Unilateral Surrender? Hollow Mahmoud Abbas Suspension of Agreements with Israel

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Global Research, July 26, 2019
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In 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was anointed by Israel to serve its interests.

Installed by a rigged election with no legitimacy, his term expired in 2009 but it didn’t matter. 

Israeli hardliners kept him in power where he remains as long as staying submissive to their will, meaningless rhetoric not an issue.

For over 14 years, he served as Jewish state enforcer in the Occupied Territories, betraying the Palestinian people. More convenient stooge than statesman, he’s Israel’s puppet.

He long ago abandoned Palestine’s liberating struggle, collaborating with the enemy for benefits afforded him and his family.

Betrayal pays well. Middle East expert As’ad AbuKhalil earlier estimated his super-wealth, saying he amassed around $1 million monthly, largely from stolen Palestinian money and other embezzled funds, adding:

His wealth is stashed abroad in Jordanian and other accounts — “not under any national or international scrutiny.”

Unnamed PA sources earlier said he has extensive property holdings. His sons Tarek and Yasser also profited hugely from PA projects.

A former Abbas aide called him the “sultan of Ramallah,” describing him as thin-skinned and vengeful, tolerating no opposition.

He’s in power unchallenged because Israel and the US wants him heading the PA, largely serving their interests by enforcing harshness on the Palestinian people.

Since Hamas was elected Palestine’s legitimate ruling authority in January 2006, Abbas collaborated with Israel against its leadership, part of the Jewish state’s divide and conquer strategy.

In 1993, he was part of the Palestinian team in Oslo, negotiating the Versailles accord, his signature on the capitulation.

The late Edward Said minced no words calling it unilateral surrender, Palestinians getting nothing in return but hollow Israeli promises, abandoned before the ink was dry.

Throughout Abbas’ tenure as puppet president, Israel expanded settlements on stolen Palestinian land unobstructed by him or his cronies, handsomely bribed to capitulate to their interests.

Collaborating with the enemy is treason, how Abbas operated since Oslo and throughout his time as PA head.

He hasn’t gone along with what he knows about Trump’s no-peace/peace plan “deal of the century” for good reason.

A third intifada might erupt if he capitulated to what no responsible leadership should touch, possibly making him a marked man by Palestinians for elimination, maybe killed for betrayal.

Time and again in response to unacceptable Israeli actions against long-suffering Palestinians, Abbas threatened to suspend cooperation with the Jewish state, never following through with commitment, his rhetoric amounting to hollow deception.

His latest threat came in response to Israel’s unlawful demolition of 70 Wadi al-Hummus homes in Sur Baher township, a Palestinian neighborhood on the southeastern outskirts of East Jerusalem.

Israel claimed they were too close to its separation wall, what the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled illegal in 2004 — a land theft scheme unrelated to security issues.

Israel wants the entire city Judaized for exclusive Jewish development and use, Palestinians ethnically cleansed from land they legally own.

Most Sur Baher Palestinian structures destroyed were in West Bank Areas A and B, under Palestinian jurisdiction, according to Oslo.

It didn’t matter and never does. Nothing stands in the way of Israeli pursuit of its agenda at the expense of fundamental Palestinian rights and the rule of law.

Abbas’ latest “suspension” threat takes effect on July 26, saying

“(w)e will not succumb to the dictates and the imposing of a fait accompli on the ground with brute force, specifically in Jerusalem. All that the (Israeli) occupation state is doing is illegal,” adding:

“Our hands have been and are still extended to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace. But this does not mean that we accept the status quo or surrender to the measures of the occupation.”

“We will not surrender and we will not coexist with the occupation, nor will we accept the ‘deal of the century.’ ”

“Palestine and Jerusalem are not for sale or bargain. They are not a real estate deal in a real estate company…no matter how much time it takes, the repugnant occupation is going to be defeated and our future state will be independent.”

In 2017, the PA suspended diplomatic relations with the US over Trump’s one-sided support for Israel, including his no-peace “deal of the century” peace plan — a symbolic gesture, achieving nothing positive for the Palestinian people.

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Abbas and his cronies capitulated to occupation harshness for over 25 years ago, permitting hundreds of thousands of settlers to control Palestinian land illegally — Israel ignoring Fourth Geneva’s Article 49, the PA leadership doing nothing to contest its unlawful actions.

The Fourth Geneva provision prohibits

“(i)ndividuals or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not…regardless of their motive.”

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

It’s what Israel has done since 1967 — unobstructed by the world community and UN authorities — nor by PA leadership since Oslo (1993) and follow-up agreements.

Ignoring his longstanding collaboration with Israel against Hamas, undermining Palestinian unity against repressive occupation, land theft, and other Jewish state high crimes against long-suffering Palestinians, including three Israeli wars of aggression against Gaza since December 2008, Abbas falsely said:

“My hand is extended (to Hamas) for reconciliation, and it is time to get more serious.”

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Political analyst Dawoud Yousef downplayed Abbas’ threatened suspension of ties to Israel, saying:

“(T)he PA is completely powerless to make these kind of dictates. They exist because the occupation allows it,” adding:

“From the Oslo Accords onwards, the PA has been designed and structured to be dependent on cooperation with Israel.”

It’s a powerless, Israeli created body to serve its interests. Earlier PA threats to cut cooperation with Israel were “never complete and only meant the ending of high level communications, not day to day interactions between security forces,” Yousef explained, adding:

“(T)hese threats demonstrate to an acute degree the complete emptiness of the PA’s diplomatic strategy within the current Post-Oslo paradigm.”

“The asymmetry of power wasn’t offset by the PA’s establishment. It was officially entrenched. (Its threats are) as if the prisoner says that he no longer recognizes his cell.”

*

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Award-winning author Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG)

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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Iran: Socialism’s ignored success story

May 23, 2017

by Ramin MazaheriIran: Socialism’s ignored success story

Iran just completed their presidential election, but this article will not discuss the candidates, the result or the political consequences.

I work for Iran’s Press TV, which essentially makes me a civil servant, and I think it is correct for me to not reveal who I voted for in order to preserve my independence within the government. I’m quite happy to work for “the people” instead of “a person” – as in private media – and I will support which ever candidate the people choose.

Why will I support Iran’s government, whoever is in charge? Truly, it is not for my paycheck.

I support Iran because I support socialism where ever I can find it, and Iran has socialism in abundance.

Iranian Socialism has been so successful at redistributing wealth to the average person; has safeguarded the nation’s security despite being ringed by US military bases and repeated threats; has grown the economy despite an international blockade; has produced a foreign policy motivated on political principles; and has fought against the divisive identity politics which undermine human solidarity.

I have actually seen Iran over the decades, unlike 99% of the journalists who claim to understand Iran, so you can’t dissuade me.

And I’m not even going to try to persuade you. This is not that article, either.

This article is to lay out for left-wing readers and supporters of socialism what should be crystal clear: Iran is a socialist nation. Even more than that: Iran is a socialist success story.

Iran, like all nations, has had its unique developmental history; of course we have been reading Marx just as long as anyone else, as well.

But the most convincing and simplest way I can put it to non-Iranians is this: Europe came to socialism through industrialization, theory and war, but Iran came to socialism through its religious and moral beliefs. The ends are the same, and that is all that should matter to anyone who is truly trying to promote socialism for the benefits it brings to the average person.

The problem is not us, it is you

I repeat: The problem is not us, it is you…when it comes to looking at Iran’s contributions to socialism.

I believe that around 99% of Westerners have no idea at all what Iran is really like. Unfortunately, this total ignorance about Iran and the Muslim world is the historical norm in the West.

The greatest contribution of Middle East scholar Edward Said was that his book, “Orientalism”, definitively proved through historical scholarship that the West has never, ever, ever been favorable towards the Muslim world.

Not in the 8th century, when Muslims were occupiers of the Iberian Peninsula, not in the following centuries when Islam was an ideological competitor to Christianity; not in the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire occupied the Balkans; not in the 19th century, when the Europeans occupied the Middle East & North Africa; not in 1916, when they redrew the borders for the West’s benefit; not in 1945, when they bombed countries like Syria which had fought on their side against the Germans and the Italians; not in the 1960s, when their reaction to independence was neo-colonialism; not in 1979, when they created the forerunner of the Taliban; not during 2 wars in Iraq, a war in Syria today, etc. Said’s point was: Never has the West viewed or treated the Muslim world as equals, much less intellectual equals.

Given this history, why should us Iranians expect the reality of our high-achieving modernity to be accepted and admired?

LOL, believe me, I am over it! I write this to enlighten you, not me! I humbly hope that it works.

I will address the elephant in the room, and quickly: Yes, I assume that a large part of this prejudice is religious. Some Christians cannot accept that Islam promotes the most recent prophet of the monotheism which they both share.

Such religious prejudices are not my problem, and they do not blind my analysis of 2017 Iran.

No socialist believes in a “clash of civilizations” or “religious war”, anyway.

My point is not to criticize Europe for a lack of brotherhood with their fellow Abrahamic religion: My point is to criticize them in 2017 because most Westerners believe that that even the most leftist Iranian cannot even qualify as merely a “conservative social democrat”!

Can there never be a Muslim “democrat” or an Iranian “republican”?

The proof of this bias is the decades of Western support for the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian Revolution and any Muslim attempt to allow their religion into their politics. This is even though Christian Democratic parties governed Europe for decades after WWII, and it is absurd to think that the Christian dogma is not upheld and promoted in European politics today.

So, if Iranians cannot even be allowed to fulfill 19th century notions, why would the West accept that 2017 Iran can be even more truly leftist than the merely centrist ideology of European social democracy?

Of course, the average European cannot accept this, and this is why Western Socialists are aghast at my idea that Iran is an “ignored Socialist success story”.

The radical left of European Socialism, which seeks to destroy organized religion, is especially aghast, but they are a tiny minority and on the way out, thankfully. They do not realize that they have already been drastically tempered, if not ousted, in the still-Socialist countries they purportedly admire: Cuba is full of Santeria and Pope pictures, yin-yangy Confucianism is being promoted in China, etc.

But these Western radicals are a minority who simply cannot accept that spirituality cannot be rubbed out, largely because they see it as a choice or a social conditioning instead of a part of many people’s intrinsic nature (if not theirs). A modern Socialist must accept that this fight has already been fought and decided. The capitalists certainly advance as we chase our tails….

Even if leftist detractors can get past religion, they immediately will talk about Iran’s human rights faults.

I respond: Yawn yawn yawn African-Americans fill US jails; Muslims fill France’s jails; this is the centenary of the British-orchestrated Persian Famine, which killed 8-10 million people and actually made Iran the biggest victim of WWI, that is just one Western/capitalist inspired famine/death/human rights violation yawn yawn yawn.

I am not here to say Iran is perfect – only God can be – I am saying that Iran is absolutely no worse than the West. It is an undeniable fact that the current Islamic Republic of Iran has far less blood on its hands than most – and Iran has not invaded a country in 300 years!

Religion, human rights – these are all classic diversions from the facts presented against socialist societies, and Iran certainly is one.

Iran checks all the boxes as a Socialist nation, and as Revolutionary Socialists

What are the key components of socialism? Let’s clarify our terms.

The first is leadership by an avant-garde party committed to defending the revolution: Iran certainly has this, and it crosses over Principlist/Reformist party lines.

The second is central planning of the economy: Whoever had won, they would be largely implementing the 6th Five-year plan (2016-2021). And there is also the “Resistance Economy” approach promoted by many, which is certainly anti-globalization.

The third is control over the media: This is mixed – I would say Iran does not really have this in the traditionally Socialist sense. Cuba has no private media, for example, while Iran has dozens of private newspapers and innumerable TV satellites. But Iran does have limitations, so let’s check this box.

The fourth is support for foreign liberation movements: When the history of Palestinian liberation is finally written, just as a now-free South Africa thanks Cuba for sending troops to Angola, will not Palestinians do the same for Iran’s decades of support? The same with Lebanon and now Syria, correct?

The fifth is democratically devolving as much democracy as possible in order to empower the average person: There is no doubt that Iran is the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East, and by a huge margin. The difference between Iran’s social-democratic procedures and guarantees in 2017 when compared with 1978 is obviously laughable. I write this from Paris, a nation in an 18-month state of emergency with no end in sight….

If your country has these five crucial components: Congratulations! You are in a socialist country!

A little bit more on each for the naysayers….

An Avant-Garde Party:

Iran is a one-party system – that party defends the 1979 Revolution. China is a one-party system – promoting Chinese communism. Many would say that the US is a one-party system – promoting imperialist capitalism.

The difference between Iran & China and the US is that in the former their one-party systems are formalized, explicit and well-known; in the US it is informal, but just as strong, and maybe even stronger.

I don’t think this needs much further explanation but, for example, you cannot propose to end the Iranian Revolution and run for office. In France a presidential candidate in their recent election (Jean-Luc Melenchon) won 20% of the first-round vote by proposing to abolish France’s current 5th Republic.

Like all socialist countries, Iran is criticized for not having democracy but they do: it is simply within their own particular structure. Just as in the USSR, there was lively debate about how to advance their own system – should we following the right-wing model of socialism of Bukharin/Khrushchev or the left-wing model socialism of Lenin/Trotsky? – but there was no debate about deviating from their chosen national system, i.e. communism. When they did allow such debates under Gorbachev, Soviet Socialism was almost immediately subverted by capitalist reactionaries and consigned to oblivion.

Again, please examine the repression of communism in the US, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Chile, etc. for historical examples of capitalist “one-party systems”, which are definitely NOT avant-garde and promoting socialism….

The idea that Iran has no avant-garde party but is some sort of totalitarian structure governed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is only expressed by those who are supremely ignorant about Iran. For the second presidential election in a row Hassan Rouhani won despite not seeming to be Khamenei’s preferred candidate, after all.

