Tag Archives: Zionism

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

23 Jun

 

 

[Prefatory Note: the following interview with Abdo Emara, an Arab journalist was published in Arabic; it is here republished in slightly modified form. The changes made are either stylistic or clarifying. There are no substantive changes from my earlier responses. I think it worthwhile to share this text because the questions asked by Abdo Emara are often directed at me in the discussion period after talks I have given recently.]

 

Jewish Ethnicity, Palestinian Solidarity, Human Identity

 

  1. Many believe that all Jews are completely biased in favor of Israel. Since you are Jewish this raises some questions. Why have you supported the grievances of the Palestinians? And why does not Israel welcome you on its territory since you are a Jew?

It is a rather well kept secret that from the very outset of the Zionist movement there were many Jews, including some who were prominent in their countries who opposed or strongly criticized Zionist ideology, as well as the way Israel was established and subsequently developed. After 1948, and even more so, after 1967, Israeli supporters, strongly encouraged by Zionist leaders and Israeli diplomats, have increasingly claimed that the Israeli government speaks for all Jews regardless of whether or not they reside in Israel. If this claim of universal representation is denied or resisted that person will be identified by Zionists/Israelis either as an anti-Semite or as bad, a self-hating Jew, or some combination of the two. I have increasingly supported the grievances of the Palestinian people from two perspectives, in my capacity as an international law specialist and as a human being opposed to the oppression and suffering of others regardless of whether or not I share the ethnic and religious background of such victims of abuse. I have taken these positions without any feelings of hatred toward Jews or alienation from the Jewish people, or toward any people due to their ethnicity or brand of faith. My understanding of identity is much more bound up with common humanity and action in solidarity with victims of abuse than with worrying about whether or not they happen to be Jewish. I have drawn wisdom and insight from Jewish traditions, especially by heeding Old Testament biblical prophets, but as well from contact with the great texts of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. At the same time I am appalled by some passages in the OT that appear to counsel and even celebrate genocidal onslaughts against the ancient enemies of the Jewish people.

 

  1. How is the pretext of anti-Semitism used to silence critical voices in Israel and throughout the Western world? And what are the most influential institutions that try to silence and discredit academic voices that reject Israel’s repressive policies?

With the support of Israeli lobbying groups and ultra Zionist pressure groups and activists, there is a concerted campaign in Europe and North America to defame critics of Israel by calling them ‘anti-Semites.’ Especially since the Nazi genocide, to be called an anti-Semite whether or not there is any responsible basis for such accusations has become one of the most effective ways to discredit and distract. Even when accusations do not silence a critic, as in my case, they have detrimental and hurtful effects. Above all, they shift the conversation from the validity of the message to the credibility of the messenger. In the Israel/Palestine context this takes attention away from the ordeal experience by the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Thus, allegations of anti-Semitism function as both sword (to wound the messenger) and shield (to deflect and inhibit criticism and opposition).

 

  1. How do you interpret the Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup? How can these policies be changed? What is their legal status?

I interpret Egyptian policies toward Gaza since the Sisi coup of 2013 as primarily an expression of renewed collaboration with Israel with respect to Gaza as intensified by the Cairo view that Hamas is inspired by and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is enemy number one of the current Egyptian government. I am not familiar with the details of the Egyptian policy toward Gaza, although I know it imposes arbitrary and hurtful restrictions on entry and exit. Egyptian policies toward Gaza seem clearly to involve complicity with Israel’s worst abuses in Gaza, and entail potential criminal responsibility for Egyptian leaders and implementing officials. Israel seems clearly guilty of inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and for aiding and abetting the implementation of the unlawful blockade of Gaza that has been maintained by the state of Israel since 2007 with many cruel consequences for the Palestinians, including those needing to leave Gaza for lifesaving medical treatments.

 

  1. How do you evaluate Hamas’ new policy document?

I believe the Hamas document moves toward the adoption of a political approach to its relations with both Israel and Egypt. By a political approach I mean a willingness to establish long-term interim arrangements for peaceful coexistence with Israel and normalization with Egypt. Hamas expresses this willingness by indicating a readiness to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory occupied by Israel since the end of the 1967 War. Such a shift by Hamas does not acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as a state nor does it involve a repudiation of the 1988 Hamas Charter, although it does abandon the anti-Semitic rhetoric and seems more disposed to pursue its goals diplomatically and politically rather than by reliance on armed struggle, without giving up in any way rights of resistance, including armed resistance.

 

5- Did it became impossible for Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights throughout international organizations in the light of the latest UN refusal of UN ESCWA report your good-self drafted?

The reaction to our ESCWA report, “The Practices of Israel Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” did reveal a lack of independence and objectivity within the UN when placed under severe geopolitical pressure by the United States Government. It seemed clear that when the UN Secretary General ordered ESCWA to remove our report from their website, he was succumbing to pressure exerted by the United States, whose ambassador to the UN denounced the report without giving reasons as soon as it was released, presumably without it ever being read, and demanded its repudiation. Of course, the outcome was mixed. On the positive side, Rima Khalaf, the highly respected head of ESCWA resigned on principle rather than follow the directives of the SG, and the firestorm generated by the release of the report resulted in the text being far more influential and widely read than it might otherwise have been if treated appropriately. On the negative side, was the strong evidence that the UN is often unable to act effectively in support of the Palestinian people and their long struggle for their basic rights. The UN is geopolitically neutralized as a political actor even when Israel acts in flagrant and persisting defiance of international law and its own Charter.

 

6-Talk about the Trump-sponsored Century Deal between Palestinians and Israelis is increasing now … what are your expectations for such a deal? Will include what is said to be a “resettlement” of the Palestinians in Gaza and Sinai ?

 

Nothing positive for the Palestinian people can emerge from the wave of speculation that Trump will soon broker the ultimate peace deal. Israel is content with managing the status quo while gradually increasing its territorial appropriations via settlements, wall, security claims, and various demographic manipulations. Palestine lacks credible leadership capable of representing the Palestinian people. This partly reflects the low credibility and poor record of the Palestinian Authority and partly the deep split between Hamas and Fatah. Palestinian unity and credible leadership is a precondition for the resumption of genuine diplomacy. Geopolitical pressure should not be confused with diplomacy, and will not produce a sustainable peace even if the PA is force fed a one-sided outcome favorable to Israel that is disguised as a solution.

 

7- How does Israel see the current Egyptian regime? and to what extent did it feel comfortable towards Mohamed Morsi?

 

Israel seems quite content with the current government in Egypt, and the policies that Cairo is pursuing at home and in the region. This contrasts with its thinly disguised dislike of and anxiety about the Morsi government, and worries that Morsi’s Egypt would increasingly challenge Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and possibly alter the balance of force in the region in ways contrary to Israel’s interests.

8- Does Israel hate the existence of a democratic regimes in the Arab region, especially the neighboring countries? And why?

 

Israel opposes the emergence of democracy in the Middle East for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that Arab governments to the extent democratic are more likely to reflect in their policies, the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their citizenry. As well, Arab governments that adhere to democratic values are more likely to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Also, it is easier for Israel to work out pragmatic arrangements with authoritarian leaders who have little accountability to their own people and have demonstrated a cynical readiness to sacrifice the Palestinians for the sake of their own national strategic interests. This has become most evident in the kind of diplomacy pursued by the Gulf monarchies in recent years, dramatically evident during the three massive attacks on Gaza by Israel during the past decade that have devastated a totally vulnerable civilian population.

  1. Why do the far right think tanks- like Gatestone Institute and Middle East Forum which is known by its absolute support of Israel praise President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Why do these centers deeply praise him?

My prior responses make it clear that the Israeli policy community is pleased with Egypt governed by an authoritarian leader who adopts an agenda giving priority to the suppression of political Islam, taking the form in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian governance under Sisi is precisely what Israel would like to see emerge throughout the region, and if not, then the second option, is prolonged chaos of the sort that exists in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. As well, the reinforced sectarianism of Saudi Arabia is consistent with Israel’s view that Iran poses the most dangerous threat, not so much to its security, but to its agenda of regional influence.

 

  1. In your opinion, what is the most Arab country supporting the Palestinian issue?

I would say that none of the Arab countries is genuinely supportive of the Palestinian struggle at the present time. With a note of irony the most supportive countries in the region are non-Arab: Turkey and Iran, and their support is extremely limited. It is a sad commentary on the drift of regional politics that the Palestinians are without governmental support in the Arab world, a reality magnified by the fact that if the publics of these countries were in a position to make policy, the Palestinians would be strongly supported. In this regard, including in the West, Palestinian hopes for the future are increasingly tied to the interaction of their own resistance in combination with a growing solidarity movement in Europe and North America. The UN and traditional diplomacy, as practiced within the Oslo framework for more than 20 years have proved to be dead ends when it comes to protecting Palestinian rights.

