The Two-faced Nature of Our Communities

August 26, 2021  

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

Posted by Lawrence Davidson 

Part I—What Motivates True Believers?

One of the alleged big mysteries of our day is why so many folks—and not just those in the United States—readily believe in demonstrable falsehoods. No reasoning creature ought to believe in the nonsense put out by QAnon, or for that matter, by someone as transparently psychopathic as Donald Trump—but many, numbering in the millions, really do. Why?

Here are some of the explanations offered by those supposedly in the know:

Stupidity and Laziness: The traditional narrative says that the cause is stupidity combined with laziness. As one researcher describes it, “if you believe false things, then you must be stupid. It must be because you haven’t really made an effort to actually figure out what is going on.” This is a superficial assessment. Most people indeed are not critical thinkers who consciously seek to “actually figure out what is going on” in an independent fashion. Essentially, they do not possess enough free will to do so. On the social level, they figure things out according to cultural, community, or group dictates. This is not “stupid” of them, nor is it a function of laziness. It stems from being born and raised as part of a society. And, some societies, particularly smaller ones, families, villages, tribes, and can exert considerable social pressure.

“Motivated reasoning” aka confirmation bias: This argument drops the “stupid” appellation and doesn’t speak to the particular history or situation of the true believers, but rather tells us that there is a natural “tendency to find arguments in favor of conclusions we want to believe to be stronger than arguments for conclusions we do not want to believe.” And indeed, there is plenty of evidence for this. It is why con artists make a good living. They rob us by telling us, convincingly, what we want to hear. Too many politicians are con artists who have figured out what their constituencies want to hear and feed it back to them without much regard for objective truth. Some of them, such as Donald Trump and his minions, do this in a way that breeds anger and even hatred for the unbelievers.

The Functional Evolution theory: There is a recent study out that adds a third line of explanation. It concentrates on falsehood as a vehicle for (1) establishing and maintaining group solidarity and (2) getting the upper hand in any struggle by destroying the reputation of the adversary. In this way, blatant lying and total suspension of reasoned thought become “functional.” Here are the study’s points:

By telling lies you “are in a better situation to mobilize and coordinate the attention of your own group.” For instance, the authors of this study assert that one of the ways fanatics signal group membership and loyalty is by believing
blatantly false notions. “The basic logic at work here is that anyone can believe the truth, but only loyal members of the group can believe something that is blatantly false.” This might seem a bit of a stretch, but the authors believe this tactic is used both by groups like QAnon and some successful religious movements.

Of course, it will not do to just believe crazy things about your group. You have to come to believe your adversary is evil. You must swallow the kind of beliefs—they are remarkably similar in every case—that have led to ethnic massacres and horrific episodes like the holocausts in Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda.

Here the authors make a distinction between two types of belief: (a) “beliefs that we have as representations of reality,” that is, those that reflect the truth so we can successfully “navigate the world;” and (b) beliefs that allow us to rally the necessary emotions to fight an alleged enemy till they are essentially destroyed. These latter beliefs do not have to be tied to “representations of reality.” In fact, it is better if they do not: better if the Japanese become just “Japs,” the Germans, “Huns,” the Vietnamese, “gooks,” the Jews, “kykes,” the Arabs and Palestinians, “anti-Semites.”

In other words, there might be “functional reasons for spreading falsehoods”—lying as a selected evolutionary trait. The propensity for both self-deception and the false characterization of others can serve the end of your group’s survival.

Part II—The Social Power of Our Local Groups

A problem with the above explanations is they only address the consciousness of cult members or “true believers.” That is, they address the imbecility of someone running around the nation’s capital in a hat with buffalo horns claiming “QAnon sent me.” Such a person may well believe his group’s nonsense for the sake of signaling membership and loyalty. But such hypotheses, regardless of any vague evolutionary impulse, can’t explain why a broader out-group population, numbering in the millions, goes along with the falsehoods of Donald Trump and other con artist authoritarians—and have done so throughout history. Nor can we simply dismiss this vulnerability of millions with notions of stupidity and laziness.

Here are some additional considerations that may help fill in the gaps of our understanding:

—The social/geographical context can encourage a form of tribalism. Most of us are strongly shaped by our locality. This is the case despite world-ranging journalism and international travel. Most of us are, in fact, locally regimented to fit into the mindset of our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work, our schools, our religious centers, our class-based networks, and so forth. These are the environments in which we learn the power of group culture. And most of us learn to do what our group does, think what our community thinks.

—The United States (just like many other countries) are a collection of smaller regions cobbled together over the history of the nation. Regional differences which are set as insular subcultures can prevail despite shifting population trends. Thus, Republican cultism finds its warmest reception in those parts of the country where a stagnant form of traditional white culture prevails. The affected population may be relatively isolated and rural. It has inherited a frontier outlook of radical individualism. For such folks, the government is anathema on principle and is usually seen as the real source of false information. Communities unlike theirs, usually urban and allegedly associated with “liberals,” are also seen as threats to their local values.

On the other hand, one can find the Republican cultist mindset in the boardrooms of power where government is seen as a tool to shape society to one’s class benefit. Donald Trump himself is of this sub-culture.

—Collective thinking is what holds certain communities together, and if a strong and charismatic (secular or religious) leader comes along and shapes a message to echo aspects of a local social outlook (for instance gun “rights,” anti-abortion sentiments, racist or gender bias, etc.) while disparaging other orientations seen by the group as threateningly alien, he or she can win the support of whole regions.

Part III—Breaking Free

It is community and group pressures that can set up millions to accept lies. Such pressure essentially binds the individual’s will to what may be a suborned collective. When this happens, reasoned discussion with the believer will be of no avail. The only thing that might break the bind is a catastrophe that undermines the collective message. And even then, breaking loose can be traumatic.

A good example of this—how scary it can be to break free of the power of one’s local environment even in dire circumstances—was given in a 31 July 2021 report in the Kansas City Star.  According to Dr. Priscilla Frase, “a hospitalist and chief medical information officer” for Ozarks Healthcare, “People come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine. I don’t want my friends to know but I don’t want to get COVID.’. . . But they’re very concerned about how the people that they love, within their family and within their friendship circles and work circles are going to react if they found out they got the vaccine.”

Part IV—Conclusion

One might say that those who believe in crazy ideas and claims are but a tiny minority. That only oddballs fall for improbable claims. However, this is historically inaccurate. A significant portion of the world’s population has always believed in the fantastical and improbable. Today’s examples of such beliefs range from faith in astrology, to the belief in aliens roaming our cities, to the existence of a real Sherlock Holmes. And, of course, most of the claims of religion, established or otherwise, are of a fantastic, untestable nature. Then there is the embarrassing case of Senator Susan Collins of Maine who, caught in the January 6 mass assault on the Capitol, said that her first thought was that the Iranians were attacking.

These random examples suggest that most folks do fine when all that is called for is getting through their usual daily routine. However, put anything new and unexpected in front of them and many become vulnerable to rumor mongering, propaganda, and the claims of con artists and charlatans.  

Today’s style of mass media (where every group with a grievance and access to the airways can create their own propaganda machine) combined with the present open-ended use of the First Amendment (free speech) makes this vulnerability worse. Keep in mind that free speech does not equate with truth and can be abused in the form of libel, inciting to riot—as occurred in Washington on January 6—or forms of propaganda that periodically turn democratic societies into barbaric dictatorships. 

Humans are social animals. Most of us are adrift apart from our various communities. It is a mixed blessing, for while group membership can make us feel secure and wanted, it can also lead us astray into racism, misogyny, and all manner of religious bias. The stagnant form of traditional white culture in the United States has edged closer to such a degenerated state of mind due to the pressures exerted upon it by several radical rightwing groups and the mendacious scheming of Donald Trump. So, if you are white, if you are American, and particularly if you live in one of those “red states”—or for that matter, if you are tied into any group with a hard-and-fast bias, regardless of color—beware of the two-faced nature of community.

The Nobel Foundation Must Act Against The Power of the Norwegian Parliament

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

Source

Posted by Lawrence Davidson 

The essay appearing below is posted here as a companion piece to Lawrence Davidson’s analysis, dated 16 September 2019, entitled “The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

“The Nobel Foundation must act against the power of the Stortinget (Parliament) over the Peace Prize” (22 July 2021) by Fredrik S Heffermehl

Argument: The Peace Prize must be awarded in accordance with the inventor Alfred Nobel’s will. In this context, the Swedish Nobel Foundation is superior to the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), and must therefore act to ensure that the Peace Prize in future goes to people who actively work for disarmament. 

Again, there is wrangling/tussle/strife around the Nobel Peace Prize. Now about money. The Norwegian committee for the peace prize is housed in a beautiful historic building in Oslo that is so expensive to maintain that the Nobel Foundation plans to sell it. This would be a great loss and the Norwegian committee has called on the Parliament of Norway, to pick up the bill and claims that the independence of the prize will not be harmed.

But it’s not at all that simple. According to my studies, the Stortinget’s relationship to the Peace Prize is a dark story of fraud. The award was never independent of the Stortinget. An annual appropriation would increase dependence.

As always, the starting point should be Alfred Nobel’s intention with the prize. The new CEO of the Nobel Foundation, the Norwegian lawyer Vidar Helgesen, emphasized in a recent radio interview the essence of all Nobel prizes: Alfred Nobel wished to change the world. In the nuclear age ending all wars is more imperative than ever, but how well does the Nobel Foundation maintain this essence of inventor Nobel peace vision?

He wanted to end all wars through global cooperation and disarmament based on international law. The core of the inventor’s peace innovation, global demilitarization, is explicitly mentioned in the will.

In his will Nobel entrusted Stortinget with appointing a committee of five, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, supposed to use the annual election of prize winners to promote the Nobel vision of how to create peace. But that never happened. The Peace Prize has been awarded in all directions and has become a general prize for goodness without a distinct idea or clear goals. The Stortinget should have appointed supporters of Nobel’s peace idea to committee members, but has instead chosen its own and used the prize for its own purposes.

That is a main conclusion in my recent book “Behind the medals”. The most obvious measure to fulfill Nobel’s last will would be to examine what his will really was and then

make it widely known. Instead, the leadership of the Stortinget decided in 1897 to quietly ignore the clear words of the will about the reduction or abolition of the military.

The will was put aside and never interpreted professionally. Instead, the Nobel Committee interpreted its own, self-chosen and diffuse concepts, such as “peace” and “peace work”, and took with it in practice freedom to do as it wished with the prize.

As a result the award never actively promoted the Nobel idea. Even if using entrusted funds for one’s own purposes must legally be regarded as embezzlement or infidelity to the testator, this has continued since I discovered, 15 years ago, that Nobel’s original intention with the prize had been ignored. Lawmakers violating the laws and refusing to adhere to criticism is a legal and democratic problem.

While working on the book, I gained access to the Nobel Committee’s internal archives – except the last 50 years that remain off-limits/secret. I have reviewed all 131 Peace Prizes over 120 years (1901–2020). My conclusion is that only 25 percent of them fulfill the purpose. The most interesting result of my review, however, was to get a picture of those who should have won, what the prize should have been, what it could have done for world peace if Nobel´s visionary idea had been respected.

The internal reports the committee received about the candidates reveal disdain and outright contempt for the idea and the people that Nobel intended his prize to support. I found 114 of them hidden/tucked away and forgotten in the Nobel Archives. Taken together these people are/constitute an important history of ideas. The sad fact is that the people Nobel wanted to support have throughout the years been ignored and suppressed by all of society, including the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

How could this happen? During the first ten years after Nobel’s death in 1896, the wish to be free from the union with Sweden dominated Norwegian politics. As King Oscar feared, the Peace Prize became a tool in the Norwegian freedom struggle. This caused permanent damage, Norwegian politicians got used to seeing the prize as their own. They elected themselves to the coveted committee seats. The committee was composed of members of the Stortinget and the government. In reality they developed an entirely Norwegian Peace Prize in the name of Nobel.

The first chairman of the committee in 1897 was a well-known lawyer who emphasized the importance of independence and distance from the Storting. He died in 1901 and was succeeded by Jørgen Løvland, leader of the Norwegian independence struggle, who wanted to link the peace prize as closely as possible to the Stortinget. He used the staff of the Nobel Institute in the struggle for national independence. When independence was won in 1905, the Nobel chairperson was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the first ten months the ministry had no employees and the Nobel Institute functioned as Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Norwegian committee has never followed up on its main task: to promote the Nobel Prize for a geopolitical U-turn and universal cooperation on global peace. The prize, inspired by Bertha von Suttner’s novel “Down with the Weapons!” (1889), should have been called the Nobel Disarmament Prize. Only twice has the Committee stated the true purpose of the prize: in the speech for Bertha von Suttner as prize winner in 1905 and for the International Peace Bureau in 1910. The Norwegian administrators of the Nobel Prize are willing to discuss economic issues and everything else, except my analysis of Nobel’s intention. Such criticism is taboo and has been ignored.

Last year, the situation became really untenable. The entire Stortinget, with the exception of two members, voted against taking the Nobel will into account. Doing so, the Stortinget openly took over and rejected serving the inventor’s own idea. This is an open mutiny that forces the Nobel Foundation to intervene. As manager of Nobel’s bequeathed money the foundation bears superior responsibility for implementing Nobel’s intentions. It cannot accept a subcommittee that ignores the idea of the prize.

In an investigation of the Peace Prize in 2012, the County Administrative Board of Stockholm, which is the supervisory authority for foundations, stated that both the Norwegian Parliament and Nobel Committee are sub-bodies of the Nobel Foundation. The public supervisory board decided that the Nobel Foundation is obliged to examine Nobel´s intention with the peace prize, give the necessary instructions to the Norwegian bodies, and check that their decisions serve the purpose of the prize.

The truth is that the Storting stole the Nobel Peace Prize as early as in 1897. Norwegian society keeps totally silent about this. My criticism of the prize is extremely unpopular in Norway, but for me the world and peace have to be more important. As we face the threats of global warming, mega-fires, sea level rise, pandemics, famine, refugee flows, we are all in the same very unsafe boat and simply have to co-operate for our common survival. All countries must stand together or we shall all perish. We cannot afford the continuing military arms races that only increase the risk of us being annihilated. To break the vicious circle of militarism, the world needs Nobel’s visionary idea of world peace through cooperation. The Nobel Foundation took responsibility when, in 2017, the Board, building on my legal advice, intervened against the administrators of the literature prize. The Storting’s mutiny against Nobel is much more serious. According to the law, the Nobel Foundation has an obligation to act against the Stortinget, which in this context – unbelievably – is a body subordinate to the board of a private Swedish foundation. By law the Board of the Nobel Foundation has the right and obligation to instruct the Stortinget. The important thing now is not to increase financial dependence on the Stortinget. Instead the Foundation has to intervene and demand that the Stortinget as soon as possible appoints a prize committee that will loyally promote the peace vision of Nobel – or find other ways to ensure that the Nobel Peace Vision is realized.

Fredrik S Heffermehl is a lawyer and author, editor of nobelwill.orghttps://www.dn.se/debatt/nobelstiftelsen-maste-agera-mot-stortingets-makt-over-fredspriset

Abortion and the Culture War

About me

August 8, 2021 

An Analysis by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Competing Rights

For those American readers not old enough to remember a time before the nationwide legalization of abortion through the court case known as Roe v. Wade (1973), let me remind you of some of the attributes of that era. The prevailing law made it very difficult to get an abortion in the United States, but not impossible. The real question was how much danger a pregnant woman was willing to face in the illegal “back alley” operations that were available. You see, as with most things illegal, a “black market” existed which would not only eliminate the unborn fetus, but often kill the distraught mother as well. If you were well off and determined, you could go abroad and have the operation performed with relative safety—often making the whole issue one of class privilege. Behind the scenes, one found two dramas played out: (a) the frantic, sometimes near-suicidal despair of the pregnant woman, often only a teenager, and (b) the sanctimonious prattle of those anti-abortionists —mostly men—who said they represented the will of an imagined deity.

Having said this, I do not want the reader to believe that there is no moral question when it comes to abortion. From an evolutionary standpoint, the fetus is a potential human being upon conception and may well have a “moral right” to that life trajectory. Yet that right exists within a broader context which requires that it should be balanced against a woman’s “moral right” to control her own body and the child’s “moral right” not to be born into an environment where he or she is basically unwanted. If we were to deal with this issue logically, the real answer to the dilemma of competing rights is surely free and universally available contraception—along with sensible sex education.

Part II—Anti-Abortion and Gun Mania—An Eerie Connection

There is yet another relevant fact to consider. Remember that the whole anti-abortion movement assumes that human life is uniquely valuable. However, our societies often do not act as if human life is something special—morally or otherwise. Take a look at the essay I wrote in June 2019 entitled “The Alleged Preciousness of Human Life.” I think it lays this failing out clearly and convincingly. Here in the United States, this fact is most obviously brought home by the society’s glorification of guns and the resultant deadly mayhem.

Actually, there is an eerie connection between the abortion issue and gun mania. It runs, of course, through the Republican Party. At the end of July 2021, “228 Republican members of Congress told the Supreme Court that it should overturn Roe v. Wade and release the court’s ‘vise grip on abortion politics.’” These are the same politicians who have sworn loyalty to the official Republican party platform that states “We uphold the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, a natural inalienable right . . . secured by the Second Amendment. Lawful gun ownership enables Americans to exercise their God-given right of self-defense.” In other words, the Republicans who demand that the courts subscribe to their view of the “right to life” of unborn children are the same ones who insist that each citizen has a right to possess society’s chief instrument of death. In this effort they invoke, once again, the approval of that imagined deity. They also misinterpret the Second Amendment, and play fast and loose with such words as “natural” and “inalienable.” Well, as it is often said of American politics, hypocrisy is the name of the game.

Part III—Culture War

Both abortion “rights” and gun “rights” are parts of a continuing American culture war—which also includes other hot topics such as real equality for Blacks, Native Americans, women in general, homosexuals, and transgender people, as well as other questions such as multiculturalism.

None of these issues existed as publicly divisive ones before the 1960s. Before that time, the misleading though strongly promoted image of American society was white, male, heterosexual, and benevolent. For those old enough to recognize it, the benign version of this model was given in a classic TV show called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which aired from 1952 to 1966. The resulting false picture of the near-perfect American family dwelling in a community where there were no serious social problems became so iconic that, subsequently, many Americans came to idealize the 1950s. One strongly suspects that the anti-abortion and pro-gun lobbies still do.

The Ozzie and Harriet model had broken down by the second half of the 1960s. What shattered the iconic image were (a) the demand for equal rights, both in social and political terms, for, initially, the country’s Black minority and female majority—that is, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement and (b) opposition to the Vietnam War, which shredded any claims of “God-given” moral exceptionalism for the nation.

The “excrement hit the fan” the moment these campaigns for equal rights and peace began to gain political backing. People knew this was happening because new laws came into existence: anti-discrimination laws and others like the “war-powers act” which sought to limit presidential power to wage undeclared war. These were seen as progressive moves attuned to a different, if yet unfulfilled, humane canon of American ideals.

From that general moment until today, the progressive equality camp has been engaged in a culture war—really a struggle for political power—with the camp that favors the traditional white-male-heterosexual-anti-abortionist setup.

Part IV—Fascist Potential

For the past five years Donald Trump has been the leader of the latter camp, and this alignment helped him win the presidency in 2016. During this time Trump has been accused of racism, misogyny and sexual harassment, being a deadbeat, tax evasion, nepotism, blackmail, compulsive lying, encouraging police violence, subversion and insurrection, and being an advocate for the destruction of the world’s climate, among other things. If even half of these allegations are true, it means that the white-male-heterosexual-anti-abortionist crowd is quite willing to have a criminal personality with fascist leanings as their leader.

