Category Archives: Activism, etc.

Sullivan, Goldberg, and new ferment among U.S. liberals

There is some new and very real ferment on the Palestine Question these days, in the heart of the United States’ chronically very strongly pro-Zionist “liberal” political-cultural establishment.
Witness, the the increasingly sharply expressed series of arguments between the two bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom have their blogs published by the liberal-establishment magazine The Atlantic.*
Last Thursday, Sullivan published this hard-hitting post about what he described as the “kick in the balls” that Benjamin Netanyahu and his government delivered two days earlier to Vice-President Joe Biden, then on a key fence-mending visit to Israel.
Sullivan wrote,

    Joe Biden was kicked in the balls as he came to Israel with a simultaneous “fuck you” by the Israeli government announcing new settlements – 1600 houses – in East Jerusalem.

He then explored the question of whether Netanyahu had or had not known about the construction decision before it was announced. He concluded:

    I cannot read Netanyahu’s mind. But I can observe Israel’s actions. They intend to occupy and colonize the entire West Bank for ever. They may allow some parceled enclaves for Palestinians, but they will maintain a big military presence on the Eastern border of West Bank, and they will sustain this with raw military power and force. I certainly cannot see any other rationale for their actions these past few years that makes any sense at all. Many Israeli politicians now use the term “apartheid” for this future.

He also prefaced the post with the now rightly famous “postcard” set of maps showing the growth in Jewish control over the area of pre-1948 Mandate Palestine.
(Postcard map series)
Sllivan’s fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg immediately had conniptions, expressed in this blog post, Friday.
Goldberg, who has written proudly about his service in the IDF back in the 1970s, has increasingly been emerging as one of the most persistent of Israel’s attack-dogs/ defenders within the American political discourse.
Sullivan’s use of the postcard map series seemed to arouse Goldberg’s particular ire. He wrote:

    Andrew is free to publish malicious nonsense, such as the series of map[s] he published yesterday, maps which purport to show how Jews stole Palestinian land. Andrew does not tell us the source of these maps (in a magazine with standards, the source would be identified), but they were drawn to cast Jews in the most terrible light possible.
    The first map in the series of four is most egregious. It suggests that, in 1946, nearly all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was “Palestinian.” Land designated as “Jewish” in this map constitutes maybe five percent of the total. This map is ridiculous, not only because the term “Palestinian” in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs, but because there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… The intent of this propaganda map is to suggest that an Arab country called “Palestine” existed in 1946 and was driven from existence by Jewish imperialists. Not only was there no such country as “Palestine” in 1946, there has never been a country called Palestine. Before the British conquered Jerusalem, Palestine was a sub-province of the Ottoman Empire. (And after the British left, of course, Jordan and Egypt moved in to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.)