 

Fred Skolnik and The Politics of Vilification

6 Jun

[Prefatory Note: I feel somewhat apologetic to blog subscribers. In most respects I realize that I am wasting the time of readers by posting this response to one of my most habitual and vindictive detractors, Fred Skolnik.  I will try to make amends by posting  a more substantive text as soon as possible. I share my defensive response in this setting because it does illustrate the standard operating procedure of dedicated hasbarists, regardless of whether their work reflects personal passion or is done on assignment. Identifying the motivation is not the point. The intention of such tactics is a concerted effort to shift the conversation, to discredit critics and criticism, and to engage in a site of struggle by trying above all to draw attention away from the overriding reality–Israeli responsibility for the extension of the Palestinian ordeal of prolonged suffering.]

 

I would have assumed that someone with Fred Skolnik’s achievements, the principal editor of the widely praised 22-volume Encyclopaedia Judaica, and the author of several favorably reviewed novels, would put his spare time to better use than vilifying an academic critic of  Israel, and even engaging in dirty tricks to invoke market forces to diminish his adversary’s reputation and influence. How wrong I am!

 

It is appropriate that I acknowledge being his target of choice, perhaps his only target, but the recipient of sustained attention by Skolnik, especially in the comment section of my blog of world issues. For several years I tried to reason with Skolnik, virtually pleaded with him to refrain from insults directed at me and others whose views of Israel he found abhorrent, but to no avail. He continued to submit long and frequent comments on complex controversial issues as though he alone possessed the wisdom and knowledge to provide clear answers, which happened to coincide with alt-right Israeli official views. The arrogance and one-sidedness of his comments made it seem hardly worthwhile to respond. The gaps in interpreting the facts and applicable consideration of law and morality were too wide to make dialogue useful. In the end, after wavering and hesitating, I began to block those comments that were either virulently anti-Palestinian or weighed down with nasty personal insinuations that questioned the motives and moral equilibrium of those with whom he disagreed. Skolnik, as with many other ultra Zionists, was quick to play the anti-Semitic card, and even put it more crudely by insinuating that persons like myself harbored sentiments of ‘Jew-hatred.’ An outrageous smear!

 

Not content with mere insults, Skolnik recently took action. He, along with other known Zionist disrupters and enemies of academic freedom, submitted hostile commentary on the Amazon website in the form of a review of my recently published book, Palestine’s Horizon: Towards a Just Peace (Pluto, 2017), awarding the lowest possible rating of a single star. I paste the text of Skolnik’s review below:

 

 How not to create a Palestinian state, May 21, 2017

 

By 

Fred Skolnik

 

This review is from: Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (Paperback)  

“I feel almost inclined to congratulate Prof. Falk for producing a book that is, for him, fairly moderate, that is, does not, as far as I can see, accuse Israel of Nazism, fascism, genocide or apartheid – whether incipient or actual – as he occasionally does in his blog. What he focuses on is how the Palestinians can achieve the aim of self-determination. He judges that the two-state solution won’t work, because the current “moderate” Palestinian leadership is incapable of bringing it about and Israel, in his view, does not wish to. Therefore he is implicitly proposing a one-state solution, namely one in which the State of Israel will cease to exist but the Jews will be allowed to maintain a homeland in a bi-national state where millions of Arabs – descendants of refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep – will be permitted to settle in the country, thus assuring an Arab majority and turning the Jews into an “ethnic” minority with guaranteed rights.

 

The fact that this proposal, which can only be called crazy in the light of reality, cannot and will not ever bear fruit, and virtually assures the Palestinians another century of suffering if they seek such an outcome, does not daunt Prof. Falk in the least. Given the nearly 1500-year history of Jewish life under Arab rule, it hardly needs to be explained why this will never happen, nor does Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state have to be justified. The State of Israel, my friends, is not going to disappear. The only way the Palestinians will get a state of their own is by relinquishing the Big Dream of a great massacre on the shores of the Mediterranean, disavowing terrorism, reconciling themselves to the existence of a sovereign, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, and negotiating a settlement whose basis will be a fair trade-off of land leaving 75% of the settlements within Israel’s final border and involving around 5% of West Bank land – barren hilltops exchanged for barren hilltops from the Palestinian point of view – a limited return of refugees (something like 30-40,000, which coincidentally represents the number of original refugees still alive, but maybe as many as 100,000), and some imaginative solution for Jerusalem. These are the parameters and this is the reality. It’s up to the Palestinians to decide whether they wish to live in dignity or in misery. Prof. Falk is not giving them very good advice.”

 

Actually, the language of the review is more temperate than Skolnik’s typical style, notable for its degrading innuendo and invective, which is only deployed indirectly in this review. When Skolnik falsely writes that my blog posts accuse Israel of “Naziism, fascism, genocide, or apartheid” he is making use of a standard hasbara tactic—claiming that a critic is making far more extreme contentions than is the case so as to be as discrediting as possible. In the list is added “or apartheid,” which indeed has been alleged by me, and is the theme of my co-authored ESCWA report. But why would someone add naziism, fascism, genocide unless you were engaged in a professional hatchet job?  

 

What is also objectionable about the review is that ignores the main arguments of the book, which barely touch on the premature topic of attaining a proper solution, although it does suggest in passing that Israel has deliberately rendered a fair two-state compromise unobtainable due to the settlements and assorted other irreversible encroachments on the Palestinian territorial remnant, which if freed of settlements would still only amount to 22% of the land encompassed by the British mandate. I also believe that the insistence on being ‘a Jewish state,’ so acknowledged by the Palestinian governmental representatives is a claim inconsistent with international human rights standards, with the modern secularist consensus, and with the equality of citizens and nationals subject to sovereign governmental authority. In this sense, to give up that claim of Jewish exclusiveness is a vital precondition with respect to the search for a sustainable and just peace. Unlike what Skolnik contends it is not a call for the destruction of Israel as a state, but for its abandonment of an unacceptable set of practices and policies. When South African dismantled its apartheid structures of control it did not cease to exist as a state. On the contrary, it became a legitimate state! Again Skolnik obscures the real issue by implying that my criticism of Zionist overreaching is a call for the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state.

 

Returning to the review, giving my book the lowest possible rating on the Amazon website is a callous attempt to be hurtful. I have a long list of books published by the most selective of university presses and mainstream publishers. Of course, no one is obliged to agree with the analysis or admire the scholarship, but to translate disagreement into this sort of unfair assessment illustrates what I mean by complaining about ‘the politics of vilification.’

 

Skolnik is active on other fronts as well. After years of seeking to maintain a degree of civility on my blog with respect to commentary on Israel/Palestine by blocking comments that either nurture hate or question the character and motives of those with whom someone disagree. I decided to block Skolnik’s submitted comments altogether having failed to persuade his to accept the guidelines for submission that I have established and seem to have gained the approval of most of those most engaged in discussion. He long abused the comment section by submitting frequent, repetitive dogmatic harangues laced with vitriolic attacks on those he dislikes.  Incidentally, my blog deals with a range of contemporary issues, and only encounters these issues in relation to Israel/Palestine. Also, I should add that I have blocked many submitted comments that strike me as truly anti-Semitic or hateful toward Israel and Zionism.

 

What seems of some interest is that Mr. Skolnik has gone to the trouble of collecting all of his blocked comments, publishing them in a presumably sympathetic Israeli newspaper (Arutz Sheva or Israel National News). I would have expected Skolnik to be ashamed of these comments, but apparently he is sufficiently proud of them to arrange publication. I have not checked to see whether he omitted some of the more inflammatory blocked comments or edited them to create the impression that I am censoring views of pro-Israeli subscribers to the blog, which I am not. I reprint from the newspaper the list, allowing readers, with the degree of fortitude to assess for themselves, whether I am being too restrictive in response to Skolnik’s attempts to have his views presented on this blog site. I would welcome feedback.

 

Below are the comments Skolnik submitted, which were blocked either because of tone, substance, or repetitive character, as published in the Israeli newspaper. I apologize for the formatting that cuts off some words of the text. If someone can help me format in a better way I will adjust the text here as now published. I would call attention to the headline and the lead paragraph that conveys the aggressive sentiments that Skolnik reins in to some extent when he submits his comments. Calling me an Israel-hater and an anti-Semite is defamatory besides being false. 

 

*******************************

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

An anti-Semite’s true colors are shown as he refuses to post answers to his posts unless they villify Israel even more than he does. This writer kept a record of the the Israel-hater who was, unbelievably, a UN representative to the Middle East.

Contact Editor

Fred Skolnik, 01/06/17 18:33

 

Share

 

 

 

Fred Skolnik

The writer is Editor-in-Chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal and author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history.

More from the author ►

The following is the “dialogue” that developed between Richard Falk, former UN Human Rights Council Rapporter for Palestine and recent author of a UN report accusing Israel of apartheid, and myself after he published an entry on his blogsite called “Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression” complaining about the cancelation of his book launches in England because of “strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption.”

Note: Please notice the repeated response to my remarks is: “Your comment is awaiting moderation,”  which is his excuse for not posting them, as indeed he did not, ever.

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 9:14 am # 

Israel’s efforts to undermine the anti-Israel activities of its declared enemies are no less legitimate than the effort of its enemies to undermine Israel’s economic and academic life, not to mention efforts to bring about its extinction.