One way to interpret this is that, for this camp, democracy is not an important issue. It was democracy that led to the progressive change they hate and fear, and democracy that seems unable to reverse this course as quick as they would like. If voter rolls expand and gerrymandering is corrected, their influence will shrink. Under these circumstances this side in the culture war is willing to throw democracy out in favor of an authoritarian government run by thugs. We already see intimations of this in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, to say nothing at the U.S. capital on January 6, 2021.

One might ask, can the sane citizens of the U.S. take hope in Trump’s defeat in 2020? The answer is, perhaps not. If Donald Trump keeled over from a fatal coronary tomorrow, we would still be in trouble as a nation. One indicator of this, relevant to the abortion question, is that, in his brief stay in the White House, he was able to appoint to the Supreme Court three reactionary judges—making the balance 6 to 3 in favor of decisions turning the clock back to a pre-progressive time. The constitutional argument these six judges will most likely use toward this end is “states rights”—turning important social decisions over to state legislatures even if these bodies are filled with anti-democratic, conspiracy-theorist, paranoid, irrational politicians.

Part V—Democratic Party Weakness

This brings us full circle back to Roe v. Wade. “At issue before the court is a Mississippi law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy [Roe v. Wade set the cut off at 24 weeks when most experts believe fetus viability occurs.] There is no exception for rape or incest. The court will render its decision by next June, in the lead up to the mid-term elections.” Upholding the Mississippi law would invalidate Roe v. Wade and the legal status of nationwide abortion.

If legal precedent was a factor in this contest, there would be no doubt that Roe v. Wade would be upheld. For over forty years both lower court and past Supreme Court decisions have upheld the present law affirming the “woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability.” But, because the Trump administration managed to shift the balance of power on the high court, most observers now expect that Roe v. Wade will fall. Like wolves circling a wounded prey, various states with Republican legislatures have “introduced more than 500 restrictions on abortion over the past four months, a huge increase from previous years.”

In the meantime, the Democratic administration of Joe Biden has not spoken out strongly about the possible demise of Roe v. Wade. In fact, President Biden, who is Catholic and perhaps fears increased criticism by the Catholic Church, has refused to use the word “abortion” in public. His administration has also chosen not to challenge other conservative icons, such as the issue of gun control (or lack thereof). Put it all together and one suspects that President Joe Biden is a man bypassed by time. He is a politician of an age when bipartisan cooperation, and thus meaningful compromise, was possible. Yet this ended with the Obama presidency (2009-2017), when the Republican leadership, which is still in place, systematically attempted to defeat or stall everything President Obama attempted to accomplish. Biden was a witness to all of this in his role as vice president, but he seems to have learned nothing from that experience.

Part VI—Conclusion

So here is the situation: (1) An ex-president with a sociopathic personality leads a Republican minority of mostly white, heterosexual, male conspiracy theorists who have also taken up the cause of outlawing most abortions and, given half the chance, are perfectly willing to selectively overthrow the U.S. Constitution; (2) the defense of the realm is in the hands of Democratic Party leaders who, for the most part, have misjudged the current situation and rely on traditional bipartisanship—to wit: they are trying to compromise with those who do not respect the present democratic system; (3) as a consequence, leaders like Joe Biden have probably lost that part of the nation’s progressive achievements encoded in Roe v. Wade, and perhaps a lot more; (4) finally, in 2022 there will be mid-term elections for the Congress—to reelect the Republicans as they now exist is to put into power the bigoted, the prevaricators, and often the deranged.

It is anyone’s guess if, devoid of able and forceful Democratic leadership clearly articulating what is at stake, enough voting American citizens will understand the risk or have the motivation to stop a reactionary takeover.

How to Undermine a Diplomatic Triumph

About me

26 July 2021

by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—The Backstory

The true status of current negotiations to reinstate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran is unknown to the American public—most of whom are tragically indifferent to the outcome. This is so even though the successful negotiation of this deal with Iran back in 2015 represents one of the greatest triumphs of diplomacy in the last hundred years. What we do know is this triumph was followed by tragedy—a premeditated tragedy—the sort of tragedy only fools can produce. But very few Americans care. That is the way it is with foreign policy. On the one hand, you can start wars to great public acclaim, and on the other, you can destroy hard-won diplomatic achievements almost without public notice. 

At the end of President Obama’s term of office (January 2017) the JCPOA was complete and in force. In exchange for a lifting of “nuclear-related sanctions,” Iran undertook not to pursue research that might allow her to develop nuclear weapons. Up until May of 2018 “Iran’s compliance has been repeatedly verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees the most intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated.” It was in May of 2018 that Donald Trump, perhaps the most despicable human being to hold the presidency since Andrew Jackson, withdrew from the JCPOA, apparently for two reasons: (1) was the treaty was completed by Obama and Trump wanted to destroy the achievements of his non-white predecessor, and (2) Trump thought he could bully the Iranians into a “better deal.” It is important to note that the other signatories to the treaty did not initially follow Trump’s lead. “The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and Germany issued a joint statement on behalf of their countries that reemphasized their support for the deal and its importance to the nonproliferation regime.” The United Nations expressed “deep concern” over Trump’s decision and released a statement in support of the JCPOA. Russia’s Foreign Ministry also reiterated its support for the JCPOA, and further stated that “U.S. actions compromise international trust in the IAEA.”

How did the Iranians react to Trump’s withdrawal from the treaty and reimposition of harsh sanctions? At first, Tehran suggested that if the other signatories to the agreement would remain loyal to their obligations, Iran too would keep to the treaty. Unfortunately, most of the European nations involved would soon succumb to U.S. economic pressure and cease to hold to their obligations. Nonetheless, it was not until a year following Trump’s irresponsible act that Iran announced that “The Islamic Republic of Iran in reaction to the exit of America from the nuclear deal and the bad promises of European countries in carrying out their obligations will restart a part of the nuclear activities which were stopped under the framework of the nuclear deal.” Even while the Iranian government took this position, it insisted that if at any time the United States returned to the treaty and removed all nuclear-related sanctions, Iran too would return to its obligations. Tehran even suggested a process whereby the U.S. and Iran would take simultaneous steps to that end. 

Everyone but Trump devotees, Israel and its supporters, and those Iranian exiles who would like to see the return of the country’s monarchy recognized that the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA had been a mistake. Accordingly, in the campaign run-up to the 2020 presidential election in the U.S., the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, promised that upon election he would rejoin the treaty if Iran returned to compliance as well. 

Biden did win, but he has not yet fulfilled his promise. Instead, he entered an extended period of negotiations that is still ongoing. At first it was said that these were about “who goes first” when it comes to returning to requirements of the treaty. Was Iran to give up the small steps in nuclear enrichment since the Trump withdrawal, or was the U.S. going to go first in removing the draconian sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration? It was Iran who realized the childish nature of this question and offered a simultaneous return to the compliance mentioned above. While the Biden administration rejected this offer, it has been reported that now both sides are working toward “simultaneous, sequential steps” back to requirements of the treaty. 


Part II—Misleading the American Public


In the meantime, the Biden administration has been releasing misinformation to the public. For instance, Biden has insisted that sanctions relief depends on Iran “returning to compliance.” But, of course, for anyone familiar with the relevant events, it was Washington that broke the treaty and needed to return to compliance. Any subsequent Iranian actions following Trump’s folly were, and still are, perfectly legal under the terms of the JCPOA. Joe Biden can continue to justify draconian economic sanctions in this way—sanctions that are ruining the lives of millions—only because he is addressing an ignorant American audience. 

When Iran failed to be bullied, Biden’s diplomats adopted a “shift the blame” tactic. In May 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do. That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer.” Translation: the American people should know that we, the Biden administration, are trying, but those Iranians seem to be too thick-headed to do what is necessary. So if the whole thing fails, it is their fault and not ours. 

Blinken went on, “If both sides can return to the original deal, then we can use that as a foundation both to look at how to make the deal itself potentially longer and stronger—and also [to] engage on these other issues, whether it’s Iran’s support for terrorism [or] its destabilizing support for different proxies throughout the Middle East.”

That scenario will not encourage the Iranians. They have repeatedly stated that the JCPOA, and the present negotiations, are about two things: sanctions and the scope of nuclear development. It is not about Iranian foreign policy, which has been so blandly assumed to be “terrorism” by both Trump and Biden. If Mr. Blinken keeps tagging on these extras, we will still be running in circles come Christmas.   

What is the diplomatic aim of the Biden administration? Is it to pursue the Democrats’ traditional, and bankrupt, aim of sounding as tough on foreign policy as the Republicans? That irrelevant goal (remember most Americans don’t care about foreign policy) would not be surprising coming from a professional Democratic politician of Joe Biden’s generation. However, after all the work that has gone into the JCPOA and all the suffering endured by the Iranian population due to brutal U.S. sanctions, such a petty motive reflects the mentality of a street gang competing with rivals, rather than the peaceful ends of an alleged civilized society. 

With statements like this, Secretary of State Blinken transforms himself into someone we might mistake for a

Fox News TV anchor. It would seem that many who pride themselves on eschewing Fox’s lies are ready to swallow whole Mr. Blinken’s bunk. 

Part III—An Israeli Connection?

We know that ex-Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and ex-President Trump were in agreement on Iran policy. In this regard, all the yelling and screaming about Iran’s nuclear program carried on by both men hid their real goal. Particularly for Netanyahu, the hyperbole was aimed at creating a “credible reason” to force regime change in Iran, even if it meant a U.S. invasion. Essentially, the model here was Iraq. Netanyahu was ready to pursue this end till the last dying American soldier. Obviously, the JCPOA was a major obstacle in that path. So was Barack Obama, who thought he was helping Israel and the world in general by negotiating the treaty. 

Now Netanyahu and Trump are gone from office. However, why should we believe that the new Israeli government has changed the ultimate goal? And why should we believe that Joe Biden—who is, as he never fails to remind us, an “ironclad” Zionist—will really follow in Obama’s footsteps?

In June, Israel sent some of its highest-ranking leaders to see Biden. These included Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Both meetings were basically about Iran. “Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden told Rivlin. This was billed as a “stark warning” to Iran—a country which has, for religious as well as other reasons, disavowed the desire for such a weapon. How many Americans know this? Does President Biden know this?

Many scholars and other experts in Middle East policy believe that “Mr. Biden’s calculations are rooted in a different era of American-Israeli relations—when Israel’s security concerns commanded far more attention than Palestinian grievances.” This is true. But there is a more personal connection. Biden personally identifies with Israel like no other U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson. He collects yarmulkes and is reported to have knelt down in an impromptu “show of respect” after learning that Rivka Ravitz, President Rivlin’s Orthodox chief of staff, was the mother of 12 children. The Israeli Orthodox Jews often have such large families out of fear of a “demographic holocaust”—that is, the consequences of the Palestinians’ much higher birth rate than that of most Israeli Jews. Finally, Biden has completely accepted the highly debatable notion that world Jewry, many of whom are not Zionists, cannot be safe apart from the existence of Israel. 

Those same experts also believe that, when it comes to Israel, President Biden’s approach has much to do with domestic politics. Thus, getting back to the JCPOA is less important than catering to the desires of the Israel Lobby. This only makes sense for a politician born and bred to the power of that lobby.

Part IV—Conclusion


The U.S. and Israeli leaders are suffering from a group-think environment and tunnel vision, all shaped in good part by political pressure generated by dominant special interests.  At least in this instance, one cannot say the same for the Iranians who, though led by a rigid religious elite, broke through their tunnel vision and joined the JCPOA treaty. The present stalemate is the work of American ideologues tied hand and foot to a major U.S. lobby. 

Outside the tunnel one can see the obvious answer to the present stalemate. Having been polite and empathetic toward Rivlin and Gantz, Joe Biden should ask over to the Oval Office an outsider, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. At the end of June Guterres said, “I appeal to the United States to lift or waive its sanctions outlined in the plan.” He also appealed to Iran to return to full implementation of the deal. Right from the beginning of Biden’s election, the Iranians have been willing to follow Guterres’s lead. It is Biden who has temporized while being encouraged by his confidants from Jerusalem. 

The Democracy vs. Freedom Dispute

About me

July 1, 2021 

by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Democracy and Freedom

In the United States, there is a dispute over whether democracy and freedom are compatible. Some, such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have questioned their compatibility, and even asserted that freedom, rather than democracy, is what the U.S. really stands for. These terms are often used out of context and the dispute often suffers from a lack of historical knowledge, but there is nothing surprising about that. 

Most of the men who put together the U.S. Constitution saw the world in class, racial and gender terms. While they wanted a more democratic government than that in England which, for propaganda purposes, they had portrayed as a tyranny, the new American democracy had to be carefully structured. Here is how this translated from theory into practice: the common man’s passions should be held in check by a system that kept the power to make policy in the hands of those white males who had “a material stake in society”—that is, the propertied class. For large segments of the population democracy was to be denied due to both gender and color. 

Only a relative few of these men were thinking about freedom per se. And those who did, certainly did not define it in open-ended libertarian terms. Indeed, in late 18th century America, freedom came in two flavors: (1) first and foremost, the freedom from “unreasonable” taxation. What is unreasonable in this sense, would be argued about incessantly right up into the present. (2) Protection against the abuse of government power. The notion of abuse was directly connected to a) examples of alleged British excesses leading up to the American Revolution and b) Federalist party practices (when in power) like the suppression of critical newspapers and pamphlets. It is to cover a host of these sorts of issues, collectively posited as the protection of individual rights or freedoms, that Jefferson and Madison insisted a bill of rights be added to the Constitution as its first set of amendments. Once this was accomplished (December 1791) America’s democracy and a constitutional list of protected rights/freedoms, became compatible. 

Part II—Getting Things Wrong 

Now we fast forward to the present and Republican Senator Rand Paul, who was recently quoted in the New York Times as follows: “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for [which is freedom]. The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.” He goes on to connect Republican Party opposition to a bipartisan congressional investigation of the January 6 “protest” (it was really an attempted insurrection) with the right of the political minority to protect itself against the majority. All of this is ahistorical and illogical. 

When taking up Paul’s position there are several points to consider:

First: Historical accuracy. Paul seems confused about the status of majority and minority when it comes to freed slaves in the American South at the time Congress abandoned Reconstruction (March 1877). At this time, the Black population in large parts of the rural South constituted the numerical majority. So, the Jim Crow laws that quickly followed were the products of a local political/racial minority (southern Whites) seeking to suppress the newly won rights of their local majorities (southern Blacks). Thus, Paul has his facts backwards. He might have made this mistake because he thinks that the American Black population has been a minority at all times and in all places throughout the country’s history. Yet here we have an important exception—an exception that challenges the senator’s argument that discriminatory behavior principally has its source with oppressive majorities.

Today, if Senator Paul is looking for a minority in need of protection, he should focus on contemporary southern Blacks (who are now indeed a minority both in size and power.) They are now faced with a white Republican Party in control of state legislatures seeking to suppress the voting access of minorities.

Second. Paul seems not to take into consideration that the American majority has grown and diversified. In other words, when it comes to what the government (local, state and federal) cannot do to you (like suppress your voting rights)—the you have steadily grown larger. Theoretically this should bode ill for the rightwing state legislatures mentioned above. It is unclear how Senator Paul personally feels about this (such narrowing of the election laws has not taken place in his home state of Kentucky), but he is an active member of the Republican Party, and that is party playing fast and loose with the voting laws in a host of southern and mid-western states. Why is the Republican Party doing this? Because a growing and diversifying majority creates a growing number of voters and most come from Black and other non-white segments of the population. Exercising their participatory political rights, they tend to vote Democrat. 

Third. The constitutionally protected rights or freedoms are not open-ended. Yet Paul seems to suggest that they are when he asserts that to protect the Republican minority in the Senate, the party can block a bipartisan investigation of the January 6 insurrection. On the one hand, it is quite true that the bill of rights was designed as, and remains, a necessary defense of individual rights from majority demands for political or cultural uniformity. On the other, one can ask, what is Paul and the Republicans trying to protect their party from? The bill of rights does not, and never was supposed to stifle investigation of criminal acts. The only thing the bill of rights does in this regard is to guard the individual against illegal evidence gathering procedures and other abusive practices on the part of law enforcement.

Part III—Misusing the Bill of Rights

Against this background, how are we to understand Paul’s specific application of minority rights? At the very least, we can understand it as a misinterpretation of the purpose and intent of the bill of rights and the protections it offers individual citizens. In other words, he is defending his party’s refusal to allow a bipartisan investigation of an apparent crime—a crime with potentially embarrassing trail of evidence.

The Republican Party and its conspiracy-spinning allies in the press and social media (whose speech is nonetheless protected) essentially created an alternate reality for millions of Americans that led some of them to insurrection. Despite many evidence-based demonstrations to the contrary, millions have bought into the myth that former President Donald Trump was cheated—and thus they, his supporters, were also cheated—out of victory in the 2020 presidential election. While both the Republicans and their supporters may believe the unbelievable—aver the demonstrably false—they have no right under the Constitution and its bill of rights to express such a delusion by going on a rampage, destroying public property, and attacking public officials. They have no protected right—no “freedom” to do this even if they claim, probably truthfully, that they believed the president told them to do it. 

Taking the next step, what is the real-world consequence of Paul’s defense? Well, given the likelihood that the investigation would connect elements of the Republican Party to the actions of the insurrectionists, this must be seen as self-serving obstruction of justice—itself a crime. For Paul, this is the “freedom” that—conveniently—supersedes democracy. 

Finally, the whole affair is a scary example of a paradox: The protection of speech, that is the right to free speech, can  degenerate into a campaign of lies and this can easily lead people to unprotected, that is criminal, actions. This is, admittedly, a downside of the bill of rights. An individual (and keep in mind that under U.S. law corporations are seen as individuals) has a protected right to lie to the public—to wit: broadcasted fantasies ranging from those of the National Inquirer to Fox TV and, lest we forget, Donald Trump.

Part IV—Conclusion

It is worth repeating that one of the positive things about the political evolution of the United States is that it has expanded the ranks of the participatory majority. In political terms, citizens of all genders and races now have both participatory rights and protected individual rights. Correspondingly, the minority—referring here specifically to those who object to this historical expansion—is slowly shrinking. While the latter’s rights to, say free speech, will remain protected, their ability to retain political and cultural power may well diminish over time. There is no doubt that the Republican leadership has a sense of this possibility, and this accounts for their increasingly fierce and frenzied attempts to turn back the clock. 

The shift of emphasis from an expanding democracy with protected individual rights/freedoms, to a dangerously ad hoc and sometimes illogical version of freedom, is part of that frenzied activity. Senator Paul and his friends, very short on historical facts and judgment, want all of us to believe in the absurd. That is, obstruction of justice in the name of minority rights is “what the country stands for.”

Zionist Academics Take The Side Of State Power

About me

11 June 2021

by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Tensions in Academia

The growing divide in the United States between Zionists and supporters of Palestinian rights has led to pronounced tensions in academia. Much has been said about increasing pro-Palestinian student protests as well as the activities of pro-Israel boards of governors, presidents, deans, etc. The latter try to guard their campuses from pro-Palestinian faculty, student clubs, invited speakers and the like.

These tensions have found yet another academic front on which to contest. There are two historical associations in the U.S. for scholars of Middle East studies reflecting opposing attitudes toward Israel and its behavior toward the Palestinians. And this divide presents us with a dichotomy of values at the professional academic level.

The oldest of these is the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). It was founded in 1966 and currently has a membership of more than 2700. It also serves as a “constituent society of thirty-six affiliated organizations.” It puts out a quarterly journal and has an active Committee on Academic Freedom. MESA is a very successful learned society. Its scholars cover all of the Middle East and North Africa. It is dedicated to high standards of scholarship and diversity of interpretation.