Central Planning of the Economy:

I think I can illustrate Iran’s state of economic socialism with this anecdote: Back in 2013 all 8 presidential candidates were pushing for more privatization…not to promote capitalism, but because everything has already been nationalized for so long, LOL!

So Iran has already done the nationalizing, and maybe they need to do more? However, socialist countries have increasingly agreed that some revenue-producing businesses are needed to meet some of the basic needs of their people: North Korea has the Kaesong Industrial area, Cuba’s Port Mariel is giving some space to completely foreign-owned businesses, Vietnam and China have plenty of state-run capitalist enterprises, etc. The reality is that even producing things as simple as soap need some expertise, and very often only capitalist corporations can have that expertise.

That’s why the Iranian government went on a spending spree in 2016, but it was decidedly not your typical capitalism. (I do not want to appear to credit only the Rouhani administration because economic policy is produced by the entire government in 5-year development plans, as already noted.)

Iran was feted like a king in places like France and Italy because they were prepared to spend dozens of billions of euros. But what pleased me was how Iran spent: They demanded equal partnerships, joint ventures and technology transfers.

These are the ways in which foreign investment can be mutually beneficial and not exploitative – this was good for France too. I am not a dogmatic person who is absolutely against all capitalism, but I am against all exploitative capitalism.

My point is: It was a socialist spending spree, not a capitalist one. Iran did not just give money away; they did not waste money on vanity projects; this was not one billionaire dealing with another for their own benefit; they invested in Iran via long-term central planning, i.e. the socialist view of economic management.

This is not like France’s ruling “Socialist Party” recently selling off national industrial jewel Alstom to the United States’ General Electric: The French people got nothing for that. That was capitalism; that was globalization

Iran is not in favor of globalization – they are not even a member of the World Trade Organization, unlike 164 other countries. Some will say this is solely due to the opposition of the United States, but it is not: As many in Iran said during the election: membership in the WTO is against Iran’s principles…and these are socialist principles regarding the economy – there is nothing about the WTO in the Koran.

Control over the Media:

It’s true you can’t have Charlie Hebdo in Iran – hardly a major loss –but Iran is certainly no Cuba.

Iran’s refusal to crack down on TV satellites which permit reactionary, anti-revolutionary channels like BBC Persian and VOA Persian (UK and US government-funded respectively) appears to be a dangerous fire which Havana will not tolerate. This tolerance does give Iran “human rights” credibility with the West – well it doesn’t, but it should!

I would suggest that Iran is simply confident that foreign propaganda cannot overwhelm the obvious successes of the 1979 Revolution. I imagine that Cuba feels that they cannot take chances, being just 100 kilometers from the USA.

Of course, Cubans simply laugh at Western propaganda channels like the US government’s pathetic Radio Marti. Cubans are supremely intelligent politically and, after all, their education programs are decades older than Iran’s.

Iran, like Cuba and China, bans pornography. I note that such respect for sexuality and for women is a very basic tenet of Socialism. If your utopia includes unfettered access to porn I suggest that you are a libertarian, and not a socialist.

I remind again that the media glasnost implemented by Gorbachev was a major driver in the catastrophic implosion of the Russian Revolution. To privatize media means, necessarily, that you are giving those few people rich enough to actually start newspapers the chance to promote their obviously capitalist worldviews.

I, for one, am not about to cry over the lack of published capitalist, imperialist, sexist, racist, regressive anti-revolutionary nonsense, and neither are most Iranians. As sad as the Dutch may be about it – Iran is not Amsterdam!

Support of foreign liberation movements:

Some will say that Palestine is just a “distraction” from Iran’s own problems. Nonsense – this is a point of pride to all Iranians. This is a point of admiration for Iran from the entire Muslim world, just as it is a negative point for much of the Western world.

This is another way Iran is revolutionary Socialist country: they support oppressed countries on the basis of ideology. Perhaps Iran is not the “Mecca of Revolutionaries” which Algeria was in the 1960s, but let’s agree that the rate and scope of revolutionary movements worldwide are at a much lower level today, sadly.

Russia may support Syria, for example, but it appears more for Moscow’s self-interest and the idea of national sovereignty – which is the idea of national self-interest – rather than a moral-based ideology.

Call Iran the same as Russia – no insult there – but you cannot deny that Iran supports Palestine for reasons which are clearly to the detriment of their own success, i.e., they do it out of solidarity and morality. Were Iran to recognize Israel they would surely have the international dogs called off them…but Iran is a revolutionary Socialist society, as you are hopefully agreeing with by now.

Iran is also an anti-racist society, like all modern socialist societies.

They constitutionally protect minorities, with parliamentary seats for Armenians, Assyrians, Christians and Jews, despite their small numbers. Iran may not promote them, but their tolerance of local languages like Azeri and Kurdish far exceeds that of many minorities in Western Europe. Iran accommodates the 5th-largest number of refugees in the world, while French authorities put up gates and even ‘’anti-migrant boulders’’ to deny refugees even the barest shelter.

When it comes to religion they are extremely tolerant of ancient Iranian Zoroastrianism and all of the pre-Prophet Muhammad Abrahamic religions. Any religion after Prophet Muhammad? Well…it is an “Islamic” Revolution, after all.

This is perhaps a pedantic point but an important one on a verbal, Foucauldian level: Has there been any “revolution” in the world since WWI which was not “socialist”? I can’t think of any, because without a socialism component it cannot be a revolution – it can only be a continuation of the capitalist/feudalist/bourgeois status quo, or a military coup.

Empowering people:

The two fundamental tenets of socialism are redistribution of wealth and empowering the average person so that they can reach their full potential. Dismantling the social roadblocks thrown up by capitalism against the non-wealthy has clearly been a major goal of the Islamic Revolution, and I can quite easily prove it has been achieved with a tremendous amount of real-world success.

Since 1990 – when the West’s attack dog of Iraq was beaten off – no country’s Human Development Index has improved more than Iran’s, with the lone exception of South Korea.

Everyone should take notice, especially Socialists, as it is we anti-capitalists who prize human development – not economic development – above all.

That’s why I’m going to leave the Human Development Index as the only proof of success. For me, I have so many other econometrics, anecdotes and personal reflections to prove that Iran has succeeded in creating a new, better, modern society that to do so is quite boring.

Bottom line: It is obvious that I do not have to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Despite the tremendous amount of opposition, violence and propaganda, Iran has advanced the most in the past 3+ decades.

I say “the most” because, unlike South Korea, Iran has done this without 30,000 US troops currently on its soil; it was not preceded by decades of brutal dictatorship which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people (mainly leftists); and they did not collaborate with the Americans in the division of their nation which currently causes the greatest possibility of thermonuclear war.

Iran didn’t get to #1 as many others did: by capitalism and imperialism.

Iran’s recent election had a 73% voter turnout rate, ranking it #12 in the world. Unlike many of these other 11 countries, Iran does not compel citizens to vote. There is obviously tremendous support for the Iranian system from the Iranian people because…they are not blind to success, I would say!

The hardest thing to get people to do when it comes to socialism (or Iran) is to think realistically: Nobody can achieve “perfect” socialism. No country has 100% voter turnout. No country has zero human rights violations.

But for Iran you have add on another layer of misconception: Many of the “restrictions” in Iranian society predate 1979 by centuries: women were largely wearing the hejab before then; unmarried people, especially young women, also lived at home before 1979; alcohol could send you to prison then and now.

My point is: Iran is a culturally conservative nation, and it was like that long, long before 1979. You will have to simply trust me that Iranians don’t need a government to make them want to live in a society which appears conservative to modern Western standards.

Again, Iran is not Amsterdam, LOL! Maybe you can talk about the royal court in Shiraz in the 14thcentury as being a hotbed of drunken poetic reveling, but this is does not reflect the reality of life for the average person.

Only an Iranian will agree quickly with this statement and move on: Take away the 1979 Revolution and you would still have many of the same rules in place – they would just be enforced informally.

I will, lastly, put it this way: Take away the mullahs, and you still have to deal with my grandmother!!!!!

But to believe that the government has not empowered people since 1979…well, back then the average woman had 7 children, was illiterate 70% of the time, and the UN was not calling its health care system “excellent”.

Today, the birthrate is 1.7 children per woman, the overall literacy rate is 93% and the right-wing Washington DC-based think-tank the Brookings Institution runs dumbfounded articles with headlines like “Are Iranian Women Overeducated?”.

All in 30+ years…and have you thought it was capitalism that did it?!

Socialists who ignore Iran are not really Socialists at all

Do you still want to think that Iran is a country solely motivated by religious radicalism and not the ideals of socialism? Well, then I place you on the right and the left, and that is the point of this article.

It is bad enough that the right (capitalists, imperialists) not only co-opt Socialist ideas as their own (social security, Medicare, Medicaid, affirmative action programs, welfare, free schooling, free nurseries, etc.), but it is laughable when the left refuses to see the leftism in Iran because it does not fit with their preconceived, totally inflexible notions.

Any true Socialist/Communist should realize that attacking Iran is doing a capitalist’s job for them.

And how can someone who proclaims to be a “leftist” have the exact same interpretation of Iran as a right-wing capitalist does?

Again, it is simply laughable that Iran is “not” what it really is.

But this is what always happens: Chinese communism “is not really communism”…despite having 1-party rule, a state-run economy, control over the media, support for Vietnam and North Korea, and the 2nd highest HDI improvement from 1970-2010.

North Korean communism is just a “cult of personality”…despite expelling the Japanese, resisting the Americans, maintaining their independence, security and high-level of education. Cuba is just the Castro dictatorship and, again, not communism.

This is all anti-socialist propaganda – for capitalism there can never be ANY “Socialist success story”.

You remain adamant that you do not want to implement all the principles of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in your country?

Fine, it is your country to decide for as you like. Like I wrote, no worries – Iran hasn’t invaded in 300 years and it sure seems like our military is necessarily focused on defense.

But just because you disagree with some aspects of the 1979 Revolution I encourage you not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I remind you that I needed only one fact to prove that Iran has been improving at a rate which is essentially the best in the world over the last 3 decades – how far below Iran does your country rank, hmm?

I write this article because practically no media in the English language will ever pursue the links between Iran and socialism. We leftists know this not just anti-Iran bias, but a much larger anti-Socialist bias.

However, it is truly suicidal to ignore the left-wing successes in Iran because, even if you reject some of them, Iran has clearly found MANY modern solutions to our MANY modern problems: surely some of them can be of use to you, right? Is Iran ALL wrong?

Of course not – only Satan can be all wrong.

Therefore, I advise those fighting against capitalism and imperialism: Please afford Iran a bit more respect and interest than you would afford Satan!

And now I take our victory lap

I can only laugh at those who say Iran’s revolution has failed!

“Oh really? Who was the puppet that was installed? Who was the king that was restored? What is the name of the popular democratic revolution which replaced the peoples’ one of 1979, because I have not heard of it and I still see many familiar faces from 1979?”

The revolution has succeeded, and I am not sorry to say so.

Not that I care about your opinion – this is for YOUR own benefit: YOU will not win socialism, anti-capitalism or anti-imperialism in your country if you cannot learn from the successes of others.

But sadly, your inability to recognize socialism in Iran imperils all of us, because the people worldwide cannot win in the long term if even like-minded leftists cannot stick together to work against fascism, capitalism and racism.

But Iran, Cuba, China, etc. – we can win enough of these things for ourselves, at least.

We are doing just fine – steady as she goes, eh? All thanks to central planning, as the capitalists veer from crisis to crisis, with the 1% sucking up a greater percentage every time. Our election had huge participation rates, as usual, dwarfing the European cultures who probably want to claim they invented voting, along with everything else. Asia has heard it all before….

For the non-Western readers: I know that the vast majority of you already support Iran. I have talked with too many of you over my life – I know better. I also know that for us “field slaves” we have to give that impression in order to survive, sometimes, or at least to avoid annoyances.

Anyway, many Westerners appear to misunderstand Socialism completely: they don’t realize it is intrinsically a global idea; they think the Franco-German-Russian (European) variety is the only one. More Eurocentrism blinding them to reality, and necessarily limiting them….

But I look across the West and I see nothing but leftist failure after leftist failure: The fall of communism in Russia, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the obvious absorption of “left” parties into the dominant right-wing parties, the rise of austerity, the advance of globalization at the expense of national interests….

So the next time you look at Iran, you should applaud it as a rare socialist success. Iranians will certainly keep living their path of creating modern socialism, Inshallah.

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.

Orientalists, Gatekeepers, Evangelists and Subverters of the Syrian Defense Community

May 12, 2016

By Intibah Kadi

A curious phenomenon has gradually crept upon the English language social media community that defends Syria; a small but effective group of “orientalists” with their varied agendas, gatekeepers amongst them of all shapes and sizes and evangelizers and assorted nefarious subverters. Syrians, having never experienced working together with people from across the world, had no experience of the pro and cons of such activism. In general, Syrians have politely made excuses for colonialist or exceptionalist behaviour with statements such as “anyone who speaks up about Syria is our friend”. We may even say that the Syrian government has done this in its endeavour to welcome any promotion for the defence of Syria , no matter who it comes from.

How did this happen? Syrians had not experienced what Palestinians had in their decades long struggle which involved volunteer advocates, mainly from the West. Palestinians became quickly aware that they had to keep control and ownership of their struggle as some of their supporters suffered from an overwhelming need and sense of entitlement to speak for and on behalf of the Palestinian people to the point where some actually saw themselves as representing that struggle. Apparently Gandhi insisted to his great and life-long friend Charles Andrews that only Indians must be involved in their struggle, so, that awareness was there a long time ago.

Edward Said’s most famous and rather complex work ,“Orientalism”, published in 1978, explores the relationship between power, knowledge and colonialism. Some of his words echo in my mind when it comes to this subject of a people needing to preserve the integrity of and control over their struggle. It is claimed that Said was influenced by the Italian Marxist Gramsci’s notion of ‘hegemony’ in terms of understanding the influence of orientalist constructs and entrenchment in Western academia and even their reach of power over the Orient itself. In this context, Gramsci’s views on ‘hegemony’ refer to the victory of the dominant class’s promotion of their definition of reality and world view.