Richard FalkMay 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm # 

     

These are not equivalent activities:

–I am expressing views on the basis of academic study, which is in the mainstream of discourse in a democratic society, even if the views are controversial;–BDS activists are protesting by nonviolent [means] what they and most of the world consider to be unlawful and unjust policies and practices.

 

Israel, the US Government, and its militant supporters, are interfering with academic freedom and nonviolent protest activities, by engaging in smear tactics, and even by threatening violent disruption. These two sets of behaviors are in no sense equivalent, and to treat them as if they are, is to be ‘heartless’ and ‘ignorant.’

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm # 

I beg to differ. You are not acting as an academic but as a polemicist publically active in discrediting and delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel has every reason to regard you as a hostile individual bent on harming it and acting accordingly. As for militant supporters of Israel, they are no more militant than Israel’s detractors. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:05 am # 

May I ask you, Prof. Falk, if you are still wondering why you are attacked personally, and if you have the courage to reply, what your response would be if one of these barbaric Hamas terrorists whom you call freedom fighters entered a Jewish home and murdered an entire family, including infants, and then declared: “I had been reading Professor Falk’s blog where he compared us to French and Dutch partisans and asked rhetorically, ‘Can you blame them?’ and ‘What do you expect?’ so I felt fully justified on the highest moral grounds as elucidated by Professor Falk, to murder these miserable Jews.”

What would you say then, Prof, Falk? Or would you just run away if you couldn’t scrape up a winning reply? Yes, I’m challenging you, even if you lack the courage to confront these questions, so that it will be just a little bit harder for you to pretend that you are something other than what you actually are.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Richard FalkMay 7, 2017 at 9:00 am # 

Mr. Skolnik:

I have no intention taking the bait of responding to a horrendous terrorist hypothetical, which avoids any considerationof the ethics of resistance. I could pose 100 analogous hypotheticals about the brutalization of the Palestinian people,which would in no way cast light on the ethics of Israel’s security claims. You play games designed to personalize our differences rather than confront the discriminatory and oppressive realities of Israel-Palestine relations. I will not take this bait.

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 9:38 am # 

You are not “taking the bait” because you lack the courage to face the implications of your rhetoric or even to post the comment you are responding to,

I, for my part, would take any “bait” you wish to toss into the arena, even “100 analogous hypotheticals,” because I am not afraid to have my views challenged.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 11:21 am # 

 

Any way you cut it. Prof Falk, the fact remains that you are afraid of me and I am not afraid of you. You are afraid of me because there are so many holes in your thinking, knowledge and understanding and I expose them and you don’t know how to defend them other than by pleading personal insult or going into your empty rhetorical mode. I am not afraid of you because I am prepared to address any issue or allegation on a factual basis. 

To be honest with you, I even think that all these protestations and outcries of yours about the suffering of the Palestinians is just a little bit bogus. It is not really the Palestinians as victims that interests you but Israel (and America) as culprits. I am quite sure that if Israel was an Arab country and the Palestinians were indigenous non-Muslim Sudanese, let us say, and you had the same conflict and the same occupation and the same “ethnic cleansing,” we’d hardly be hearing a peep from you. Isn’t that so?

 

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 11:42 am # 

I am convinced, Mr. Skolnik, that you refuse to get my point, and thus respond by your usual tactic of insult. It is time that you stopped worrying about my integrity and motives, and started giving genuine attention to the reality of Israeli responsibility for Palestinian suffering.So long as you brush aside or photoshop this core reality by rationalizing Israeli cruelty as a response to ‘the barbarism’ of the Palestinians or their alleged refusal to make peace, you are engaging in the standard hasbara practice of shifting the conversation to the messengerand avoiding the message. And when you do pause to address the message it is done in such a dogmatic and one-sided manner as to lackany credibility. You seem to be looking in the mirror without seeing yourself.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm # 

This is precisely what I mean about empty rhetoric. You are just throwing phrases into the air like “Palestinian suffering” and “Israeli responsibility,” which is no different in actual fact from saying “German suffering” and “Allied responsibility.” The Arabs initiated a war against Israel in 1967 and Israel defended itself as any other country would have. And insofar as the West Bank is concerned the specific and undeniably guilty party was Jordan, by Hussein’s own admission. The consequence of this war was the occupation of the West Bank and the consequences of refusing to make peace and choosing terrorism were Israel’s perfectly legitimate security measures, which continue to be in force to this day to the extent that the terrorism continues.

This is admittedly a one-sided representation of events, and that is because there was only one guilty party, but even if my “one-sidedness” were unjustified, you would hardly be the one to complain about it, given your own one-sidedness, so there is a bit of hypocrisy here too,

   

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm # 

Until you are able to acknowledge at least that ambiguity surrounds responsibility for the 1967 warwe have no basis for dialogue or conversation. See such knowledgeable accounts as Peeled, Quigley, andmany others. To pretend that it was a simple case of Arab attack and Israeli defense is a falsification of historical complexity. I do not use the sort of dogmatic, either/or language that you rely upon. I can even appreciate your partisanship, but you link it to discrediting what you perceive to be the partisanship of your adversary, and in the process the reality of historical complexity is completely obscured.

   

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm # 

You seem to be saying that unless someone agrees with your version of events, you have no wish to speak to him. That is of course your right but we are not engaged in negotiations here but in a debate that should be founded on facts and not on opinions. I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. There is nothing ambiguous about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out.

 

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm # 

Whether you wish to reply or not, your holding back my last comment, made in the same spirit as the previous comments, both yours and mine, leads me to think that you are acting in extremely bad faith.

   

Richard Falk May 8, 2017 at 7:54 am # 

I you would stop concentrating on my motives, and start addressing my assessments–for example, historical complexity surrounding the 1967 War making your kind of analysis without credibility, given the scholarly literature that you ignore, merely restating your dogmatic one-sided views.

 

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 8:37 am # 

But that is precisely what I am doing: I am not talking about your motives above but precisely about your assessment. Why are you pretending otherwise? Here is my assessment:

I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. Again, there is nothing “complex” or “ambiguous” about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out. 

“Peled, Quigley” are not scholarly sources. Quigley is a legal expert who is qualified to discuss the issue of preemptive strikes from a legal point of view but not the sequence of events that led to the war.

It seems to me that you are determined to lead the discussion away from demonstrable fact toward the freewheeling realm of “interpretation” and opinion, which is to say from history to polemics. When you try to shift the blame for the 1967 war onto Israel’s shoulders, you disregard the actual sequence of events that led to it. When you try to turn Israel into the aggressor in its war against terrorism, you disregard the specific circumstances of each clash or simply and arbitrarily reverse the actual sequence of events in order to underpin your interpretation of them.

It seems to me that what you really wish to say, though never too explicitly, is that since the creation of the State of Israel was unjust vis-à-vis the Arabs, all-out attacks on it and acts of terrorism are fully justified or understandable or whatever word you wish to use, and that the “solution” to the problem is to eliminate the State of Israel entirely, by flooding it with the descendants of the original refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep.

But that is not the history and that is not the justification and that is not the solution. At a certain point, even in polemics, reality should intercede, and the simple reality is that Israel is not going to disappear and the Palestinians are not going to get a state until they disavow terrorism and negotiate a settlement. 

Once again, I invite you to present your assessment of events. Start with Jordan, as the occupation of the West Bank is the crux of the matter today. Assess Hussein’s book on the war. That is a primary document. Assess the protocols of Israel’s deliberations before the war. I have given you a link more than once and you have ignored it. That is where you will find the history.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation. 

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 10:01 am # 

I see that this is going to remain between ourselves. Nothing like a little logic to send you scurrying to the panic button. 

You are again being naive to the point of stupidity. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

John  May 8, 2017 at 6:50 am # 

Richard,I sat behind you at the Cork Conference and mentioned that I had lived in South Africa during the apartheid era for several years.I said then – and I say again now – that what is happening in Palestine is nothing like what happened in apartheid South Africa. The nationalists there were just as racist and just as supremacist as the Zionists in Palestine but there were far fewer of them.In Israel, we now have a regime largely like the Nazis, with their global thugs engaging in global thuggery at events such as your book launch.Nazi rabble were deployed to shut everyone else up just like the Zionist rabble are now.The means and the methods may have charged but their essential thuggish has not.

How to defeat such thuggery?Well, it may take what it did to defeat the Nazis.That may well be the only way to gain Palestinian freedom.That or a real Civil War in Israel among Israelis – hard as that is to imagine.Even then, it is impossible to predict the outcome as being favourable or otherwise.

Fred SkolnikMay 8, 2017 at 10:47 pm # 

“Largely like the Nazis” means gassing and incinerating millions of people. Is that what you wish to say? And where were you when Arab terrorists were blowing apart Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants?

 

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 9:01 am # 

Stop lecturing me on how to administer this blog. You are participating of your own free will. If you so strongly disapprove, why bother? And I must say your approach to ‘historical complexity’ associatedwith the 1967 is, at best, simplistic, as is your dismissal of Quigley, whose archival research is very convincing on the various ambiguities associated with the various phases of that encounter. It is not amatter of avoiding your arguments because they are so well-evidenced and well reasoned, it is a sense that there is no point engaging with such extremist and self-serving constructions of the facts, relevant law,allocation of responsibility, and so forth.