By the 2000s the debate within academia over the expansionist nature of Israel and its treatment of conquered Palestinians was heating up. Because most of MESA members have a broad knowledge of the area, a sense of local perspectives, and also know the history of the Arab Israeli conflict, their positions tend to be critical of Israeli behavior and American support for it. And that led to an organizational split.

In 2007 two scholars, Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, decided to start a rival organization, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). They did so because, according to them, MESA was “dominated by academics who have been critical of Israel and America’s role in the Middle East.”

One might wonder why the position taken by many MESA members upset Lewis and Ajami. After all, debating issues from an historical perspective is, in part, what academics are supposed to do. If MESA was allegedly “dominated” by those critical of Israeli behavior, Lewis and Ajami’s answer was to establish a “politicized” organization “dominated” by Zionists. It made little sense in terms of dialog, but tactically it fit right in with how Zionists—those who uphold the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine—react to criticism.

Over the last quarter century, a common tactic of Zionists has been to withdraw from public debate and, where they can, bring about enforced silence of anyone who is critical of Israel. That, of course, is what those pro-Israeli academic administrators and boards were and are doing. Part of this effort entails labelling those critical of Israel as anti-Semites. This stratagem is generally used to shut down negative assessments in the West. Seeking to expand the scope of this effort, ASMEA’s much lauded founder, Bernard Lewis, who died in May of 2018, sought to defame Islam with the same charge. That approach is carried on by ASMEA. The organization awards a Bernard Lewis Prize, a description of which quotes Lewis, “to an astonishing degree, the ideas, the literature, even the crudest inventions of the Nazis and their predecessors have been internalized and Islamized.” In competition for this award, young Middle East scholars are encouraged by ASMEA to identify Muslim Arab opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism.

Part II—Expressing Values

The two organizations have recently shown where this tension has taken them in terms of human rights. This was occasioned by the recent outbreak Palestinian resistance caused by threats of evictions (ethnic cleansing) of Arab families in Jerusalem, and aggressive Israeli actions at the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The latter actions, in particular, triggered rocket attacks from Gaza.

Here is part of a long and detailed MESA statement. The shorter ASMEA statement is given in full:

MESA (21 May 2021) Issued by the organization’s Board of Directors.

“The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America condemns the ongoing and intensified Israeli government assault on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip and those who are Israeli citizens. During May 7–20, 2021, Israeli military attacks on the occupied Gaza Strip damaged at least 51 educational facilities, including 2 kindergartens, 46 schools, 1 university, 1 vocational training center, and 1 Ministry of Education facility—among other vital infrastructure. Israeli air strikes and tank shells directly hit a number of these buildings. The deadly conditions created by the Israeli military attacks in Gaza forced all schools to remain closed for at least five days after the end of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, affecting the lives and access to education of 591,685 students. In addition, Israeli military strikes internally displaced at least 66,000 Palestinians who then sought refuge in 58 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), causing further disruptions to the population’s education–indeed, to their lives. …

“There is little doubt that successive Israeli governments across the political spectrum have carried out a decades-long attack on Palestinian students, teachers, and educational facilities. Indeed, this attack is part of a broader political, administrative, and legal system of racial discrimination and domination—regularly enforced through violence—that has defined the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people. And, as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch have found, the Israeli government’s purposeful and systematic privileging of Jewish Israelis while dominating and oppressing the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.”

ASMEA (25 May 2021) Issued by the organization’s Chairman, Professor Norman Stillman

“The recent wave of violence in the ongoing struggle between Israel and Hamas has left many members of our community of scholars deeply concerned. While we hope and pray no harm befalls any of our members, anywhere, and their loved ones, ASMEA remains committed to our founding principles as an academic association.

“As scholars, we believe in the pursuit of objective truth when studying and teaching the issues and topics affecting the regions of our academic concern. We recognize that these principles can create division and disagreement, but so long as scholarship contributes to the body of knowledge, we welcome and encourage vigorous debate.

“We stand behind and support our members in Israel and deride those more intent on infusing the academic landscape with pointless over-politicization and rank partisanship than restoring balance to the Academy and protecting academic freedom in Middle East and African studies, and related disciplines.”

There are a couple of things to note about these two statements: (1) The MESA statement is issued in support of the Palestinians, and specifically their collective human right to education. It contains assertions about the Israeli violations of that right—assertions that can be fact checked. The statement also references the reports of international organizations concerned with civil and human rights. (2) The ASMEA statement claims objectivity and a willingness to debate, but then proceeds to defame and trivialize those who disagree with their position—“those more intent on infusing the academic landscape with pointless over-politicization and rank partisanship.” Actually, one can characterize this charge as a psychological projection of the statement’s author who, being a Zionist stalwart must be, by definition, both politicized and partisan. The statement also makes no reference to the Palestinian situation under Israeli rule and reduces the struggle to one between Hamas and Israeli—an objectively incorrect and thus untrue assertion. This reductionist gambit is used by almost all contemporary supporters of Israel.

Part III—Crossing the Rubicon

There is a Rubicon (a fundamental crossing point) that all Jewish intellectuals are now confronting. Whether or not one crosses this line reveals the nature of their values. To cross it is to take the side of human rights and the rule of law. To refuse to cross is to take the side of state power—in this case, to align with the power of a proven apartheid state.

To add context to this choice, consider the case of Eva Illouz, a professor of sociology at Hebrew University. On 14 April 2014, she wrote an essay for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz entitled, “Is It Possible to be a Jewish Intellectual?” In this piece she sets forth two opposing positions: one is the Zionist/Israeli demand for the primacy of “ahavat Israel,” or the “love of the Jewish nation and people”–-the claim that all Jews have a “duty of the heart” to be loyal to the “Jewish nation.” The other position is that of the lone intellectual (here her model is the philosopher Hannah Arendt), whose obligation is to maintain the “disinterested intelligence” necessary to “speak truth to power.”
 
Illouz explains that Zionists have a “suspicion of critique” and use “the memorialization of the Shoah” (the Holocaust) and “ahavat Israel” to mute it. “The imperative of solidarity brings with it the injunction to not oppose or express publicly disagreement with official Jewish bodies.” It is within this context that she can ask if it is still possible to be a Jewish intellectual. Illouz’s conclusion is that it has become exceedingly difficult to be so because the demands for Jewish solidarity are particularly “brutal.” And then she makes her choice and, if you will, crosses the Rubicon. “In the face of the ongoing, unrelenting injustices toward Palestinians and Arabs living in Israel, his/her moral duty is to let go, achingly, of that solidarity.”

It is not difficult to recognize that ASMEA stands at the bank of this Rubicon and refuses to cross. The organization’s values do not reflect any devotion to universal principles such as human rights and the rule of law, much less “objective truth.” Their leadership, at least, has no interest in critiquing the use of power but rather is dedicated to protecting and enhancing the interests of a specific power. The values exalted here are the parochial codes those intellectuals (among others) use to rationalize service to a state even when it turns criminal. The independent-minded, outspoken intellectuals, such as Eva Illouz, demanding broader moral integrity and responsibility from their contemporaries, are rarities.

Part IV—Conclusion

Any speculation about which side of the Rubicon line “History” favors is really silly. Historical prediction, like the weather, is a short-range affair. However, one might sense a present shift in sentiment in the U.S. and the Western world generally. It is an apparent shift in favor of the Palestinians and against apartheid Israel. One might even hazard a guess that the shift will continue to grow. Why so? The reason is straightforward and quite simple. It should continue to grow just as long as Israel does not stop. That is, as long as it continues to evolve as a racist state—simultaneously destroying human rights and international law.

Israeli Apartheid Confirmed

13 May 2021

About me

by Lawrence Davidson 

Part I—The Question Of Apartheid 

It was perhaps 6 or 7 years ago. I was part of a panel, debating on Israel and the Palestinians, that took place at a local (West Chester, Pa) Quaker Friends school. The school had such debates regularly until the administration caved-in to pressure from the Zionist parents of a number of Jewish students. One of these parents debated for the Israeli side. 

This particular event came to mind upon my seeing the latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report conclusively laying out the apartheid nature of Israel. Here is the connection: just before the debate was to begin the participating Zionist parent tried to make a command decision. No one was to use the term apartheid in reference to Israel. This was because the assertion was, according to him, obviously nonsense. 

I remember at the time thinking, who gave him the right to define the terms of the debate? As it turned out, and this is quite often the case, those supporting the Palestinians knew twice as much history as did the Zionists, and could call upon twice as many facts and examples. Apartheid Israel was shown to be a matter of fact rather than nonsense. I am convinced that Zionist pressure on the school to end future debates was motivated by the additional fact that those supporting the Palestinians so readily won. 

I have run into many other cases like this. The Zionists would debate for a while, but upon realizing that they could not prevail, they opted for enforced silence—that is, attempting to deny their opposition a stage and eventually labelling them anti-Semites. I often wonder if that Zionist parent who did the one-time debate at the Friends school, ever did face the fact that he was wrong about Israel and apartheid. Not because we said he was wrong. He would never have taken our word for it despite the evidence we had at hand. Rather, because an ever greater number of humanitarian organizations, of which HRW is one, journalists and research institutions have thoroughly and repeatedly laid out the facts that make it so. To this one may now add the charge of “medical apartheid.”

And none of us could forget the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing if most of us were actually informed of the process.

Amidst the predictable resumption of mass resistance from Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, The Human Rights Watch report confirming Israeli Apartheid presents the seminal context for what we now witness. 

Part II—Human Rights Watch’s 2021 Report

Here is part of the opening pages of the HRW report:

—“About 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live today between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Throughout most of this area, Israel is the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule.”

—“Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

—“The prohibition of institutionalized discrimination, especially on grounds of race or ethnicity, constitutes one of the fundamental elements of international law … [over which] the International Criminal Court has the power to prosecute …when national authorities are unable or unwilling to pursue them.”

The report goes on to definitively prove its allegations in 213 pages of depressing detail—all laid out like a damning legal writ. Nor, as suggested above, is this the first time the apartheid nature of Israel been demonstrated. The HRW document was preceded by 16 March 2017 report submitted by UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia demonstrating Israel’s apartheid nature. Though the report was accurate, the UN Secretary General disavowed it under pressure from the United States and Israel. In May of 2018 a

thorough examination appeared entitled Apartheid Israel, by the journalist Jonathan Cook. This was published by Americans for Middle East Understanding in their journal, The Link (April/May 2018). More recently, a 21 January 2021 report by B’Tselem, Israel’s own premier human rights organization, entitled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid,” proved particularly revealing. One should also take a look at the Israeli Apartheid Factsheet, published 12 January 2021 online, by War On Want. 

The Israeli government dismisses all of these fact-based reports as propaganda. This sets up a question of what is real—one that can be readily resolved, one way or another, through objective outside observers. Unfortunately, Israeli behavior over the past decades has shown that, unless you agree with the Zionist interpretation of events, Israel does not consider you objective. Thus, the HRW representative, and many others as well, have been banned from entering the country. This sort of reaction is not just an Israeli tactic. It is typical of countries in the process of undermining the rule of law and destroying human rights. In a very real way, the charge of “it is all, in this case, anti-Semitic propaganda” is itself a form of propaganda design to shut done critics. 

Part III—The Zionist Rationale

The Zionists consistently say that Israel exists to save world Jewry from persecution—from the constant threat of anti-Semitism and another Holocaust. Many still believe this is true and some of a liberal orientation now resort to this rationale to undermine the HRW report. They charge that it will cause the current wave of anti-Semitism to gain greater traction. Such greater traction always leads to a greater fear of another Holocaust. And this fear will only make the Zionists and Israelis dig in their heels. And indeed, the cries of anti-Semitism and Holocaust has always created a smokescreen behind which can be hidden all Israeli sins. Has anyone ever considered that Israel’s abominable behavior, always committed in the name of the community of worldwide Jewry, is itself a major cause of growing anti-Semitism? 

While Zionism might have started out as a strategy to save the Jews, Israel and the Zionists are no longer in the saving business. In point of fact, various Israeli authorities are constantly bickering about who is or isn’t Jewish. What they are now about is the business of national glorification and expansion—carried on in the old 19th century style of racist imperialism. In this effort the Palestinians are the major victims, but all Jews are, if you will, collateral damage. They become denigrated by the behavior of a brutalizing racist regime that simply declares itself acting in their name.

In the process another truth is also brought low—the fact that means ultimately shape ends. And here is the irony of it all: the outcome of apartheid that is now playing itself out in “greater Israel” was all but predetermined by the nature and behavior of Zionism itself.

Part IV—The Predetermined Nature Of Israeli Apartheid

Here are some of the steps and decisions that made today’s apartheid Israel inevitable:

—The aim of the Zionist movement was to found an exclusively Jewish state. Most of the early Zionists were European Jews searching for a way to escape centuries of anti-Semitism. Living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their reference point was the ethnically homogeneous nation state. Soon they convinced themselves that Jews could only escape anti-Semitic persecution if they had their own nation state. 

—By the beginning of the 20th century the Zionists had focused on Palestine as their future political, religious, and cultural nation state. This was due to the land’s biblical associations—and despite the fact that many Zionists were of a secular rather than religious orientation. In 1917, they made an alliance with the British government to rally Jewish support for the British war effort in World War I (WWI) in exchange for British support of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. This alliance was spelled out in the Balfour Declaration.

—Soon thereafter, the British took Palestine from the Ottoman Turks (the Turks were allies of the Germans in WWI). They then allowed Zionist organized immigration to commence. The British told the Palestinian Arabs that Zionist investment would raise the living standards of the land’s non-Jewish residents. In the meantime, the Zionists discouraged any cooperative interaction with the Palestinian Arabs. This was particularly true when it came to use of Arab labor. Jews who had Arab employees were forcefully pressured to replace them with Jewish immigrants.

Between 1914 and 1947 both the Arab and Jewish population of Palestine grew. However, Jewish numbers, even though consistently bolstered by Zionist inspired immigration, were never more than 32% of the total population.

—Given Zionist ambitions and the demographics, the question can be asked, just how they could create a state for one group alone in a land where that favored group was a distinct minority? There were only three direct ways: (1) devising a method to get the Arab majority to move out of the country. (2) creating an unequal political and economic system that marginalized the majority, rendering them politically and economically irrelevant. (3) Committing genocide.  

—Both methods 1 and 2 were employed. The first led to the Nakba, the catastrophic removal of some 700,000 Palestinians, during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel. Some of these people fled the fighting, but many were forced out at gunpoint by Israeli forces. In truth, the Nakba never completely came to an end as the ongoing home demolitions and evictions show. The second method followed in two stages for those Palestinians who would still find themselves under direct Israeli rule: (A) the so-called Palestinian Israelis, today numbering close to 2 million people or roughly 21% of the population of pre-1967 Israel. These Arabs have been given Israeli citizenship—actually second class citizenship. They are segregated from Jewish Israelis by  a host of discriminatory practices, among which are inferior housing, schools, and job opportunities. (B) The Palestinians who fell under Israeli control in 1967 and remain so today. These are the residents of the West Bank, Golan Heights and also the Gaza Strip, numbering roughly 5 million people. Most of these Palestinians have been denied Israeli citizenship. They are under the rule of Israeli military authorities or an allied Palestinian authority under Israeli supervision. Internal travel is made difficult for them, their ability to improve or expand their infrastructure is restricted. They are encroached upon by illegal Israeli settlements and harassed by Israeli settlers. Attempts at self-defense or counterattack are seen by the Israelis as terrorist acts.

—Means shape ends. (1) The nature of Zionist goals: the transformation of Palestine into a nation state for Jews alone, (2) undertaken with a group mentality shaped by a memories of European anti-Semitism, the outlook of racist European imperialism, and finally the trauma of the Holocaust, (3) strongly inclined the Zionists toward tactics that precluded compromise and equity with the indigenous Palestinians. (4) When the Palestinians inevitably resisted the Zionists they were cast as Arab Nazis, an image which justified the brutal tactics (suppression and expulsion) already in use. Finally, having conquered Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and shying away from a second mass expulsion as long as the world was watching, the Israelis inevitably fell into apartheid to neutralize the 7 million Arabs under their rule.

Part V—Conclusion

Once you have segregated away those you oppress, the average member of the dominant group can proceed with his or her life in comfortable blindness—literarily not seeing their victims, and remaining purposefully ignorant of the deformed situation that sustains their status, security and wealth. As time goes on all aspects of society (education, employment, media, social norms) come to reinforce this condition. This is the situation in today’s Israel. 

The blindspots can extend to Israel’s Zionist supporters in the diaspora, even if they are otherwise progressive liberals. Take the case of the American Jewish progressive  Peter Osnos, who fears the definitive nature of the HRW report. Why so? Because, he believes, “this report—in detail, length and tone—could be the basis for sanctions against Israel.” As the old Jewish idiom goes, “from his mouth to God’s ears.” However, that is an unlikely prospect. Western governments are so committed to Israel—and steeped in the hypocrisy this requires—that they will simply ignore the HRW revelations, as they did the earlier reports.  

Nonetheless, when you strip away all the ideologically-bred magical thinking, rationalizations, and blindspots, what you are left with is the blatant truth: you cannot impose a foreign group of people, seeking exclusive domination, into a land already populated by a different people, and not end up with a discriminatory and abusive system of rule. And if the abusive system persists something akin to apartheid becomes inevitable. So does periodic mass resistance.

The Charge of Anti-Semitism versus Israeli Behavior

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

March 9, 2021  

Posted by Lawrence DavidsonIsrael

The Charge of Anti-Semitism versus Israeli Behavior

Part I—The Misuse of Anti-Semitism

When it comes to anti-Semitism, the Israelis and their Zionist supporters are so deceitful that they risk the moral degradation of Judaism. How do these two things, deceitfulness and the moral degradation, that is the deterioration of ethical standards, go together in this case?

First, the Zionists are deceitful because they purposely conflate Zionism which is an ethnocentric political ideology adhered to by a subset of Jews, with Judaism, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural religion. Then they insist that Israel’s allies—particularly the United States—adhere to this same propagandistic conflation.

Second, this deliberately instigated error is an attempt to stave off criticism of the Israeli state and its policies toward Palestinians. Those policies are harsh and include segregation, ethnic cleansing and other apartheid-style acts of discrimination. By insisting that (1) the political ideology that promotes and rationalizes this behavior is an expression of religion of Judaism and therefore (2) criticism of these policies is the equivalent of anti-Semitism, the Zionists insist that Israeli state behavior is sanctified by the religion. This is a direct attack on the ethical standards of Judaism, hence the moral degradation. The tactic also undermines the gravity of the charge of anti-Semitism due to chronic misapplication by the Zionists.

Part II—Saturday Night Live Tells a Joke

Let’s take a look at the background of this situation.

First, the sad truth is that Israeli state policies result in racist behavior towards the Palestinians.

The noted journalist Jonathan Cook, who covers Israel and Lebanon as a freelance reporter, has concluded the Palestinians “are viewed as an unwelcome, surplus population that serves as a demographic obstacle to the political realization of a Greater Israel. The severe economic and military pressures Israel imposes on these Palestinians are designed to engineer their incremental displacement, a slow-motion ethnic cleansing.”

This observation has been confirmed by the recent report put out by Israel’s most respected human rights organization, B’Tselem, entitled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This Is Apartheid.” Among other points, the B’Tselem report demonstrates that “in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians.”

Second, Israel and the Zionists insist that criticism of Israeli state policies is anti-Semitism.

Here is the most recent, admittedly rather absurd, example of the Zionists’ obsessive misuse of the charge of anti-Semitism—in this case directed toward a joke told on U.S. national television.