We are here talking about people in the West and in the case of this article, specifically of a section of Western activists. Hence, the various frameworks they present are seen in their paradigm as the norm, as logical, the given and the only set of frameworks to view the world through. Those who do not toe the line, and in this subject being discussed here, these are the actual “orientals” themselves; they are utterly marginalized even though is it their struggle, their story, their history and their culture. They can lose their voice because of the exceptionalists’ need to play the role for them and be their voice. These “orientalists” have a tremendous need to retell another culture’s experience. And, how dare in the case of Syria, for example, that there can exist eloquent, highly educated, brilliant and deeply knowledgeable Syrian analysts and activists who contradict the conclusions derived from the frameworks of the significant and only paradigm on this planet?

For as long as such a person toes the line, agrees with his Western allies, all goes well and, to a certain degree, there will be some support for this analyst or writer. But, the moment this “oriental” has the audacity to make conclusions or claims that fall well outside of those reached by the Western academics or analysts who use their Western paradigm frameworks, then it is time to silence, shut out and shut down this audacious “oriental” before their own inadequacies and failings are exposed.

All views, theories and assessments must fit neatly into these Western hemisphere frameworks, if not, then they must be ridiculed and shut down.

In the increasing phenomenon of Western activist involvement in causes far away from their lands, causes that have emerged principally due to the actions of the “masters of the universe”, they are coming into contact with people who they normally would not and, this is the case vice versa . The Western activists see themselves as in a position to to assist and support advocacy on situations involving underprivileged, disenfranchised or oppressed people. For the well-intentioned who are able to keep their ego in check and who have expunged as much of their socio-political biases and subconscious assumptions, they can be of immense assistance and value. However, for those who see a window of opportunity for personal advancement or some other agenda, then this is an ideal opportunity for them and this is where, in the case of Syria, generally experience of Syrians in recognizing this and making an informed assessment and decision about this is lacking or they are just too polite.

The more this problematic section of solidarists became involved in the struggles of others far away from their world, the more many became enmeshed and deluded in a world of fantasy, placing themselves as the centre piece of someone else’s struggle and ultimately disempowering those they were meant to support.

In the case of Palestine this became painfully obvious when many if not most activists from the West, not having the background to understand the history, cultural and intimate nuances of life in the region that only an Indigenous person can have, supported the disappointingly large section of Palestinians who took the sectarian path and supported the murderous Takfiris. Some took these little understood, adopted views on as if it were a new cause for their very own existence when, in fact, they were assisting those who were threatening the very existence of the only secular and truly independent nation in the Levant, Syria and the mother of Palestine.

The world in the Levant is so different in so many ways to life in the West and, no words can adequately reflect this. For a person from another culture far away, to meddle in areas of sensitivity in the region, believing they understand it all, they can, in fact, contribute to further violence, hatred or even genocide. For example, in the Levant, there is a term used to inflict extreme insult upon others; it is in fact the name of a particular ethnic culture. The same goes for those who do not understand that some of their words have contributed to fanning the flames of sectarianism in the region. Both examples have the potential to become giant bloodbaths, particularly the latter.

When we come to the works of Indigenous Levantines, from newspaper reports, analysis or interviews, these seem not to be regarded by any Western analysts as primary materials. And, when Indigenous Levantines endeavour to bring out to the Western world important news or analysis from key, important Arabic speaking analysts, they are not for one moment regarded as primary documents or even read by these described analysts. So in fact, in general, many of these non-Indigenous analysts tend to present their analysis based on secondary sources. I am not specifically referring to news reports here as many competent Syrians have been able to get news out in the English language. I am talking about analysis. So the point I am making here is that, when I really think back to the last five years of the War On Syria, indigenous insights from the Levant brought to the West in order to assist the supporters of Syria and the West in general to appreciate what is really going on from the perspective of the people actually in that area tends to be discounted or totally ignored by serious Western analysts and others. Those “orientalists” often are at total odds in their analysis to what the Levantine analysts state.

Even worse, despite countless instances when none of the Arabic language media in the region makes a single mention of some purported event published in the alternative media of the West, these reports gain enormous credibility amongst the Western supporters and even gain a life of their own. The fact that these “reports” are not even mentioned in the street or in the media of the country or region where it was supposed to have occurred, seems not to have the slightest impact on the this section of Western supporters. It is desired reading and it perhaps fits within their framework.

As for the story about why ISIS and such Takfiri groups were able to be created and prevail, the story from the Levant, from learned and informed understanding of the Quran and the history of Islam from an Indigenous person, is to be totally discounted and in fact ridiculed and insulted. The Western framework around this narrative is the one and only valid explanation.

I will share a very telling story with the reader which demonstrates a world of insight into the issues this article explores. This is an experience I encountered but I am sure many other Indigenous analysts may have even more amusing stories to share.

A startling report came out back in September 2013, in the Arabic language Al Manar, the official organ of Hezbollah, a stickler for accurate reports. It claimed that Russia had stopped two ballistic missiles heading for Syria. When I partook in promptly and urgently translating this report into English and sent it around the world I came across a problem with one of the alternative media sites in an English speaking country. The editor refused to publish it as he said the report was not verified as it had not been reported in the American site called “Information Clearing House” (ICH). Rather a chicken versus the egg argument! So a report from the mighty Hezbollah’s media site about an event that happened in its own area was not valid until the ICH said it was so. Besides the incredible arrogance, the logic in the Editor’s argument was missing.

Edward Said always warned about ‘orientalism’ and its proponents’ tremendous need to retell another culture’s experience and that it was even utilized by imperialism. Undoubtedly this includes conscious but mostly subconscious attitudes of colonialism and gate-keeping and ultimately results in the silencing of Indigenous voices that are “non-compliant” with the place and status these “orientalists” want to relegate them to!

This hijacking and subverting of Syrian control over the English speaking social media fight for Syria came to a head recently when a large section of the English speaking members of the social media movement, after one of the members had for months promoted one of her kind, Senator Dick Black, shared across the social media enthusiastic posts of the “hero” Senator. Senator Black was welcomed in Syria and indeed had a meeting with President Assad.

This is the background fundamentalist Christian Senator Black comes from; the Ted Cruz platform in the running up for preselection for the American Presidential race which included a proposed policy of only Christian Syrian refugees, not Muslims, being allowed into the USA; an overt and despicable sectarian stand.

Senator Black is a minor State Senator who curiously believes he has a role to play on the international arena. The Senator had been challenged over a year ago by an analyst whose insights on the misinterpretation of Islam and how that lent itself to driving the jihadist recruitment was given to a trusted acquaintance but immediately landed in the hands of the Senator. The Senator promptly used this information to achieve the exact opposite goals to the originator of the information and, clearly, this was used by the Senator to further his sectarian agenda. The result was a cleverly written article by the Senator, where that analyst saw his own words and concepts in print but with a very different message to the one he was trying to get across. Senator Black, in a subtle manner, stated that extremist Islam was a danger for Christianity and the Western civilization, making no mention of the danger it posed to everyone in the entire Middle East and indeed the whole world. Just like ISIS, the fundamentalist drive in the USA potentially poses a great danger. Such beliefs including other bizarre beliefs of Senator Black, goes against everything the State of Syria values and advocates.

“Cruz is avowedly as sectarian as you can get and so is Black”, to quote an American academic when contemplating on the meeting Black had with President Assad, … “nor does it benefit Syria to elevate a local state politician who is ridiculed in the US press for such bizarre extremist views on sexuality, birth control, etc. My god, what is [Black] doing even speaking about marital rape, let alone denying it. The guy is a nutcase and minor figure.”

And why do I focus on this matter of Senator Black? It is to demonstrate the extent that the Syrian fight for Syria on the English speaking forum has been subverted. So who does Black truly represent? For those who understand Cruz and his kind intimately, they will be able to suggest some answers. Cruz is as rabidly pro-Israel as an American can be. Those from his camp who may be involved in defending Syria are only interested in the Christians of Syria. Some may even come from USA based churches that on one hand have members setting off to Israel for solidarity activities and other members who suddenly veer off and focus on Syria.

Had the Syrians been in control of their cause on the English speaking social media forum, then the issues described above would never have occurred. Instead, due to politeness and extreme civility on the part of Syrians, their cause on the English speaking social media, was incrementally eroded and overrun by evangelists, agents of all kinds of agenda, self-promoting individuals, agents who speak for Syrian fifth columnists and even agents of the CIA backed Unification Church.

The clique that gradually formed and overran the solidarity community all fraternise with each other, the whole lot of these nefarious characters, supposedly some being in total contradiction to each other’s values and politics, all the while co-opting vulnerable Syrians and attacking or freezing out the Syrians who expose them just by the virtue of what they write and say. The Arabic speaking Syria defence community on social media has never heard of these “famous” clique members or of Senator Black. This clique, formed their own cocoon, live in a fantasy and, unfortunately affected the English language social media fight for Syria.

The genuine, sincere, Western supporters of Syria are also generally sidelined as their modus operandi of empowerment of Syrians and helping from far behind acts as a mirror to the ego driven and profile seeking activists. The most hard working and effective supporters of Syria are those we never hear about, and we never know of their deeds or how their help empowered key Syrian figures to achieve certain tasks. Some of these quiet unsung heroes from the West may silently enter Syria at times, meet discreetly with key figures, listen carefully, keep their eyes and ears open and mouths closed and, with the expertise they may possess, help from behind the scenes without any recognition or fanfare.

Son of Edward Said Publishes Book on Terrorism Prosecutions in the US

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[Ed. note – According to a recent poll, slightly over half of Americans–51 percent–side with the FBI in its dispute with Apple over whether or not the company should provide a key to unlock the iPhone. The poll would seem to uphold the old adage that if you scare people enough they’ll gladly and willingly turn over their freedoms and rights to privacy.

Sadly this seems to be the general direction in which things are headed in America, with the judicial system being another case in point. For a while now we have been seeing people prosecuted on “terrorism” charges–not for any act of terrorism but simply for holding views the government finds objectionable. Much of this is documented in a book called Crimes of Terror: The Legal and Political Implications of Federal Terrorism Prosecutions, by Wadie Said. The book discusses a number of high profile prosecutions, including of members of the Holy Land Foundation, who will “likely  serve the rest of their lives in prison” for nothing more than running a charity. Said, by the way, is a law professor at the University of South Carolina and the son of Edward Said.]

How the Son of Edward Said is Trying to Change Terrorism Prosecutions

By Murtaza Hussein | The Intercept

In 1999, Wadie Said was finishing his graduate studies at Columbia Law School, unsure of the direction he wanted his career to take.

A year earlier, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by a little-known terrorist group called al Qaeda. The lawyer for Muhammad al-Owhali, accused of organizing the bombings, reached out to Palestinian-American academic Edward Said for help in communicating with his Arabic-speaking client, as well as in understanding the politics of the region. Said suggested that his son might provide assistance.

“Sure, I guess,” was Wadie’s somewhat nervous reply at the time.

The experience was formative, setting Wadie, now a law professor at the University of South Carolina, down a path of legal practice and activism in the field of post-9/11 terror cases.

“I really absorbed from my father the idea of standing up for people who were persecuted or otherwise down-and-out, and wanted to apply that lesson in a different way, hence my initial decision to become a public defender,” Said says in an interview. “I was fortunate enough to start my career working on a high-profile prosecution like that with political overtones, and I came to the belief that it is always important to try and get the client’s message across, especially given how the overwhelming official hostility towards anyone with the status of terrorism defendant can subvert the legal process.”

The judicial fearmongering is perhaps best encapsulated by a 2013 appellate ruling in the case of Tarek Mehanna, a Boston-area man convicted of material support for terrorism. Mehanna was not actually accused of planning any violent act. The terrorism charges were instead based primarily on an accusation that he had translated ideological materials from Arabic to English and posted them online.

In his ruling upholding Mehanna’s 17-year sentence, Judge Bruce Selya wrote, with considerable rhetorical excess, “Terrorism is the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat,” and he added that terrorism defendants, even ostensibly non-violent ones like Mehanna, should expect the posture of the courts toward them “will be fierce.”

Wadie Said’s critical view of these sorts of cases was shaped by his father’s scholarship, as well as his own legal studies. “My father’s books obviously had a deep impact on me, as I learned how negative stereotypes affecting whole regions, cultures, languages and religious practices of anyone who could be considered part of the Muslim world could be very overwhelming,” Said says. “Once these stereotypes migrated to the realm of criminal prosecution, I felt I should try my best to counteract and dispel them in the legal field, particularly in cases where the government wanted to put people in prison for non-violent political activism, charity and other forms of solidarity with oppressed people around the globe.”

Said has written a new book, Crimes of Terror: The Legal and Political Implications of Federal Terrorism Prosecutions, which argues that “the mentality that we are in a nebulous and continuous war on terror” has led to overzealous and unwarranted terrorism prosecutions, while eroding key aspects of the rule of law. “The excesses of the past, including the use of agents provocateurs, racial profiling and mass infiltration by informants, have all been quietly revived under the banner of fighting this ill-defined threat,” Said told The Intercept.

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has pursued extraordinary legal (as well as extralegal) efforts to combat terrorism, and in doing so has expanded the “terrorist” label far beyond its previous connotations. Said argues that measures taken by the courts have created an effective “terrorist exception” to previously existing legal standards. Crimes of Terror examines the way in which this exception has altered normal law enforcement and judicial practices at every stage of the legal cycle, from initial investigation and evidence gathering, to trial, and finally to sentencing and incarceration.