On the first point, re attribution of the map series, Sullivan pointed out in a post he blogged yesterday that he had indeed provided a source for it, at the bottom of the original post. (Sullivan also, evidently, took great pleasure in reproducing the map series in this second post, too, to make his point even more forcefully.)
But the series of allegedly historical arguments Goldberg adduced in his conniption-post are also a fascinating example of the hasbaristas’ malicious manipulations of the historical record.
First of all, his claim that “the term ‘Palestinian’ in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs.” This is simply ill-informed and wrong. The Term ‘Palestinian’, as used by everyone involved as residents or administrators in the British Mandate for Palestine, referred to all those then resident in the area of the mandate, and subjects of the Mandatory government. As anyone who has ever done even a cursory reading of the history of the Mandate era, the Palestinian Arabs used the term just as much as the Palestinian Jews (and there were a lot more of them.)
Where on earth did Goldberg get the idea that the term ‘Palestinian’ “generally” referred to the Jews, not the Arabs? Maybe from his many readings of Israeli/Zionist history, in which, it is true, the Jewish residents of pre-1948 were often referred to as “Palestinian Jews” or– when referring to them in the all-Jewish context in which many of these histories were cast– simply as “the Palestinians.” Those histories often didn’t even really refer to the local “Palestinian Arabs” very much, at all.
We can note, too, for example, that in pre-1948 years, the Israeli newspaper now known as the “Jerusalem Post” was called the “Palestine Post”.
So what we have here from Goldberg are two remarkable feats of rhetorical legerdemain. He is trying to tell us that the area’s “Arabs” didn’t use the term ‘Palestinian’. And he is trying to tell us that the Jews of the area, a large proportion of whom were recent immigrants, had almost exclusive use of it.
The first of those rhetorical tricks is all of a piece with the whole bundle of quite unsubstantiable claims to the effect that there never was anything resembling a stable Arab population in the area of British Mandate Palestine, but that any Arabs who by chance turned up there in the early 20th century had come from elsewhere, attracted, indeed, by the many “economic opportunities” the Zionist immigration offered to them (the argument of the dreadful disinformer Joan Peters), and that there had never actually been a “Palestinian people”, at all (Golda Meir’s argument.)
And the second of those rhetorical tricks is– yet again!– an act of Zionist-colonial cultural appropriation of the boldest possible kind. Here we have the arch-Zionist Jeffrey Goldber telling us that even the name “Palestinian” that the Palestinians use to identify themselves and their own people should really (for the pre-1948 period, and perhaps also for today) be used exclusively for the country’s Jews!
But let’s move on to Goldberg’s claim that,

    there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… ”

This, too, is arrant nonsense. There was a British Mandate for Palestine, just as there was a British Mandate for Iraq, a French Mandate for Syria, etc. “Palestine” was not a name made up from nowhere”, and the name of the Mandatory administration was quite specific. The coins, postage stamps, passports and ID cards issued by the Mandatory authority all quite clearly said “Palestine”.
Anyway, I’m sure you get my drift.
Fascinating that Goldberg got so riled up by the postcard map-series, eh?
But the big story here is not Goldberg and his mouth-frothing excesses. It is Sullivan, and the degree to which this important figure in the liberal-establishment elite is now willing to take Goldberg on head-on.
In his March 13 post (yesterday), Sullivan wrote:

    I will respond merely to the criticism… First, the map was not discussed except as an historical illustrative context for the way in which the Netanyahu government is intent on aggressively expanding Israeli settlement even further in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This matters because as that famous anti-Semite [btw, irony alert there ~HC], Joe Biden, said yesterday

      “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

    … [T]here was a place called Palestine (among other things) under mostly Ottoman or British rule for a very long time before Israel came into existence. Wikipedia tells us that in 1850, for example, the population of the area comprised roughly 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. In 1920, the League of Nations reported that
    Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000.
    By the end of the British mandate, and an influx of Jewish refugees and Zionists, the proportions were roughly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Jews. Jews were concentrated in urban areas along the coast but, as the first map shows, some were indeed in the West Bank, although as a tiny minority.
    This isn’t propaganda; it’s fact.
    The maps show what has happened since – in sixty years in terms of growing sovereignty and accelerating Israeli control…

This is great. To have these matters now being openly discussed within the heart of the US political-cultural establishment is new and important.

* Some people may claim that Andrew Sullivan is not a member of the U.S. liberal establishment. It is true that he is far from being a committed, knee-jerk liberal. He writes thoughtfully and thought-provokingly on a number of different subjects and is, I gather, a fairly devoted Catholic in his belief. He is also, fwiw, an out gay. But the fact that he was previously editor of The New Republic and is now a fixture at the Atlantic qualifies him, I believe, as a leading figure in the liberal establishment.