On February 24, the satiric comedy show, Saturday Night Live (SNL), joked about the Israeli discriminatory distribution of Covid-19 vaccine. It went as follows: “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population,” said the comedian Michael Che, “and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.” It is not a hilarious sort of joke, but it is attention-getting in a way that draws a smile and an affirmative nod. This is because those in the know, know it is close to the truth, but like the skeleton in the closet, it is not supposed to see the light of day.

The immediate response by American Zionist organizations and spokespeople was, as the saying goes, over the top. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) declared that “Saturday Night Live’s ‘joke’ is dangerous, a modern twist on a classic anti-Semitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries.” This description is such an exaggeration that it smacks of a guilty conscience.

The AJC also said that the assertion that Israel had only vaccinated that half of the population that is Jewish is “untrue.” If you are only counting Israel proper (1948 Israel) the AJC is technically correct. However, if you include the Occupied Territories, which Israel claims to be part of the Jewish state, it is absolutely true that Israel has been holding back on supplying vaccines to the bulk of the Palestinian population—they have transferred only about 5000 doses for a population of almost 5 million and interfered with the Palestinian Authority’s own efforts to import vaccines. So whose “mass murder” are we really talking about?

The AJC complaint was followed up by remarks by the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Gilad Erdan. He said that the SNL joke “isn’t funny. It’s ignorant. It perpetuates anti-Semitism.” Then he told us, “the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel —Jewish, Muslim, Christian—is entitled to it.” Here he is being purposely misleading. While claiming the OT to be part of Israel, the Israeli government has denied the Palestinians in that territory Israeli citizenship. Nonetheless, Israel has responsibility for Palestinians in the OT under international law. So, the ambassador is hiding his country’s racist vaccine policy, and its violation of international law, by using the term “citizen” in an obfuscating manner.

For the other side of the joke-response story, the reader should see journalist Abby Martin’s YouTube presentation in defense of Saturday Night Live, as well as going to the Israeli progressive website, 972, which reported on the SNL joke under the headline, “SNL Tells the Uncomfortable Truth About Israel.” Their point is that “For over half a century, Israel has lorded over Palestinian society, plundered their land, erased the border of Israel Proper, and settled hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in a territory slated for a Palestinian state. With this one-state reality firmly in place, Israel is now attempting to obfuscate who exactly counts as part of Israel’s ‘population’—and whether they are deserving of the country’s public health service.” When the Israelis are not trying to confuse the issue, they are using access to Covid-19 vaccines as bait in attempts to wring concessions out of the Palestinian Authority or the Hamas government in Gaza.

So there sure is more than a core of truth to the SNL joke. The non-Jewish half of the population is being discriminated against when it comes to health care, as well as all other aspects of state support. Consider the statement by the Israeli minister of health, Yuli Edelstein, who asserted that the “State of Israel had no more obligations to take care of Palestinians, than the Palestinian minister of health has responsibility to take care of dolphins in the Mediterranean.” Of course the Palestinian minister of health is a powerless figure who is not bound, as is his Israeli counterpart, by the Fourth Geneva Convention. And, now consider Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to reward some twenty foreign countries which “have done favors” for Israel with thousands of vials of Covid vaccine, while the Palestinians in the OT get almost nothing. The Israeli government appeared to back away from this policy only after it generated harmful publicity abroad.

Part III—Promoting a Tribal Worldview

Except for some newspaper editorials and the report from 972, most Israeli Jews have been silent. There seems to be a numbness when it comes to the Palestinians that, in this case, makes many Israeli Jews either accepting of the government’s biased approach to the delivery of vaccines, or too uncaring in the face of the pandemic to notice.

Actually, we should not be too surprised at this. Israeli society has been structured to produce a predetermined sort of Jewish citizen—one who, under normal circumstances, rarely comes in contact with Palestinians (again, it is a segregated society) and, if and when they do think of them, sees them as dangerous interlopers on Jewish land.

Consider the context determining this outlook.

—More than most states, Israel is a tribal nation—a tribe with a flag, if you will. This sense of strong ethnocentrism is the product of centuries of anti-Semitism. The core of this outlook lay with the Ashkenazi—the European Jews who suffered the brunt of anti-Semitism, pogroms, and finally the Europe-centered Holocaust. It was their surviving leadership, guided by the ideology of Zionism, who finally realized the founding of Israel.

—Zionism is the political ideology that combines the goals of ethnic survival, statehood and the reshaping of the modern Jew into a citizen dedicated to the defense and future of a Jewish state.

—In other words what Israel does, or equivalently what Zionism does, is to institutionalize a tribal group sensitivity and ongoing sense of grievance. An expression of this sensitivity is the charge of anti-Semitism against anyone who is critical of Israel and its policies.

—How does Israel maintain and hone this sense of grievance as a basis of tribal solidarity? Through the institutions of society, particularly the state’s educational system and military service, which are designed to realize the appropriate Zionist worldview.

—For this it helps to have enemies right now: the whole non-Jewish world in general and the Palestinians in particular.

—Drill this worldview into successive generations and you get a first-class citizenry which sees no problem with discriminating and ultimately cleansing all supposed second-class interlopers. Thus, the miserly and begrudging outlay of Covid-19 vaccines for those “others!”

Part IV—Conclusion

The promotion of such a skewered worldview is not peculiarly Israeli, and certainly is not inherently Jewish. Tribalism was the social unit of all human beings for millennia and really did not start to break down until modern times. This breakdown process is imperfect, and so there are any number of groups resisting the trend toward multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies. They still react, often violently, to immigrants and other strangers in their midst, and stick together based on ethnicity, religion, or other tribal-like identities. Here in the U.S., Donald Trump is the rather nasty leader of such a reaction.

However, as the growth of integrated societies testifies, tribalism isn’t inevitable. Rather, the modern tribal impulse for an ethnocentric state has to be artificially manipulated through incessant propaganda and organized miseducation.
This manipulation is exactly what is happening in Israel. As a result, the Israelis, and more broadly the Zionists, just can’t take a joke—particularly if it shines a light on their racist behavior.

New Symbolic Role for the Israeli Flag

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

(23 February 2021)

by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Flying the Israeli Flag

During the January 6 insurrection, hardly any of the U.S. media took note of the following fact: amongst the signs and banners of rightwing organizations—the “South will rise again” Confederate states enthusiasts, the fascist-like Rambo militias, and the disparate run-amok MAGA maniacs—stood a very large Israeli flag.

If you are looking for comment and contextualization of this appearance, the best place to go is the Israeli progressive web-based magazine, 972.  There you will find a very good piece, dated 22 January 2021, by Ben Lorder. 

Lorder explains that the presence of the Israeli flag in this milieu is not a rarity. “It is hardly the first time,” he tells us. It has also shown up at “Straight Pride parades and pro-Trump car caravans.” Indeed, according to Lorder, “for the ascendant forces of right-wing populism in the United States and around the world … support for Israel takes on a special intensity.” Now, why would that be so? Not exactly for progressive and humanitarian reasons. It would seem that for the rightwing hate-groups presently feeling their time has come, “Israel has become a symbol for a set of values, an entire worldview. … A canvas to project their own fantasies of nationalist chauvinism.”

Interestingly, this rightwing admiration is limited to the Israeli state, which is seen as powerful, aggressive and xenophobic—all necessary qualities for the defense of the Caucasian West against “ethno-religious Others.” This admiration does not extend to diaspora Jews, because American and European rightwing revival is also anti-Semitic. This situation makes for strange bedfellows. Most of these rightist ideologues share the Zionist hope that all those diaspora Jews will pack up and leave—for Israel. 

Part II—Making the Identification—the Israeli State

One might raise the objection that this identification of a demonstrably racist Western rightwing movement with the Israeli state is a serious misinterpretation—resulting in a misappropriation of the Israeli flag. Israel just can’t be the fiercely xenophobic place these fanatics think it is. 

Unfortunately, this objection runs counter to the facts. There is abundant evidence the State of Israel is aggressive and xenophobic and, what is more, is willing to ally with the present Western rightwing movements. The flag, of course, comes along for the ride. For instance, in a Washington Post article by Ishaan Tharoor, entitled “Israel strengthens its ties with the West’s Far Right,” the author notes that “Under [Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s watch, Israel has amassed a conspicuous crop of illiberal allies. Some, like [Italy’s Matteo] Salvini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, represent political movements with histories of neofascism and anti-Semitism. Others, like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, espouse the agenda and rhetoric of would-be strongmen, promising the destruction of their enemies while scoffing at pearl-clutching human rights activists.” 

This has not gone unnoticed among American Zionists such as Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Jewish American group 

J Street. Ben-Ami said that “In their zeal to maintain the occupation and reject all criticism of its policies towards the Palestinians, the Israeli Right clearly feels kinship with other ultranationalist leaders who are demonizing ethnic minorities, civil society groups and democratic institutions.”

Finally, one can point out that Prime Minister Netanyahu has hired Aaron Klein as his new campaign manager. Klein is a “former reporter for the right-wing Breitbart News site [and] worked with Steve Bannon on Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. … Klein also collaborated with Bannon to support disgraced former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. The Yeshiva University graduate wrote articles in Breitbart in an effort to discredit Moore’s accusers.”  All one can say here is like finds like.

Part III—Making the Identification—the Israeli Jews

Yet, one can still raise a doubt. One can say that just because the Israeli government has gained racist allies who support its policies of ethnic cleansing, that does not mean that the majority of Israeli Jews are supportive of this. But again, the evidence is incriminating. After all, Israeli Jews democratically elect their prime minister and Netanyahu is certainly not an unknown politician. He leads the country’s rightwing Likud Party and has run the government since 2009. Obviously, he and his policies are both familiar and acceptable to at least a hefty plurality of Israeli Jews. Perhaps as a result of this fact, few Israelis are making a fuss about the use of their flag by the extremist right. 

Nonetheless, it is important to understand that the present Israeli ethnocentrism and the racist policies it engenders are not new. They do not have their origin with Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office, or the current generation of Israeli Jewish citizens. The present culture and politics have a deeper origin. It lies with the nation’s founding ideology of Zionism.

Part IV—Zionism Sets the Direction

Let’s take a look at Israel’s founding ideology and the factors that historically shaped it in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

First: Zionism is the ideology that makes the claim that the Jews are a nation and they have the right to their own state. It arose as a predictable consequence of long periods of European (not Middle Eastern, Arab or Muslim) anti-Semitism. It also arose out of a 19th- and 20th-century European political culture wherein the standard organizational arrangement was nation-states, most of which were relatively homogeneous in population.  

Second: As a consequence of this political standard, the Zionist leaders concluded that the answer to the suffering caused by anti-Semitism was the creation of a Jewish state.

As the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann said, the goal was a state “as Jewish as England is English.” By the end of the 19th century, the World Zionist Organization had launched a campaign to convince Europe’s great powers to support the founding of such a state.

Third: The open question was where such a state would be founded. Although, most of the Zionists were not religious, they eventually fixated on Palestine because of its Biblical relationship to the ancient Hebrews. By 1917, in the midst of World War I, Chaim Weizmann managed to recruit British backing for the founding of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.

Fourth: And “therein lies the rub,” as Hamlet would say. The mass influx of Europeans, in this case Jews, into a well-populated non-European land—according to British Mandate records, there were some 700,000 Arabs living in Palestine—presaged disaster. The fact that these Zionist immigrants sought domination, ultimately a state for one group alone, would inevitably introduce a corrosive racist element into the country. The indigenous population would eventually have to be segregated out and denied resources and rights—a process, which over time, would lead to an apartheid state of affairs. 

The fact that this predictable path discouraged neither the Zionist Jews nor their British patrons tells us that, when Weizmann made his deal with the British, it was done in a time and place operating on the racist assumptions of colonialism. Indeed, it turns out that Israel is the last great disaster of the age of colonialism—an age in which Europeans took their superiority (both physically and religiously) for granted. And, if they lorded over non-Europeans it could only be for the benefit of the latter, as was suggested by Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.” All of this was shown to be both obsolete and obscene with the coming of the Nazis and World War II.

Fifth: The racist prognosis described above has been realized in Israel. Here is a snapshot of the present situation. B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human-rights organization, has been documenting the violations of human rights in Israel’s Judea and Samaria (more properly known as the occupied Palestinian territories) since 1989. Earlier this month, it issued a position paper announcing that it has decided to call out Israeli policy for what it is—organized, state-sponsored racism. The paper is titled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This Is Apartheid.” The paper makes the case that “what looks like apartheid—which the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines as inhumane acts committed under a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups—ought to be called apartheid.”

Sixth: Present-day Israel came about in a predetermined way flowing from Zionism’s initial assumptions. In the first half of the 20th century, Europe and the United States saw nothing wrong with colonialism and helped the Zionists establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. Then came World War II, and the West’s attitude toward racism changed. Yet, in the shadow of the Holocaust, now stood Israel, whose leaders were convinced more than ever that only an ethnocentric, exclusively Jewish nation-state could guarantee survival. So their original purpose and their original racist practice never has changed.

Part V—Conclusion

The resulting apartheid state has attracted the rising wave of today’s rightist fringe like bears to honey. Whether they are white nationalists, Christian nationalists, or just nationalist thugs in suits, they all sense something laudable in Israel. It is a standard-bearer for their own hopes and dreams. To repeat Ben Lorder’s phrasing, the Zionist state has become “a canvas to project their own fantasies of nationalist chauvinism.” As a consequence, the Israeli flag is no longer just Israel’s. Its symbolism has become broader in an all-too-negative way. That is why it was so avidly displayed at the failed insurrection of January 6. 

Joe Biden Adopts a Trump Approach to Iran

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

An Analysis () by Lawrence Davidson

9 February 2021

Part I—Joe Biden, the Good Stuff

All right! Let’s hear it for Joe Biden! Our new president is leading us in the direction of domestic sanity, and there are even hints of progressive potential in his evolving agenda. Under his leadership, we might soon master the Covid-19 plague and dig ourselves out of our near-depression economic straits. This is terrific!

Some good news when it comes to foreign policy as well. You’ll remember that in Trump’s determination to “make “American great again” (MAGA), the former president decided that international organizations and cooperation were impediments to national greatness. Thus, he systematically withdrew from a number of alignments and also scorned international law. This approach appears to have been part of a MAGA scheme to subvert international order. Its nihilistic undertones were highlighted by the creepy leaders who seemed to warm Trump’s heart. He found men such as the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, along with a long list of dictators ranging from Rodrigo Duterte in Philippines to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi inEgypt, to be really congenial. There was also Trump’s warm admiration for the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. 

President Biden has saved us from this sort of delinquency. He is now operating under new and saner marching orders: “diplomacy is back” and multilateralism is in. The U.S. has recommitted to the international effort to slow down global warming and has rejoined the World Health Organization. Biden has ended all participation in the immoral Yemen civil war and, so it is reported, told the Russians to keep their invasive cyber-fingers to themselves. 

At this point you might have the urge to celebrate what appears to be a full 180-degree turn from Donald Trump’s demented worldview. But hold on, that is not quite the case. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that a residual lawlessness can be found in at least one the Biden’s foreign policies. We can recognize it in the game he is playing with Iran. 

Part II—Scuttling the JCPOA

Recall that in 2015 then-President Obama invested a lot of political capital, not to mention putting forth a remarkable display of good sense, in helping to negotiate a multilateral agreement with Iran. This is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and it was multilateral because it included not just the U.S. and Iran but also the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China as well as Germany (collectively referred to as the P5+1). Basically, the agreement stated that, under a regime of international monitoring, Iran would forgo any development of nuclear weapons and convert its nuclear facilities to peacetime pursuits. In exchange, the P5+1 would lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue and the release of frozen assets. It was a rare display of effective diplomacy and it worked—until Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, unilaterally scuttled the deal. 

Trump withdrew from the agreement in early May 2018. By January 2020 he had increased the number of Iran-related sanctions to over one thousand. In 2019, Trump was suggesting that if Iran wanted to enter into new negotiations with the U.S., he would consider lifting some of the sanctions. Iran refused to begin the negotiating process over again with Trump. On 15 January 2021, five days before leaving office, Trump added new sanctions. Why did he display such maliciousness? Besides a bizarre hatred for anything Obama had achieved, and the disdain for international cooperation which supposedly stood in the way of his MAGA fantasies, there are other factors. Trump is a truly amoral schemer (we might think of him as a modern-day lawless Borgia). And so he almost naturally fell in with amoral regimes with active domestic lobbies in the U.S. (such as Saudi Arabia and Israel), as well as a “pay to play” approach for the votes and donations of Americans who have a grudge against or fear of Iran. Here we can name not only the Zionists, but also the wealthy Iranians who took refuge in the U.S. after Iran’s 1979 revolution. Many of these are Iranian monarchists who want to see regime change in Iran through the return of a shah (king).

Under the circumstances, the Iranian government reaction has been understandable: they see themselves as the aggrieved party. They had negotiated the JCPOA in good faith. They had met the conditions of the agreement to the satisfaction of international monitors. The other side had failed to respond as promised. Not only had the U.S. broke the agreement without cause, but it had then blackmailed its European allies into breaking their commitments under the agreement. This was done by the Trump administration declaring that any party that broke Washington’s sanctions against Iran would themselves be sanctioned.

After a year or so, Iran, noting that it was the only party paying attention to the deal and that the sanctions still applied, began to slowly back away from the nuclear agreement’s provisions. However, it was not until January 2020 that the Iranians announced they would no longer limit their number of centrifuges and thus their capacity to enrich uranium. Even then it was not the obscene number of American sanctions or the gross failure of the Europeans to abide by their promises that finally “broke the camel’s back.” It was Trump’s ordering of the murder of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on 3 January 2020—essentially an act of war, and certainly one in violation of international law.

Part III—Joe Biden, the Bad Stuff

Now Trump is gone and we have Joe Biden, who, by the way, has not done the right thing and affirmed that his administration would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. Instead he declared that “I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations” (my emphasis). Later he said that the subsequent negotiations would involve the Islamic Republic’s “violations of human rights and Iran’s role in the regional conflicts.” On its face, this is not an invitation to return to a stabilizing status quo ante, or even a supposed “credible path back to diplomacy.” It is a take-it-or-leave-it demand. This position is remarkably similar to that of Trump posturing for new negotiations back in 2019. And since, as of 7 February 2021, Biden has refused to lift sanctions on Iran—has refused to cease driving that country into poverty—these are no longer Trump’s sanctions. Biden now owns this horror show. Here are some of Biden’s fatal steps.

It was about nine days into the new administration that Biden’s officials began to reference foreign policy and Iran. First appeared Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, who told the U.S. Institute of Peace that “a critical early priority has to be to deal with what is an escalating nuclear crisis as they [Iran] move closer and closer to having enough fissile material for a weapon.” One wonders if Sullivan got his start in advertising, because his description is a purposeful mischaracterization of the situation. The descriptor “escalating nuclear crisis” is a woeful exaggeration. If there is any “crisis” at all, it is because Washington has failed to meet its commitments under the 2015 agreement. The Iranians have repeatedly made it clear that they have no interest in nuclear weapons. And, one can imagine the only thing that could change their mind is an existential outside threat. To date, the only ones that pose such threats are allies of the U.S.: Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Then stepped up Tony Blinken, Biden’s new secretary of state, to continue the new administration’s maneuvers. To wit, Blinken stated “Tehran must resume complying with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal before Washington would do so.” This sort of statement is a rather childish, you-go-first challenge. Blinken then explained that if Iran returns to the deal, Washington would seek to build what Blinken called a “longer and stronger agreement” that would deal with other “deeply problematic” issues. He did not name these, but Biden for his part has drawn attention to Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and its support for proxy forces in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

It took the Iranians no time at all to recognize this gambit for what it is, an effort to enlarge restrictions on Iranian military capacity beyond the scope of the original 2015 agreement. Almost immediately, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded that the U.S. position was not practical and will not happen and then added in an op-ed in Foreign Affairs,“once a party leaves an agreement, then that party has no authority demanding others’ compliance to that agreement.”