In the courts, the admission of evidence obtained through torture, violations of due process rights and even evidence obtained by agents of foreign governments known for human rights abuses, have been deemed legally acceptable. Ahmed Abou Ali, a U.S. citizen who confessed under torture by Saudi authorities to a plot to kill then-President George W. Bush, had his confession deemed admissible by an American judge, in a trial thatAmnesty International criticized as potentially “[setting] a precedent in US courts of according support to …. statements obtained by torture and ill-treatment.” Abou Ali is presently serving a life sentence in the ADX Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.

The extent to which normal legal procedures are often suspended was highlighted in one bizarre episode, described in Said’s book, from the 2007 trial of the directors of the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States. At that trial, agents of the Israeli Mossad werepermitted to testify anonymously and with their faces hidden as expert witnesses about the foundation’s purported links to Hamas. One of the agents, introduced to the jury solely under the pseudonym “Avi,” told the court that he could “smell Hamas” on the defendants’ charity work.

Crimes of Terror documents what Said says is a willful, ongoing effort by the government to blur the line between peaceful activism and terrorism, wherein people advocating for unpopular political causes are treated by the legal system in the same manner as those accused of committing violent acts. During the Holy Land Foundation trial, the prosecution played incendiary videos of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rallies to connect the defendants in the minds of the jury to violent militarism, despite the government conceding that the defendants themselves were engaged in purely humanitarian work.

Indeed, it was revealed at trial that several of the defendants had attempted in 1996 to clarify the rules on sending charity money to the Gaza Strip without running afoul of material support laws, a request to which the government had been unresponsive. The defendants in that case were ultimately convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms on the grounds that their funding of charitable committees in Gaza had provided “reputational” benefits to the Hamas government there.

“One deliberate goal of the government has been to effectively equate having unpopular politics with being a terrorist,” Said says. “No one involved in the Holy Land Foundation had anything to do with violence and the government readily acknowledged they were involved in purely humanitarian work. However, because they were advocating Palestinian nationalism, an unpopular cause in the United States, they were successfully prosecuted as ‘terrorists’ and will now likely serve the rest of their lives in prison.”

The sense that terrorism cases are legally exceptional pervades the entire legal process, right up to incarceration. The U.S. government now operates a number of highly restrictive prison facilities for terrorism suspects on the mainland, known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs. These units are widely perceived to have developed a religious component, specifically as facilities created for the purpose of housing Muslim prisoners. A 2011 NPR report documenting the existence of these facilities, dubbed “Guantanamo North,” cited figures showing up to three quarters of CMU detainees were Muslim, a “tenfold over-representation” when compared with the national prison population.

Even unluckier, however, are the people convicted of terrorism who wind up in facilities like ADX Supermax in Florence, Colorado, where they are subjected to solitary confinement, as well as Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which restrict their ability to communicate with other inmates, friends and relatives outside prison, and even prevent them from receiving news of the outside world.

While these measures are justified on the basis of preventing convicted terrorists from issuing orders to potential co-conspirators, in practice, Said says, they serve no purpose other than to make prison a more punitive experience for those convicted of terrorism offenses. “The element of punitiveness and gratuitous cruelty involved in incarcerating and holding terrorism suspects is off the charts. There is simply no way that any of these people, locked in solitary confinement in some remote prison, could coordinate crimes with or without the existence of SAMs,” he says. “There are bad prisons around the world but the idea of a ‘clean version of hell,’ which ADX has been widely described as, is a uniquely American idea.”

Although movements like Black Lives Matter and Solitary Watch are attempting to end some of the harsher practices of the police state, Said writes that exceptional measures taken in terror cases can have ramifications throughout the criminal justice system. “There is a poorly understood creep that is going on between terrorism prosecutions and what you might call ‘ordinary’ criminal cases,” he says. “The number of terrorism cases are small enough to slip under the radar, but it keeps alive the precedent to be used in future against some of the inchoate social movements challenging other aspects of government power.”

Said believes that these judicial and legal practices are enabled by a pervasive sense of fear and racism toward Arab and Muslim defendants. “If you have a funny name and darker skin and are facing charges like this, then really, good luck to you,” he says. “It’s going to be really tough when the government begins drawing all these connections to a jury based on your religion or politics.”

‘Stop that journalism shit’…Filmmaker Discusses Trials of Working in Occupied Palestine

Posted on November 23, 2015

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A Flawed Model? Or the Only One That Now Works?

New Film Tells the Story of the Occupation Through the Eyes of Israeli Jews

What if you had filmed a documentary on life under Israeli occupation and then later, after the documentary was released, one of the Palestinians you had interviewed, and who had appeared in your film, was shot by Israeli soldiers, presumably in retaliation? How would it make you feel?

Such matters are among the subjects discussed in a lengthy article published recently at Americans for Middle East Understanding. The article is written by Tom Hayes, an independent filmmaker since the late 1970s and whose documentaries have appeared on PBS and elsewhere. In the course of his lengthy career, Hayes has made three documentaries on Occupied Palestine–one released in 1985, the second in 1997, and the most recent, “Two Blue Lines,” which came out earlier this year.

His first film on Palestine, Native Sons: Palestinians in Exile, was filmed largely in Lebanon, but his second–People and the Land–was filmed inside Palestine, and those Palestinians who worked with him on it, i.e. those who agreed to be interviewed as well as those who were part of his film crew, suffered retribution. One of them was warned to “stop that journalism shit,” and then later shot in the stomach.

All of which led Hayes to adopt what he refers to as “Plan B” in the making of Two Blue Lines. Obviously Israeli Jews, in cooperating on such a film project, don’t run the same risk that Palestinians do–and so virtually all of the subjects interviewed for this latest documentary are I guess what you might refer to as “Jews of conscience.” This means in essence, of course, that the film tells the story of the occupation through Jewish eyes, rather than Palestinian eyes, which will strike some people as farcical or preposterous–and indeed that’s how it struck Hayes at first. But it was the method he eventually chose, apparently out of necessity.

Jews of conscience, I suppose, can be expected to speak of such things as how the occupation runs contrary to “Jewish values” and the like, and indeed if you look at the trailer below, you’ll see and hear a bit of that. But apparently even Hayes himself is of a rather similar mindset, making reference to a “Jewish ethical tradition,” as he puts it in his article. And this might give us pause to thought.

There are of course good Jews. And there are bad Jews. (As is the case with any group of people.) And if we look around us today, judging not only from what we see going on in Israel but also the support that the Jewish state gets from Jews abroad, it would appear that the “bad Jews” outnumber the “good Jews,” perhaps by a fairly considerable margin. Despite that, though, we are supposed to take it on faith that there exists such a thing as a “Jewish ethical tradition.” It has always struck me as flawed logic.

But there is another problem with it as well. If I, as a white American, were to lay claim to having “white values” or to begin making conversational references to a “white ethical tradition,” I would, quite naturally, be called a racist. So why are Jews given a free pass when they do the same? Why do people, including Jews themselves–and yes, Jews of conscience most especially of all–not hear with their ears and recognize all this talk about “Jewish values” as having the same sort of supremacist overtones? But it seems they don’t. And this, I think, may be one of the problems lying at the root of the occupation, and why it has gone on for as long as it has.

Yet these are the people through whose eyes Hayes tells the story of the occupation. To be clear–I’m not passing judgement. I can’t.  I haven’t seen the film. All I’ve seen is the trailer below. It may well be that it’s a good film. Or it may be, as I say, that it’s a flawed model for a documentary but the only real option available, particularly now with an intifada in full swing. If you’re curious to find out for yourself, you can order the film here.

Below is an excerpt from Hayes’ article. As I mentioned above, the full article is quite lengthy. In it, the author makes some good points, and maybe a few that are not so good, but overall, it is an article well worth reading, and it definitely gives you a taste of the trials and tribulations of trying to film a documentary in Occupied Palestine.


Between Two Blue Lines

Two Blue Lines Trailer from Tom Hayes on Vimeo.

By Tom Hayes

Why Plan B

In 1981, when the fire lit under me, I was reading anything I could lay my hands to about Palestine, Palestinians, political Zionism, the creation of Israel.  One text of particular clarity was (and still is) The Question of Palestine by Edward Said.  I called Professor Said at Columbia and explained that I didn’t think Americans had any idea what was happening to Palestinians.  I wanted to do a film that would change that, and had found his book particularly illuminating.  Would he come on board as a consultant for the project?  Edward was polite in the face of my naiveté.

This isn’t an exact quote, but it’s close, “Tom, it’s nice that you care, but we Palestinians need to take control of our own narrative.”  He indicated that he was just too busy with that enterprise to help.  Edward eventually relented and assisted me with writing the voice-over for Native Sons: Palestinians in Exile.

I never forgot that first interaction with Professor Said.  His seminal statement about who needs to be holding the reigns on the Palestinian narrative rang in me.  I worked very hard in both Native Sons and People and The Land to create work that would at least serve as conduits for Palestinian voices, that they might reach American ears.

Yet, staring into the screens in my editing suite in 2005, the film that was peering back at me flew in the face of Professor Said’s injunction. I noticed that some of the Israelis I filmed on “Plan B days” were actually telling the truth—the honest, empathic, truth of the enslavement of Palestinian people and the attack on their culture at the hands of the Zionist project.  Not old school retail enslavement where the owner is responsible for food and shelter of those whose lives he “owns.”  I’m talking wholesale, big lots of enslavement; just chain their lives, let them starve, and hope they find a way to run away.

In 2007, I cobbled together enough grants to mount another production trip to Palestine. I wanted to be there for the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 war.

I got a great wake-up call from one of my enablers in Gaza on that trip. I was prohibited by Israeli forces from entering Gaza, but Palestinian friends were there filming for me. My friend, Mohammed, said something that forever changed how I see “the situation.” We were discussing filming dates and I was adamant that cameras be rolling through what I was calling “the anniversary of the occupation,” June 5, 1967.  He was perplexed. “June 5th, not May 14th? Oh, you’re talking about the anniversary of the Naksa, not the Nakba.”

Mohammed was born in a refugee camp in Gaza. For him, for his parents, for all the people of his hometown, the occupation began on the day that Israel declared its independence. It began with the Nakba, the Catastrophe that left his family locked outside their homes, their town, their land. The 1967 war was, as far as he and his community are concerned, the Naksa, the “Setback.” It wasn’t particularly significant for the vast community of Palestinian refugees. For Palestinian refugees, every inch of land controlled by Israel is occupied territory. That is their narrative, lived for sixty-seven years, and it should be recognized.

During that trip I leaned even harder on gathering the testimony of progressive Israeli Jews. Back in the States, sifting the footage, the suspicions that I had had about the film’s intent became clearer.  It is that way with a documentary.  There is something in a mountain of film that says “I know who I am, what I want to be.  Listen to me.”  If you wind up with the documentary you thought you were making when you started a project, you probably should have stayed home.  You didn’t discover anything new, and stuck with the preconceptions you had when you started.

What was climbing out of the screens into my editing room was the picture of a film that swerved one hundred eighty degrees away from Edward Said’s pronouncement on control of narrative.  I started seeing a film that handed the story of the Palestinian experience over to Israeli voices.  That seemed too wrong to contemplate.  My gut reaction was “No, no, and absolutely not!”  I spent about a week prowling the night, thinking, rethinking, rejecting, weighing the approach.  It was such a twisted idea, I had a hard time getting my head around it.

There are some life, death, and destruction elements that had to be considered in the equation.  There had been Israeli reprisals against individuals and families who spoke candidly to my camera in People and The Land.  Abu Imad was shot twice and his family home regularly ransacked by Israeli forces.   One of my fixers was shot in the stomach after he ignored an Israeli order to “stop that journalism shit.”  The father of one of my subjects died at a checkpoint while suffering a heart attack.  The ambulance he was in was denied entry to Jerusalem.  This is not hypothetical.  The Zionist sword hangs over the neck of every Palestinian.  It’s an honor that so many Palestinian people have provided access to their communities and given my camera their testimony.  An honor that so many cared to protect me and my crew from the Israeli army.

There is responsibility, and there are consequences for the actions of documentary makers.  Every time I have gone back to Palestine the lives of my Palestinian friends have been further debased by the Zionist project.  It’s one of the things that has made the work of documenting an inescapable obligation.  That and the knowledge that I, and my country, are responsible for that debasement.

I spoke about that grinding guilt with one of my longtime contacts the last time I was in Palestine.  He put a gentle hand on my arm and said, “Tom, what makes you think they wouldn’t have shot us if we hadn’t helped you?  What makes you think they wouldn’t have imprisoned and tortured us if we hadn’t helped you?  You need to forget about that.”  It was a very sweet thing to say, but I cannot forget about the horrible things that happened to them, nor can I clear myself of responsibility for that carnage.  The blade of the occupation never wavers, patient in its hunt for the next person to defy it.  As a filmmaker, you’d be crazy not to think about that, if you care at all for your fellow human beings.

On a trip after the second Intifada I contacted a health care professional who had provided excellent clinical analysis of the impact of Israeli ordnance on Palestinian bodies during the first uprising.  I was curious about the escalation in degree and scope of injuries he had recently encountered.  I was invited to his home outside of Jerusalem and, after tea, I broached my request to film with him again.  He politely declined.  “I knew you were going to ask me this.  I can’t do it.  It’s not worth it.”  He explained that his wife had cancer and they had to go to Jerusalem for her treatments.  “I could lose our permits if I appear in a film.”  I didn’t press him.  The tentacles of the occupation reach into every cranny of people’s lives.  His was a well founded fear.

There was a time when speaking on camera about the occupation would, at worst, get a Palestinian beaten and jailed.  Those were “the good old days” before the policy of targeted murder was adopted.  Israel has murdered hundreds of Palestinians under that policy.  Israel’s murderous brutality in the West Bank and Gaza has increased to such a point that even drawing forward footage from “the good old days” for a new film could be a death warrant for my subjects.

Just as I have footage of Stephen Langfur aging twenty years on film, so do I have footage of many Palestinians aging before the camera as their lives are squeezed in the vise of Israel’s systematic denial of their humanity.  It is gripping, sometimes inspiring, and horribly tragic material.

