystopian side as experienced by the Palestinians, the nakba dispossession and expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians, reinforced by discriminatory immigration policy, rigid security policies, and by Zionist expansionism that continues to this day has inflicted a tragic destiny upon the Palestinian people. This kind of ethnic restructuring also was coupled with the legitimation of a settler colonial state, including by the United Nations, at a historical moment when colonialism was entering its sunset phase and the UN was supposed to reflect the moral will of the organized global community. This outcome was permanently disillusioned for the Palestinians, and involves a cruel and paradoxical twist to the long Palestinian ordeal.

 

As an American terrified by Trump and Trumpism I cannot refrain from noting the analogies with the efforts of this leadership to airbrush the Confederate past of the United States, featuring slavery, with broad strokes of moral relativism. Trump’s outrageous assertion that there were good people on the white supremacist side of the Charlottesville demonstrations and General John Kelly’s more recent obtuse contention that the American Civil War resulted from the failure of the two sides (North and South) to strike a compromise, as if a compromise with slavery was a preferred option. A rejection of this kind of high profile posturing is not only a matter of political correctness, it is much more a matter of elemental moral sensitivity and political vigilance then and now.

 

Without letting Britain off the Balfour hook, the main international culprits since 1945 are surely the United States and the UN, jointly and separately failing to produce a sustainable and just peace for both peoples. At this time such a peace will not be achieved by continued recourse to the two-state solution that with each passing Israeli settlement expansion becomes, at best, an empty slogan, and more realistically, a way of changing the conversation to avoid considering the step that alone could bring peace to both peoples: ending the apartheid structures that have fragmented, subjugated, and victimized the Palestinian people ever since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. Until Israel is persuaded to dismantle its apartheid regime (as the racist South African regime was a decade earlier), peace diplomacy is bound to be a farce that does more harm than good. If this more realistic appreciation of the preconditions for peace between Palestinians and Israelis were to begin emerging on this day of remembrance, the Balfour century could at least claim to end on a more hopeful note than it began.

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?