The Iranians did come back with a more doable proposal to deal with the “who goes first” dilemma. Teheran proposed a timed, mutual U.S. and Iranian return to the original agreement. In an interview with CNN, the Iranian foreign minister said “both countries should synchronize their JCPOA-related moves under the supervision of the European Union”—in other words, achieve the goal with a step-by-step coordinated process. The Biden administration said no to Zarif’s offer, and sane minds, noting the rejection, could hear eerie Trump-like snickering in the surrounding ether. 

Part IV—Conclusion

We have already asked why Trump decided to act in such a malicious manner toward Iran. Now we can ask why Joe Biden has decided to mimic his predecessor and continue a callous, hard-line approach to that same country. As it turns out, the answer is not all that different. Biden is subject to the same lobby pressure from groups to which he has a demonstrated sympathy. Among these are some of the well known suspects mentioned above, but first and foremost are Israel and its Zionist supporters (a rundown of these can be found in a full-page ad in the 5 February 2021 New York Times). 

We can also add one other grouping to this list—various civil rights organizations who would use the moment to pressure Teheran to increase the level of civil liberties allowed in the country. However, as Behrooz Ghamari Tabriz, writing in  Counterpunch notes, “It is a hard sell for those who are genuinely concerned with the question of human rights to ask the American government to be the agent of that change. So long as our government supports the region’s most oppressive regimes, it is hard to imagine that it has any moral authority or political capital to spend on issues of human rights in Iran.”

It is hard to know what exactly is going on inside Joe Biden’s head on this issue. We can assume that it is nothing really analytical. His administration’s actions have, so far, run counter to the other precedents he is laying down in the areas of international cooperation and leadership. They also go against logic. One can imagine no better way to move the Iranians toward nuclear weapons capability than the policies now being pursued. Until Biden acts, in terms of Iran, in the interests of achievable nuclear restraint and stability, that is in the real interests of the country he leads, rather than this or that interest group, he will carry around the residual chains of Donald Trump’s miserable legacy. 

The 1776 Commission Repor

31 January 2021)

by Lawrence Davidson

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

Part I—National Ideals

One of Donald Trump’s efforts to restructure, or maybe de-structure, the U.S. was the establishment of a 1776 Commission. Its job was to recast American history in an extravagantly patriotic fashion so as to assert U.S. exceptionalism. There is a Platonic correlate to this: the ideal is more real than the actual. Thus, ideals laid down in the nation’s founding documents are presented as more real, more instructive, than actual policies of U.S. national and state governments, and the behavior of their citizens.

The actual Donald Trump, of course, does not care about history, of which he knows little. Maybe that is why he did not bother to put any professional historians of U.S. history on the commission. But as president, he knew who his allies were, and if they wanted to prioritize myth and canonize ideals, it was all right with him. And so the major premise of the 1776 Report is that the United States was founded upon, and remains an expression of, “universal and eternal principles.” For instance, the Declaration of Independence’s assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” would be one such.

As far as the report’s authors are concerned, these basic yet universal “founding principles” of the nation should be front and center in the teaching of national history. The authors are angered by the fact that, in their eyes, this is not being done. Quite the opposite. They believe that what is being taught are the shortfalls from such eternal ideals. How is that a problem? Well, to dwell on the actual, inequitable and often unjust national behavior of Americans is to undermine the unity of the nation and bring low its image. And, for the 1776 Report authors, that is not what education is all about.

Part II—Education

The authors of the 1776 Report believe that “the primary duties of schools are twofold: 1. teach students “practical wisdom.” That is, teach “the basic skills needed to function in society, such as reading, writing, and mathematics.” In other words, education should prepare the student for the job market. This has actually been a recognized goal of schooling since children ceased following in the careers of their parents and home-learned skills consequently no longer sufficed.

Then there is the other “essential” goal of schools: 2. the passing on of “transcendent knowledge.” This too is a
long-recognized goal which, the report says, was endorsed by the founding fathers of the nation. “Educators must convey a sense of enlightened patriotism that equips each generation with a knowledge of America’s founding principles, a deep reverence for their liberties, and a profound love of their country.” Put the two educational goals together and you get the transmission of “transcendent knowledge and practical wisdom that had been passed down for generations and which aimed to develop the character and intellect of the student.”

For the authors, all of this sums to nothing less than “teaching the truth about America.” To be clear, the authors of the report do not want us to so much ignore “the faults of our past” as to “stand up to the petty tyrants in every sphere who demand that we speak only of America’s sins while denying her greatness.” It should be noted that the authors do not address the problem that for those born and bred in poverty, say either in Harlem or Appalachia, the nation’s greatness might not be so real.

Part III—Universal and Eternal Tenets?

The report’s repeated use of the words “universal and eternal,” along with “transcendent,” in describing the founding documents of the United States, transforms those documents into sacred texts existing beyond critique. To use such “eternal” references as teaching points—as necessary attributes of what is really “true” about the United States—is to trade history for a semi-religious faith. Granted, this sort of substitution is not original to American conservatives. However, in this case, one gets a strong impression upon reading the 1776 Report that the hidden message is the cultural and religious superiority of a white Christian version of America.

You don’t have to be a professional historian to recognize that there is no perfection in human history, America’s or anybody else’s. There are no eternal and universal tenets, either, when seen in the light of actual historical events. For example, the alleged “eternal and universal” rights to “liberty and happiness” had not been recognized, at least not formally, in thousands of years of human history prior to 1776, and even then, in the emerging United States, they proved immediately unachievable.

As the report concedes, the “eternal” principle cited above from the Declaration of Independence had to be set aside in 1776 just to keep the thirteen confederated American states together. That was done specifically in reference to slavery. The founding fathers were able to find the necessary escape clause in another, more pragmatic, but still semi-sacred principle that the government should be based on the consent of the governed. It turned out that a lot of the (white) governed favored slavery.

It is in this way that the 1776 Report gets off on an illogical and ahistorical foot. Its authors confuse “transcendent” things wished for with things as they have historically been and continue to be. They can do this because, in the end, they believe in the following Platonic-like maxim: “We must first avoid an all-too-common mistake. It is wrong to think of history by itself as the standard for judgment. The standard is set by focusing on unchanging principles that transcend history.”

Part IV—Progressive Enemies

Who actually believes that we should make judgments on the basis of actual history while ignoring the “the unchanging principles” that supposedly “transcend history”? It turns to be the same “petty tyrants” who “speak only of America’s sins while denying her greatness.” Specifically, the 1776 Report points to “progressive reformers” who are also mixed together with “activists of identity politics.” But aren’t these the folks who demand change so that the United States might more closely conform to its ideals? Not according to those who say history is not a good standard for judgment.

For the report’s authors the progressive reformers’ approach is just a hunt for someone to blame for social ills. And the hunt divides Americans into “oppressed and oppressor groups.” As an aside, one might point out that long-term injustice resulting from institutionalized social ills inevitably does the same thing. The report claims that the real aim of the progressives is to make the original oppressed into new oppressors, and the former oppressors into new oppressed. While one can imagine such a flip taking place against the backdrop of revolutionary upheaval, to assign such a reversal to “progressive reformers,” most of whom seek not revolution but rather policy reforms, is gross exaggeration.

If the report’s authors are afraid of reform, what do they have to offer in its place? As best I can make out, they want us all to be patient and nice to each other because the “American people have ever pursued freedom and justice, though not perfectly.” If we really have faith in the nation’s “eternal and universal” ideals, things should work out in the end. What if this seems to take forever? Well, it might be that the imperfection has no real cure and so it must be accepted and lived with lest attempts at reform lead to the destruction of society—echos of Edmund Burke.

Part V—Other Problems

There are other problems with the report. Here are just some of them:

—The report tells us that for a republic to endure, the people must “share a commonality in manners, customs, language and dedication to the common good.” But, of course, the United States has never been such a place. It has always been a land of immigrants with a constant underpinning of many manners, customs and languages. As for the common good, there has never been any agreement on that. While the report claims that “the Constitution has proven sturdy against narrow interest groups,” this is simply inaccurate. The nation’s governing practices rest on a longstanding, if often corrupt, foundation of interest group politics.

— The report’s authors make the common historical mistake of pointing fingers at the British crown, that is, King George III, for the “tyranny” to which the colonies were allegedly subjected. But in 1776, for all practical purposes, the king did not make policy for the British Empire. Parliament did that. The founding fathers decided it would be too awkward to blame a representative body, somewhat similar to the one they were going to create, of the crime of “tyranny.” So they blamed the monarch.

—Then there is the ahistorical assertion that “the world is still and always will be divided into nations.” Gee whizz! What about all those multicultural empires both of the past and present? What of the constant fluctuation of boundaries? Look at all the peoples once encapsulated within the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, or more recently the Soviet Union and China.

—Finally, there is the problematic statement, “the right to keep and bear arms is required by the natural and fundamental right to life.” Well, perhaps, if we were all living in a Hobbesian jungle. This, along with praise for the anti-abortion cause, certainly confirms where on the political spectrum the authors of the 1776 Report are coming from.

Part VI—Conclusion

There has been much criticism of the 1776 Commission and its conclusions. Newly elected President Joe Biden did away with the commission on his first day in office and removed its report from government websites. His spokesperson observed that it “erased” America’s history of racial injustice. Well, perhaps it hadn’t erase it, but it certainly equivocated about it.

It should be noted that some of this criticism was nearly as naive as the report’s conclusions. For instance, David Blight, a Civil War historian from Yale, said that the report was “an insult to the whole enterprise of education” which “is supposed to help young people to learn to think critically.” Perhaps that is Professor Blight’s educational purpose, and all the more power to him. However, both historically and contemporaneously, the “enterprise of education” has never given more than lip-service to such a goal. Maybe this is because independent and critically thinking kids scare their parents.

Finally, as an indicator of the nation’s deep divide, both supporters and opponents of the report accused the other of coming from “ideologically driven positions” and aiming at producing “political propaganda.” Such mutual recriminations are by now part and parcel of a larger social civil war.

An Encore for Charlie Hebdo

November 13, 2020

Posted by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Insulting Islam

In mid October 2020 a French schoolteacher, 47-year-old Samuel Paty, decided to show his Freedom of Speech class cartoons demeaning Islam’s founding prophet, Mohammed. The cartoons were the same ones originally published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) in 2014-2015. At that time, the magazine’s actions resulted in the murder of twelve of its staff, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier. The murders were committed by Muslim extremists associated with al-Qaeda. Samuel Paty’s fate turned out to be similar. Shortly after having shown the caricatures of the founder of Islam, the teacher was murdered by an 18-year-old Muslim immigrant. Other attacks have followed.  

In all of these cases, the killings were provoked as well as indefensible. The cartoons in question are all too easy to interpret as gratuitous insults against Islam and therefore against the almost 9% of the French population that are Muslim. Nonetheless, murder is incompatible with stable society. The latter being prima facie true, the next question is, What alternatives were available to those who were/are disgusted by the Charlie Hebdo caricatures? Lawsuits for defamation have been repeatedly filed. Some are still ongoing. However, to date, none have stopped the magazine’s demeaning ways. Well-organized public protests combined with steady political pressure might work in the long run. It was perhaps because such an effort was not forthcoming, at least not consistently, that action defaulted to emotionally driven individual fanatics.

By the way, Charlie Hebdo, with its own brand of fanaticism, is what you might call an equal opportunity defamer. Topics ranging from the Catholic Church to Italians killed in earthquakes have been depicted in distasteful, sometimes semi-pornographic fashion. As it stands, the right to publish gratuitously insulting cartoons is not only legal in France but, because of all the related violence, also now defended as an important expression of French national culture. To make this point clear, French officials have announced the publication of a booklet to include the Charlie Hebdo images. This will be “handed out to high school students as a commitment to defend the values of the Republic.”

Part II—A Trap 

The value referred to in the booklet is freedom of expression. As Charbonnier said in a 2012 interview, “We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than to live like a rat.” Of course, it is now obvious that Charbonnier’s ardent determination to avoid a rodent’s fate, and his nation’s embrace of the man’s grossness as a symbol of free speech, has led France into a trap. Here is how the Sorbonne Professor Pierre-Henri Tavoillot puts it: “what is at stake now is France’s laicite—the secularism that underlies its culture. If the nation compromises on laicite in this instance, this cultural principle may well unravel.” Refusal to consider a balanced way out of the situation paints the French into a corner while explicitly tying the culture to often semi-pornographic cartoons. 

The trap has many other dimensions. French enthusiasm for Charlie Hebdo has fueled Islamophobia and led others to use the situation to argue for the restriction of civil rights. France’s interior minister believes that the country is “at war against an enemy who is both inside and outside.” While it is true that the country’s 5.7 million Muslims (the highest number in any Western country) are increasingly alienated and fearful, the vast majority are peaceful. Yet they all have now been placed under suspicion of being terrorists. Now, the mayor of Nice is calling for a “modification of the Constitution” so that the nation can “properly wage war against Islamic extremists.” President Macron has announced a widespread crackdown on “Islamist individuals and organizations.” This includes closing French Muslim civil rights organizations and Arabic language schools. 

The whole affair has also brought France into conflict with Muslim populations and governments around the world. Presently, the French and Turkish governments are now trading insults. In Bangladesh, 40,000 people took part in an anti-French demonstration and called for the boycott of French goods. French goods were removed from shelves in shops in Qatar and Kuwait. 

Part III—Rationalizations

The French will tell you that their take on free expression was born in violence: in “eradicating the power of the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church” during the French Revolution. Later, a 1905 French law made faith a strictly private matter and secularism the rule for the public sphere. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement. However, over the years the French have generally lost common sense relative to the subject and failed to be consistent in their approach to religion. On the one hand, laicite has caused some French men and women to see religion as a belief system that need not be taken seriously. Criticism of religion is seen as a “dear right.” On the other hand, recent history has led French governments to be very sensitive to even the slightest suggestion of anti-Semitism (which is illegal in France). Except in this case, the stipulation that one should not be critical of someone simply because he is observant is often forgotten.

Against this backdrop, French Muslims, the  most religious of French residents, have been held at arm’s length. Those who retain their traditional dress and ways stand out as outsiders and assimilation has not been made easy even for those Muslims who desire it. 

The French will also tell you that the art of caricature “is an old tradition that is part of our democracy.” French Muslims make the argument that “there should be limits to offensive satire [in the form of demeaning caricature] when it comes to religious beliefs.” They say that this is so because such satire “fuels extremism.” For millions of French Muslims, this suggests that “cartoons putting a prophet who is fundamental to millions of believers in suggestive and degrading postures” should not fall within the right to be satirical.

One can, of course, argue the issue of censorship. Free speech/expression rights are explicitly meant to protect speech we may not approve of. On the other hand, all societies impose some limits on speech—you can’t cry fire in a crowded theater. Who decides when, or if, there should be a legitimate restriction to free speech/expression? How about when there is a present atmosphere that leads to multiple murder and the breakdown of otherwise friendly foreign relations? Under such circumstances, can such competing issues be finessed by the application of common sense? The flamboyant display of such “art” as practiced by Charlie Hebdo, much less its presentation as a cornerstone of French culture, might be such a case.*

Part IV—Conclusion

How many cultures make rudeness a symbol of cultural excellence? It doesn’t seem to be a common practice. Yet, the French have done so in this case. It has gotten them nothing but trouble at home and abroad. 

The problem with the present French position is that it gives wide latitude to people who care little or nothing for cultural awareness. Stephane Charbonnier, the murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, seemed uninterested in the real cultural consequences of his personal practice of freedom. In truth, he was an extremist who persisted on insulting a religion of 1.8 billion adherents, the vast majority of whom are peaceful folks. As he knew no bounds to his freedom to be brutally insulting, so his behavior activated a small number of Muslim extremists willing to be even more brutal than Charbonnier. This led to his violent death. In death he has become a French cultural icon—in total disregard of the extremist nature of his behavior and the counter-extremism it triggered.

Regression as a National Theme

October 2, 2020 

Lawrence Davidson | Author | Common Dreams
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history
emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
He has been publishing his analyses
of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy,
international and humanitarian law
and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

An Analysis (2 October 2020) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Going Backwards

Led by a reactionary, autocratic faction of the Republican Party, the United States has taken another step backward in terms of social progress. This comes with Donald Trump’s nomination of a religiously motivated conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court. Barrett, a devout Catholic and presently a federal appeals court judge, was nominated specifically at the behest of the president’s fundamentalist Christian supporters. They, in turn, are hell-bent (this term is employed purposely) on enforcing their moral sensibilities through secular law. 

I use the words “another step” because, in multiple different forms, this slippage has been going on for a while. It started with President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and his confused idea that the problem with American society—a society of now over 300 million people, a poverty rate of at least 10.5%, no mandated health insurance, a place where national and state regulations were the only thing standing between the citizen and environmental degradation, an unhealthy workplace and economic instability—was the size and intrusive nature of the federal government.

With occasional but always temporary pauses, the country has been following this Reaganite campaign for small government ever since. How so? All the “intrusive” rules and regulations that protect the workplace, the environment and the economy, have come under attack from people wrapping themselves in the cloak of conservatism and championing a perverted notion of individual freedom. The whole national domestic orbit has been thrown into retrograde motion.

Donald Trump is the apparent culmination of this self-destructive process. Even before he ran for president on the Republican ticket, Trump was suspected of only masquerading as a conservative to secure a political base. Subsequently, he has been described as a misogynist, narcissist, congenital liar, bully, autocrat, and con man. Nonetheless, Trump was voted into the White House in 2016.

President Trump has turned the Republican Party into a rump affair remade in his own image, essentially purging all moderate Republicans from the party ranks. His singular achievements as president have been to make the rich richer, keep the poor poor, and render most of the population more vulnerable to a range of social, economic and environmental ills. He has also sought to befriend and defend every un-American, potentially criminal outfit in the country, ranging from the Nazis and anarchist armed militias to organized religious fanatics.

In essence, Trump seeks to do to the U.S. as a whole what he has done to the Republican Party. That is why a very large number of government agencies are now headed up by henchmen whose number one job is to cripple their own agencies. For those branches not so easily sabotaged, Trump seeks to find a way to load them up with those he believes will follow his lead. Presently, he is moving to do just that to the Supreme Court.

The unfortunate catalyst for this effort at court stacking is the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg personified for many the nation’s potential to move forward. She was a progressive figure who fought for civil rights, particularly those of women. As such, she became a symbol of resistance to the Trump administration’s efforts to move the Supreme Court to the right. Afflicted with cancer, Ginsburg was, alas, unable to outlive Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Now Trump seeks to replace her on the court with a candidate who, unlike President John Kennedy (a Catholic who was once falsely accused of being a tool of the Papacy), might indeed turn out to be more influenced by “orthodox” Catholicism than the U.S. Constitution. On the one hand, judge Barrett has asserted that legal careers ought to be seen “as a means to the end of serving God.” On the other, she says “I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” These two statements are in direct contradiction. If the first is true, the second is certainly false. This is not the kind of conflict of interest you want for an arbiter of the U.S. Constitution.

Trump, of course, does not care about religion, nor has he read the U.S. Constitution, and thus is uninterested in a mandated separation of church and state. From Trump’s point of view, Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination was made not an act of religious faith or made on conservative principle, it is rather an act of political opportunism. With it Trump hopes to garner support in the impending election among a host of Christian fundamentalist voters who fantasize that he is an agent of God. For these fanatics, Barrett’s appointment to the court would serve as proof of this absurd conviction.   