Max Blumenthal on N.Y. ‘Lawfare Project’ conference

Blumenthal went to this seven-hour conference, held Thursday by the ‘Lawfare Project’ in New York, and has written a great blog post about it at Mondoweiss.
The Lawfare Project has activities in both Israel and the U.S., that are designed primarily to discredit all those human rights activists and organizations worldwide that have criticized Israel’s actions, to criticize those provisions of the laws of war that they consider somehow “unfairly” hamper the armies of states that they judge to be “democracies”, and to work to overturn those provisions.
Sound familiar? Yes, of course these last two things were a big part of what Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, David Addington, and John Yoo tried to do after 9/11, as well. They were arguing then– and the Lawfare Project is arguing now– that in the “unprecedented” circumstances of today’s worldwide war between the forces of “good” and of “evil”, the “old” norms and existing body of laws of war, which seek evenhanded application between all warring parties and seek to provide protections, in particular, to the citizens who are the victims of war, need urgently to be revised– and pending that, worked around.
How very sad, therefore, to see that one of the three co-chairs of Thursday’s conference was the Dean of Columbia Law School, David Schizer. Blumenthal has a seven-minute video clip from his speech, in the blog post.
Go read Blumenthal’s whole post, which is extremely well researched, as well as well written.
The flier for the conference notes that,

    This program has been approved in accordance with the requirements of the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for a maximum of 6.5 Transitional and Non-Transitional MCLE credits: 1 Ethics and 5,5 Professional Practice.

Ethics???
I think it’s outrageous and tragic that the Dean of a once-fine law school like Columbia is lending his prestige to this highly anti-democratic and anti-humane campaign (a major aim of which is to trash Judge Goldstone and block demands for implementing his report.)
But at a broader level, many of the developments within the Jewish liberal establishment in the U.S. are fascinating, because we are now seeing for the first time ever, I think, sharp debates within this establishment over the morality of actions taken by the current Israeli government and also, underlying that, over the morality of many of these very same tactics and strategies as have been used in Palestine by the Zionist settler movement throughout its entire 115-year history there.

Kramer at Harvard: Student coalition pushing back

Kudos to the 16 student organizations at Harvard who co-sponsored an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson highly critical of the call that Martin Kramer issued recently for the U.S. government to halt its support for the U.N.’s provision of food and other humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, based on the claimed “pro-natalist” effects of this aid upon the size of Palestinian refugee families.
The op-ed also criticized the leadership of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, where Kramer is a Visiting Scholar, noting that WCFIA leaders described Kramer’s statements only as “controversial”. The op-ed writers described this as,

    an alarming position since less than a century ago similar remarks were made against African Americans and Jews. The characterization of his statements as merely “controversial” is offensive and dismisses their deeply racist nature.
    Since the Weatherhead Center provides Mr. Kramer with a legitimizing and prominent public platform, we wonder whether it views any policy call as ethically disgraceful. We are troubled that the center has presented little to no diversity of viewpoints on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The only notable statements on the conflict emerging from the center are Mr. Kramer’s.

They made the following requests of the WCFIA:

    First, we ask that the Weatherhead Center not renew Mr. Kramer’s fellowship or affiliation… Second, we call on the center to establish a committee of faculty and students to recommend the adoption of a set of vetting practices for incoming fellows that uphold a set of principles unified on non-racism, in concert with Harvard University’s own commitment to non-discriminatory practices and diversity of viewpoints.

Personally, I think the second request could have been better framed. I’m not sure about “vetting practices” in this context, and the proposal to “establish a committee… to recommend the adoption” of a set of such practices seems clunky and cumbersome. How about asking WCFIA to establish a committee of faculty and students to explore ways it can more effectively push forward the principles of non-racism, inclusivity, and wide-ranging intellectual exploration to which the university is committed? … Something like that.
Well, that’s my quibble. But the main point is that this is a magnificent coalition of student groups that has signed onto the op-ed. May their strength increase and their labors become ever more fruitful!