As I prowled the night wrestling with the mode of retelling the story of Palestine, weighing the possible impact of my options, I came to a turning point.

I am no longer going to gamble the lives and families of my friends by putting them in a film that might or might not positively impact their lives.  Not until they either live as free human beings, or cease to exist at all.  Palestinian filmmakers know the risk/reward equation within their own community.  I leave it to them and their subjects to take control of their own images and narrative.

Concurrent with the concrete implications of mode and content I was also weighing the profoundly racist nature of American media.  It occurred to me that what lay before me was an opportunity.  If the only voices that are presented by the media as “unbiased” vis-a-vis the I/P conflict are Jewish voices, I could build a film from Jewish voices that are actually telling the truth.  Not denying, distorting, distracting, or engaging in deceit (4D Zio-ganda).

I could deploy not just Jewish voices, but Israeli Jewish voices, speaking with human empathy and passion, the truth of what the Zionist project has done to the indigenous people of Palestine.

That’s exactly what had climbed out of the screens into my editing room: an opportunity to weaponize racism against itself.

I am an utterly unapologetic proponent of human equality.  I don’t believe that you have to have been a slave to know that slavery is repugnant.  I have not known the experience of slavery, but I sure as hell know that practicing it is a moral abyss.  Just as the strong voices of my Israeli subjects in Two Blue Lines know that the enslavement of the Palestinian people is a moral abyss.

In the end, if you truly believe in human equality, then any informed person of conscience can tell this story.  I myself am not Palestinian and have been trying to find an effective means of telling this story throughout my adult life.

It goes to the title of the film.  The Israeli flag contains two blue lines.  Two parallel blue lines that cannot intersect anymore than the Zionist project will ever truly intersect with the Jewish ethical tradition.

There’s something else that you can do with two blue lines.  You can make an equals sign.  In Palestine, equality has got the deep down blues real bad.

Full article here

Counter Ouch

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/01/the-case-of-gilad-atzmon/

Today Counterpunch and Redressonline published this incredible analysis by Blake Alcott.
It proves beyond doubt that Ali Abunimah & Co. never read my work or understood any of my ideas.

I guess that some of our Palestinian activists may have to self-reflect. Those who believe in one democratic state would be well advised to engage debate and endorse the notions of tolerance, pluralism and integrity.

Let us all leave Talmudic Herem to Israel and its sayanim.

To Shun or Bury the Hatchet?

The Case of Gilad Atzmon

by BLAKE ALCOTT

Panel at Cooper Union NYC led by Anne-Marie Slaughter, 28 September 2006:
Tony Judt: I just… I’d just like to say one very quick thing about [the difficulty of getting anything critical of Israel into the mainstream media]. When I submitted an article about the Israeli Lobby debate — that Mearsheimer and Walt kicked off — to a very well known American, North American, newspaper [NY Times], I was asked by the editorial directors would I mind telling them whether I’m Jewish or not. They felt it was something they would like to know before they published it.
Martin Indyk: But they published it.
TJ: I told them I was Jewish. (Audience laughs.)

This review of Gilad Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics and the anti-Atzmon essay by Ali Abunimah and some 20 co-signatories called Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon is an effort to unite the movement for one secular, democratic state (ODS) in historic Palestine of which both Atzmon and Abunimah are adherents. Edward Said wrote,

The absence of a collective end to which all are committed has crippled Palestinian efforts not just in the official realm, but even among private associations, where personality conflicts, outright fights, and disgraceful backbiting hamper our every step.

In his last years Said put such a “collective end” into words – for coexistence between Jews and Arabs in one state – and now, at the end of a decade that has witnessed outstanding articles, books and conferences articulating this vision, a chasm opens up. If our effort is not to be crippled both sides must bury the hatchet.

Abunimah, Omar Barghouti, Rafeef Ziadah and other signatories, as well as other ODS supporters known to me who have disavowed Atzmon, have made enormous contributions to justice for Palestinians. Their accusations are worth examining, which requires examining The Wandering Who? and some of Atzmon’s blogs and videos with an eye out for the racism, ‘antisemitism’ and Holocaust denial of which Granting accuses him. I haven’t read everything, of course, and there are certainly mistakes in my judgment, so I welcome any feedback and debate.

The call for disavowal accuses Atzmon of 5 trespasses:

(1) He claims to speak for Palestinians.
(2) He denies that Zionism is settler-colonialist.
(3) He believes that to self-identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.
(4) He denies the Holocaust.
(5) He is an ‘antisemite’, a racist.

Two general observations: First, Granting’s accusations are formulated indirectly, not ‘in so many words’; but a reading of the short document shows that these are what it boils down to. Second, Granting itself does not include any proof or evidence for the accusations; there are no examinations of Atzmon’s texts, even out of context. Neither are there explicit definitions of the terms ‘racist’ and ‘antisemitic’ that would by rights accompany such severe accusations. For such more detailed definitions and arguments I have searched the web in vain, but of course the web is large, and if I have missed something I hope somebody tells me. I’m restricting my analysis almost entirely to Wandering on the assumption that evidence for the accusations would be there, if anywhere.

Strictly speaking there is thus no case, only claims. Atzmon is innocent till proven guilty. It is unfair, difficult and inefficient to put the burden of proof on the accused. Nevertheless, I’ve read the book carefully and ended up writing a defense of it that includes several criticisms, quoting Atzmon at length along the way. Please also see the favourable reviews by Mazin Qumsiyeh and John Mearsheimer, and a less favourable one by Elias Davidson. I ignore denunciations of Atzmon by Alan Dershowitz, Tony Greenstein and Jeffrey Goldberg because they consist of associative thinking and are based on often-unreferenced quotations out of context. Preceding Granting, in late February 2012, was a similar critique of Wandering that actually contains 12 quotations from Atzmon.

The five accusations

(1) Guiding the Palestinian struggle

Granting claims that Atzmon “for many years now… has taken on the self-appointed task of defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle, and the philosophy underpinning it.” Since I am sure the Granting signatories do not reject all ideas of all outsiders, this leaves it unclear what counts as acceptable opinion and support. It is moreover legitimate for Atzmon and other Israeli citizens to advocate visions of the future of their country – necessarily including Palestinians.

Granting’s concern becomes clearer through the further statementthat “As Palestinians, it is our collective responsibility, whether we are in Palestine or in exile, to assert our guidance of our grassroots liberation struggle.” Atzmon has in fact elsewhere agreed with this:

It is our duty (as human beings) to show our support to the Palestinian people but we are not allowed to tell them what to do. We are not allowed to tell them what is right or wrong, we can only offer ourselves as soldiers…

Ignoring the absurdity of the idea of ‘telling Palestinians what to do’, roles between the oppressed and those in solidarity with them must always be negotiated. In this case however I know that there is almost total agreement between Atzmon and the “principles” of the movement guided by the signatories: Right of Return, equality not apartheid within Israel, liberation of the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps even a preference for one over two states.

(2) Settler-colonialism

Granting claims that “Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project…” The text of Wandering does not support this claim. Atzmon in several places explicitly affirms that Zionism is settler-colonial. (pp 9, 88, 101, 165) In apparent contradiction, he does in one place write that it “is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine”. (p 19) In my reading this means it is not just a run-of-the-mill colonial movement out for economic or geopolitical gain: there is no mother country unless it is world Jewry, and Zionism’s only colony is Palestine, which was chosen over Argentina and Uganda for cultural and/or religious reasons. Atzmon elsewhere objects to the “misleading” colonialism paradigm because he regards Zionism as a unique racialist project, not motivated by material exploitation for the (non-existent) homeland.

Atzmon is basically asserting that the settler-colonialist paradigm is not sufficient to explain Zionism: Zionist events like the attack on the Mavi Marmara, dropping White Phosphorus on Gaza, slicing up the Holy Land with separation walls, and indeed the original expulsion of “the vast majority of the Palestinian indigenous population just three years after the liberation of Auschwitz… have nothing to do with the colonialist nature of the Jewish state…” (pp 181-182) To be sure, the term “nothing” overstates the case, but his claim is that more than colonialism is involved. I’m inclined to agree when I read for instance Netanyahu’s December 2012 statement that “We live in a Jewish state, and Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Western Wall is not occupied territory. We will build in Jerusalem because this is our right.”

(3) Jewish political identity

Granting interprets Atzmon’s complex sociological concept of Jewish-ness to mean that

Zionism…is…part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew. Therefore, he claims, one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.

Now, to say that self-identifying as a Jew entails Zionism is prima facie absurd, and I do not find the claim in Wandering. I agree with Granting that Atzmon is wrong in his blanket criticism of anti-Zionist Jewish groups. I also find Atzmon at places abstruse on this issue of the relation between world Jewry, “Jewish ideology” and Zionism.

But confusion is abated when we realise that his definition of Zionism differs from the standard, broad ‘movement for a Jewish state in Palestine’. Rather: “I suggest that it makes far more sense to regard Zionism as a tribal Jewish preservation project [aiming at] the prevention of assimilation…[] Accordingly, Zionism should be seen as an amalgam of different philosophies specialising in different forms of tribal separatism, disengagement and segregation.” (p 70) Atzmon is thus talking only about a political self-identity, so Granting misrepresents him.

Atzmon sets up three non-exclusive basic categories: “Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewish-ness (the ideology)… or identity politics, or political discourse”. (p 15) The book does not criticise Jews, the first category, does criticise a few aspects of Judaism, the second, and argues for 200 pages against the third, Jewish-ness, and against those who “put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits.” (p 16)

I am confused as to whether Atzmon wants to say that politically identifying with Jewish-ness entails Zionism. In numerous places criticises or laughs at Jewish tribalism (pp 19, 32, 56, 113, 116, 164-165, 172, 181-184), writing that “to identify politically as a Jew and to wonder what is ‘good for the Jews’ is the true essence of Jewish tribal thinking...” (p 184) Zionism “united the tribe on many levels” (p 46) and “is grounded on a very specific realisation of the Jewish identity as a synthesis of racial awareness, religious awareness and nationalistic awareness”. But while Jewish-ness is an ethnically-based political ideology, Atzmon doesn’t show that non-Zionist Jewish political identities are inconceivable.

Granting’s signatories must have misread the sentence, “To be a Zionist means to accept that, more than anything else, one is primarily a Jew.” (p 19) This says that all Zionists are 3rd-category Jews, not the reverse. The context moreover is a specific discussion of sanayim, Mossad agents living abroad.

I do however fault Atzmon’s statement that “…considering the racist, expansionist Judeo-centric nature of the Jewish State, the Diaspora Jew finds himself or herself intrinsically associated with a bigoted, ethnocentric ideology and an endless list of crimes against humanity.” (p 48) What does “intrinsically” associated mean? Merely being “associated” (by others) with something bad is one thing; but when this is “intrinsic” it could mean that the bad thing is indeed “part and parcel” of being a Diaspora Jew.

(4) Holocaust denial

Atzmon throughout acknowledges the Holocaust, shoah or Judeocide, asserting however that it should be studied historically like other ethnic exterminations. (pp 43, 70, 130-131, 154, 175-176, 182, 185-186) And we need to see how the Holocaust is used in the destruction of the Palestinians – a position shared by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Adi Ophir, Norman Finkelstein and Marc Ellis. (pp 148-152, 162) I do find imprecision in his statement that the “Holocaust… [is] not an historical narrative, for historical narratives do not need the protection of the law and politicians” (p149); to be consistent with everything he writes about the Holocaust this should read “not merely an historical narrative”.
Atzmon recalls,

As much as I was a sceptic youngster, I was also horrified by the Holocaust. In the 1970s Holocaust survivors were part of our social landscape. They were our neighbours, we met them in our family gatherings, in the classroom, in politics, in the corner shop. They were part of our lives. The dark numbers tattooed on their white arms never faded away. It always had a chilling effect. Yet I must mention that I can hardly recall a single Holocaust survivor who ever attempted to manipulate me emotionally.” (pp 185-186)

Further, “It is the Holocaust that eventually made me a devoted supporter of Palestinian rights, resistance and the Palestinian right of return.” (p 186)
An earlier blog reads,

[T]he form of Holocaust denial that really bothers me is the denial of the on-going Palestinian Holocaust. This Holocaust is documented and covered daily by the western media. The turning of residential Palestinian cities into concentration camps; the deliberate starvation of the Palestinian population; the withholding of medical aid from Palestinian civilians; the wall that tears the holy land into isolated cantons and Bantustans; the continuous bombardment of civilians by the IAF are known to us all. This Holocaust is committed by the Jewish state with the support of world Jewry.

This accusation by Granting is absurd.

(5) Racism and ‘antisemitism’

Atzmon writes nothing against Jews by origin, i.e. against anybody based on their genetic heritage or ‘race’; yet this would be the precondition for justifying the allegation of ‘antisemitism’/racism because ‘semitic’ refers to an ethnos or race. I trust moreover that ‘some of his best friends are Jewish’, and he vows:

I will present a harsh criticism of Jewish politics and identity. Yet… there will not be a single reference to Jews as ethnicity or race… This book doesn’t deal with Jews as a people or ethnicity. If anything, my studies of the issue suggest that Jews do not form any kind of racial continuum…[] I also refrain from criticisng Judaism. Instead, I confront different interpretations of the Judaic code. I deal with Jewish Ideology, Jewish identity politics, and the Jewish political discourse. I ask what being a Jew entails. (p 15; also pp 147-148)

Again, his first two categories – religious Jews and Jews by origin – are “harmless and innocent”. (p 16) No one is calling for harm to Jews. (p 131)

Atzmon does once lambaste Judaism for tribalism because it so closely adheres to an ethnic rather than religious concept of itself (p 113) and sees a continuum between the Bible and Zionism (pp 120-122). But he says clearly,

I am against racism and in fact in my writing you won’t find a single racial reference. Moreover, when I write about Jewish identity I analyse it in ideological and philosophical terms. For me Jewishness is a mind set. Nothing to do with the quality of one’s blood or the religion of one’s mother.