John May 9, 2017 at 6:52 pm # 

What I was referring to was the thuggish behaviour of both the nazis and zionists.Where were you when the zionist thugs murdered thousands of largely innocent Gazans, including hundreds of children?No doubt lounging on a sofa overlooking Gaza and cheering on the bombers.Hasbara thugs like you have no place in decent civilised society.Just crawl back under the sewer cover you normally live under.

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 11:42 pm # 

I normally would block this comment as it steps across the civility line by mounting such an intense personal attack, but because you are clarifying an important point and responding to an attack I am making exception. I ask you in the future to limit comments to substantive disagreements.

   

Fred Skolnik May 10, 2017 at 4:08 am # 

Bravo! Yes, that is a clarification all right!

“Largely” like the Nazis means a little more than thuggish behavior.

To tell you the truth, John, I was in a shelter.

Gazans were killed because Hamas fired 4,500 rockets at Israel’s civilian population from in and around schools, playgrounds, hospitals, clinics, mosques and residential buildings and did not even allow its own civilian population to evacuate these areas when Israel warned them of impending attacks via flyers, emails and phone calls..

That is my clarification, Prof. Falk, without John’s sewer covers.

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm # 

This is a perfect example, Prof. Falk, of the kind of people you attract. Why aren’t you censoring this comment for its “dogmatism” and “one-sidedness,” not to mention its viciousness?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 9, 2017 at 9:51 am # 

The ploy of replying to my comments without posting the comments themselves is underhanded to say the least and certainly unworthy of someone who professes academic integrity. Are you really that afraid even to have the comments seen by your readers?

You challenged me and I responded. Calling a view that relies on Hussein’s own explanation of why he attacked Israel simplistic, extreme and self-serving is next to absurd. Your argument in this case, as in the case of Nasser’s actions and declarations, is not with me but with him, so by all means ignore me but do address the following statements made by Hussein:

-Jordan attacked Israel because Egypt misled Hussein by telling him that it had destroyed 75% of the Israeli air force and was advancing toward Tel Aviv and inviting him to join the final war (see Hussein’s book on the war, p. 60ff.).

-Jordan was further deceived when it picked up planes on its radar moving toward Israel and believed they were Egyptian planes, confirming Nasser’s assertions.

-Jordan received Israel’s pledge, communicated via Gen Odd Bull of the UN and the US State Dept., that it would not act against Jordan if Jordan did not act against Israel — “too late” to stop the Jordanian attack.

-And again, tt is absurd to suggest that the idea of grabbing land motivated Israel’s response in a Mapai-dominated political culture in which Begin was thought of as an irrelevant blowhard. The idea of territorial “expansion” was not part of political or public discourse at the time. Published protocols of internal discussions at the military and political level and even the most superficial knowledge of the atmosphere in Israel before the war will give anyone who is interested a clear idea of Israeli thinking at the time.

A writer like Quigley who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew or Arabic is not doing the “archival research” that is necessary to understand the Arab-Israel conflict

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with any extremist or simplistic views or even with me but with historical evidence that you should be prepared to address before advancing your own one-sided and dogmatic views.

When you allow the word Nazi to appear in your blog with reference to Jews and/or Israel and censor a simple clarification of what “largely like the Nazis” really means, you deserve to be lectured. 

I persist in responding to you because you are a public figure publishing in a public forum some of the vilest filth on the Internet with refernce to Jews and Israel

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

News

Op-Eds

Briefs

Blogs

v\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
o\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
.shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);}

Normal
0
false

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

 

Israel’s Legalizes Settlement Options as a Prelude to the Netanyahu Visit to Trumpland

13 Feb

Responses to four questions posed by Rodrigo Craveiro, a journalist from the Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense

 

1- How do you see the decision of the Knesset taken last night about legalizing settlement outposts and what are the likely consequences of this legislative initiative? 

It is one more act of defiance by Israel that is both a repudiation of international law relating to settlements in Occupied Palestine and of the UNSC, which in December passed Resolution 2334 condemning settlement expansion and reaffirming their illegality. Whether Israel experiences adverse consequences depends especially on the reaction of European governments and of civil society. Israel expects that Trump’s presidency will insulate the country from any show of real pressure at the UN or via sanctions, but there are mixed signals as usual emanating from the White House. The Knesset’s provocative move of legalizing the 50 or so settlement ‘outposts’ that were previously illegal even under Israeli law, an internationally controversial move that may in due course be nullified by Israel’s judiciary. Actually, the move was not so radical as the Israel state had long accommodated the outposts by providing them with subsidies and security, and overlooking their formally unlawful status in domestic law.

 

2– Do you believe Israel is interested in annexing West Bank? Why?

Israel’s leadership and public seems split on this. The most vocal leaders of the settler movement and the extreme right in Israel favor annexation, and always have and always will. Netanyahu and the Israeli center right prefer to keep their true intentions ambiguous, that is, proceeding with de facto annexation while continuing to maintain an international diplomatic posture that claims a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions implying an eventual willingness to accept at some point the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Some in Israel favor annexation for historical/biblical reasons associated with their convictions that Israel should embrace the whole of ancient Palestine, with the West Bank known as Samaria and Judea. Other Israelis favor annexation as the fulfillment of the project of secular Zionism, and also contend that a greater Israel will enhance the security of the state of Israel. The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has long favored annexation of the entire West Bank to complete the Zionist project, and couples this forthright rejection of a two-state solution with a controversial commitment to treat Palestinians as fully equal citizens in such an expanded Jewish state, accepting even the possibility that Palestinians become at some point a demographic majority, and manage to achieve an electoral mandate for  a Palestinian political party to govern the country.

 

3– In what ways do you believe Netanyahu is taking advantage of the fact that Trump is in the presidency of US for taking polemical measures?

It would appear that Netanyahu is proceeding on the basis that whatever Israel chooses to do, even if in the Obama years it might have produced disapproval, will in the Trump presidency be fully supported. Netanyahu may be testing how far he can go with such an approach without generating a costly diplomatic backlash by Arab neighbors, a new cycle of violent resistance by Palestinians, and an escalation of global civil society pressures taking the form of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign. In my view, Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game, and for the sake of Israeli expansionism and one-statism, maybe overstepping prudent limits. Perhaps, the biggest and most dangerous test of all is Netanyahu apparent desire to heighten tensions with Iran, leading possibly to the repudiation of P5 + 1 Nuclear Agreement negotiated by Obama presidency in 2014 and to a military confrontation. Trump called for the repudiation of the agreement during his campaign, but has been urged not to carry out the pledge by many, including senior former Israeli security experts and government officials. It will be of the greatest importance that this agreement with Iran maintained, and not undermined by any ratcheting up sanctions and an increased confrontational diplomacy.

 

4– Do you believe Trump could be seen as a source of influence in favor of Israel, due to his adherence to conservative positions that are the same as those favored by Netanyahu?

 There appears to be a natural affinity between these two leaders based both on their autocratic approach toward governance and reactionary substantive positions. I would not call their ideological outlook genuinely ‘conservative’ as it seeks to create ruptures with prior political, social, and cultural values. Although both leaders are demagogues and ideologues, they also act in opportunistic and impetuous ways. Both are swayed by considerations of expediency, and so their apparent marriage of convenience to one another could easily be broken. Perhaps, after their meeting this week, it will be clearer as to whether their personal chemistry is sufficiently positive to sustain their relationship over time. For the sake of peace and justice, I would hope that tension rather than harmony develops as they come to know each other better. It is certainly time for the US Government to realize how much damage its ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia have contributed to the tensions and turmoil that currently beset the region.

 

 

Interview on Israel, Palestine, and Peace

14 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The interview below, conducted by C.J. Polychroniou and Lily Sage (bios at the end of the interview) was published in TruthOut on Sept. 10, 2016. It is republished here with a few stylistic modifications, but substantively unchanged. It is relevant, I suppose,to report that subsequent to the interview the U.S. Government and Israel have signed a military assistance agreement promising Israel $38 billion over the next ten years, the largest such commitment ever made. Such an excessive underwriting of Israel’s policies and practices should be shocking to taxpaying Americans but it passes almost noticed below the radar. It is being explained as a step taken to ensure that Obama’s legacy is not diminished by claims that he acted detrimentally toward Israel, but it is, pathetically, one of the few instances of genuine bipartisanship in recent U.S. foreign policy. Again, we should grieve over the extent to which ‘reality’ and morality is sacrificed for the sake of the ‘special relationship’ while looking the other way whenever the Palestinian ordeal is mentioned.

The initial question pertaining to Turkey is explained by my presence in that turbulent country when the interview was conducted.]

 

 

“A Continuous War Mentality”: Richard Falk on Israel’s Human Rights Abuses

Polychroniou & Sage: Israel’s treatment of Palestinians mirrors the abominable system of apartheid in South Africa, but many members of the “international community” who fueled the gradual delegitimization and eventual collapse of South Africa’s apartheid regime are failing to apply similar pressure against Israel. In fact, many nations are even strengthening their ties with the Israeli government.