America isn’t the only place such dangerous craziness can take place, but that offers little consolation. Just how depressed should we be due to this unfortunate turn of events? It depends on whether you take a long range or short range view. 

Part II—Short Range

Ginsburg’s death was a bad break at a time of serious confrontation between progressive and regressive forces. By this I refer to the next presidential election cycle and the question whether the country will be guided by the concepts of civil and human rights espoused during the 1960s. Will its citizens support the concepts of racial egalitarianism? Will they also uphold same sex-marriage, abortion rights, fair immigration rules, health care for all, and the ongoing struggle for rational gun control? Will they make the issue of climate change a major priority? Will the citizenry even maintain the traditional economic reforms instituted by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression? In the short run, Trump’s ascendency, bolstered by millions of fundamentalist Christians (whose loyalty is to an anti-humanist religious ideology) and tens of thousands of libertarians and anarchists, makes these open questions. And now with Ginsburg’s demise, Trump will get another chance to undermine progressive standards with a reactionary appointment to the Supreme Court. 

Some might say that, despite such a court appointment, this retrograde movement will end after the upcoming November election. The assumption here is that Donald Trump and his rump Republican Party will lose the presidency and control of Congress. Then, after overcoming the illicit legal maneuvers and temper-tantrum violence the right attempts, the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, will become president. At that point, presumably, he will begin to put the country back on a progressive path. Certainly, if Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats also win both houses of Congress, the potential for forward movement on all the issues mentioned above becomes possible. However, it is not guaranteed. 

Joe Biden’s present slogan of “Make America America Again”   can mean just about anything, but it seems not to imply making the nation more progressive than it was, say, under Barack Obama. Under Obama there was moderate progress on the issue of health care and the country was dragged out of yet another Republican-facilitated recession. On the other hand, under Obama, immigrants were deported in high numbers and drones were regularly hitting wedding parties and picnics in Afghanistan. 

Can Biden go beyond Obama in a forward direction? When you consider this question keep in mind more than the fact that the country will most likely be burdened by a screwed-up Supreme Court. Joe Biden himself has issues. He is a lifetime institutional politician—a guy who believes in, and plays by, long-established political rules. In this sense, he is Donald Trump’s opposite. Trump is willing to break all such rules, ostensibly to “make America great again.” Biden will reassert the primacy of tradition—that is, play by traditional political rules—and thereby “make America America again.” Doing so will not bring with it an era of greater progress—unless circumstances force Biden and the Democrat’s to take a “great leap forward.”

Part III—Long Range

Historically, what is usually needed to usher in significant progressive change? In our modern era such change usually follows catastrophes—mostly wars, disease and economic downturns. 

Modern wars and related military research are famous for providing leaps forward in technology. Everything from ambulance services, radar, and jet engines to intravenous blood transfusions, microwave ovens and duct tape comes to us through this route. Of course, war is a horrible way of motivating technological development. It is a truly murderous tradeoff. 

Epidemic diseases can spur medical progress. The outbreaks of viral epidemics such as MERS, AIDS and now Covid-19 have encouraged treatment research for virus infections and vaccine development. Again, it is death and debilitation that moves things forward at an accelerated rate. 

And then there is economic depression. In the U.S., progressive steps such as Social Security, collective bargaining and unionization, and various forms of necessary business regulation designed to prevent both corruption and instability followed the Great Depression (roughly 1929 

 to 1941). This catastrophic economic plunge, following decades of “boom and bust” instability, also encouraged the average citizen (minus some Republicans) to accept an activist government working for the interests of society as a whole.

There are other major stimuli to progressive change but they too tend to have their origins in dire circumstances such as long-term inequality, discrimination and exploitation. Over time these conditions spur uprisings that may overcome these socio-cultural evils. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement is an example of how this works within a democracy. Today’s Black Lives Matter may also have potential to move us in a progressive direction.

Part IV—Going Forward

Assuming Joe Biden’s election to the presidency and Democratic control of both houses of Congress, is there a catastrophic circumstance that might push him to go beyond his stated goal of simply “Making America America Again”? Well we know that Covid-19 will still be with us in 2021 but the discovery process for a vaccine is already going very fast. Here Biden may do little more than relieve us all of Trump’s self-serving confusions and provide a more trustworthy, science-based platform for the curative process to proceed—which is something we should all be thankful for. Still, there might be another potentially catastrophic situation waiting around the corner. That possibility is continued economic breakdown and a painful restructuring process.

The U.S. is presently running a $170.5 billion budget deficit as well as a $63.6 billion trade deficit. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) or total worth of all production was down 31.7% in the second quarter of 2020. These figures will eventually necessitate an increase in taxes if the government is to be in a position to assist the citizenry in economic recovery. Trump, of course, has a regressive policy of as little taxation as possible and no help to the states or the citizens. 

The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 8.4%, which is down two percentage points as a marginal recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic took place. However, this proved temporary and the rate is now going up. Covid-19 led to a loss of 22 million jobs in the United States, and only about half of them have been recovered. Until there is an effective vaccine, not much additional progress on this front can be expected. 

Even with a vaccine, it might turn out that the pandemic has permanently changed the structure of the economy, making It unlikely that all of the lost jobs will come back. Even before Covid-19, retail was shifting to on-line sales to the detriment of normal retail stores and malls. The pandemic has greatly accelerated this movement. Work-from-home arrangements are leaving office space unoccupied and city-based luncheon eateries near empty. Overall, the restaurant business is shrinking. All of this will lead to higher levels of bankruptcies and unemployment for the foreseeable future. 

Under President Trump the approach to these changes would be to do nothing while claiming he was doing more than anyone else could or would do. Biden and the Democrats can be expected to be more proactive. This would hopefully go beyond the reestablishment of the programs and regulations Trump has destroyed. 

So what will Joe Biden do if he becomes president? He is not an original thinker. However, the worse the economy gets, the more violence from rightwing individuals and militias will manifest itself, and the more cases of police brutality there are, the more the Democrats will be pressured to institute progressive domestic reform (i.e. infrastructural renewal, debt reduction, police reforms, gun control, universal health care, etc.) I think we can count on these pressures persisting. 

Part V—Conclusion

The reader might have noticed a certain incompleteness in the above reasoning. That is, catastrophe can encourage regression as well as progression. Wars, pandemics and economic depressions have sometimes given rise to dictatorships and repression. Worse yet, quite often, this happens to the sound of cheering crowds.  

Throughout his presidency Trump has retained the support of roughly 35% of the U.S. adult population. Presently the adult population stands at 209,128,094, thus Trump supporters may number over 73 million citizens. That implies that even after four years of destructive behavior, these millions seem to still support the leadership of an incompetent authoritarian personality.

However, the entire adult population never actually votes. In the case of the United States a relatively large number of citizens are, like the permanently unemployed, no longer active in the political marketplace. That is, they pay little attention to electoral politics and don’t show up at the polls. In modern times it is rare that the percentage of eligible voters who actually turn out for presidential elections exceeds 60%. Using this number, that puts the actual voting population at 125,476,856. If we assume that 35% of this number supports Trump consistently, we get 43,916,899.

This may not be enough for Trump to win a second term as president—a fact that may actually save the country’s democracy. Yet this number is still very disturbing. The fact that just about 44 million Americans are willing to risk their democratic traditions and a relatively progressive future to follow a man without a conscience over a political cliff—an action that puts at risk not only their own country but, arguably, the entire planet—is certainly something to lose sleep over. Finally, this picture is not unique to the United States. It is probably true that one-third of any given population is susceptible to the overtures of a cult personality. 

Perhaps this last fact gives some insight into why history is full of civil and international disturbance. A large minority of any population is easily seduced into such engagements, dragging the rest of us along with them. That may help contextualize the choice U.S. citizens have come November 3rd. 

How the Israel-UAE Pact Undermines International Law

Lawrence Davidson (@PointAnalyses) | Twitter

Posted by Lawrence Davidson 

How the Israel-UAE Pact Undermines International Law—An Analysis (22 August 2020) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—“Normalizing” Relations

Much of the diplomatic world has gone gaga over the 13 August 2020 “normalization” of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—facilitated by years of encouragement coming out of Washington. 

In truth this is but a quasi-new relation, because “Israel and the UAE have been cooperating and normalizing relations under the table for many years.” The UAE’s agreement to the public upgrading of this relationship was reportedly made in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “suspension of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.” We can now update the old warning to beware of Greeks bearing gifts—beware of Zionists offering compromise.

Though the Israeli Prime Minister’s suspension of annexation is hailed as a major compromise on the part of Israel, it is more illusory than real. Both the Palestinians and Netanyahu himself pointed out that the suspension is not seen as a permanent one. The Palestinians and their supporters also quickly pointed out that this agreement changed nothing in terms of Israel’s illegal behavior on the ground—particularly the de facto annexation represented by the continuing encroachment of Israeli settlements. Under these circumstances, the agreement actually registers the UAE’s acceptance of this criminal state of affairs. The Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi put it succinctly: “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends.’ Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it has been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation.”

Despite the fact that the change from informal relations to something more official and public meant little change on Israel’s part, the leaders of the Zionist state, the U.S., and the UAE were determined to present the event in a way that would convince both themselves and others that something momentous had been realized. 

The joint statement coming from the three governments celebrated a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.” Netanyahu asserted that the agreement marked “a new age in Israel’s relations with the Arab World.” He expected to see more Arab states follow the UAE’s lead. And, indeed, it looks like the disreputable dictatorship in Bahrain might be the next in line. 

President Trump framed the event this way, “By uniting two of America’s closest and most capable partners in the region” — something which his egocentric worldview drove him to insist only his administration could do—“this deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East.” Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien expressed his opinion that the deal should “solidify a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Trump.” That would, potentially, put Trump right up there with the ignominious Henry Kissinger.

The Democratic Party candidate for president, Joe Biden, immediately gave his approval. “The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship. … A Biden-Harris administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”

Others soon chimed in:

—Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah El-Sisi told us “This step will bring peace to the Middle East. We appreciate the efforts of those in charge of this agreement in order to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: Germany welcomed the “historic” deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The normalization of ties between the two countries “is an important contribution to peace in the region.”

—United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the agreement, saying “The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalize relations is hugely good news.”

Besides the Palestinians, there were only a few others who saw through the facade. Iran labeled the agreement as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. “The oppressed people of Palestine and all the free nations of the world will never forgive the normalizing of relations with the criminal Israeli occupation regime.” Turkey’s reaction was similar: “Neither history nor the collective conscience of the region will ever forget and forgive the hypocritical behavior of the UAE, which is trying to depict the deal as a sacrifice for Palestine, when in reality it is a betrayal to the Palestinian cause for its own narrow interests.”

I think Iran and Turkey are correct in their reaction to what is certainly a betrayal. However, I am not sure of the “never forgive” part, keeping in mind the fact that collective memories have, historically, proved fickle. Nonetheless, if anything, these two critical countries did not go far enough in their condemnation. This is so because the Israel-UAE deal is a betrayal of more than the hopes for justice and a better future of oppressed peoples. This bilateral agreement, whether it spreads to the rest of the Arab world or not, is nothing less than the forsaking of the world’s prospects for more civilized and humane international relations.

Part II—The Deep Context 

It would appear that the vast majority of world leaders either know very little history or consider it, as Henry Ford did in 1916, as “bunk.” Yet, the Israel-UAE pact should be measured not only against the historical injustices to Palestinians which it reinforces, but also against the harm it does to a number of progressive historical achievements realized immediately following World War II.

After World War II a number of seminal reforms were undertaken. A revived United Nations was established, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inaugurated, international conventions outlawing genocide and crimes against humanity were signed. Eventually apartheid was outlawed and an international criminal court established. These steps, spurred on by the horrors of total war culminating in the Holocaust, represented great forward progress for mankind. They should have strengthened the provisions set forth in the pre-existing Geneva Conventions and acted to restrain aggressive nationalism. They should have acted to educate the masses against racist policies and assured accountability for those who would promote government-level criminal behavior. 

If all of these post-World War II reforms had actually been enforced, it would now be easier to exercise effective pressure to settle the differences between Israelis and Palestinians based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention. International acceptance of the racist nature of Israeli society and the apartheid-style policies it pursues would be much less likely. Government leaders who promoted near-genocide in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka would face a truly effective International Criminal Court. George Bush’s unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003 would have had to be judged every bit as criminal as Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. And the two men’s fates might have been the same. The world would have progressed both in terms of ethics and respect for laws forbidding crimes against humanity.  

The recent Israel-UAE deal is but another sign that these progressive reforms mean nothing. The Israelis can perhaps look forward to “normal” relations with ever greater number of Arab states. The reaction of Western countries to Israeli crimes will be to continue turning a blind eye. All the governments concerned will see the UAE’s behavior as a green light, and thus they too will acquiesce in the destruction of those progressive achievements outlined above.

Part III—Calling Going Backwards Something “New and Innovative”

Back in 2018 I attended a small conference put on by an organization named Middle East Dialogue. The stated aim of this meeting was to “promote dialogue about current policy concerns in the Middle East, and to provide a civil space for discussion across the religious and political spectrum.” The conference theme in 2018 was “A New Collective Vision.” 

While there I attended a presentation on “new and innovative” approaches to foreign policy in the Middle East. The presenters were extolling an environment of national self-reliance—the formation of policy based on assumed national interests without any “unreasonable” restrictions placed on policy by outside organizations. This was, of course, a version of the traditional “realist” approach to foreign policy that conservatives support. However, here the approach was being presented as something new. And, surprise, surprise, the presenters were claiming that Israel was leading the way into this new and bright future.

Come the Q and A session, it took me about 45 seconds to destroy the presenters’ premise. And, if I do say so myself, I did it politely. Their only reply was that my rebuttal was not how they saw things—implying that mine was but another opinion. The presenters were wrong. What I laid out was a short version of the above, based on evidence of the potential progress they sought to destroy. As good Zionists they probably knew that it was only based on the destruction of agreements like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 4th Geneva Convention, that today’s Israel could be accepted as a “normal” state. The United States has long bought into this Faustian restructuring of international relations. Now the UAE leaders can regard themselves as fully part of this ruinous bargain. 

An Attack on Edward Said’s Legacy

Source

by Lawrence Davidson

Lawrence Davidson | Author | Common Dreams

Part I—Meeting Caroline Glick

I traveled to Israel and the Occupied Territories in the early 2000s with the progressive group Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. We made an effort to gain insight into most of the players in the conflict, and so a series of interviews was arranged with members of the Israeli right wing. I remember that one of them was Caroline Glick, an ardent American-Israeli Zionist. She lectured us on the positive personal relationships allegedly prevalent between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. 

It was an interesting and somewhat embarrassing experience. Glick and I are both American and both Jewish. Growing up, I had this understanding that American plus Jewish always meant being anti-racist. To be so was, in my mind, the prime lesson of modern Jewish history. What being anti-racist meant to Glick was unclear. She spent the better part of an hour giving us a defense of Israeli-Jewish treatment of Palestinians based on the classic “some of my best friends are Black” (read Palestinian) defense. In the words of the New York Times journalist John Eligon, this line of argument “has so often been relied on by those facing accusations of racism that it has become shorthand for weak denials of bigotry—a punch line about the absence of thoughtfulness and rigor in our conversations about racism.” And so it was with Glick, who explained that she, and many other Israeli Jews, had Palestinians who do small jobs for them and are treated well, and that this proves a lack of cultural and societal racism. It was such a vacuous argument that I remember feeling embarrassed for her. 

Things haven’t gotten much better when it comes to Ms. Glick’s worldview. She is now a senior columnist at Israel Hayom (Israel Today, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper owned by the family of Sheldon Anderson) and contributor to such questionable U.S. outlets as Breitbart NewsShealso directs the Israeli Security Project at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. There can be little doubt that she continues to see the world through the distorting lens of a particularly hardline variant of Zionism.  

Part II—Glick’s Attack on Edward Said’s Legacy 

Recently, Caroline Glick launched an attack on the legacy of the late American-Palestinian scholar and teacher Edward Said. Entitled “Edward Said, Prophet of Political Violence in America,” it was recently (7 July 2020) published in the U.S. by Newsweek—a news magazine with an increasingly pro-Zionist editorial stand. As it turns out, one cannot find a better example of how ideology can distort one’s outlook to the point of absurdity. Below is an analysis of Glick’s piece in a point-by-point fashion. Ultimately, the ideological basis for her argument will become clear. 

1. Glick begins by resurrecting a twenty-year-old event. “On July 3, 2000, an incident occurred along the Lebanese border with Israel that, at the time, seemed both bizarre and … unimportant. That day, Columbia University professor Edward Said was photographed on the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese side of the border with Israel throwing a rock at an Israel Defense Forces watchtower 30 feet away.” She goes on to describe this act as “Said’s rock attack on Israel” and the “soldiers protecting their border.”

We need some context to put all of this in perspective: Israel is an expansionist state, and the original Zionist aim (as presented to the Paris Peace Conference following World War I) was to incorporate parts of southern Lebanon into what is now Israel. Southern Lebanon also briefly became a staging area for Palestinian retaliatory attacks into Israel. Thus, Israel invaded Lebanon multiple times only to be forced to withdraw in the face of resistance led by Hezbollah, a strong Lebanese Shiite militia in control of much of southern Lebanon.  

Said relates that during his 2000 visit to the Lebanese border with his family, he threw a pebble (not a “rock”) at a deserted Israeli watchtower (no Israeli soldiers were “defending their border”).  Said saw this as a symbolic act of defiance against Israeli occupation. Over the years stone throwing by Palestinian youth had become just such a symbolic act. And, it was from their example that Said might have taken his cue.

2. However, Glick wants to draw highly questionable consequences from Said’s act. She tells us that “with the hindsight of 20 years, it was a seminal moment and a harbinger for the mob violence now taking place in many parts of America.” By the way, the “mob violence” in America she is referring to is the mass protests against police brutality that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020.

3. Now that sounds a bit odd. How does Glick manage this segue from Edward Said’s symbolic stone toss in the year 2000 to nationwide inner-city rebellions against police brutality in 2020 America? Here is the contorted sequence she offers: 

a. Said was a terrorist because he was an influential member of the alleged “terrorist organization,” the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). “Terrorist organization” is a standard Zionist descriptor of most Palestinian organizations. Actually, the PLO is the legally recognized representative of the Palestinian people and as such has carried on both a armed and a diplomatic struggle to liberate Palestine from Israeli Occupation. In 1993, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist. This made little difference to the Zionist right wing who, like Glick, continued to use the terrorist tag for propaganda purposes. It is to be noted that all liberation movements are considered to be “terrorist” by those they fight against. And, indeed both sides in such a struggle usually act in this fashion on occasion. Certainly, Israel is no innocent in this regard. 

b. For Glick, Said’s alleged terrorist connection transforms his “rock attack” into a terrorist act. This is simply an ad hominem assertion on Glick’s part. There is no evidence that Said ever engaged in any act, including the tossing of stones, that can sanely be characterized as terrorism.

c. Glick tells us that, at the same time Said was ‘committing a terrorist attack’ on Israel, he was also “the superstar of far-Left intellectuals.” It is hard to know what she means here by “far-Left.” It is seems to be another ad hominem slander. Said was a scholar of Comparative Literature and, when not in the classroom, he advocated for the political and human rights of oppressed Palestinians—how “far-Left” is that?

d. Nonetheless, Glick goes on to assert that as a “far-Left” academic, Said waged a “nihilistic” and “anti-intellectual” offensive against Western thought. He did so in a well-known work entitled Orientalism published in 1978.