Waskow’s sad arguments against BDS

I was just watching the discussion that Amy Goodman (video here) recently moderated between Omar Barghouti of the Global BDS Movement and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, over the utility and ethics of the BDS campaign.
Waskow criticized the BDS movement without reservation. I thought his arguments were kind of sad: often inaccurate, and off-the-mark, and extremely US-centric. A big part of his argument had to do with the ways in which the situations of White-dominated Apartheid South Africa and today’s Israel are similar, or different. Waskow tried to argue that whereas the Apartheid government got its foreign support mainly from corporations, Israel gets its support mainly from the US government… Ergo, while boycotting or taking other actions against Chase Manhattan Bank were appropriate and useful in the 1970s/80s, over South Africa, today what’s needed is to build a broad coalition of peace-loving Americans to change the policy of the US government.
He also argued that BDS “seeks to demonize an entire people, with a culture and life of their own, etc.” in Israel… (As if the Afrikaners who dominated Apartheid SA had no culture or life of their own?? I’m still not sure what the difference was there.)
I thought Barghouti made the counter-arguments excellently, and was particularly effective when, a number of times, he pointed out that Waskow’s way of arguing seemed to completely ignore the Palestinians’ own agency and the demand for BDS that is so widely supported among Palestinian civil society of all stripes. Waskow really did come across very isolated and arrogant. It was sad, really to see this person who historically did play a good role in U.S. social movements now engaging in special pleading on behalf of the Jewish state.
Dressing up like Tolstoy does not, it turns out, mean you end up acting with Tolstoyan detachment and universalist ethics.
Anyway, it’s great that Amy Goodman hosted this important discussion. It’s a topic we need to discuss a lot more in the US– and also, to put into action.

Israel Ballet bombs (artistically) in DC

The Israel Ballet, which reportedly receives around $1 million annually in funding from the Israeli government, gave a performance Saturday in suburban Washington DC that was panned by influential WaPo dance critic Sarah Kaufman.
She wrote,

    One could hear the dancers rejoicing from the stage Saturday after the curtain fell on the Israel Ballet… [A]s the audience filed out of Montgomery College’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring Performing Arts Center, the dancers’ commotion seemed tinged with relief that the three-hour-plus event was over.
    If so, they were not alone.

About the performance itself, she wrote,

    The performers danced with a firm correctness but no joy. Standing behind their partners, awaiting a cue for a lift or a turn, a few of the men looked bored. Throughout the evening, the men and women alike lacked a sense of presentation, which was odd given the intimate dimensions of the 500-seat theater. They shouldn’t have had a problem with projecting in that small space, yet they came across as unfocused and distant.

It is quite possible that the dancers’ ‘distraction’ came from the sheer weight of distinctly political expectations that have been laid upon their current US tour. It’s the company’s first US tour in 25 years, and it’s been aggressively marketed, e.g. here, by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as part of its “Rebrand Israel” campaign.
I’ve seen no reports that the performance at Montgomery College was greeted with any protests. But protesters were out in force during earlier appearances in Brooklyn, NY, and Burlington, Vermont. In Brooklyn, the always inventive protesters organized by Adalah-NY had a small troupe of women dancers in blue-and-white tutus, and people handing out mock ‘programs’ to ballet-goers as they went in. (Scroll down here.)
I guess the intention of the hosts at Montgomery College was to try to make sure the ballet company felt warmly welcomed at the college… by making the numerous lengthy speeches that, according to ballet critic Kaufman, took up a full hour before the first pointe shoe hit the stage. The speechifying seemed to rile a good portion of the ballet-lovers who had turned up– including, apparently, Kaufman herself.
She wrote,

    The evening’s languor wasn’t entirely the company’s fault. The dancers took the stage nearly an hour after the appointed start time, once the capacity crowd endured politician introductions, speechifying by campus officials and heaped-on praise for endless donors to the college. It made one wonder if the ballet wasn’t in some way a play for the pockets of culture-loving Jews. The least they could have done, one man near me grumbled, was to have a plate of hamentashen in the lobby.
    The greater lack of sugar was on the program…

Ouch. It really seems the lengthy ‘welcoming’ backfired, doesn’t it.

Excellent BDS victory in Brussels!