 

Even Greece has established close ties to Israel under the opportunistic Syriza government, while Sultan Erdogan in Turkey has also begun a process of kissing up to Israel after a few years of pursuing an “antagonistic” relation with the US’s closest ally under the pretext of expressing solidarity towards the Palestinian cause. Meanwhile, the increased militarization of Israeli society continues to intensify the oppression and subjugation of Palestinians.

 

The Israeli government has recently suggested that a “normalization” process is underway with the Palestinians, but in reality Israel’s construction of illegal settlements continues unabated, and the right-wing politicians inside Israel who portray Palestinians as an “inferior race” are gaining ground. This is exactly what “normalization” has always meant in Israeli political jargon: continuing to commit abominable human rights violations against Palestinians while the world looks away. Indeed, apartheid, annexation, mass displacement and collective punishment have become core policies of the state of Israel.

 

 

After years of intense antagonism, the Erdoğan regime has begun making overtures once again to Israel. Why now?

 The normalization agreement with Israel needs to be appreciated as part of a broader foreign policy reset that started well before the failed coup attempt of July 15th. The basic Turkish motivation appears to be an effort to ease bilateral tensions throughout the region, and as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has expressed it, “make as many friends as possible, and as few enemies.” It is the second coming of what had earlier gained political traction for Turkey throughout the region in the first 10 years of AKP (Justice and Development Party) leadership with the slogan “zero problems with neighbors.”

 

The main reset by far is with Russia, which had become an adversary of Turkey in the context of the Syrian War, but Israel is a close second. [Israel’s relationship with Turkey] had been in freefall after Erdoğan harshly criticized Israel at the World Economic Forum in 2009, directly insulting the then-Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was present.

 

Then in 2010 came the Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, and directly challenging the Israeli blockade together with a group of smaller boats filled with peace activists in an initiative known as the Freedom Flotilla. The Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara resulted in nine Turkish deaths among the peace activists on the ship and pushed the Israeli-Turkish relationship close to the brink of war. For the past year or so both sides have shown an interest in de-escalating tensions and restoring diplomatic normalcy. And Turkey, now more than ever, would like to avoid having adversary relations with Israel, which is being given precedence over Turkey’s support of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said recently that he cares more about the Palestinians than their own leaders. Do you wish to offer a comment on this statement?

 

Netanyahu has a gift for exaggerated, bombastic, and misleading, often outrageous political language. This is a clear instance. There are plenty of reasons to question the adequacy of the Palestinian Authority as the representative of the Palestinian people in advancing their national struggle. But to leap from such an unremarkable acknowledgement to the absurd claim that Netanyahu cares more about the Palestinian future than do Palestinians themselves represents a grotesque and arrogant leap into the political unknown. It is Netanyahu who led the country to launch massive attacks against Gaza first in 2012, and then again in 2014. It is Netanyahu who has pushed settler expansion and the Judaizing of East Jerusalem. For Netanyahu to speak in such a vein is to show his monumental insensitivity to the daily ordeal endured by every Palestinian and to the agonies associated with living for so long under occupation, in refugee camps, and in exile.

 

What do you make of the “anti-normalization” campaign initiated by some Palestinian factions and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement?

 

I think the BDS campaign makes sense under present conditions. These conditions include the recognition that the Oslo “peace diplomacy” is a dead-end that for more than two decades gave Israel cover to expand settlements and the settler population. They also include the realization that geopolitical leverage of the United States at the UN blocks all efforts to exert meaningful political pressure on Israel to reach the sort of compromise on issues of land, refugees, borders, water, settlements and Jerusalem that is indispensable if sustainable peace arrangements are to be agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians.

 

Against this background, it is important to recognize that civil society is presently “the only game in town,” and that BDS is the way this game is being played at present with the benefit of Palestinian civil society guidance and enthusiasm. Whether this campaign can exert enough pressure on Israel and the United States to change the political climate sufficiently to induce recalculations of national interest — only the future can tell. Until it happens, if it does, it will be deprecated by Israel and its Zionist supporters. While being dismissed as futile and destructive of genuine peace initiatives its participants will be attacked. A major effort is underway in the United States and Europe to discredit BDS, and adopt punitive measures to discourage participation.

 

Israel’s pushback by way of an insistence that BDS is seeking to destroy Israel and represents a new virulent form of anti-Semitism suggests that BDS now poses a greater threat to Israel’s concept of an established order than armed struggle or Palestinian resistance activities. Major Zionist efforts in the United States and elsewhere are branding BDS activists as anti-Semites.

 

It seems clear that nearly the entirety of the population of Israel and Palestine are in a constant trauma-reification cycle that began when Israel largely became inhabited by traumatized Jewish refugees, post-WWII. Do you think it is possible to overcome this, and would it be possible to find a peaceful resolution if this didn’t occur?

 

This is an insightful way of conceiving of the toxic interactions that have taken place over the years being harmful, in my view, to both people. However, unless the assertion is seriously qualified, it suffers from a tendency to create impressions of symmetry and balance, when the reality of relations from the outset, especially since the Nakba [the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes and villages in 1948], has been one of oppressor and oppressed, invader and invaded, occupier and occupied. It is undoubtedly true that Israeli ideas about the use of force and security were reflections of their collective trauma and Holocaust memories, and Zionist ideology.

 

This Israeli narrative is further reinforced by biblical and ancient historical claims, but it is also the case that the Palestinians were invaded in their habitual place of residence, and then occupied, exploited, dispossessed and turned into refugees in their own country, while Israelis came to prosper, and to establish a regional military powerhouse that has enjoyed the geopolitical reinforcement of an unprecedented special relationship with United States. The early politics surrounding the establishment of Israel were also strongly influenced by the sense of guilt that existed in Western liberal democracies after World War II. Such guilt was epitomized by the shame associated with the refusal to use munitions to disrupt the Holocaust through air bombardment.

 

Under Netanyahu, Israel has moved dangerously closer to becoming a fundamentalist and neo-fascist state, although long-standing Israeli propaganda has it that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” In your view, what accounts for the transformation of Israel from a once-promising democracy to an apartheid-like state with no respect for international law and human rights?

 

I believe there always were major difficulties with Israel’s widely proclaimed and internationally endorsed early identity as a promising democracy guided by progressive ideals. This image overlooked the dispossession of several hundred thousand Palestinian residents, the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, and the long-term discriminatory regime of military administration imposed on the remaining Palestinian minority that coincided with the establishment of the newly established Israeli state. What is important to appreciate is that this 20th-century process of state-creation took place in an era that was increasingly imbued with anticolonial activism that was at odds with the project to establish Israel from its international genesis and given a colonialist certificate of approval by way of the Balfour Declaration in 1917). Even taking into the Holocaust into account as the culminating historic tragedy of the Jewish people there is no way evading the conclusion that the establishment of Israel amounted to a European colonialist imposition on the Arab world and the latest instance of settler colonialism, although abetted by the Zionist mobilization of world Jewry on behalf of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

 

 

Against this background, Israel became embattled in various ways with internal Palestinian resistance and regional hostility that produced several wars. In that process, a series of developments moved Israel further and further toward the right. A continuous war mentality tends to erode democratic structures and values even under the best of circumstances. Military successes, especially after the 1967 War, created a triumphalist attitude that also solidified US geopolitical support and made it seem possible for Israel to achieve security while expanding its territorial reality (via settlements) at Palestinian expense. Israeli demographics over the years, involving large-scale immigration of Sephardic and Russian Jews and high fertility rates among Orthodox Jews, pushed the political compass ever further to the right. These key developments were reinforced by Israeli public opinion that came to believe that several proposals put forward by Israel to achieve a political compromise were irresponsibly rejected by the Palestinians. These negative outcomes were misleadingly interpreted as justifying the Israeli conclusion that they had no Palestinian partner for peace and that the Palestinians would settle for nothing less than the destruction of Israel as a state. These interpretations are gross misreadings of the Palestinian readiness to normalize relations with the Israel provided a sovereign Palestinian state were to be established within 1967 borders and some kind of arrangements were agreed upon for those displaced from their homes in 1948.

 

Additionally, the supposed need for Israel to remain aggressively vigilant after Gaza came under the control of Hamas in 2007 led Israelis to entrusting the government to rightest leadership and in the process, weakened the peace-oriented political constituencies remaining active in Israel. In part, here, memories of the Nazi experience were invoked to induce acute anxiety that Jews suffered such a horrible fate because they remained as a group too passive in face of mounting persecution, and failed to take Hitler at his word. Fear-mongering with respect to Iran accentuated Israeli security-consciousness, and undercut more moderate political approaches to the Palestinians.

 

Have you detected any changes in US foreign policy toward Israel under the Obama administration?