What does Orientalism actually say? Using mostly 19th century literary and artistic examples, the book documents the prevailing Western perception of the Near East and North Africa, which stands in for the Orient. This perception reflects a basically bipolar worldview—one which, according to Said, reserved for the West a superior image of science and reason, prosperity and high culture, and for the Orient an inferior somewhat mysterious and effeminate image of the “other” fated for domination by the West. Over time this view became pervasive in the West and influenced not only literary and artistic views of the Orient, but also impacted political, historical, anthropological and other non-fictional interpretations. Having helped create a superior sense of self, this orientalist perception served as a rationale for Western world dominance. It should be said that whether one agrees with every one of Said’s details or not, there is no doubt his well researched and documented work has made most scholars more aware of their biases.

e. Glick refuses to see Orientalism asjust an influential academic work. Instead, in what appears to be a pattern of illogical jumps, she claims that “in Orientalism, Said characterized all Western—and particularly American—scholarship on the Arab and Islamic worlds as one big conspiracy theory” designed to justify empire. This then is the heart of Said’s alleged “nihilistic” repudiation of Western scholarship. She particularly points to Said’s claim that “From the Enlightenment period through the present every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist and almost totally ethnocentric.” While this is a far-reaching generalization, it basically reflects an equally pervasive, very real Western cultural bias. What Glick describes as a “conspiracy theory” is Said’s scholarly demonstration of how that bias has expressed itself. And, it should be noted that such pervasive biases are not uniquely American nor even Western. Chinese, Japanese, Arab/Muslim, Hindu and Jewish civilizations have their own variants of such biases. Yet, it is Said’s effort to expose and ameliorate the orientalism of the West that seems to madden Caroline Glick.

f. For Glick, Said’s suggestion that both past as well as many present scholars have culturally biased points of view of the Orient becomes an accusation that any “great scholar” with a classical Western worldview “is worse than worthless. If he is a white American, he is an agent of evil.” Glick is now building a real head of steam and her account becomes more and more grotesque. She now claims that Said’s work is “intellectual nihilism.” How so? Because it “champions narrative over evidence.” What Glick is implying here is that Said’s work is an anti-Western screed presented without evidence. This is demonstrably wrong, but nonetheless provides a platform for Glick’s further assertion that Said’s fantastical narrative is told in order to “manipulate students to engage in political violence against the United States.”

Part III—What Is This All About?

Caroline Glick makes repeated illogical jumps. As egregious as these are they actually point the way to her larger ideological agenda.

  1. Said is a terrorist because he opposes Israel and supports the Palestinians. Participation in the PLO is her proof of this. 
  2. Because Said is a terrorist, his throwing of a stone at the southern Lebanese border is a terrorist attack against Israel and its defense forces. 
  3. Somehow, Said’s throwing the stone was also “a harbinger for the mob violence now taking place in many parts of America.” The connector here is Said’s tossing of an intellectual “rock”—his thesis presented in Orientalism.
  4. Just as his “rock attack” was terroristic, so Said’s book, Orientalism, is itself an act of terrorism as well as a “nihilistic” project. 
  5. It is all these nasty things rolled into one because it calls into question established cultural assumptions that had long underpinned colonialism and imperialism, and which also just happens to underpin Israel’s claim to legitimacy.
  6. But there is more. Glick tells us, “Said’s championing of the Palestinian war against Israel was part of a far wider post-colonialist crusade he waged against the United States. The purpose of his scholarship was to deny American professors the right to study and understand the world [in an orientalist fashion] by delegitimizing them as nothing but racists and imperialists.”
  7. And finally, “Orientalism formed the foundation of a much broader campaign on campuses to delegitimize the United States as a political entity steeped in racism.”

Part IV—Conclusion

Glick’s attack on Edward Said’s legacy is beset with leaps of illogic. So let me conclude this analysis with my own leap, hopefully a logical one, to an explanation of what may be Glick’s larger agenda. Glick is attempting to turn the ideological clock back to a time before decolonization. Specifically, she wishes to resurrect an overall acceptance of Western colonialism as a benevolent endeavor whereby progress and civilization was spread by a superior culture. 

Why would she want to do this? Because if we all believe this proposition, then Israel can be seen as a legitimate and normal state. After all, Israel is the last of the colonial settler states—the imposition of Western culture into the Orient. It rules over millions of Palestinian Arabs as the result of a European invasion made “legal” by a colonial document, the Balfour Declaration, and its acceptance by a pro-colonial League of Nations. Our post-colonial age in which Edward Said is a “superstar intellectual,” is seen as a constant threat to Zionist Israel’s legitimacy. 

Edward Said’s legacy provides a strong theoretical foundation for understanding why the Western imperialists thought and acted as they did, and hence helps both Western and non-Western peoples to confront their own modern historical situation. However, Glick cannot see any of this except through the Zionist perspective. Thus, Said’s legacy is just part of an anti-Israeli conspiracy—an attack on those scholars who support the legitimacy of an orientalist point of view and of the Zionist state. 

She also suggests that Said’s undoing of historically accepted biases lets loose the “mob violence” seen in the U.S. There is no evidence for this, but it may be Glick’s  roundabout way of undermining student support for Palestinian rights on American campuses. 

Ultimately, what Glick is interested in is preserving the image of Israel as a Western democratic enclave in an otherwise uncivilized sea of Arab and Islamic barbarians. That fits right into the traditional orientalist belief system and justifies the continuing U.S.-Israeli alliance. Said has successfully called that perspective into question. Hence Glick’s assault on his legacy. 

Finally, Glick’s present attack on Said, and her attempt to tie his work into the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder, shows how frightened the defenders of one racist state, Zionist Israel, become when their principle ally, the United States, comes under attack for racist practices. Said as a “superstar” foe of all racism becomes the lighting rod for that fear. 

Woodrow Wilson’s Racism And His Support For Zionism

Source

by Lawrence Davidson 

Author - American Herald Tribune

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

Part I— Woodrow Wilson’s Racism

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was born in Staunton, Virginia, to Christian fundamentalist parents—his father was a Presbyterian minister—who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. Thus, Wilson grew up and was educated in the segregated American South. This upbringing imbued him with both a literal interpretation of the Bible and a lifelong racist outlook which he brought with him to every position, every office he ever held. For instance, while he served as president of Princeton University (1902-1908), he refused to allow the university to admit African Americans. Despite his racist orientation, Princeton subsequently named a School of Public Policy and International Affairs, sub-colleges and buildings for Wilson. Today, in the wake of uprisings against not only police brutality toward African Americans and other minorities, but also America’s racist legacy, Princeton has removed Wilson’s name from these institutions and buildings. 

Wilson went on to become the 28th president of the United States (1913-1921). He led the United States into World War I, was instrumental in the founding of the League of Nations, appointed the first Jewish member of the Supreme Court and, notably, facilitated the eventual establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine through his support for the Balfour Declaration (1917). At the time he remarked, “To think that I, son of the manse [minister’s house], should be able to help restore the Holy Land to its people.” Subsequently, this decision made him as much a hero to Zionists, and American Zionists in particular, as he was a villain to African Americans. 

Part II—The Zionist Dilemma

Given today’s reaction against the country’s historical racism, American Jews’ understanding of Wilson’s legacy is being debated. The challenge for Zionists is to save Wilson’s heroic image without totally disregarding his racist record. An attempt to do just that came in an essay, recently published on 2 July 2020, in the American Jewish newspaper the ForwardThe essay is entitled “Woodrow Wilson was a hero to Jews. What should we do with his racism?” and was written by Jonathan D. Sarna, a Brandeis University professor of American Jewish history.

Sarna notes both facets of Wilson’s career. On the one hand “The Jews of his day considered Wilson a hero and a savior, a man of principle and ethical uprightness.” On the other, African Americans “learn a totally different narrative” wherein “Wilson … staunchly defended segregation and characterized Blacks as an ‘ignorant and inferior race.’” 

Sarna seeks to square this circle by retreating to a frankly banal apologia: ”Many a flawed hero accomplished great deeds and changed the institutions and nations they led for the better. … They remind us that good people can do very bad things — and vice versa.” This is poor consolation for African Americans. It also turns out to be a shaky basis for Jewish admiration of Wilson. This is so because the alleged good Woodrow Wilson did for the Jews—his support for the Balfour Declaration—was based on the same racist foundation shaping his behavior toward African Americans.  

Part III—Wilson Supports the Balfour Declaration

What is the connection between Wilson’s racism and his support for the Balfour Declaration? The president was a European race supremacist, or what today would be called a “white supremacist.” As he saw it, African Americans were not the only “ignorant and inferior race” out there. All the non-European peoples, such as those of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestinians, qualified for this designation.

On 8 January 1918, in the run-up to America’s entrance into World War I, President Wilson announced his “Fourteen Points.” These were the nation’s war aims—notions around which to rally the American people. A major theme that runs throughout these “points” is the promise of self-determination for peoples then under the rule of the enemy Central Powers: Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. Referring specifically to the last-mentioned, point twelve reads, “The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.”

Such a promise, of course, included the Arabs of the Ottoman province of Greater Syria, which in turn included Palestine and its indigenous population. This pledge might seem to conflict with Wilson’s racist outlook, but one has to keep in mind that point twelve was meant as a propaganda piece in support of the broader claim that America was joining a war to make the world safe for democracy. As a vehicle for arousing the enthusiasm of the American people, it was effective. However, it transformed itself into something problematic as soon as Wilson got to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. U.S. allies Britain and France wanted to incorporate most of the Ottoman lands, which they considered the spoils of war, into their own existing empires, and so objected to point twelve. 

Because of his European supremacist point of view, Wilson really had no deep objections to this expansion. The question was how to go along with his allies’ wishes while still appearing to honor the Fourteen Points. He achieved this goal in a way that also meshed with his racist worldview. He and his allies established the Mandate System. Real self-determination was now to be reserved for the European peoples previously belonging to the German, Austrian and Russian empires. For instance, Poland and Serbia, among others, were to be “accorded the freest opportunity for autonomous development.” Non-European peoples were  viewed as unprepared for this reward. They were to be placed under the tutelage of a “mandatory power,” which in the case of most of the Arab lands meant either Britain or France. Such imperial powers, in turn, were to instruct these inferior peoples in the art of self-government. It should come as no surprise that Palestine was given over to the British as a “mandate territory.” Indeed, the Balfour Declaration was incorporated into the preamble and second article of the mandate document for Palestine.  

Part IV—Back to Sarna’s Suggestion

Woodrow Wilson supported the Balfour Declaration because he was a Christian fundamentalist who believed that God desired the Jews, whom Wilson understood to have been civilized through long residence in the West, to “return to their ancient home.” The instruments for that return were the Balfour Declaration and the British mandate. The Palestinians were not even relevant to the issue for Wilson.

Given this history, what do we learn when, as Sarna suggests, we “probe more deeply into [our hero’s] flaws”?

—It is now recognized that Wilson’s major flaw was his racist worldview and the behavior that flowed from it.

—This racism was the basis of his mistreatment of African Americans.

—As it turns out, that same racist outlook was part of the basis for his support of the Balfour Declaration—the very act that makes Wilson a hero for both past and present Zionists. 

Now we come to the second part of Sarna’s suggestion, that an examination of the hero’s flaws “invites us to think harder about our own flaws.” What are the resulting implications of such a self-examination for today’s Zionists?

—What sort of flaw in ourselves should an examination of Woodrow Wilson bring Zionist Jews to consider?

—The fact is that contemporary Israeli Jewish and Zionist attitudes toward the Palestinians in many ways mimic those of Woodrow Wilson toward African Americans. 

—If we are to consider Wilson’s racism a flaw from which Jews too can learn, the consequence must be a reconsideration of the inherently racist Zionist attitudes and policies toward the Palestinians.

I do not know if Jonathan Sarna really meant to inspire a serious assessment of Israel’s and Zionism’s flaws through the reexamination of those of their champion, Woodrow Wilson. However, such an assessment would certainly reveal a shared racism. Wilson never ceased to be a racist and, at least since 1917, the Zionists have been following his “heroic” model. How many of them can be counted upon to take up Sarna’s suggestion and look into this shared historical mirror in any honest way?

Covid Madness

by Lawrence Davidson 

Author - American Herald Tribune

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

1 July 2020

Part I—Episodes of Madness

If I told you that Covid-19 was sparking recently reported episodes of madness here in the U.S., what do you imagine would be the reason? Maybe it would be the consequences of isolation. If you are alone and have few resources, lockdown might send you over the edge. Maybe it would be the pandemic’s impact on those with chronic hypochondria. This is obviously not an easy time to be stuck with an irrational fear of disease. Or maybe it is coming from the fundamentalist crowd (both Christian and Jewish) who believe that Covid-19 is the wrath of God yet can’t figure out why it is being visited upon their congregations. If you guessed any of these possible etiologies, you would missing the main cause.

So what is mainly causing the present outbursts of madness? It turns out to be a perverted concept of freedom. It is an insistence that, in the midst of a pandemic, temporarily closing down businesses, mandating the wearing of masks, and maintaining social distancing is an intolerable infringement on individual rights. If you would like a visual snapshot of the emotion behind this belief, just take a look at the gun-toting, maskless protesters at the Michigan state legislative building in early May. They are shouting irately about state tyranny, into the faces of masked guards. Other anti-mask protesters around the country revealed a similar off-the-wall attitude, with signs and banners ranging from the nonsensical to the scary: “Give me Liberty or Give me Covid-19,” and in contradiction, “Covid-19 is a Lie,” “Sacrifice the Weak—Reopen,” and “Jesus is My Vaccine.” There is one other rightwing anti-Covid protest sign that must be noted. This one showed up both at the Michigan rally and one in Chicago: ‘Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work will make you free.” It is the slogan that stood at the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. 

Part II—A Perverse Notion of Freedom

This perverse notion of freedom is wholly individualistic. That is, it makes no reference to community rights or needs. This point of view is not restricted to armed anarchists or disgruntled religious fundamentalists. Some quite prominent and successful proponents of this view go so far as to deny the reality of society, per se. Such a denial makes government, particularly in the form of the welfare state, a freedom-denying effort at social control. Also, if society is an illusion, then an institution that taxes the individual for its upkeep is little more than a con artist. 

The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an advocate of this outlook. Here is how she put it: “I think we have gone through a period when too many people … understand that if they have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!… ‘If I am homeless, the government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. …There is no such thing as society.” This is faulty logic. Some problems, like poverty and homelessness, can only be understood and dealt with within a societal context. Thatcher would have none of that. Since society does not really exist, problems with societal roots can’t be real either. If Thatcher were alive today, she would probably admit that the Covid-19 pandemic was very real, but otherwise would be reluctant to deal with it in any collective manner—just as are our perverse defenders of “freedom.” 

Part III—Beyond Sloganeering

The madness of these rightwing provocateurs is largely ideological in the Thatcher sense. It is also underlaid with a strong selfishness that really has nothing to do with economic hardships of lockdown. What they are saying is that “I don’t care about other people. I don’t want to wear a mask and social distance, and you can’t make me.” It is the ideology of selfish children and this attitude can drive people to act out in the same way it drives five-year-olds to have temper tantrums. Unfortunately, these protesters are not just children and their acting out goes beyond sloganeering. 

Since April 2020, numerous public health workers, particularly those with policy-making input, have faced threats and intimidation. Sometimes this is through e-mail or Facebook or over the phone. Sometimes it is having to face an armed mob at your front door. Here are a few recent examples:

—Lauri Jones, director of public health in a county in western Washington state, followed up on someone breaking a Covid-19 quarantine. Immediately she faced a barrage of threatening calls and e-mails from not just her home area but from around the country. Her address was posted on Facebook. She called the police and had to set up surveillance cameras at her home. 

—Amy Acton, Ohio’s public health director “endured months of anger against the state’s preventive measures, including armed protests at her home.” One Republican legislator called her a Nazi (Acton is Jewish) and another labeled her a dictator. She has since quit her job and now consults for the state’s health department. 

—Georgia’s public health director has been assigned an armed guard.

—Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, who is transgender, has been publicly harassed for her role in fighting the pandemic. One Republican county official said that he was “tired of listening to a guy dressed up as a woman.”

—Then there is the emotion expressed following a recent Palm Beach county commissioners meeting. The commissioners had voted unanimously to make masks mandatory in the county. Those in the audience denounced the commissioners and threatened them with “citizen’s arrest.” They made the following accusations: “masks are killing people,” masks “toss God’s wonderful breathing system out the window,” and to mandate masks is to follow the “devil’s laws.”

Perhaps the best summing up of this “demoralizing” nationwide situation comes from Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials—eighty percent of whose members have been threatened with dismissal or were outright fired from their jobs. “We’ve seen from the top down that the federal government is pitting public health against freedom, and to set up that false dichotomy is really a disservice to the men and women who have dedicated their lives . . . to helping people.” 

Part IV—Lethal Consequences

Ideally, we are supposed to teach our kids that freedom comes with responsibility. Take away a sense of responsibility to others and what you are left with the perverted freedom to be selfish. And, often that selfishness is blind to its own lethal consequences. 

There is a precedent for this sort of selfishness tied to a perverse claim of freedom—it is the American insistence that gun ownership is a right and a primary symbol of freedom. Here in the U.S., an average of 109 people a day are killed with guns, sometimes in quite spectacular fashion, as in the case of mass shootings. We endure it, or perhaps more accurately we choose to ignore it, because an influential, militant and bullying minority has stymied the political will to reign it in. This is a situation that is suggestive of willful madness. The same appears to be happening in the case of Covid-19.

In the last six months over 2 million Americans have fallen ill with Covid-19 and the death toll stands at around 130,000. The present infection and fatality rates are climbing. It seems that after several months of lockdown, which had hurt the economy and increased unemployment while simultaneously bringing the pandemic under control, the will to continue restrictions has largely broken down. Both politicians and the populace appeared to have given up and, as one of those sloganeering signs put it, silently agreed to “sacrifice the weak and reopen.” And almost everywhere they did reopen, the Covid-19 virus returned with a vengeance. It was when a moderate state counter-response, mandating masks and social distancing in public and business environments, was attempted that the militant bullying by Republican politicians, armed “patriots,” and disgruntled religious fundamentalists picked up steam. What now is likely to follow?

Future prospects are described by Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and Brown University professor who promotes gun violence prevention. She explains that the  “dynamics of the lockdown protesters” are similar to those of the gun rights advocates. Both groups of militants “moved the … debate” from a conversation about, first an epidemic of gun injuries, and now the wisdom of health and science in the face of a pandemic, to “a conversation about liberty.” Thus we are no longer talking about “weighing risks and benefits” and are instead involved in “a politicized narrative” about alleged individual rights. This is also a zero-sum narrative because this claim of prioritized rights is, for its advocates, not negotiable.

So there we have it. It is a fight between a perverse notion of freedom and a collective sense of social responsibility. The interests of society—which are real despite the rhetoric of the late Margret Thatcher—already lost out once in the struggle with “gun rights” advocates. Will it lose out again to mad opponents of masking and social distancing? The chances are good that it will. Sickness and death may well be our fate until science, in the form of an adequate vaccine, saves us from ourselves.

Protests And A Prognosis

 Posted by Lawrence Davidson

Author - American Herald Tribune

Part I—A Dangerous Dichotomy

If we go with the United States’ own picture of itself as a constitutional democracy that aims to guarantee citizens equal rights under law, how are we to interpret President Donald Trump’s reported desire to use ten thousand active duty troops to “dominate the streets” and quell largely peaceful protests against racist police behavior? A reasonable interpretation of President Trump’s attitude, and that of his supporters as well, is that they seek to prioritize the political and cultural desires of a largely racist subgroup of whites over the constitutional rights of citizens in general. This sets up a very dangerous dichotomy that constitutes a danger to the country’s democracy—at least as defined above.  