Lengthy efforts by those trying to get targeted sanctions imposed against products made in Israel’s illegal settlements have won a great victory in the European High Court. It ruled today that setlement products cannot benefit from the free trade agreement the EU has with Israel.
Hurrah!
The case in question involved water-carbonating machines and syrup made by Soda-Club, which is based in the nasty, sprawling settlement of Maale Adumim. The German company Brita objected to paying import duty on these items. The Hamburg Finance Court had earlier ruled that Brita should indeed pay such duties. Brita appealed to the High Court– and the BDS forces won!
The court’s decision also noted that “the Israeli authorities are obliged to provide sufficient information to enable the real origin of products to be determined.” That is also important, given the misleading labeling many settlement-based manufacturers have engaged in.
Locating businesses inside the settlements has been important to Israel’s powerful pro-settlement forces because (1) they enable the settlers to work close to home, (2) they generate some tax revenues to help administer the settlements– in addition to the vast subsidies from central government, that is, and (3) they help “normalize” the whole idea and reality of settlements within the socio-economic life of Israel and its trading partners.
But now the EU, which is Israel’s largest trading partner, is saying a resounding NO! to that normalization.
(I should note that though I called this a victory for the ‘sanctions’ part of the BDS movement, strictly speaking it is not a sanction/punishment to make the settlers pay normal import duties on products exported to Europe. In truth, it is the withholding of a benefit/reward. But why on earth should Israel– or its settlers– get rewarded for anything??)

‘Chicago Hearing’ on Israel and U.S. values, April 18

The Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee and various allies are organizing a public hearing on on April 18, on the important question, Does U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine Uphold Our Values?.
Giving testimony will be ICAHD’s Jeff Halper on “Property Rights”, Jad Issac on “Freedom of Movement”, and Cindy Corrie and Amer Shurrab on “Military Aid”.
I am very honored that I’ll be moderating the event. The front-table “listeners” will be: John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, Barbara Ransby of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rabbi Brant Rosen of Ta’anit Tzedek (Jewish Fast for Gaza), Dr. Zaher Sahloul of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, and Ghada Talhami, professor emerita at Lake Forest College.
The local members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have also been invited, and of course we hope they’ll all come.
This hearing can be a really important opportunity for everyone, nationwide, to hear about the real situation on the ground in occupied Palestine… from some very significant people who have studied and lived with the situation at first hand.
It will be webcast live through the Hearing website. So if you can’t make it to Chicago on the day, why not organize a listening party in your home town? Hook up your computer to a big screen, break out a bowl or two of hommos, and watch the hearing together. I’m sure it’ll be a great event.
(Big thanks to the AFSC-Chicago folks for organizing it!)

Turkish IHH foundation plans new siege-busting project for Gaza

Turkey’s IHH humanitarian-aid foundation has now announced a plan to help lead a 20-ship siege-busting project for Gaza, to take place most likely in April. The project is called Noah’s Ark, and will set sail from a port in Turkey.
IHH President Bülent Yıldırım said,

    We are planning to go to Gaza with a fleet of 20 ships to be set up in an international organization probably in April 2010… The cargo ships will carry Israeli-embargoed building materials, generators, medication, medical equipment and educational materials. The passenger ships to accompany the cargo ships will carry journalists, human rights advocates, activists and lawmakers from various countries.”

IHH is planning to contribute five ships to the flotilla. I believe contacts are underway with other organizations to contribute the other ships.
This is a great project. Turkey’s moderate-Islamist (A.K. Party) government and many Turkish people and NGOs have all played a great role in supporting the people of Gaza through their many recent woes.