 

There has been no change of substance during the eight years of the Obama presidency. At the outset in 2009 it seemed that the US government under Obama’s leadership was ready to pursue a more balanced diplomacy toward Israel, at first insisting that Israel suspend settlement expansion to enable a restart of the Oslo peace process with a fresh cycle of negotiations. When Israel pushed back hard, abetted by the powerful Israeli lobby in the US, the Obama administration backed off, and never again, despite some diplomatic gestures, really challenged Israel, its policies and practices, and its overall unilateralism. It did call Israeli settlement moves “unhelpful” from time to time, but stopped objecting to such behavior as “unlawful.” Washington never seemed to question the relevance of a two-state solution, despite the realities of steady Israeli de facto annexation of prime land in the West Bank, making the prospect of a Palestinian state that was viable and truly sovereign less and less plausible. Although, for public relations credibility in the Middle East, the Obama presidency continued to claim it strongly backed “peace through negotiations,” it did nothing substantive to make Israel respect international law as applied to the occupation of Palestine, and consistently asserted that the Palestinians were as much to blame for the failure of past negotiations as were the Israelis, fostering a very distorted picture of the relative responsibility of the two sides, as well as who benefitted and who lost from the failure to resolve the conflict. Western media tended to accept this pro-Israeli picture, making it appear that both sides were equally unready to make the concessions necessary to achieve peace.

 

What could make Israel change course regarding its treatment toward Palestinians and the “Palestinian question?”

 

The easy answer to this question is a sea change in Israeli outlook as to its security, combined with an insistence by the US government that continued backing of Israel was contingent on its adherence to international law and its credible readiness to reach a fair political compromise, whether in the form of a two-state or one-state solution, but based on a recognition that sustainable peace depends on acknowledging Palestinian rights under international law and a concern for the equality of the two peoples when it comes to issues of security, resources, and sovereignty. Such a shift in Israeli elite opinion could conceivably come about through a reassessment of Israeli prospects in reaction to mounting international pressures and continued Palestinian resistance in various forms. This seems to have been what happened in South Africa, producing an abrupt and unexpected change of outlook by the governing white leadership in Pretoria that signaled a willingness to dismantle its apartheid regime and accept a constitutional order based on racial equality and procedural democracy. Such a development will be dismissed as irrelevant by Israeli leaders until it happens, if it ever does, so as to avoid encouraging those mounting the pressures.

 

You served for many years as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. Did that experience teach you anything about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that you were not aware of prior to this appointment?

 

In many ways, it was a fascinating experience, in almost equal measure dispiriting and inspiring. UN Watch, acting as an Israeli surrogate within the UN, repeatedly targeted me with vicious contentions that I was an anti-Semite and a proponent of a variety of extremist and irresponsible views that didn’t represent my actual views. UN Watch, along with other pro-Israeli NGOs, organized a variety of protests with the purpose of canceling my speaking invitations throughout the world, and threatening institutions with adverse funding implications if they went ahead with the events. Although no speaking invitation was withdrawn or event canceled, it shifted the conversation at the event and in the media — often from the substance of my presentation to whether or not the personal attacks were accurate. Also, I know of several invitations that were not issued because of these institutional concerns with controversy.

 

I also learned in ways that I only suspected prior to my six years as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Palestine, what a highly politicized atmosphere prevails at the UN, and how much leverage is exercised by the United States and Israel to impair UN effectiveness in relation to Israel/Palestine. At the same time, I realized that from the perspective of strengthening the legitimacy and awareness of Palestinian claims and grievances, the UN provided crucial venues that functioned as sites of struggle.

 

Are there Israeli organizations working on behalf of Palestinians and their ordeal, and, if so, what can we do from abroad to assist their efforts?

 

There are many Israeli and Palestinian NGOs within Israel and in Occupied Palestine that are working bravely to protect Palestinians from the worst abuses of the Israeli state, both in Occupied Palestine and in Israel (as defined by the 1949 “green line”). On the Israeli side, these initiatives, although having no present political relevance so far as elections and governing policy is concerned, are important ways of maintaining in Israel a certain kind of moral awareness.

 

If the political climate changes in Israel due to outside pressure and a general recognition that Israel needs to make peace to survive, then those that kept the flame of justice and peace flickering despite internal harassment will be regarded, if not revered, with long overdue appreciation as the custodians of Jewish collective dignity. In the meantime, it is a lonely battle, but one that we on the outside should strongly support.

It is also important to lend support to the various Palestinian efforts along the same lines and to the few initiatives that brings together Jews and Palestinians, such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, of which scholar-activist Jeff Halper was a cofounder and remains a leader. There are many Palestinian initiatives under the most difficult conditions, such as Human Rights Defenders working courageously in and around Hebron, and of course, in Gaza.

 

There is an unfortunate tendency by liberal Zionists to fill the moral space in the West by considering only the efforts of admirable Israeli organizations, such as B’Tselem or Peace Now, when presenting information on human rights resistance to Israeli oppressive policies and practices. This indirectly marginalizes the Palestinians as the subject of their own struggle and in my view unwittingly denigrates Palestinian national character.

 

What’s the best way to explain the conversion of an oppressed group of people into oppressors themselves, which is what today’s Israeli Jews have structurally become?

 

This role reversal is part of the tragedy that Zionist maximalism has produced for the Jewish people living in Israel, and to some extent, for Jews worldwide. It has made the Nakba into a continuing process rather than an historical event that could have been addressed in a humane manner from the perspective of restorative justice as depicted so vividly and insistently by Edward Said, including in his influential 1993 book Culture and Imperialism. What has ensued has been a geopolitically conditioned unbalanced diplomacy that has served as a shield behind which Israel has been creating conditions for an imposed, unilateralist solution.

 

Israeli leaders, especially those on the right, have used the memories of the Holocaust, not as an occasion for empathy toward the Palestinians, but as a reminder that the well-being of Jews is based on strength and control, that Hitler succeed because Jewry was weak and passive. Further, that even the liberal West refused to lift a finger to protect Jews when threatened with genocidal persecution, which underscores the central Zionist message of Jewish self-reliance as an ethical and political imperative.

 

Psychologically, this general way of thinking is further reinforced by supposing that only the Israeli Defense Forces keeps Israel from befalling the fate of deadly Palestinian maximalism, a political delusion reinforced by images of a second Holocaust initiated by Iran or generated by the terrorist tactics attributed to Hamas. In effect, Israeli oppressiveness is swept under the rug of security, while the settlements expand, Gaza is squeezed harder, and the regional developments give Israel the political space to attempt an Israeli one-state solution.

 

The Interviewers

LILY SAGE

Lily Sage is a Montessori pedagogue who is interested in questions of symbiosis, intersectional feminism and anti-racist/fascist praxis. She has studied in the fields of herbalism, visual/performance art, anthropology and political theory in Germany, Mongolia and the US.

 

C.J. POLYCHRONIOU

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

 

 

Beyond Jewish Identity: Exceptionalism Revisited

20 Aug

Beyond Jewish Identity: Exceptionalism Revisited

 

The problem with Jewish identity is Jewish identity! By this I mean, the hegemonic forms of Jewish exceptionalism to which most Jews are enthralled, including a provocative insistence on willed disaffiliation in a few rate instances. Such a gesture of anti-exceptional exceptionalism is a kind of personal manifesto, a private declaration to the world of independence of Judaism with respect to both articles of faith and ethno-nationalist markers. It is usually rooted in a deep earlier experience of what it meant to be Jewish that is repudiated later on for personal and, sometimes, political reasons.

 

Of course, this kind of perverse exceptionalism also applies, with even greater stringency, to the genuine anti-Semite who attributes a negative exceptionalism to Jews by of hatred, blame, and paranoia. Zionist zealots often manipulate negative exceptionalism to instill fear among Jews about the intentions of their adversaries. It is also a useful instrument in Zionist hands to brand critics of Israel or supporters of BDS, discrediting their good faith by deliberately alleging hatred of a people while what is at stake is harsh criticism of the practices and policies of a state that inflict massive suffering on a vulnerable people. To be called a ‘self-hating Jew’ as I have been is to turn negative exceptionalism into a double-edged razor sharp weapon.

 

Positive exceptionalism, essentialized for many Jews by a variety of readings of Jews as the people chosen by God, as different and superior. It is sometimes concretized by reference to Israel that pulls above its weight when it comes to military power and technological achievement. There is another kind of positive exceptionalism that regards Jews as chosen by God to engage justly in the world seeking peace, abhorring violence. Michael Lerner, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and Marc H. Ellis exemplify the presence of such angels in our midst.

 

Thinking more personally, I acknowledge the importance of being Jewish as a marker of my identity both for myself and for many others in their chose life journey. What this means substantively is obviously very diverse. It eludes me almost altogether as I am not observant of nor familiar with Jewish rituals or traditions, although I have welcomed exposure to them when the occasion has arisen, and it has, although infrequently as my circle of friends is overwhelmingly non-observant. Subjectively, Judaism has never had a greater resonance for me than the rituals and traditions of other world religions, most of whom I have been exposed to from time to time, and which I studied long ago with a strong academic interest in religion as a structure of belief. I always welcomed opportunities to become more deeply immersed in any world religion whenever they arose. I never felt a particular attachment to the religion conferred upon me by the accident of birth, perhaps because in my case, it was not part of my upbringing and socialization experience as a child growing up in the highly secular surroundings of Manhattan.