It should be kept in mind that the right-wing side of this dichotomy, and its challenge to a democracy based on a liberal interpretation of the Constitution has always been with us. Considering just the 20th and 21st centuries, figures such as Woodrow Wilson and his consistently racist use of power both prior to and during World War I; J. Edgar Hoover and his rights-defying use of the FBI; Joseph McCarthy and his pernicious use of anti-Communism; George W. Bush and his initiation of war on false premises; and now the clearly autocratic aspirations of Donald Trump. Such “leaders” have ruined countless lives while eroding the constitutional basis of equal rights.

Part II—The Bureaucratic Factor 

Why has the Constitution proven so fragile in this regard? One reason is the autocratic nature of bureaucracies. All these men wielded power through bureaucracies, and their power was magnified by such institutions. Bureaucracies are top-down affairs, and so those operating within them are expected to, and almost always do, follow the orders of their superiors. For instance, the President of the United States is also “Commander-in-Chief” of the armed forces—which in turn are themselves top-down bureaucracies. When, in early June, Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump demanded ten thousand active duty soldiers for deployment onto the streets of America, none of them could be expected to pull out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and fact-check the legitimacy of the orders issued. Nor were they expected to take seriously their induction oaths to “defend” the integrity of that same document. They were expected to readily follow their orders regardless of constitutional limits. Thus, all things being equal, President Trump should have gotten what he asked for. We are very fortunate that at that moment all things were not equal—a factor is to be considered below. 

If the regular army had hit the streets in June of 2020, they would have done so in order to suppress largely peaceful protests over the lack of equal rights and lack of legal treatment under the law. Indeed, in Washington, D.C.—the only place Trump’s order was partially followed—active-duty military police and the D.C. National Guard did act side-by-side against peacefully demonstrating citizens. Elsewhere, the National Guard called up by governors abetted the police in “riot control,” during which almost no distinction was made between looters and peaceful demonstrators. A few National Guard troops have subsequently expressed regrets over their participation.

The typical police force is also a bureaucracy with its own institutional culture that in many ways mimics the military. Most (there often proves to be a small number of exceptions) of those in the ranks are going to follow the orders of whomever they recognize as having authority. Quite frankly, there is a strong tendency over time for the police, particularly those assigned to minority neighborhoods, to forget all about the U.S. Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and other niceties of law, and slip into a fraternal (often white supremacist) culture which sets them apart from those they are “policing.” They are then easily used as an arm of establishment power. That certainly was the expectation of President Trump and many of the nation’s chiefs of police.  

Part III—All Was Not Equal

At this point we can ask, What were the demonstrators protesting? Specifically, thousands of citizens across the country were protesting the behavior of the police, who had long been brutalizing African American and other minority group citizens in the name of law enforcement. Most of the demonstrators understood their cause within the context of both human and U.S. Constitutional rights of citizens to live in a community where the law serves the cause of equitable justice. “No justice, no peace.”

The nation was fortunate that most of the protesters understood rights in this way. That understanding allowed them, in their great numbers (less a relatively small number of both black and white looters), to quite literally save American democracy. They did so by demanding that those who had authority confront one of the autocratic threats of our day—racist police forces, the brutality of which was captured repeatedly on video. The demonstrators used that evidence to force the issue, and this, in turn, caused the bureaucrats to eventually stop acting in a knee-jerk fashion. Thus, city councils, mayors, governors and even military officials had to choose between oppression (which included, in this case, following Trump’s order that they “dominate the streets) and the Constitution. Choosing oppression would have resulted in two things: erosion of the constitutionally sanctioned rule of law and the burning of cities across the land. No one, except perhaps Donald Trump and his white racist base, wanted either of those two consequences. So the notion that “without the right to protest, there can be no [liberal] democracy” was upheld, and that made the protesters “the nation’s true patriots.”

Part IV—Will the Changes Last?

According to a recent piece in the HuffPost, the demands of the protesters for a just and safe America are being heeded. As proof, the article notes the following:

—Police officers are being held accountable for brutal behavior.

—Some police departments are reforming police practices.

—Monuments to racist and hardline historical figures are coming down.

—Technology companies are halting cooperation with police departments when it comes to facial recognition techniques. 

—Finally, there has been a shift in public opinion: Americans “support the anti-racism protests by a 2 to 1 margin.”

 All this is for the better, but will it last? Barack Obama has compared the present protests to those of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He believes that they have brought about a similar “sea change” or profound transformation. Is that actually the case?

It should be recalled that the earlier civil rights protests led to a series of changes in law and, ultimately, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that banned discrimination in the public realm. These changes smoothed the way for other legislation expanding rights to people with disabilities, to homosexuals, lesbians and transgender folks, and to others. However, and quite significantly, these events triggered a culture war that focused white resentment and resistance within conservative political and fundamentalist religious movements. Among their unofficial institutional allies were and are some of the nation’s police forces. The racism, now exhibited by today’s Republican Party and its leader, President Donald Trump, as well as modern episodes of police brutality toward African Americans, should be understood within the context of that on-going culture war.

Looking at things this way, we can ask if the progressive response to today’s protests is best described as a “sea change” or a continuing, albeit important, chapter in what is still a very long-term struggle? As one activist and organizer, Sajari Simmons, realizes this is certainly not the end of the struggle for justice. Referring to the protests, she noted that “This is not just it. This is just one component,” she said. “There’s a lot more that we can do to help impact and educate and support.”

Part V—Conclusion

The American political system is lobby based. If the average citizen is important, it is only to be rallied at election time. However, if they are organized into politically potent interest groups, those citizens can have a long-term impact. To ultimately win the culture war, today’s protesters must be somehow united into a standing movement capable of “educating and supporting” their cause at local, state and national levels over the long run. 

Lest we forget, the enemies of a liberal, non-discriminatory interpretation of the Constitution are still out there and they have power. President Trump and his minions are still in place, as are millions of racist voters. Their political power must be broken at the polls, in the courts, and through a multigenerational process of reeducation. In working toward these goals, demonstrations are necessary, but not sufficient. Without a competently led and lasting movement, police brutality will come back, and “ten thousand soldiers” might, someday, really “dominate the streets.”

About Lawrence Davidson

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

U.S. Urban Rebellions Revisited

An Analysis (31 May 2020) by Lawrence Davidson

Author - American Herald Tribune

What follows is an updated essay on the “perennial nature of U.S. urban riots” which I wrote a little over five years ago. The original version appeared on my blog on 9 May 2015 following racial rioting in the city of Baltimore. The murder of George Floyd, an African American, by police in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020, coming as it did within days of the killing of two other African Americans, largely replays events of 2015.

In those five years, despite having elected the nation’s first African American president in 2008, the U.S. is still a largely segregated society full of racist anger. Indeed, it would seem that with the culture wars of the past 30 years and the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, things are getting worse rather than better. We are slipping back into a more primitive, angrily divided time.  

Part I – Unrest That is Almost Normal

If one goes to Wikipedia under the subject of “mass racial violence in the United States,” one will find a “timeline of events” running from 1829 to 2015. There are so many race-related riots listed for these 186 years that, from a historical point of view, rioting appears almost normal. Prior to World War II these outbreaks mostly involved ethnic, racial or religious groups going after each other: Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, Chinese, Catholics, Protestants were all involved in these set-tos. Often the causes were economic with a territorial overtone – one group moving into the neighborhood of another group and/or taking their jobs. When the violence came, it was group against group. 

In the post-World War II era, the nature of the still numerous instances of rioting changed. The group-versus-group scenario gave way to group-versus-state. Most of the groups listed above had successfully assimilated under the heading “caucasian,” and religious affiliations no longer seemed worth bloody murder. As our present reactionary president has shown, immigrants can still instill anger in obtuse citizens who mistake foreigners for the cause of problems they themselves have caused, but in this case the result is state oppression. 

Actually, in the present era, the cause of rioting has mostly been African American resentment over prevailing inequality exemplified by frequent police brutality. It is a continuing fact that American society still places on most African Americans an economic handicap and segregation. Thus all too many African Americans, particularly men, have little opportunity for a decent life, while simultaneously having every opportunity to end up in confrontations with the police and then land in prison. It is these ubiquitous confrontations with agents of the state that are now the standard trigger to the phenomenon  of modern American rioting.

Part II – The Inadequacies of the Civil Rights Acts

The ongoing phenomenon of urban riots involving African Americans suggests that the civil rights acts that followed the widespread unrest of the mid-1960s have proved inadequate. In part this is so because their enforcement, such as it has been, was restricted to the public realm. That is, the effort to do away with discrimination went no further than areas serving the public: public schools and housing, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and the like. There were other aspects to the civil rights acts – grants to minority businesses, for instance – but they all just scratched the surface. As a result the number of African Americans made upwardly mobile by this legislation was less than optimal. A black middle class did emerge, but it was small relative to the numbers who needed help.

To say that the civil rights acts proved inadequate in the fight against nationwide discrimination points to the fact that they proved unable to reorient America’s discriminatory cultural mindset. That mindset was the product of, among other things, nearly three hundred years of institutional racism. To change things was going to take the consistent reinforcement of the idea of racial equality over at least three or four generations. This would have to be done mainly through the educational system, yet no specific efforts were made to this end. Indeed, even attempting to integrate the public school systems could provoke their own riots, as the “Boston busing crisis” of1974 proved.

Another sign of this problematic cultural mindset is that, as far as I know, there is nowhere amongst the vast, mostly white, population of the American suburbs, where one can find serious empathy for the fate of the inner cities. For instance, in the wake of the April 2015 riots in Baltimore, then mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, commented, “local government cannot itself fix problems of violence and unemployment.” This is absolutely true, but Nutter, and mayors who have followed him, have looked in vain for any meaningful help from a state legislature controlled by a hinterland of conservative whites who may not feel they belong to the same species, much less the same broader community, as those in the inner cities. The suggestion that they should send their tax money to help the residents of Philadelphia appears to be beyond their understanding. I doubt very much if it is different elsewhere in the country.

Part III – The Police

The police, of course, cannot stand outside the general discriminatory orientation of the culture. So the limited impact of the civil rights acts meant that the police were not reeducated to the new standards of public behavior. To do so would have required more than simply increasing the number of black officers to at least match the racial demographics of American cities. It would have required extensive retraining and testing of those who sought to be part of law enforcement. 

There is an entire industry out there to train and test people to safely drive cars. I know of nothing beyond piecemeal efforts to train police to act in an equable and lawful manner toward all the different sorts of people they come into contact with (plus to handle other problems that seem to affect the police as a group, such as stress and anger management). Nor are standardized ways of testing candidates applied so as to make sure that only those capable of impartiality and reasonable restraint are on the street. Because we do not do this, we guarantee having some police who themselves act in a criminal manner toward economically disadvantaged classes, thus expressing discrimination in a way that is violent enough to trigger mass unrest.  

Indeed, as of now the preferred personality type for the position of police officer seems to be the same as that for professional soldier, which may be why it has been so easy to “militarize” American police forces. This effort, along with the “home security” business, has become a multibillion-dollar industry (major players in which are Israel companies, which now train an increasing number of U.S. police departments in techniques developed while enforcing the illegal occupation of Palestine). Police departments and their suppliers have teamed up to lobby cash-poor municipalities for all manner of lethal gewgaws ranging from automatic weapons to armored cars. Military grade riot-control equipment is now de rigueur for most large police departments. So great is the demand for these deadly devices that the Defense Department now has a committee appointed by the president to look into what constitutes appropriate equipment to hand out to the cop on the beat.  

Part IV -The Need for Re-education

What this sad story tells us is that the United States has a very big problem of discrimination and exploitation of the urban poor that goes beyond the ideologically induced greed of a capitalist class. That is not to say that the capitalist structure of the American economy hasn’t played havoc with the aspirations of poor blacks seeking to get out of poverty. There is a very good essay by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute that provides insight into the government’s role in this aspect of the problem.

However, it is wrong to believe that after three hundred years of racist acculturation, the problem of endemic discrimination would disappear if, however unlikely, the nation was to move in another economic direction. Americans would still have to retrain themselves in order to overcome the racist cultural addictions acquired over their history. 

It is relatively easy to write down some of the things that would have to be done to break these addictions. For instance:

(1) Tolerance and an attitude of community inclusiveness has to be taught to American children and done so consistently for multiple generations. In other words, this program must be a matter of national priority and not interpreted by the political efforts of those who believe teaching kids tolerance of other racial, ethnic and religious groups is somehow usurping parental prerogatives.

(2) The educational opportunities (including affirmative action programs), job training and meaningful low-cost housing programs that have been implemented piecemeal for the last fifty years have to be seriously revived, and seriously funded by taxing the wealthy upper 20% of the population. Alternatively, the money can be taken from the bloated defense budget. 

(3) No one should become a police officer (and while we are at it, a prison guard) without undergoing rigorous screening. And that screening should look to eliminate all those who have authoritarian personalities underlain with problems of impulsive anger. This is such a no-brainer that one wonders why it is not already being done. Perhaps part of the problem is that, in most cases, the police set their own criteria for admission into what has become a trade organization with the characteristics of an out-of-control college fraternity.  

Part V – Conclusion 

The rebellions of 2020 have now spread across the urban landscape of the United States. The governor of Minnesota, who has “fully mobilized” the states’ national guard to suppress the unrest has decided that the protests are no longer “about George’s death, this is about chaos being caused.” He is right that the the protests are no longer just about the murder of one African American. They are now about the inability of the justice system to deliver justice within an interminably unjust America. That system no longer has any legitimacy in the eyes of most African Americans and that view is spreading to other groups as well. When the state loses legitimacy in the eyes of citizens all that is left is the violence of mass suppression. And that is a one way road to hell for all us no matter what our race.

About Lawrence Davidson

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

From Wuhan to Baghdad with Trump and Bush

Source

May 11, 2020  

by Lawrence Davidson

I have been writing these analyses for ten years. Really not a great amount of time, but enough that you see leaders ignorantly repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. You also notice that most of the media, and almost all of the citizenry, appear not to notice the repetitions. Just such a rerun is now playing itself out. 

Part I—Covid-19 and the Wuhan Lab Claim

According to a New York Times (NYT) article, President Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have begun pressuring the U.S. government’s intelligence agencies to come up with evidence that the Covid-19 virus originated in a Chinese lab in Wuhan—specifically, that city’s Institute of Virology. 

Let’s state up front that there is no reliable evidence that this is the case. As the NYT puts it, “Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a non-laboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.” This is also the opinion of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s own top infectious disease expert. 

Alas, this is not what the Trump-Pompeo duet wants, or needs, to hear. What they want and need is something to support their already stated position that the Covid-19 virus is a “Chinese virus.” Thus, Trump told a reporter on 30 April that, while there were many theories about how the virus originated, he took the Wuhan lab contention seriously. He claimed that he had personally seen “intelligence that supported the idea” and that “we have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people and others.” He then stated that he was “not allowed” to share the intelligence. Pompeo followed up in a 3 May ABC interview by describing the evidence as “enormous.”

It has also become apparent that Trump would like to tie the World Health Organization (WHO) into the Wuhan lab theory. “Administration officials had directed intelligence agencies to try to determine whether China and the World Health Organization hid information early on about the outbreak.” This seems to be the result of the president’s personal dislike of the WHO. He believes it has praised China’s fight against the pandemic more strongly than his own quasi-efforts. So annoyed has he become that he cut off U.S. aid to the organization in the midst of its fight against Covid-19—an almost universally condemned act. 

In the end Trump seems to think that nothing less than evidence supporting the Wuhan lab conspiracy theory will help shift popular attention away from his own abysmal failure to react to the pandemic in a timely fashion. So it doesn’t matter if the president is corrupting the intelligence agencies for personal political advantage, or that “the odds are astronomical against a lab release as opposed to an event in nature.” That is the state of our knowledge according to assessments based on science. What the president is demanding is a world that accords with his personal needs. It’s the latter he expects the intelligence agencies to serve. 

Part II— Nuclear Weapons in Iraq Claim

Where have we heard this sort of demand before? Well, how about during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq?

Back in late 2002 and early 2003, George W. Bush was planning an invasion of Iraq. His public reason for doing so was the assertion that the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. The real reason went beyond that charge and involved a long-range plan for “regime change” in the Middle East—a thoroughly implausible goal. However, Bush’s initial, obsessive need was a way to rally the American people behind his planned war. Why Iraq? Bush seems to have had a hate-filled preoccupation with Saddam Hussein and a desire to finish the job his father began with the First Gulf War. Or, maybe, as he claimed, it was because God told him to do it

At first he tried to connect Saddam Hussein to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the U.S. Though he never gave up on that stratagem, the lack of evidence made it difficult to shift popular attention, already fixated on Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan, onto Saddam Hussein and Baghdad. However, the nuclear weapons gambit appeared to have more potential, not because there was any hard evidence for the charge, but because supposedly reliable witnesses, in the persons of mendacious exiled anti-Saddam Iraqis, kept whispering to Bush and others in the administration that the nuclear story was true.

So, what we had was (1) a U.S. leadership cadre who were itching to revolutionize the Middle East, (2) informants who, in order to precipitate the overthrow of Saddam, were willing to tell the tale of alleged atomic weapons, and (3) a president with enough of a personal grudge against Saddam to use anything in support of his desire to invade Iraq.

Bush proceeded to put pressure on the U.S. intelligence agencies to find evidence for the nuclear weapons claim. In essence, this pressure threatened to politicize and contaminate the White House’s normal source of intelligence. When the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defense Intelligence Agency, did not come through in this regard, Bush went so far as to create a shadow operation: the “Office of Special Plans (OSP),” staffed mainly by rightwing amateurs, to find him a nuclear “smoking gun” that would justify invasion.

Simultaneously, the U.S. insisted that the United Nations send in arms inspectors to scour Iraq for evidence of a nuclear weapons program. None of this resulted in the required evidence. This so frustrated President Bush that on 19 March 2003 he launched the invasion of Iraq without any proven reason to do so. This, by the way, constituted a war crime under international law. The president did have the expectation that, once in occupation of the country, American troops would surely find those nukes. They did not. 

Bush ended up blaming his appalling mistake, which led to the death and injury of tens of thousands, on “faulty intelligence.” He never admitted that the intelligence at fault was his own. 

Part III—Conclusion

What do Donald Trump and George W. Bush have in common? They are both know-nothing Republican leaders. (You can get Democrats like this too. They are just less common.) They are know-nothing in the sense that neither of them know the difference between their own desires and objective reality. If Trump needs a Wuhan lab to shift blame from his own failings, then there must be a lab out there and it is the job of the intelligence agencies to find it. If George W. Bush needs Iraqi nuclear weapons to justify his obsessive desire to invade that country and depose Saddam Hussein, then they must be out there and it is the job of the intelligence agencies to find them. Both Bush and Trump, and a whole lot of their staff, were/are caught up in delusions. And, tragically, they both had/have the power to spread their respective delusion, like a “virus,” to large segments of a historically ignorant American public. 

Now, if this writer can recognize the similarity between these two men and brand the connecting events described here for the delusional episodes they are, you would think that at least some of the media folks bringing us the “news” could do so as well. And maybe in the privacy of their offices and studies they do see the connection and its dire potential. But they are having a hard time translating that into public knowledge. One can only wonder why! As long as that is the case, most of the general public, focused on their local affairs, will not be able to recognize the danger such irresponsible behavior represents, and will once more be dragged along in whatever perilous direction their present muddled leaders take them. 

Lawrence DAVIDSON | West Chester University, Pennsylvania ...

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

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