He does unfortunately make several statements that refer to “Jews” where “Jewish-ness” or “Zionist” would be more accurate and consistent with the whole book. He for instance writes of “European and American Jews” who have assimilated and cast aside their “Jewish identity”, where he means their Jewish political identity or identification with the “tribe”. (pp 64-65) He rightly says that all Jewish Zionists sign up to the Jewish-ness ideology, but he should avoid any ambiguity suggesting that all Jews adhere to Jewish-ness.

Blurring occurs when he omits the qualifier ‘political’ in writing of “the Jew within”, “the Jewish understanding of the past” or occasionally of “Jewish identity”. (pp 95, 173, 135) He does however usually precisely include it, for example in writing that one “can hardly endorse a universal philosophy while being identified politically as a Jew.” (p 39; also pp 102, 138, 145, 174) Imprecision burdens as well the statement that “Jewish people… can never be like ‘other people’, for those who demand to be seen as equal must feel inherently and categorically different.” (p 52) I also miss clear definitions for the phrases “the Jewish condition” (p 184) and “the wider Jewish problem”. (p 15)

Atzmon’s use of the phrase “Jewish lobbyists” (pp 152, 171) has been challenged, clarity speaking for “Israel lobby” or “Zionist lobby”. It is however at least mitigating that most Jewish Zionist lobbyists themselves refer to themselves and their organisations as ‘Jewish’, and that Zionists themselves appropriate Jewish identities to oppress Palestinian Arabs – for instance with the Holocaust (pp 130-134) or Judaic symbols on fighter planes (p 140). As Zionist Michael Bar-Zohar puts it, “If you’re attacking Israel, this means you are attacking Jews.” But why should one language-rule be valid for pro-Israel lobbies and another for its critics? (pp 149-151)

Granting in addition accuses Atzmon of ‘”allying” himself with “conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities”, but offers no evidence, nor even a definition of what “allying” would look like. I urge Atzmon to make his language less ambiguous, but given that he is criticising what he sees as the dominant Jewish political culture, not Jews in general, his book in fact supports Granting’s position that “our struggle was never, and will never be, with Jews, or Judaism, no matter how much Zionism insists that our enemies are the Jews. Rather, our struggle is with Zionism.”

Anti-Jewish-ness

Benny Morris, in an interview with Jewish Chronicle and Guardian Zionist Jonathan Freedland, defends himself against Freedland’s suggestion that his critical, negative claims about Arab culture “could be seen as” racist by rejoining that he [like Atzmon] is speaking of a dominant political culture, not Arabs as a genetically defined ethnic group. Morris’s ambiguities are between statements that ‘all Arabs’ or ‘a majority of Arabs’ or ‘Arabs’ or ‘Arab culture(s)’ place relatively low value on human life, but it seems the generalising nature of sociological analysis always entails a degree of conflation between (1) the dominant norms of the group and (2) all members of the group. Nietzsche walked the same tightrope in his Kulturkritik of Christianity. But the issue is the quality of Morris’s or Atzmon’s or Nietzsche’s empirical evidence and cultural analysis – a well-known academic field – not whether any such investigation is racist. It is not, since there is no appeal to ethnic causality which is the criterion for both positive (e.g. ‘philosemitic’) and negative (e.g. ‘antisemitic’) racism.
The advertisement for Wandering claims: “Since Israel defines itself openly as the ‘Jewish State’, we should ask what the notions of ‘Judaism’, ‘Jewishness’, ‘Jewish culture’ and ‘Jewish ideology’ stand for.” The Jewish state and its behaviour is an explicandum of the first order, costing as it does Palestinian lives and livelihoods. He quotes Israel’s first president: “‘There are no English, French, German or American Jews, but only Jews living in England, France, Germany or America.’ In just a few words, Weizmann managed to categorically define the essence of Jewish-ness.” (p 16) With this concept he hopes to correct and add to our understanding of Zionism.
Atzmon told Ha’aretz:

The Israelis can put an end to the conflict in two fucking minutes. Netanyahu gets up tomorrow morning, returns to the Palestinians the lands that belong to them, their fields and houses, and that’s it. The refugees will come home and the Jews will also finally be liberated: They will be free in their country and will be able to be like all the nations, get on with their lives and even salvage the bad reputation they have brought on themselves in the past 2,000 years. But for Netanyahu and the Israelis to do that, they have to undergo de-Judaization and accept the fact that they are like all peoples and are not the chosen people. So, in my analysis this is not a political, sociopolitical or socioeconomic issue but something basic that has to do with Jewish identity.

The anti-Zionist as well as the pro-Zionist discourse cannot be separated from the Jewish discourse.
At a One Democratic State conference in Stuttgart in 2010, attended by both Atzmon and Abunimah, the latter argued that this ‘culture’ category is useless:

I think that to use language that blames a particular culture – [Atzmon] was talking about Jewish culture – is wrong [applause] because such arguments could be made about anyone. We could blame German culture for the history of Germany, we could blame British culture for the history of British imperialism, we could blame Afrikaner culture for apartheid in South Africa. And this really doesn’t explain anything at all. (emphasis added)

Atzmon counters that this is

what historians, sociologists, anthropologists, intellectuals are doing when they try to understand historical and political development. The historians and sociologists who look into the Nazi era, don’t they look into German culture, into German philosophy, into the work of Wagner, both as a writer and as a composer, into the work of Hegel, and the German spirit, into Christian antisemitism, and the impact of the Protestant church, don’t they look into a Martin Luther, and his infamous book about the Jews and their lives? Don’t they look into German Early Romanticism? We are in the 21st century. We understand very well that culture, politics, history, heritage, religions, are all bonded together.

Abunimah’s position is of course untenable, while at the same time it remains to be seen whether Atzmon’s concept of ‘Jewish-ness’ really earns its keep.

Perhaps “Jewish-ness” is not strictly necessary to refute Zionism and support ODS. However, on the principle of ‘know thine enemy’ it may assist us in fighting Zionism and negotiating with Israel – were it ever to come to the table. I moreover submit that analysing the hoary topic of ‘what it is to be a Jew’ is of much interest to many Jews who are now doubting their support of the Jewish state. It seems to me that the issue can contribute to both an intra-Jewish discussion and to the discussion of how to stop the Jewish state’s murderous ethnic cleansing. Why should it do only one or the other?

One Granting signatory, Omar Barghouti, has sought in terms similar to Atzmon’s to explain Zionist crimes against Palestinians, the “relative-humanization” of Palestinians, and how Zionists live with it. His explanatory concept is ‘Jewish fundamentalism’, relying partly on the thought of Israel Shahak to find cold-bloodedness and justification for Jewish ethnic superiority in some “tenets of Jewish Law”. The Midianite genocide and certain Torah passages provide precedents for what is happening today. Atzmon likewise relates Israeli behaviour to Biblical precedents (pp 120-122, 157-162), yet in the main looks at secular Jewish culture, whereas Barghouti is perhaps focusing only on religious Jewish culture. Or, if it is not Atzmon’s anti-Jewish-ness that Barghouti finds racist, antisemitic and Holocaust-denying, what is it?

As for the content of Jewish-ness – in the broadest terms merely “Judeo-centric political discourse” (pp 88, 55, 145, 197) – Atzmon characterises it as (1) exclusivist, (2) based on the uniqueness of Jewish suffering, (3) supremacist and (4) uncannily paralleling some Old Testament stories. (pp 121, 160, 188) He writes for instance that

assimilation has never been presented as a Jewish political call. It was rather individual Jews who welcomed and enjoyed European liberal tendencies. The Jewish political call was inspired by different means of tribal, cultural or even racially-orientated segregation. (p 32)

As evidence that it is more “tribal” than many other groups Atzmon points to a relatively high resistance to assimilation, strong halachic marriage rules (procreative isolation), and high hurdles for conversion to Judaism. (pp 19, 32, 56, 113, 116, 164-165, 172) The bridge to Zionism, in Atzmon’s view, seems to be that a combination of exile, cohesion and chosenness, together with feelings of unique suffering, led to both a strong desire for an ethnically-defined rather than secular-democratic state and a sense of righteousness (and thoroughness) in its establishment at the expense of indigenous people.

I don’t know much about either Judaism or Jewishness, but I think Atzmon’s evidence for the trait of supremacy is inadequate. (see pp 2, 101, 181-182) True, Zionist acts are racially supremacist, but the book does not give a rigorous proof that feelings of ethnic superiority inhere in the Jewish political culture. But this is a question of content; that he writes about it is certainly kosher.

We should perhaps not forget that Hess, Jabotinsky, Weizmann and all Israeli politicians have tied the state as closely as possible to Jewish history and culture. (pp 16-17, 139) The Law of Return, the Jewish National Fund, Jews-only settlements and roads, the very concept of Eretz Israel, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence are racist. Negative Kulturkritik is not.

Atzmon unexpectedly even has a good word for Jewish-ness in seeing its “complexity” and the “duality of tribalism and universalism… at the very heart of the collective secular Jewish identity…” (pp 148, 162, 56) “Secular collective Jewish identity” is made up of bothelements, “Athens” and “Jerusalem”. (pp 56, 57, 78) In conciliatory mode he ambivalently asserts that while there is no such thing as a “Jewish humanist heritage’… there are some remote patches of humanism in Jewish culture, [which however] are certainly far from being universal.” (p 113) By reference to the ethnic particularism of Jewish-ness he suggests an answer to the question “How is it that… Israel and its lobbies are so blind to any form of ethical or universal thinking?” (p 177, emphasis added)

Another writer seeking connection between “Jewish resources” and a universal, egalitarian ethics is Judith Butler, whose new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism promises a rewarding look at this topic which should be debated, not silenced by the charge of ‘antisemitism’ or denying the legitimacy of cultural explanations in principle.

Imagine an exam question: “Is the following statement antisemitic?:

The reopening of the tunnel [beneath al-Haram al-Sharif] seems… an act of arrogant triumphalism, a sort of rubbing of Palestinian and Muslim noses in the dirt. This had the added effect of pouring fuel on the smoldering sectarian competition that has been the city’s long-standing bane. I do not think there is any doubt that this Lukud assertion of what is unmistakably Jewish power over Muslim holy places was intended to show the world… that Judaism can do what it wants.

Atzmon speaks of “Jewish nationalism, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power” (p 145), interpreted perhaps by Granting with the somewhat vague phrase “attacking Jewish identities”. But cannot one speak of a political ideology that sees itself as Jewish using the term ‘Jewish’ with its bundle of ethnic, religious, and political meanings?

Taboos

Atzmon asks several taboo questions.

I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions… We should strip the Holocaust of its Judeo-centric exceptional status and treat it as an historical chapter that belongs to a certain time and place. The Holocaust, like every other historical narrative, must be analysed properly… Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history? If they geniunely planned to do so, as the early Zionists claimed, why did they fail? (pp 175-176)

People who place such questions out of bounds “are doomed to think that anti-Semitism is an ‘irrational social phenomenon that ‘erupts out of nowhere’. Accordingly they must believe that the Goyim are potentially mad.” (p 182) It is a matter of simple logic that to ask why Jews were hated in Europe is not to presuppose that there were good reasons.
Another excerpt:

It took me many years to understand that the Holocaust, the core belief of the contemporary Jewish faith, was not at all an historical narrative [for] historical narratives do not need the protection of the law and political lobbies. It took me years to grasp that my great-grandmother wasn’t made into a ‘soap’ or a ‘lampshade’ as I was taught in Israel. She probably perished of exhaustion, typhus or maybe even by mass shooting… The fate of my great-grandmother was not so different from hundreds of thousands of German civilians who died in deliberate, indiscriminate bombing, just because they were Germans. Similarly, people in Hiroshima died just because they were Japanese… [As devastating as it was], at a certain moment in time, a horrible chapter was given an exceptional meta-historical status. (pp 175, 149)

The “Holocaust religion” freezes a certain narrative in law while Holocaust research follows normal historiographic rules; the claim of its uniqueness is ‘philosemitic’, and its severity is used to justify, with the logic of two wrongs’ making a right, the ethnic cleansing of people having nothing to do with the Holocaust. (pp 148-153)
Evil questions came naturally to Atzmon:

[At age 14 he] asked the emotional tour guide if she could explain the fact that so many Europeans loathed the Jews so much and in so many places at once. I was thrown out of school for a week. (p 184)
“As long as we fail to ask questions, we will be subjected to Zionist lobbies and their plots. We will continue killing in the name of Jewish suffering.” (p 176)

Ben White has similarly asked, “Is it possible to understand the rise in anti-semitism?” This requires defining both ‘antisemitic’ and ‘understand’. One poll question asked people if they “can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews”. While White is not anti-Semitic and not unpleasant towards Jews, he “can… understand why some are.” First, Israel subscribes to the racial supremacy of Jews, and Zionists “equate their colonial project with Judaism”, and although reacting to this racism and injustice with “attacks on Jews or Jewish property [is] misguided”, it can be understood politically. Second, since the Western media are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, some people believe, again “misguidedly”, the idea of a “Jewish conspiracy”. We must live with the ambiguity of the word ‘understand’.

Similarly, when Atzmon calls violence against non-combatants who are Jewish by origin “rational”, we must acknowledge the ambiguity of the term ‘rational’, which doesn’t mean ‘morally justified’. Atzmon defends his statement that burning down a synagogue can be “a rational act” by explaining that by “rational” he means that “any form of anti-Jewish activity may be seen as political retaliation. This does not make it right.” One can ask why such violence occurs, just as we can ask why the Jewish state commits and condones violence against innocent Palestinians and the destruction of olive trees and water cisterns. It can be Israeli racism, but it could also be ‘rational’ behaviour for Israel’s security. Antisemitism expert Antony Lerman, also, has noted that many acts against Jews in Europe were tied to Israel’s unjust behaviour – they were political, not irrational in the sense of arbitrary, or necessarily motivated solely by hate of Jews.