 

Living part of each year in Turkey for more than twenty years has led my to think about the secular/religious divide that is very deep in Turkish society, and produces cleavages of understanding and polarizing enmities. I believe religion is deeply relevant to the mass of humanity, and has in recent decades been revived in quite diverse settings. In part, this seems a reaction to the modernist failures of community and identity. These failures are evident in the commodified surroundings we daily inhabit whether we wish to or not.  This defining reality of the lifeworld is heavily influenced by neoliberal capitalism as increasingly disseminated by the ambiguous magic of the digital age.

 

In the Turkish case, perhaps due to my experience of friends and colleagues, I find that the secularists tend to be more judgmental than their Islamist counterparts (who by and large accept the idea that religion and secularism can and should coexist so long as there is mutual respect and equal rights).  I interpret this difference as reflecting the fact that secularists held tightly the keys of power in republican Turkey until the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained an electoral mandate to govern in 2002, and has been reelected time and again ever since. Had the situation been reversed, it is possible that it would be the secularists who would be more open to coexistence and mutual respect, although their pre-AKP record of governance and societal dominance gives little reason for such confidence as their policy was guided by the strong wish to keep religion in its box.

 

I am undoubtedly influenced by the view that unless ethno-nationalism in all its forms is soon superseded by a surge of commitment to species identity the human condition faces a dismal future. This does not mean abandoning a Jewish or other sub-species identities altogether, but it does emphasize another way of conceiving and layering multiple identities, with an insistence on privileging ‘human identity,’ which would reverse almost all that has gone before.  Such a revolutionary hierarchy inverts the ordering of identities that presently exist that works outward from family and immediate neighborhood, and gives least weight to ‘humanity’ or ‘cosmic consciousness.’

 

Such assessments also reflect spatial and psychological location. The meaning of being Jewish would undoubtedly be more central to my daily experience if I were living in Israel, yet no less or more authentic than an identity shaped by living most of the year in California. This affirmation of equivalence is undoubtedly an anathema to many Jews in and out of Israel, especially to adherents of Zionism in any of its many forms. Zionism above all else, as I understand it, embodies a dialectical interaction between negative and positive variants of Jewish exceptionalism, and takes for granted the hypothesis that Jews are deservedly, and for some, unavoidably exceptional.

 

Separating myself from this kind of involvement does not imply any hostility toward religious and ethnic identities so long as they seek openness to the ecumenical dimensions of human identity. To the extent a preferred identity is closed to religious and ethnic otherness, as in a variety of fundamentalisms (including secular fundamentalism), it has become in the twenty-first century the most widespread means to exhibit a collective death wish on behalf of the species. What I find most empowering is a trans-religious spirituality that draws on the insights and wisdom embedded in all the great religions, including the spirit faiths and nature religions of many native peoples. These religious and spiritual constructions of reality impart a far fuller sense of the awe and mystery of life on planet earth than can be gained by mastering what the Western Enlightenment canonized so powerfully through its amoral embrace of instrumental reason. All that reason leaves out is love, empathy, friendship, beauty, insurgent energies, and the indispensable balances and harmonies of co-evolutionary nature. Such spirituality could become a vital source of liberating energy if the human species manages to seize this bio-political moment that is upon us whether or not we realize it. And this also is a warning that the ethno-nationalist moment that continues to hold the political imagination in captivity has become the king’s highway to species extinction.

 

Instead of Jewish exceptionalism  (or American exceptionalism) the call of this bio-political moment is for species exceptionalism.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Ban Ki-moon

12 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post that follows is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on 6 February 2016. Its focus on the metaphor of ‘shooting the messenger’ has usually been reserved for critics of Israel, and it is only when high officials depart from their scripted roles as faithful servants of the established order that their behavior results in demeaning rebukes. Israel and its most ardent defenders have been repeatedly guilty of shooting the messenger, thereby diverting attention from the damaging message by defaming the agent who delivered the message. It is a tactic that works, partly because the media finds character assassination more marketable than substantive commentary of a controversial nature. In my case, being frequently a messenger due to my UN role for six years, the nastier side of the attack tactics was to describe me (and others) as ‘a self-hating Jew’ or ‘anti-Semite.’ I tried to stay on message, largely ignoring the attacks, especially within the UN itself, but media coverage was preoccupied with an assessment of the personal vendetta that was difficult to ignore altogether without seemingly to acquiesce in the allegations. I should add that my tormenters extended beyond Mr. Ban Ki-moon and included others on the UN Watch mailing list including Susan Rice, then U.S. Ambassador at the UN, and high officials from other white settler countries, including Canada and Australia. Even the supposedly liberal Samantha Power, although previously a friendly acquaintance, joined the party, calling me biased and ill-suited for the position in statements to the press. She based her attack on the harshness of my criticisms leveled at Israel in my reports that highlighted the mismatch between their policies and practices as the Occupying Power in Palestine with the standards, duties, and principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions.]

 

th-1

ban-ki-moon-benjamin-netanyahu 

Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations:

 

Having read of the vicious attacks on you for venturing some moderate, incontestable criticisms of Israel’s behavior, I understand well the discomfort you clearly feel. Not since the Richard Goldstone chaired the group that released the report detailing apparent Israeli war crimes during its massive attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 have Israel’s big political guns responded with such unwarranted fury, magnified as usual by ultra-Zionist media commentary. Netanyahu has the audacity to claim that your acknowledgement that it is not unnatural for the Palestinians oppressed for half century to resist and resort to extremism is tantamount to the encouragement of terrorism, what he described as giving a “tailwind to terrorism.”

 

The fact your intention was quite the opposite hardly matters. Or your repeated denunciation of terrorism will be disregarded by these irresponsible critics whose sole objective is take attention away from the issues raised. Israel and its keenest supporters have found that there is no better way to do this than by defaming their critics, branding them as soft on terrorism or even as anti-Semites. And it makes no difference, whatsoever, that you have leaned over backwards during years as Secretary General, almost falling to the ground, to deflect even the most justifiable criticisms of Israel during your time as leader of the UN.

 

It is hardly surprising that you should respond to these attacks directed at you by way of a New York Times opinion piece that chides Israeli officials and Zionist zealots for ‘shooting the messenger’ and instead of heeding the message.[Ban Ki-moon, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel.” NY Times, Feb. 1, 2016] What both intrigues and appalls me is that while I was Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine during the period 2008-2014 you chose to attack me personally in public on several occasions, joining with U.S. and Israel diplomats calling for my dismissal and doing the utmost to undermine my credibility while I was working in this unpaid UN position under difficult conditions. At the time I was doing my best to bear witness to some of the same truths about Israel’s unlawful and immoral behavior that recently got you in similar hot water. My UN mandate was to report upon the reality of Israeli violations of international law while sustaining their apartheid regime of oppressive control over the Palestinian people. The Palestinians need and deserve such a voice as provided by the UN to make governments of the world more aware of their responsibility to take steps that will bring this unprecedented ordeal endured by the Palestinian people to an end. In carrying out these duties it is my hope that future UN Special Rapporteurs receive the support that they need from future Secretary Generals.

 th

In my case, hurt and offended by being so unfairly attacked by you, the highest UN official, I was encouraged by some highly placed officials in the UN Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva to seek some kind of explanation from you or your office, and hopefully even an apology. You never criticized my reports on Palestine or objected to my criticisms of Israel’s policies and practices, but rather focused your venomous remarks on some comments attributed to my views as expressed on my personal blog that were concerned with the 9/11 attacks and the Boston marathon bombings.

 

It was obvious to me from the content of your attack that you relied on a letter written by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, Israel’s faithful watchdog NGO in Geneva, that gave my rather carefully qualified blog comments deliberately inflammatory twists, but like you seemed wary of engaging in any debate about the substance of my criticisms of Israel’s polices and practices in my reports. I called your office, and was referred to your affable aide de camp. He seemed immediately apologetic even before I was even able to register my complaint and explain to him my actual position on these controversial issues. After listening to what I had to say, he obliquely accepted my concerns by admitting that ‘we didn’t do due diligence,’ by which he evidently meant that the SG and his advisors relied on Neuer’s letter rather than reading what I actually wrote on the blog, which was nuanced and moderate in tone and content. This UN official volunteered a further explanation to the effect that “we were under great pressure at the time from the U.S. Congress, and this was an opportunity to show that we were not anti-Israeli.” He ended the conversation with a promise to talk with you, and get back to me. I am sad to say, this never happened.

 

This incident occurred while you were campaigning successfully for a second term as SG, and apparently wanted to reassure Washington that you would not rock the boat if reelected. I venture to say that if you had back then voiced such strong criticisms of Israel’s settlement policy or indicated a similar empathetic understanding of Palestinian resistance, you would never have received Washington’s blessings for a second term as Secretary General. I understand that your reticence back then was prudential, even a sensible, although dispiriting, concession to the realities of UN leadership. What I have trouble to this day understanding is your willingness, in old Soviet style, to defame by name a lowly UN holding a position as appointed volunteer, so as to beef up your credentials as a team player when it came to Israel. You even relied through a spokesperson at a news briefing on my status as someone outside the UN civil service to explain why you lacked the authority to dismiss me. Without contacting me in advance for an explanation or afterwards for an apology seems to me to exhibit an extreme version of bureaucratic immorality.