Blast from the CNI past

Well, what should drop into our mailbox yesterday but the latest direct-mail fundraising appeal from CNI… And goodness, what an embarrassment to me now, my name is even on the letter as one of its four co-signers.
There was a fairly lengthy history to the drafting of this letter, which might make a good sub-chapter in a memoir or a roman à clef sometime.
While I was at CNI, I did learn much I hadn’t known before about direct-mail fundraising. But it’s kind of a dying art, these days, isn’t it?
By the way, CNI has still not announced my resignation, even though it went into effect on February 10. I wonder whether anyone receiving this fundraising letter, on which my signature appears and which is dated January 30, is of the opinion that I am still the Executive Director at CNI?
I do think they should have announced the resignation before now. The statement I issued about the matter is here.
Of course, a prudent leadership at CNI would have insisted that we negotiate the text of an announcement before the resignation went into effect. But on February 10, after I made one last attempt to negotiate the differences that remained between us (which were not huge), they informed me they were cutting off all further negotiations with me.
So this was one of a number of loose ends they left unresolved at that point. As I said, a prudent leadership might have paid a bit more attention to the details of the transition.

Israelis call for talks with Hamas

On February 15, Israeli ‘refusenik’ soldiers Arik Diamant and David Zonscheine published a short, tightly argued piece in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section under the title ‘Talk to Hamas’.
Here’s the core of their argument:

    An open dialogue with Hamas is clearly in Israel’s interest.
    First, because Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza and has won the trust and respect of a significant part of the Palestinian people, anyone hoping to resolve this conflict will eventually need to bargain with the group.
    Second, Hamas has proven capable of delivering peace and quiet to the citizens of southern Israel. As demonstrated before, Hamas has a strong hold on all organisations acting in Gaza and can enforce a truce.
    Third, a prisoner exchange deal is our only chance to bring back the abducted IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Diamant and Zonscheine are founders of the flagship, eight-year-old organization Courage to Refuse, which has organized a persistent campaign to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
A few quick notes regarding news of Diamant and Zonscheine’s latest campaign:

    1. Actually, it’s not a brand-new campaign. Back last November, the two men and their supporters were already issuing a public call, I think in Hebrew, for people to support their call for their government to talk with Hamas. That account notes that, at the Rabin Memorial Rally held in Tel Aviv on November 7, the pro-talks activists “managed to collect hundreds of signatures.”
    2. They are not the only Israelis calling openly for their government to talk to Hamas. Back in March 2008, a Haaretz-Dialog poll found that 64 percent of Israelis favored their government talking directly to Hamas. (As reported here.) Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy has been arguing since at least 2006 that Israel should talk to Hamas. In general, despite the occasionally heated and hateful rhetoric coming from some hard-right leaders in Israel, the public there has a far more realistic view of what’s needed for peace than do most Americans.
    3. I just recall that in the long years before the Oslo Accord of 1993, the idea of “talking with the PLO” was a complete taboo within just about all of the U.S. political elite. But then– in the very instant it was revealed that the Rabin government in Israel had not just been negotiating secretly with the PLO for many months but also that it had concluded an entire interim peace agreement with it– the whole U.S. political elite turned on a dime… Members of congress, TV news anchors, big-name pundits, you name it: They were lining up and drooling to have their photos taken with Yasser Arafat.
    This time around, regarding Hamas, it may end up being the same dynamic that will shake opinion in the U.S. But I certainly hope not… Not least, because the political elite in Israel (if not, perhaps, the entire populace) has shifted considerably to the right since Rabin’s day. Anyway, the U.S. can and should include Hamas in its peace diplomacy if it judges that is a wise thing to do. Why should have to wait for a seal of approval from the government in that tiny country in the Eastern Mediterranean?
    4. Just a final note about Diamant and Zonscheine’s broader refusenik movement. In the waning days of apartheid South Africa, the End Conscription Campaign, which in the circumstances was an almost wholly “White” organization, played a huge role in organizing those “White” South Africans who wanted to start questioning and then oppposing the whole apartheid system. I think “Courage to Refuse” and the other anti-militarist movements within Jewish Israeli society have a similarly prophetic role to play. because after all, the occupation and all its iniquities are sustained only through the barrels of the IDF’s extremely sophisticated arsenal of highly advanced and mega-lethal guns. Wielding those guns in battle inevitably exacts a moral and psychological price from those forced to do it.

Hats off to Diamant, Zonscheine, and their comrades!