Another hot topic that might can approach solely in terms of Zionism, not Jewish-ness, is that of the economic, political and media power of Zionists who are also Jews in part motivated by allegiance to their ethnic group. Atzmon covers this briefly (169-172), his Exhibit A being the ardently pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle’s listing of the relatively large number of Jews in the UK Parliament (all hard or soft Zionists). Exhibit B is billionaire Haim Saban who says, according to a New Yorker portrait, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel… [The Arab] terrorists give me a potch in the panim…”;he openly seeks influence in “political parties,… think tanks… and media outlets…”, has tried to buy the LA Times and NY Times to push his agenda, and “harbors a wariness of Arabs that may stem from growing up as a Jew in Egypt.”

To declare out of bounds the subject of Jewish, as opposed to merely Zionist, influence in politics, finance and media is to claim that support for Zionism by many powerful people has nothing at all to do with the fact that they are Jewish, or rather, that they politically identify as Jews. Xstrata boss Mick Davis’s charity ‘United Jewish Israel Appeal’ (‘Powering young people in the UK and Israel’, ‘Strengthening Jewish identity and the connection to Israel’), is merely pro-Israel; in spite of its name, its slogans and its activities furthering Judaisation in “the Galil” and the Negev, it has nothing to do with Jewishness, no ethno-cultural content whatsoever. The Anti-Defamation League in the US, on this view, is merely a group protecting Jews from ‘antisemitism’, only coincidentally pro-Israel. Everybody knows this is fiction, and the subject appears taboo for critics but not for supporters of Zionism.

Again, one can strip Herzl’s movement for a Judenstaat to its settler-colonialist bones, but given an interest in promoting pro-Palestinian public opinion, one can look at this subject soberly, with no ‘antisemitic’ intent. Whether Jewish-ness and Zionism connect here, and whether this makes any difference in understanding Zionist oppression of Palestinians, are open questions, and I for one look for ‘Zionist’ rather than ‘Jewish’ publicists. But why should this be taboo? At any rate, on this subject Atzmon delivers a one-liner: “As I have said earlier, I do not believe in Jewish conspiracies: everything done in the open.” (p 76) But his real view is that “In fact the opposite [than a conspiracy] is the case. It isn’t a plot and certainly not a conspiracy for it was all in the open. It is actually an accident.” (pp 30, 21)

To be avoided is the situation where only supporters of Israel can point to ethnic-ideological connections while critics of Israel cannot. If we want to understand the entity committing the Palestinicide, the only line to be drawn is at hate speech based on ethnic, racial and religious criteria.

My objections

The ambiguity of ‘Jewish’
As shown above, some of Atzmon’s statements fail to distinguish clearly between his 2nd and 3rd categories – between Jews by biological origin and those whose priority is their (Jewish) cultural identity – and could thus be read as ‘antisemitic’. I find however no evidence of hate of, distaste for, or even criticism of, ‘Jews’. Complicating judgment of these statements is the fact that when they are ‘philosemitic’ they are not, in our mainstream discourse, seen as objectionable. (p 51) Not only ‘Jewish humour’, but quotidian political analysis routinely refers to ‘Jewish’ – not ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli’ – identity.

One Israeli analyst for instance correlates Israeli “right” and “left” stances with “where on our scale of identity we place Jewish identity”, quoting Netanyahu saying, “The leftists have forgotten what it is to be Jewish.” Still, I believe Atzmon should avoid sentences that use the unqualified terms ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish’ when the subject is identity politics. The statement “I grasped that Israel and Zionism were just parts of the wider Jewish problem” (p 15) is understood by those familiar with a long intra-Jewish discourse, but not by the wider world. It takes a lot of context to de-fuse a statement like, “With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me” – the context coming three paragraphs later, namely that “Jewish-ness isn’t at all a racial category…” (pp 94-95)

Tribal supremacy

As already touched on, while the Jewish supremacy of the Jewish state’s Zionism is obvious, Wandering does not demonstrate to my satisfaction that Jewish-ness is supremacist. Now if Jewish political culture (‘Jewish-ness’) is Zionism, the claim is tautologically true, but Atzmon maintains throughout that they are different. To be sure, adherence to any ethnically- or religiously-defined group arguably implies a belief that the group is a bit better than rival groups: upholding türklük, or saying ‘I am a Christian’ says something about Kurds, and perhaps Islam, as well. But Atzmon’s claim is not only open to empirical examination, it is not a claim about (all) Jews as an ethnicity, and therefore not racist. Nevertheless, because this claim is so central to building the bridge between Jewish-ness and Zionism it deserves more argument.

Jews Against Zionism

Atzmon criticises groups that mix ethnic Jewish identity with the non-ethnic political goals of socialism and anti-Zionism; they put their Jewish-ness above the content of their political stance in addition to excluding non-Jews. (pp 62, 71-76, 86-87, 102-105) Groups such as British Jewish Socialists, Jews for Boycott of Israeli Goods, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, or Jewish Voice for Peace remain, he says, within the discourse of ethnicism rather than universal humanism:

Even saying ‘I do not agree with Israel although I am a Jew’ is to fall into the trap. Having fallen into the trap, one cannot leave the clan behind – one can hardly endorse a universal philosophy while being identified politically as a Jew. (pp 38-39)

He gives an instance of the conflicting loyalties of Jews who oppose Zionism or support socialism as Jews by relating a Jewish Chronicle interview with two founding members of British Jewish Socialists who want also to belong to the Jewish ethnic group or nation.

I do differentiate between ‘the leftist who happens to be jewish’ – an innocent category inspired by humanism, and ‘the Jewish leftist’, which seems to me to be a contradiction in terms, for the left aims to universally transcend itself beyond ethnicity, religion or race. Clearly ‘Jewish left’ is there to maintain a Jewish tribal ethnocentric identity at the heart of working class philosophy. (pp 116-117)

The Marxist European Bund also mixed pro-socialist and pro-Jewish goals (pp 56, 116, 181), but I am not aware of what substantial differentiae would set Jewish socialism off from other brands.
It is however Atzmon’s attack on Jewish anti-Zionists that prompts the passage in Granting stating,

We will not allow a false sense of expediency to drive us into alliance with those who attack, malign, or otherwise attempt to target our political fraternity with all liberation struggles and movements for justice.

Yes, Atzmon targets that part of the pro-Palestinian movement defining itself as ‘Jewish’, believing that in the long run the cause is best served if we shed our ethnic political identities. He is asking whether, when the message is that “not all Jews are Zionists” (p 102), the main goal is to protect the good name of Jews, to retain some Jewish-ness, or to further the Palestinian cause. I believe Atzmon is here too severe in his critique, firstly because many such Jews fighting for Palestinian rights have impeccable motives, and secondly because there is a gain for Palestinians when a message to world opinion is that criticism of Israel does not entail being against Jews as Jews.

I am not aware that investigations into both ‘Jewishness’ and ‘Jewish ethics’ in connection with Zionism have revealed any difference in content between ‘Jewish’ anti-Zionism and ethno-religiously neutral anti-Zionism (i.e. universal ethics). I also accept the common observation that “Anti-Zionist (or Israel-critical) organizing, then, plays a crucial role in establishing a new secular Jewish identity, a field dominated by Zionism in Western nations for decades.” But again, the groups often identify themselves as Jewish for public-relations reasons, and indeed, why shouldn’t some such activists promote both anti-Zionism and the good name of their Jewish ethnos?

The social-marketing desirability of de-coupling Jewishness from criticism of Israel, which Atzmon misses or rejects (p 102), is expressed by the group ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ (which notabene supports the two-state solution and is thus not anti-Zionist):

As well as organising to ensure that Jewish opinions critical of Israeli policy are heard in Britain, we extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence and repression. We believe that such actions are important in countering antisemitism and the claim that opposition to Israel’s destructive policies is itself antisemitic.

While in the long or even medium run it is good to eliminate ethnocentricity from politics, there is perhaps now still some benefit for the Palestinian cause in having explicitly Jewish allies.

Finally, it slanders the many sincere anti-Zionist Jews organised as Jews to claim that they “hate the Goyim” (p 55), that they are (only) there “to keep the debate within the family” (p 102). While I sympathise with Atzmon’s attempt to “untangle the knot” (p 15) of religion, ethnicity and Jewish identity politics, and agree we should first and foremost explicitly embrace universal ethics, he here overstates his case. It also seems merely polemical to claim that “when it comes to ‘action’ against the so-called ‘enemies of the Jewish people’, Zionists and ‘Jewish anti-Zionists’ act as one people – because they are one people.” (p 102) Philosophical analysis of what Zionism has to do with Jewish-ness is still a nascent field, and I urge Atzmon to criticise but not ridicule all organised ‘anti-Zionist Jews’.

Alan Greenspan

Atzmon offers a cogent argument that Alan Greenspan’s economic policies were disastrous, but asserts that Greenspan, by creating an economic boom, “found a… way to facilitate or at least divert… attention from the wars perpetrated by the largely Jewish neo-conservatives in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (pp 27-30) He however neither offers evidence that Greenspan intended the boom to enable the expensive warmongering, nor criticises him for Zionism. He merely calls him a “rich Jew”. (p 27) This not only feeds the ‘antisemitic’ picture of the unscrupulous Jewish money-grubber but is based on Greenspan’s being a Jew by origin, not any purported Jewish political identity or culture. I also happen to know that the foreign-policy views of Greenspan are much closer to those of Ron Paul, and that in 1969 he paid for the bail and lawyer of my best friend who had refused to be drafted to go fight in Vietnam. Atzmon’s digression on Greenspan is harmful or at least pointless in the battle for justice for Palestinians.

An objection to Granting

The anti-colonialist ‘self-determination’ discourse must today compete with the individual-rights discourse. While Atzmon adheres strictly to the latter and sees the dangers in the self-determination of groups (pp 52, 105-106), Granting refers to the Arab-Palestinian “homeland” and the “self-determination… of the Palestinian people” (emphasis added); the text speaks of “our native lands”. The “our” can refer to those comprising the large majority of those who have lived there during the last dozen-plus centuries and happened to be ‘Arabs’ or ‘Semites’ and overwhelmingly Moslem; or it can be ethnicist, meaning Arab Semites, perhaps describing the signatories. Here perhaps we have contrasting visions of the one-state vision broadly shared by Atzmon, Barghouti and Abunimah, the latter seeing the constitution more in terms of bi-nationalism rather than the state’s absolute blindness towards ethnicity and religion. Yet why would this would be a reason to “disavow” Atzmon?

The signatories speak of “the struggle for Palestine and its national movement” and of theirs as “the Palestinian movement”. They also claim some rights in “defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle” and “the philosophy underpinning it”. Some sectarian as well as secular anti-Zionist Palestinians might disagree with this but, recalling the very first accusation against Atzmon (above), the point is that unless one excludes Israeli Jews from voting in the future secular, democratic state, Atzmon can speak not only universally but for himself as a citizen. I agree that one state is a bigger ask for the Palestinians than for the Israeli Jews, who as colonists are being invited to remain. But even outsiders like myself have the right to support any part of the ‘Palestinian movement’ we agree with. These questions about homelands and leadership deserve discussion rather than disavowal.

Granting speaks as well of Atzmon’s “obsession with ‘Jewishness’”, but this would surely be only Atzmon’s problem. The call moreover characterises Atzmon’s “attacks on anyone who disagrees with his [alleged] obsession with ‘Jewishness’” as “vicious”. However, in Wandering he aims no criticism at critics of his concept of Jewish-ness, and while I find sarcasm that occasionally goes too far, “vicious” is a crass mis-characterisation.

Other takes on Jewishness

How does Atzmon’s anti-Jewish-ness compare with other types of pro- or anti-Jewishness? Witness a Jewish-critical statement of Meron Benvenisti:

I would say that what characterizes us collectively is ethnic hatred, ethnic recoil, ethnic contempt and ethnic patronizing.

He balances this generalising take on the Jewish “collective” with the caveat that “I would not categorize us all as racists”, exactly paralleling Atzmon’s distinction between 2nd– and 3rd-category Jews; he attests racism only of a “large segment” of Jewish Israeli society. Benvenisti by the way also makes the statement that he is “proud to be a white sabra [native-born Israeli Jew]”. Is Benvenisti an anti-Jewish racist, a pro-Jewish one, or neither?

Philo-Jewishness statements likewise may or may not be ‘philosemitic’. In a Guardian interview Arnold Wesker utters, “A reverence for the power of the intellect is for me a definition of Jewishness:…” Now, a definition has a genus and one or more differentiae, so what distinguishes “Jewishness” as a type of sociological reification is a reverence for the power of the intellect. The inescapable corollary is that other ethnic (religious? cultural?) groups have no, or less, such reverence. It is perhaps evidence of this purported reverence that a website proudly lists Jewish Nobel laureates.
What are we to make of the observation of one of these Nobel laureates, Saul Bellow, on a trip to Jerusalem, that “a few Arab hens are scratching up dust and pecking”? That “Jewish claims in Jerusalem are legitimate”? That Israelis have a tough life “all because [they] wished to lead Jewish lives in a Jewish state”? That “When the Jews decided, through Zionism, to ‘go political’, they didn’t know what they were getting into”? That (according to A.B. Yehoshua) “Perhaps there is something exceptional in all our Jewishness [which] to us… is clear and we can feel it…”? That Bellow’s one academic colleague who criticised Zionism “went out to jog on a boiling Chicago afternoon and died of heart failure”? Bellow, who believes in “the moral meaning of Israel’s existence” and that it “stands for something in Western history”, uses ethnic, political and culture concepts interchangeably. Is Bellow an anti-Arab racist, a pro-Jewish one, or neither?