 

In light of this experience, I felt at the time that you were joining with others in shooting a messenger, and invoked the metaphor, who was seeking to convey some inconvenient truths about Israel’s behavior. These truths are rather similar to your own recent comments about the denial of Palestinian rights, especially with respect to the right of self-determination. The folk wisdom of ‘what goes around comes around’ seems to fit your plight. You who expediently took shots at the messenger are now taking umbrage when the tactic is directed at you. This response is reasonable in this instance but awkwardly inconsistent with your own past behavior. You say, “..when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.” True, of course, but why only now? And only you?

 

Actually, although your critical stress on settlements and resistance is welcome and significant, your overall stance still falls far short of adopting a helpful way forward. You continue to insist misleadingly that compromises are called for by both sides in pursuing the goal of reaching a sustainable peace based on the establishment of Palestinian state. I find puzzling the assertion in your article that “..I am so concerned that we are reaching a point of no return for the two-state solution.” In your statement of 26 January to the Security Council you urge Palestinian unity as necessary so that the Palestinians “can instead focus their energies on establishing a stable state as part of a negotiated two-state solution.” Have you forgotten that every step taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to establish unity has been opposed by anger, reinforced by punitive pushback on Israel’s part, a response endorsed by the United States? And wasn’t that ‘point of no return’ reached some time ago, and certainly after what the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, proclaimed as ‘the last chance’ negotiations broke down in the Spring of 2014 after a year of trading allegations and achieving not a single positive result? And how, Mr. Ban, is a two-state solution to be achieved over the opposition and resolve of more than 600,000 Israeli settlers, with more expansion underway and even more promised?

 

You acknowledge being “disturbed by statements from senior members of the Israeli’s government that the aim [of a Palestinian state] should be abandoned altogether.” What you fail to say is that these ‘senior members’ include Israel’s elected prime minister, its president, its current ambassador to the UN. In light of this unified opposition to a two-state approach by Israel’s highest governmental leaders, how can you encourage reliance on this discredited diplomatic path that has resulted in an ongoing process of severe territorial encroachment on occupied Palestine and subjection to a regime of intensified suffering for the Palestinian people? Clinging to the two-state mantra is not neutral. Delay benefits Israel, harms Palestine. There is every reason to believe that this pattern will continue as long as Israel is not seriously challenged diplomatically and by Palestinian resistance, as well as by the sorts of growing pressures mounted by the international solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.

 

More widely, and important to understand, shooting the messenger is part of a broader Israel strategy to minimize attention given to substantive criticisms of their behavior. You are merely the latest victim, and one of the most highly placed. The intensity of defamation seems to be roughly proportional to the perceived impact of your criticism. In this sense, Mr. Secretary General, you have scored highly, especially due to your reminder to the Security Council that the UN will “continue to uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination.” This is not the language Israel’s leaders hoped to hear coming from your lips, and hardly consistent with earlier your record of steadfast support for Israel that included condemning even the Second Freedom Flotilla that sought to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. To be meaningful beyond a ritual affirmation, self-determination must be understood, given present realities, as something more and other than another delusionary embrace of a diplomatically negotiated two-state solution. At the very least, you might have urged the Security Council to consider the applicability of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) norm to relieving the anguish of Gazan captivity, a timely move considering that Netanyahu has been warning of yet another massive attack, promising that it will be even more lethal than the earlier one-sided massacres.

th-2

 

You also tell the Security Council that “incitement has no place, and that questioning Israel’s right to exist cannot be tolerated.” Fair enough, but challenging Israel’s postures, policies, and practices should be placed high on the UN agenda of unfinished business if what you propose on behalf of the Palestinian people is ever to have the slightest chance of being achieved. We need all to realize what else should not be tolerated: while the Palestinian flag flies outside UN Headquarters, the Palestinian people have lived for almost 70 years under the daily brutalities of occupation, refugee camps, Gazan captivity, and involuntary exile. Can you bring yourself to call this ordeal ‘intolerable’? Then at least you could leave your UN post with a feeling that when your career was no longer in jeopardy you spoke truth to power.

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Falk

UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council for Occupied Palestine (2008-2014)

Professor of International Law

A Christmas Message in Dark Times

24 Dec

 

 

Here in the United States, I react against the avoidance of the word ‘Christmas’ during this holiday season. I would undoubtedly feel differently if I were living in Turkey or India. The legions of ‘the politically correct’ determined to avoid offending those, especially Jews, who are not Christians, will carefully express their good wishes with such phrases as ‘happy holidays!’ This is okay except it obliterates the vibrant symbolism of Christmas as a seminal occasion that has over the centuries transcended for most of us its specific religious roots and meanings. It has an ecumenical resonance that calls for bright lights, ornamented trees, celebration, and wishes for peace on earth and good will toward all, bringing together those of diverse faith or no faith at all. When I was growing up in New York City Christmas was ‘Christmas’ regardless of whether one was Christian or not, and implied no religious dedication whatsoever.

 

As time has passed, ethnic and religious sensitivities have grown as identities have become more tribal. I do partly associate this trend in my experience with the greater ethnic assertiveness of Jews over the years, especially in response to the ascent of Israel and the rise of Zionist loyalties. America’s ‘special relationship’ with Israel represents a governmental recognition that Israel can do no wrong in the eyes of Washington. This is another unfortunate manifestation of excessive deference, in this instance what might be called ‘geopolitical correctness,’ and has had many detrimental effects on American foreign policy in the region. Another kind of harm is associated with the inhibiting State Department formal adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

 

Yet to decry such forms of political correctness as a posture is not to condone insensitivity to those among us who have suffered or are suffering from deep historical abuses. I do believe we need to do all we can avoid hurtful language and subtle slights when dealing with the situation of African Americans or Muslims. Donald Trump disgraces America because he embraces the kind of militant Islamophobia that is not only incendiary in the American political climate, but unwittingly is a tacit reinforcement of jihadist extremism. There is a vast difference between opportunistic deference to the ‘politically correct’ and moral sensitivity to those who have been or are being victimized in American society. Of course, Trump has achieved such prominence by his zealous willingness to be politically incorrect in all sorts of vulgar and hurtful ways, which sadly uncovers an angry and afraid constituency among the American citizenry, with its appetite for simplistic answers that shift the blame to the hateful other.

 

Do not such reflections also suggest the propriety of sensitivity to the long Jewish experience of persecution, climaxing with the Holocaust? To some extent, moral sensitivity is historical and geographical. It points to a difference in tone and content in Germany as compared to here in America. More concretely, it seems natural to exercise greater care in Germany not to offend, and not even to seem callous toward Jewish identity given the proximity of the Holocaust. I would affirm this kind of moral prudence and forebearance, but even this type of restraint can be carried too far. Germans and the German government obsessively avoid any semblance of criticism of Israel because of an apparent worry that such views would be treated as evidence that anti-Semitism continues to flourish in Germany. In this regard memories of the Holocaust are no longer a good reason, if it was ever the case, for suspending criticism of Zionism as a political project or Israel as a normal state as accountable to upholding international law, UN authority, and principles of morality as any other state.  

 

It is entirely inappropriate for anyone to ignore the brutal dispossession of the Palestinian people, the prolonged denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination, and the horrific daily ordeal of living, as millions of Palestinians do, under occupation, in refugee camps, and in involuntary exile decade after decade. Bad memories of victimization are never a sufficient reason to overlook crimes being committed in the present.

 

As a Jew in America I feel the tensions of conflicting identities. I believe, above all, that while exhibiting empathy to all those have been victimized by tribally imposed norms, we need to rise above such provincialism (whether ethnic or nationalistic) and interrogate our own tribal and ‘patriotic’ roots. In this time of deep ecological alienation, when the very fate of the species has become precarious, we need to think, act, and feel as humans and more than this, as empathetic humans responsible for the failed stewardship of the planet. It is here that God or ‘the force’ can provide a revolutionary comfort zone in which we reach out beyond ourselves to touch all that is ‘other,’ whether such otherness is religious, ethnic, or gendered, and learning from Buddhism, reach out beyond the human to exhibit protective compassion toward non-human animate dimensions of our wider experience and reality. It is this kind of radical reworking of identity and worldview that captures what ‘the Christmas spirit’ means to me beyond the enjoyment of holiday cheer.

 

From this vantage point, the birth of Jesus can be narrated with this universalizing voice. The star of Bethlehem as an ultimate source of guidance and the three wise kings, the Maji, who traveled far to pay homage to this sacred child can in our time bestow the wisdom of pilgrimage, renewal, and transformation that will alone enable the human future to grasp the radical wisdom of St. Augustine’s transformative: “Love one another and do what thou wilt.” Put presciently in a poem by W.H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.”

 

I suppose I am making a plea, or is it a dreamy affirmation? A utopian wish, to be sure, but nothing less has relevance in these dark times.