Many Jews-by-origin reject Zionism but retain Jewishness. Paul Knepper writes of Michael Polanyi:

In making the case for a Jewish state as the solution to anti-Semitism, Zionists had thrown up an array of mistaken identities, defining Jewishness in political, religious, and cultural terms. Polanyi rejected this as inward-looking, even reactionary; he pursued an outward-looking understanding based on the relationship of Jews to non-Jews. Polanyi saw assimilated Jews [like himself] not as running away or denying Jewish identity, but instead, as pursuing a truer and more significant expression of Jewishness.

Atzmon agrees with the first sentence but argues against finding identity in what one is not, and abandons the quest for Jewish-ness as such. (pp 31-36, 58-63, passim)

Eric Hobsbawm, the unobservant Jew who called himself a “non-Jewish Jew” and “not a Jewish historian [but an] historian who happened to be Jewish” (also Atzmon, pp 16-18), similarly saw a need to retain some “Jewishness”, even if it consisted merely of not being ashamed to be Jewish. He said of his friend Isaiah Berlin in contrast, “His Jewish identity implied identity with Israel because he believed that the Jews should be a nation.”

I have read only the introduction to Judith Butler’s Parting Ways, where she outlines the Jewishness of her formation and many of the ethical sources she draws on but acknowledges the paradox – perhaps contradiction – of holding values that are simultaneously universal and Jewish. (pp 26, 18) As the jacket of her book states,

Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.

She is a proponent of one secular, democratic state in Palestine searching for “a different Jewishness… [and] the departure from Jewishness as an exclusionary framework for thinking both ethics and politics.” (p 2) Her book promises [recalling Polanyi, above] “to locate Jewishness in the moment of its encounter with the non-Jewish, in the dispersal of the self that follows from that encounter [mainly with Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish].” (p 26)

Conclusions

Within Israel’s left, Atzmon’s ideas and formulations ruffle few feathers. As Ha’aretz journalist Yaron Frid says, lamenting Israel’s loss of Atzmon, “The score, for now: 1-0, Palestine leading.” In Israel Atzmon’s mother commented, “[The book] is not at all anti-Semitic. Gilad has a problem with Jewishness, he talks about three categories of Jews, but you have to read everything to understand – rather than bring quotations and take them out of context… I am very proud of my son.” (ibid.) But a mother would say that, wouldn’t she?

Atzmon insists that the desire for a Jewish nation arises out of Jewish suffering’s experienced specialness and asks what is then left of Jewish-ness when identification with (the uniqueness of) Jewish suffering is overcome. He asserts that Israel is not just another colonial power, but one driven by a distinctly Jewish ideology, and he convinced me that we must understand this Jewish-ness to understand for instance AIPAC, or to see that the West Bank to be given up by Israel in some phantasmagoric two-state settlement is not the West Bank, but Judea and Samaria. Yes, talking about a culture as opposed to some number of that culture’s members holds risks of conflation and ambiguity, and some of Atzmon’s discussion is an intra-Jewish one. But his book undoubtedly illuminates the ‘prosemitic’ racist ideology fatal to Palestinians. Perceptions differ, of course, but I do not see how anyone can read the whole book, with open ears, and find Atzmon ‘antisemitic’ or racist.
Granting’s signatories write that they “stand with all and any movements that call for justice, human dignity, equality, and social, economic, cultural and political rights.” I urge them to re-read (or read) Wandering, present a definition of ‘antisemitic’ racism, and based on textual evidence debate whether Atzmon’s words fulfill it. Because Jew-hatred has been so trivialised by Zionists, accusations of ‘antisemitism’ must be especially well-argued. For the ODS movement unity at any cost is not essential, but we need our energies to help transform Israel into a normal country respecting all humans’ rights. Unless racism is proven, one should bury the hatchet.

Blake Alcott is an ecological economist living in Cambridge, England. He can be reached at: blakeley@bluewin.ch.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

Justice for All: Alexander Cockburn, Palestine, and U.S. media

by Alison Weir
Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Alexander_cockburnLongtime journalist Alexander Cockburn passed away on July 21st, an enormous loss. Cockburn was a brilliant, witty, and courageous opponent of falsehoods and injustice. He stood on the side of the oppressed, the weak, and the victimized – even those victims that many writers and human rights defenders chose to ignore.

With his scathing intellect, engaging talent, far ranging knowledge, and quick humor, the Oxford-educated Cockburn could have become a celebrated, wealthy journalist – the kind whose lucrative articles are consistently published in top journals, whose best-selling books are reviewed widely throughout the media, and whose commentary is in demand by the top television and radio news programs.
Instead, he used his extraordinary abilities to skewer dishonesty, expose cruelty and hypocrisy, and spread facts that many wished to remain hidden.

Others have written remembrances that discuss the diverse topics he addressed; I will limit myself to just one.

Although he was not known as an activist on Israel-Palestine, I believe that history will show Alexander Cockburn to have been one of the most important figures in the quest for justice in Palestine.

While most others on the left were largely ignoring, obscuring, or misrepresenting the facts on this issue, Cockburn was exposing them.

In fact, he lost his first major position in the U.S., as a writer for the Village Voice, because of his articles discussing Israel-Palestine and Israel’s ruthless invasion of Lebanon. His pieces earned the enmity of both Zionists and those who claimed they weren’t, but who had what former Voice writer James Wolcott describes as a “gravitational pull to Israel.”

When Cockburn received a $10,000 research grant from the Massachusetts-based Institute for Arab Studies to investigate Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Israel partisans saw this as a way to get rid of him. (He had been recommended for the grant by Columbia professor Edward Said.)

An article published by the Boston Phoenix after Cockburn’s death, “How the Boston Phoenix Got Alexander Cockburn Fired from the Village Voice,” gives some of the details.

The Phoenix, which was then published by Israel partisan Stephen Mindich (and now by his son), reported on the grant in an article written by Alan Lupo, a writer with a record of consistent pro-Israel bias in his articles. The piece was headlined “Alexander Cockburn’s $10,000 Arab connection” and subtitled “A question of propriety.” For his story Lupo phoned Village Voice Editor David Schneiderman, who eventually suspended Cockburn because of an alleged “conflict of interest.”

Other pro-Israel journalists gleefully took up the refrain, suggesting that Cockburn had acted improperly in accepting money from “the Arabs.” Recent obituaries mentioned the incident and continued this spin.

The validity of this charge, however, is significantly diminished by the fact that receiving a grant from an American foundation is normal, acceptable, and standard practice, as evidenced by the multitude of books in which author acknowledgements thank the various foundations that have funded their research.

As James Wolcott recently pointed out in his Vanity Fair blog: “Much handwringing to-do was made at the time of the incident about the need for journalistic transparency and accountability and such but let’s be honest — if it had been a Jewish-American organization or Israel front forking off the relative piddling sum of $10 thou, there hardly would have been this gummy uproar.”
Wolcott went on to note,

Imagine how many Beltway pundits, commentators, consultants and the like are on the take today via speaking fees, serving on panels, free fact-finding trips to the Mideast, etc. Alex’s sin was in aligning with the wrong team.”

The articles in 1984 and since that focused on Cockburn’s alleged “impropriety” failed to mention the fact that, according to prominent pro-Israel journalist Michael Kinsley, numerous journalists have gone to Israel on trips financed by the Israeli government – a far sketchier proposition. *
Governmental funding of journalism, in fact, is considered so problematic that a number of Israel Lobby organizations such as Act for Israel and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy have now stepped in to finance such journalistic junkets to Israel, removing the need for the Israeli government to be directly involved.

The fact that many journalists go on these Lobby-financed junkets also went unmentioned in the articles that brought up Cockburn’s allegedly improper grant and supposed conflict of interest. Also unmentioned was the fact that many journalists reporting on Israel-Palestine have close family – and sometimes personal – ties to the Israel military.
And there is still more to the story – which also is not referenced in recent obituaries. According to a 1992 article by former AIPAC insider Gregory Slabodkin, “AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] was the source of the original Phoenix story.” AIPAC is a leading institution in the Israel Lobby.

In his article, “The Secret Section in Israel’s U.S. Lobby That Stifles American Debate” published by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Slabodkin described how AIPAC secretly monitors individuals critical of Israel and feeds negative information about them to the media.

Slabodkin, who used to work for the section within AIPAC responsible for this surreptitious activity, reported that Lupo “said AIPAC had told him the Institute for Arab Studies was ‘linked to a $100 million campaign to sway U.S. policy against Israel.’” In reality, Slabodkin reported, “the Institute had U.S. tax-exempt status and listed individual contributors within the United States until it closed down in 1983 due to a lack of funds.”
Slabodkin discussed AIPAC’S promulgation of anti-Arab bigotry as a tactic to protect Israel: “AIPAC attempted to discredit critics of Israel not by refuting their arguments, but by trying to tie them to Arab money. Making an Arab connection can damage the victim’s reputation, the pro-Israel lobby believes, so long as it can encourage a mindset in the United States that anything Arab-related is tainted.”
While Voice Editor Schneiderman at first defended Cockburn, he eventually went along with the charges, suspending him for what he claimed was a conflict of interest, and Cockburn left.

Schneiderman, who had originally been hired to edit the Voice by Rupert Murdoch, went into increasingly lucrative directions, eventually making tens of millions of dollars by turning the Village Voice and its offspring into advertising money machines, largely through classified ads, some of which eventually got the paper sued for the grotesque sex trafficking they enabled. He is currently employed at a PR firm advising global corporations on corporate communications, crises, antitrust and other regulatory matters, labor relations, and environmental issues.

Cockburn, on the other hand, continued to skewer the powerful, mendacious, hypocritical, and cruel. His biting and occasionally very funny essays were published in periodicals from the Nation to the Wall Street Journal, both of which employed him as a columnist, and collected in his book Corruptions of Empire and others.

A scan of these reveals that in the 1980s he was already exposing the neocons and their appaling agenda. In “The Gospel According to Ali Agca,” originally published in the Nation in 1985, he described the CBS documentary “Terrorism: War in the Shadows,” and reported the implied challenge by alleged “terrorism expert” Robert Kupperman** not to let TV images of “charred babies” and our guilt over Vietnam interfere with our commitment to fighting “terrorists.”

CounterPunch

Most important, in 1996 Cockburn and co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair took over CounterPunch, a small newsletter that had been started two years earlier. In subsequent years they created an extraordinarily non-doctrinaire muckraking publication where independent writers could cover a wide variety of topics fully, accurately, and without being constrained by positions decreed by political orthodoxy.

CounterPunch has covered Israel-Palestine with a thoroughness and honesty that few if any other non-specialty publications have approached. Moreover, it has been uniquely open to pieces by writers from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

I am personally indebted to CounterPunch, which was the first general interest publication to publish my pieces on the topic. Without CounterPunch, I think it is quite likely that my articles on Israel-Palestine would never have made it into the small, fairly closed world of highly regarded progressive general interest publications.

While most other media were covering Israel-Palestine very little, if at all – and were frequently obscuring such central issues as the Palestinian right of return, the systemic discrimination within Israel itself, the power of the Israel Lobby in the U.S., and Israel partisans’ direct connections to the invasion of Iraq – CounterPunch contributors were exposing all in meticulous, principled detail.

When former Zionists worked on a campaign to blackball some writers, including two Israeli anti-Zionist authors, for allegedly going too far in their subject matter, CounterPunch refused to bow to the attempted party line and continued to publish their thought provoking, often highly informative pieces.
The importance of what Cockburn and co-editor St. Clair have achieved in CounterPunch cannot be overstated. Without CounterPunch, it is quite likely that essential information on Israel-Palestine would have remained largely hidden from progressive American readers. CounterPunch not only published critical facts itself; by carrying thoroughly cited articles on information that had previously been buried, it also pushed other American publications and individuals into discussing Palestine with greater depth, frequency, and honesty.

The censorship on Israel-Palestine has been far more serious and profound than most people realize. It has pervaded both the left and the right and has long worked to minimize informed discussion on the subject and prevent effective work for justice and peace.

CounterPunch ripped open the curtain.

* Kinsley’s revelation about this came in his essay “Cockburn the Barbarian: Lessons in journalistic ethics from a veteran of an infamous Israeli junket,” Washington Monthly, April 1984. Online at http://www.unz.org/Pub/WashingtonMonthly-1984apr-00035

** Robert Kupperman was in on the ground floor of building the war against certain types of terror. He created the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism under President Richard Nixon. This was in response to Palestinian fighters who had taken eleven Israeli athletes hostage to use in an exchange to free Palestinian men and women held (and tortured) in Israeli prisons. When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to consider such an exchange, a bungled rescue attempt resulted in the hostages being killed. The next day Israel launched air attacks against Lebanon and Syria, killing between 200 and 500 Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, mostly civilians.”

When the UN Security Council tried to pass a resolution condemning these raids, the U.S. vetoed it, only the second time that the U.S. had vetoed a Security Council resolution in its history. This was the beginning of a long string of vetoes perpetrated to shield Israel from international condemnation of various massacres and other human rights abuses, creating extreme hostility toward the U.S. and escalating Americans’ risk from retaliatory “terror.” For more information see “The U.S. Cast the First of 29 Security Council Vetoes to Shield Israel” by Donald Neff, Washington Report on Middlel East Affairs Sept-Oct, 1993, p. 82. Also in Fifty Years of Israel, by Donald Neff, published by the American Educational Trust. Online at http://www.wrmea.org/archives/150-washington-report-archives-1988-1993/september-october-1993/7306-the-us-cast-the-first-of-29-security-council-vetoes-to-shield-israel.html
********
Alison Weir is president of the Council for the National Interest and executive director of If Americans Knew. While CounterPunch published many of her articles, she did not know Cockburn personally. For information on American journalists’ ties to the Israeli military see her article “US Media and Israeli Military: All in the Family” at http://ifamericansknew.org/media/bronner2.html

Alison Weir
President, Council for the National Interest
Executive Director, If Americans Knew
 If Americans Knew: 9208 NE Highway 99, Suite 107-207, Vancouver, WA 98665
Phone: (202) 631-4060

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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